Bear Mountain State Park is located on the west side of the Hudson River in Rockland County, New York. The park offers biking, hiking, boating, picnicking, swimming, cross-country skiing, cross-country running, sledding and ice-skating as well as a zoo, trailside museums, a hotel, a carousel and a dining facility. Bear Mountain State Park is a separate entity from the adjacent Harriman State Park.
During the American Revolution when control of the Hudson River was viewed by the British as essential to dominating the American territories, the area that was to become the park saw several significant military engagements. In 1777 British troops routed Patriots at Fort Montgomery; two years later the Americans under Anthony Wayne would try to take it back.
The American Industrial Revolution was supplied, in part, from local forests and iron mines. Resource utilization took a heavy toll on the region, especially lumbering and agriculture, since the poor, thin soils on hillsides were easily depleted. Although the New Jersey Palisades and the Hudson Highlands were admired for their beauty and featured in paintings of the Hudson River School, they were also viewed as a rich source of traprock (basalt) by quarrymen seeking to provide building material for the growth of nearby Manhattan Island. By the early 1900s development along the lower Hudson River had begun to destroy much of the area's natural beauty.
Beginning in the 1890s, several unsuccessful efforts were made to turn much of the Highlands into a forest preserve. Fearing that they would soon be put out of business, quarry operators responded by working faster: in March, 1898 alone, more than three tons of dynamite was used to bring down Washington Head and Indian Head in Fort Lee, New Jersey producing several million cubic yards of traprock. The following year, work by the New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs led to the creation of Palisades Interstate Park Commission, headed by George W. Perkins, which was authorized to acquire land between Fort Lee and Piermont, New York; its jurisdiction was extended to Stony Point in 1906.
In 1908 the State of New York announced plans to relocate Sing Sing Prison to Bear Mountain. Work was begun on the area near Highland Lake (renamed Hessian Lake) and in January 1909, the state purchased the Bear Mountain tract. Conservationists, inspired by the work of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission lobbied successfully for the creation of the Highlands of the Hudson Forest Preserve. However, the prison project was continued.
Mary Averell Harriman, whose husband, Union Pacific Railroad president E. H. Harriman died in September of that year, offered the state another and one million dollars toward the creation of a state park. George W. Perkins, with whom she had been working, raised another $1.5 million from a dozen wealthy contributors including John D. Rockefeller and J. Pierpont Morgan. New York state appropriated a matching $2.5 million and the state of New Jersey appropriated $500,000 to build the Henry Hudson Drive, (which would be succeeded by the Palisades Interstate Parkway in 1947).
Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park became a reality the following year when the prison was demolished and a dock built for steamboat excursion traffic; the following year a new West Shore Railroad station was built near the dock. In 1912, a replica of Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon was built and moored at the dock. Major William A. Welch was hired as Chief Engineer, whose work for the park would win him recognition as the father of the state park movement (and later, the national park movement).
The park opened on July 5, 1913. Steamboats alone brought more than 22,000 passengers to the park that year. Camping at Hessian Lake (and later at Lake Stahahe) was immensely popular; the average stay was eight days and was a favorite for Boy Scouts. By 1914 it was estimated that more than a million people a year were coming to the park. The Bear Mountain Inn was completed the following year; rooms were $4.50 and included three meals.
Winter sports were added in 1922 and ski jumping was added in 1928. The latter drew big crowds as recently as the 1960s; on February 11, 1962, 35,120 spectators turned out to watch the New York State Junior Ski Jumping Championship. More jump competitions were held at Bear Mountain than at any other ski jump in the United States; however the ski jumps have not been used since 1990.
The first section of the Appalachian Trail, taking hikers from Bear south to the Delaware Water Gap, opened on October 7, 1923 and served as a pattern for the other sections of the trail developed independently by local and regional organizations. The Bear Mountain Zoo, through which the Appalachian Trail passes, is the lowest elevation on the trail.
In the 1930s the federal government under Franklin D. Roosevelt was developing plans to preserve the environment as part of the Depression-era public works programs; the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, spent five years on projects at the park. Pump houses, reservoirs, sewer systems, vacation lodges, bathrooms, homes for park staff, storage buildings and an administration building were all created through these programs.
A scenic drive to the top of the mountain, called Perkins Memorial Drive, was constructed almost entirely by hand. Although powered construction equipment and newer easier-to-work-with building materials were available for use at the time, planners wanted the buildings constructed with the same principles and designs used to build the original lodge in 1915. Workers used stone, boulders and timber to construct the new buildings.
Bear Mountain also regularly hosts cross country running events during the fall season. High school cross country teams compete on the 3.1 mile (5K) course, which is comprised mostly of paved walkways. Bear Mountain is the location for the County's Championship race.
Bear Mountain remains popular today, and welcomes more visitors annually than Yellowstone National Park.
The park is referenced in the Bob Dylan song "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues".
Bear Mountain State Park was the location of the disappearance of a group of eight local school students in 1992. The eight students lost contact after two days into their seven day hike around the area. After a massive four week rescue and search operation, local authorities ruled out any suspections of criminal activity. Malith Amarsingie, the father of Todd Amarsingie one of the eight students lost, became the face of the rescue campaign. In an act to promote awareness, Hollywood superstar James Spader made several brief appearances around the time of the rescue operation.
In March 1996, four years after the story left the media, a group of campers in the vicinity of Perkins Memorial Drive, came across a sack of suidical notes and ten bags of human hair as well as a rotting human big toe. Police held suspections of a sick hoax, but still restarted the investigation of the lost eight anyway. After months of forensic testing the toe as well as the whole ten bags of hair were said to come from the oldest in the group, Jarrod Phillips. The mysterious fact behind this greatly seized on by the media, was the fact Jarrod had been completely bald at the time of his disappearance.
A two page exclusive in the August Issue of Time in '96, revealed many past visitors to the park stories of screams and yells that echo around the valley late at night. The most likely explanation of this was that the apparent human screams, had just been mistaken for the mating calls of wild coyotes, park ranger Dejashran Moodley stated, despite the zero presence of coyotes in the enitre region.
In 2003, Malith starred in a number of Bollywood films all set in the mountains, where he portrayed Mr Phillips in an effort to raise funds for his charity dedicated to the lost students.