“Muddy Brook Park”
The Journal News
August 25, 2005
“Don’t worry, those trees are there to stay. Those lots are much too small for anyone to build on.” That’s what the real estate agent said about the undeveloped land across the street from the house my parents ultimately bought on South Edsall Avenue in Nanuet, back in the late 50s.
We called those undeveloped lots “The Woods” in elementary school in the late 60s and early 70s. After school and during the summers we ran the trails, climbed the trees, and when we were feeling mischievous, even sneaked into “the shack,” the old abandoned house that we imagined was some sort of revolutionary-era relic, but which in reality was just a pre-war workbarn.
The Woods—those trees that were here to stay—were chopped down in the mid 70s to make way for two split ranches. A few years later, “The Lot”—the empty ground down at the corner of South Edsall and Caravella Lane, and just adjacent to The Woods—where we played baseball into the warm summer evenings and went sleigh-riding in the icy winter afternoons, was also cleared, and a boxy little house was force-fit into its misshapen confines.
Having lost our beloved local Woods and Lot, we had to be content taking our bikes a few blocks away, over to Steep Hill, where we played along the Pascack Brook, and wiled away the hours in Steep Hill Woods—far bigger than our woods, but still, lacking the “local flavor” of our own modest plot.
In the 90s, Steep Hill Woods were destroyed in what can only be characterized as a ferocious assault. The homes that backed onto the land along Briar Road and Steep Hill Road itself were left with nary a single tree to shield them from the sprawling, treeless lots that were carved into the once-verdant hillside.
Nanuet, as we once knew it, was all but gone now. We could still cycle over to Ramapo Children’s Park—up Caravella, onto Convent Road, up beautiful Duryea Lane, and down winding Grotke Road—but local traffic had been steadily increasing over the years, due to the chopping down of trees and building up of homes, and so, eventually, the only safe way to Ramapo was to drive, not cycle (thus adding more cars onto the roads).
The rolling field along the west side of Duryea Lane was sold off next, by its owners, New York Foundling’s St. Agatha Residential Treatment Center, and more homes were built. Now, several years later, the remainder of St. Agatha (we called it "The Home" growing up) is itself being sold, and the large woods to the south of the main ground—the last remaining tract of unspoiled land in Nanuet—which extends all the way to the end of Duryea and connects up with the woods of Wyeth Labs (formerly Lederle Labs) in Pearl River, are now in jeopardy, with developers hoping to add more homes, more cars, and more students, to our increasingly congested hamlet. Once a mixture of woodland and suburban homes, Nanuet is now almost exclusively the latter.
On a recent, very wet Friday morning, with the kind permission of the St. Agatha staff, I was fortunate enough to take a hike into these woods. They are beautiful. The trees and undergrowth are remarkably dense, and in the pouring rain, I felt like I was somehow lost in the rain forest. The narrow west fork of the Muddy Brook meanders peacefully through the forest, with small wooden foot bridges strategically placed intermittently along its route. (Muddy Brook, which joins up with larger tributaries and dumps into the Newark Bay, and eventually the New York Harbor and finally the ocean, goes into an underground pipe at the St. Agatha main grounds, only to re-emerge as a trickle at the base of South Park Lane, just steps from the house I grew up in.) Through the dense woods I could still see the horses running to and fro at St. Agatha’s COPS barn. It was hard to believe that I was a mere quarter mile from my house on South Edsall, where once there were trees just like these.
The St. Agatha’s woods were completely off limits to the public for all these years, but now, almost miraculously, they beckon as our last chance to keep a little bit of the countryside, and a little bit of our natural history, alive in Nanuet. A park—“Muddy Brook Park”—with unspoiled woodland, a few hiking trails, horseback riding, and a beautiful though admittedly modest stream would make these wilds open to all, for recreation, education, and a little bit of natural beauty and quiet peace.
I urge Nanuet School District residents to vote “yes” on the upcoming bond issue to allow the Nanuet School District, rather than developers, to purchase the land and preserve it for public use. Let’s keep this land open and accessible.
“Muddy Brook Park” is not only nostalgia for the past; it’s hope for the future.
Muddy Brook at South Park Lane, Nanuet.