By Mike Lynch
Hikers have another option to choose from in the Champlain Valley.
The 35-acre preserve is located just south of the village of Essex and is home to the former Essex Quarry, which provided limestone for projects such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York State Capitol.
Locally, its stones were used on at least 10 buildings, including several downtown: the Greystone Mansion near the Essex ferry station, Belden Noble Memorial Library and Essex Community United Methodist Church.
There is a map on the kiosk at the preserve’s trailhead that highlights the locations of 10 bluestone buildings, so one can do a short driving tour after visiting the preserve.
Hikers get a view of the quarry shortly after leaving the gravel parking area by following the Bluestone Trail, which has several viewpoints including some from stone benches.
From the quarry, there are three other color-coded trails — two of which offer short loops — that travel through the property. Some of those near the quarry have large slabs of bluestone sitting on the ground neck to trails that make natural resting places. Overall, there are about 1.5 miles of worth of easy hiking trails on the property.
The trailhead and quarry are located near Lakeshore Road along Lake Champlain, but venture away into a quiet wooded area. Eventually the trail follows a rusted barbed-wire fence on the north side of the property. On the other side of the fence is a field, including farm building in the distance.
CATS, a nonprofit land trust that builds and promotes hiking trails in the Champlain Valley, bought the property in 2019.
Executive Director Chris Maron said his organization preserved the property because of its historical connections to the community of Essex and because of its natural attributes. The property contains limestone woodlands, a rare natural community found along Lake Champlain.
“It just seemed like an obvious thing to make a nature preserve right on the edge of Essex that would allow people to learn about so many facets of their local history and environment,” Maron said.
The cedar forest that at the entrance are part of the limestone woodlands. New York Natural Heritage Program says these woodland communities are limited to areas with limestone bedrock under thin soils. It says the number of these forests has decline substantially in the state from its historical numbers due to logging, farming and development.
These types of forest are currently found at elevations between 40 and 1,575 feet in the central Hudson Valley, St. Lawrence Valley, across the Ontario Lake Plain and Champlain Valley.
Maron said the preserve also features a valley clayplain forest, which is a biologically diverse forest that occurs on clay soils. These soils are often deep and fertile and have historically been used by farmers.
“Most clayplain forest has been turned into farmland, so any remnants, it’s pretty important to protect those,” Maron said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the quarry in its relation to the village of Essex. It’s south of the village, not north.