Row to Ross Dock Picnic Area, Palisades

Paul Caviano
On Saturday, July 23rd a group of rowers visited the Ross Dock picnic area in Palisades Interstate Park.  While VCB parties have visted and camped at various sites on the Palisades over the years, this may have been a first-time visit to this particular spot for the boathouse.
The crew — Mackie, Regine, Frank, Sean, Margaret and Paul — departed Pier 40 at 10:30in Pete Seeger.  Despite the 90 degree temperatures, low humidity and a refreshing breeze made for pleasant conditions.  The veteran crew made good time, covering the ten miles in just under two hours, and landed on the wide beach just south of the picnic area.  With Pete tied up and secure, our group claimed a shady set of picnic benches to rest up, drink up, and eat up.
The Ross Dock picnic area juts out into the river near the former site of the Carpenter Brothers’ Quarry, the largest and most notorious of the Palisades quarries of the late 1800s.  Much of the present-day picnic area was built on sunken barges and other landfill from the quarry days, which explains its mad-made appearance jutting out into the river in a perfect rectangle.
After passing around the lunch fixings — with special thanks owed to Mackie (hummus, veggies, crackers) and Frank (a nicely chilled watermelon big enough for 12, but finished off eventually by 6) — the group was refreshed enough to hit the trail leading to the top of the Palisades.  The trail is actually about 80 percent stone steps, switch-backing up the cliff some 300 vertical feet.  It was a sweaty climb, but the views from the overlook at the top were well worth it, stunning vistas of the river and the picnic area far below.  The overlook was equipped with two shady benches, and we made good use of them.  A few feet away is a marker for for the Long Path.  This hiking trail begins at the 175th Street subway station in Manhattan, crosses the GWB, traces the Palisades on its way north, extending ultimately 358 miles to John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany.  We covered about 10 feet of it before thinking it was time to head back down to our base camp.
After a few more gobbles of watermelon, it was time to head for home with the ebb tide.  We were not surprised to find Pete high and dry, no longer being lapped at the stern by the river.  But we were more than a little surprised to find that the receeding water had left behid a belt of mud — black, sticky, pull-your-shoes-off, soft, gooey mud — from the beach extending several boat-lenghts into the river.  After some trial and error — mostly error — we came to the conclusion that we’d sink to our waists into the muck before getting the boat anywhere near rowable water.  With Frank directing activities in his signature way (that is, loudly and effectively), we hit upon our escape plan.  We put half the crew into Pete (only moderately slimed by the much), and the other three pushed the boat out far enough to clear the mud flat.  The skeleton crew of Regine at cox, with Sean and Margaret at the oars, then nosed the bow gently up to the rocky edge of the promentary where rowable water met slippery bolders.  It wasn’t elegent, but Frank, Mackie, and myself were able to scramble aboard without injury to flesh or plywood, though we did bring along into the boat an impressive amount of the goopiest mud the Hudson has to offer.
After the great mud adventure, the row south was pretty uneventful.  Swapping out rowers regularly we made good time despite a gusty breeze from the south.  Two hours of steady effort got us to Pier 40, arriving about 6:30 PM.  After a particularly challenging clean-up — the mud just wouldn’t surrender without a last fight — Pete and the crew looked as good as new, ready for another adventure.  So, where to next?

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