The Wallkill River begins in Sparta, NJ and flows north through several counties in the state of NY, eventually merging with the Rondout Creek which flows into the Hudson River. When I was “Huckleberry Finn” age, eight miles of that river was my “Mississippi.” We camped, fished, and trapped muskrat along its banks. We explored the caves along one section of the river created by the great glacier which carved out the Wallkill Valley eons ago. We searched and found arrowheads and other artifacts in the newly plowed fields which bordered the river. Native Americans occupied the valley as early as 10,000 B.C. Neighborhood picnics in the cedar groves and ice skating parties in the winter are a part of my fond memories. A neighbor gave me a 14’ wooden rowboat one summer. I named the boat the “Hesperus” and sailed secluded sections of the river with great joy, until the boat was washed away in the spring floods.
In the mid-1800’s industrious immigrants drained the swamps along portions of the river and created what we called the “Black Dirt,” producing acre upon acre of rich fertile land. In the summertimes we rode our bikes to the Black Dirt and pulled onions and carrots for 15-cents a crate as teenagers. Today, when you purchase top soil in a bag you may be getting “black dirt” from the Wallkill Valley!
In 1990 Congress established the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Portions of the farms through which we once walked to reach the river were absorbed into this new refuge which covers nearly 6,000 acres and ten miles of the river.
|The (Real) Mississippi River--2015|
This past Tuesday, my brother and I walked along the “Wood Duck Nature Trail” which passes through wetlands for 1.6 miles on an abandoned railroad bed, ending at the Wallkill River. What memories flooded our minds as we observed Blue Herons take to flight and turtles slip off logs as we passed by. Many of us are critical of our “government” these days, but this morning I’m so very thankful that Congress acted to preserve my “Huckleberry Finn” fantasy adventures along my “Mississippi” of years ago.