Preserving nature on the Mianus River
Photos by William Abranowicz
With its well-marked trails and dense beauty, it’s easy to see why the Mianus River Gorge Preserve has evolved into a popular destination for local nature lovers. But there’s far more to the property than what is seen from its five miles of wooded pathways. Open meadows, rock formations, and, most important, over 60 acres of old-growth forest are included in the 830-plus acres managed by the non-profit Mianus River Gorge.
The Mianus River Gorge was basically a Christmas miracle. In 1953, naturalist Gloria Anable of Stamford, who had discovered the river and its unique surroundings on horseback, invited a group of scientists on “The Long Walk.” The group hiked through and marveled at the area’s trees and waterfalls, but their commitment was immediately tested. That Christmas Eve, the Anabeles were informed that 60 acres of the forest were to be sold to a builder. Given just one week to buy the land, the community pooled their resources and accepted a loan from the Nature Conservancy, a then-fledgling environmental group. They blocked the development, and the preserve was established. In March 1964, the Mianus River Gorge was designated a National Natural Landmark, the first of its kind.
The cornerstone feature of the Gorge is its hemlock forest, one of the only representations of such topography on the East Coast. Most of our region was razed for pasture several hundred years ago. At that time, hemlock was considered an undesirable wood, so the steep slopes flanking the Mianus River were spared and remain untouched to this day. Unique lichens, mosses and other plants continue to thrive and wildlife such as bobcats, certain amphibians and birds have found a home in this very rare ecosystem. Along with natural treasures, rich historical artifacts have also been undisturbed. Rock shelters, which served as temporary living spaces for Native American hunters, date to the time of Chief Myano.
Today, the Gorge, straddling the towns of Bedford, Pound Ridge, North Castle, and Stamford, serves as an invaluable educational and recreational resource. In honor of its 60th anniversary, noted photographer, passionate environmentalist, and Bedford resident William Abranowicz, was given unprecedented access and a full calendar year to document the exceptional biodiversity of the Gorge. The result is a book show-casing the varying landscapes across the four seasons. For regular visitors to the Gorge, the book reveals what lies beyond the trails. From plant life close-ups to shots of wide-open spaces, people are let in to the full Gorge experience. For Abranowicz, who travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, this project only a few miles from his home was just as fascinating and infinitely personal.
Abranowicz says, “Light is the basis for photography and mornings in the Gorge were spectacular. With the moving water and the wind, the landscape is in a constant state of change. I would just sit on the wet ground alone and wait.”
The fight to add to the Gorge’s domain is on-going and led by long-time Mianus River Gorge executive director Rod Christie. As land parcels are annexed, the delicate balance between protecting the land and allowing the public to experience it is always top of mind. Although its trails are closed to the public during winter months, over six thousand people visit the Gorge each year. And nothing can compare with a walk through its woods.
Christie says, “It’s a very personal experience, almost like stepping back in time. There are a lot of beautiful places to hike around here, but the Gorge isn’t just visual. What’s special is you can really feel the forest.”
Note: CHIEF MIANUS The Gorge’s namesake, Sachem Myn Myano, was a chief of the Wappinger Confederacy. He tried to protect his land and people from white settlers, but was shot and killed in 1683