Harriman State Park, located in Rockland and Orange counties, is the second-largest park in the New York State parks system, with 31 lakes and reservoirs, 200 miles of hiking trails, three beaches, two public camping areas, a network of group camps, miles of streams and scenic roads, and scores of wildlife species, vistas and vantage points. Harriman State Park’s major facilities include Lakes Welch, Sebago, Tiorati and Silvermine, the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, Sebago Cabins and Beaver Pond Campgrounds.

HistoryEdward Harriman and Mary Averell Harriman owned 30,000 acres (120 km2) in Arden, New York as part of their estate. They opposed the state’s decision to build a prison at Bear Mountain and wanted to donate some of their land to the state in order to build a park. A year after the death of her husband in 1909, Mary Harriman proposed to Governor Charles Evans Hughes that she would donate 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land and $1 million for the creation of a new state park. As part of the deal, the state would do away with the plan to build the prison, appropriate an additional $2.5 million to acquire additional land and construct park facilities. The Palisades Interstate Park Commission would have its authority extended north into the Ramapo Mountains and the Hudson Highlands, and New Jersey would also contribute an amount of money deemed reasonable by the Commission. The state agreed and on October 29, 1910, William Averell Harriman presented a deed for the land and a million-dollar check to the Commission.

Historical Video on Harriman State Park

Group Camps

Early in their existence, PIPC realized its special position to be socially responsible toward the less privileged. One of the largest and most significant categories of improvements in Harriman State Park reflects these responsibilities.

The Commissioners believed that parks should be for all people, particularly for the underprivileged, who had little leisure time and no easy access to fresh air. Accordingly, beginning in 1906, the Commission put together social programs for the relief of the urban poor. The essence of these social programs was the group camp – tents and cabins, with facilities, to make the outdoors accessible to those who could barely afford to take time off.

With the Commission providing land and funds to construct the first of approximately 100 camps around 13 mountain lakes, the Park’s previously undeveloped rugged space became an outlet for the ever-expanding urban population of metropolitan New York. In time, thousands of disadvantaged inner-city women and children were coming to the park every summer for a 2-week camp “vacation” to experience nature and return to the city better nourished.

Early supporters of the Group Camps included Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, the YMCA, the YWCA, almost every religious denomination, and the Boys and Girl Scouts of America.

The group camp program coincided with the construction of a series of dams designed to create larger bodies of water from existing lakes and swamps. That program, which began at Carr Pond in 1913, gave Harriman State Park 12 new lakes in 15 years (adding 3,000 acres to the water surface), and multiplied the recreation possibilities available to group campers. Lake Stahahe, for instance, was created from Carr Pond in 1913, and became the site of a large Boy Scout group camp the same year. Dammed in 1915, Little Long Pond produced the three Kanawauke lakes, which were chosen as the site of two group camps in 1922. The previous year, Lake Cohasset, in the Arden Valley, had also been dammed, creating a 97-acre lake now known as Upper Cohasset (to distinguish it from Lower Cohasset, created in 1920.) Two group camps were built there in 1921.
The group camps program inspired similar endeavors in national and state parks.

Today, non-profit organizations, in collaboration with the Commission, manage the 32 surviving lakefront children’s relief camps in Harriman State Park, bringing hope, learning, and a chance to experience nature to more than 4,500 children every day.