Although it is much easier to drive to the main entrance at the end of the new Mossy Bank Park Road and walk in on the level, sometimes I like to park by the gate on Magee Road, an abandoned asphalt surface, and take the old way up. A trail enters the woods at the big bend of the road and gradually climbs more than 500 feet from the valley to the Mossy Bank Park overlook. Just before the trail crosses a small woodland creek is an area of eroded bedrock harboring fossil crinoids and brachiopods, revealing the 160-acre park’s Devonian past.
The 1-1/4-mile trail to the overlook is entirely within the woods. Conifers include several large stands of eastern hemlock and a few white pines on the slope, and some remnant plantation red pine and Norway spruce at the top. Hardwoods are represented by red, white, black and chestnut oaks; sugar maple; black cherry; white ash; white and black birch; poplar; and beech. There are a few American chestnut spouts, and in a nearby private wood, one Chestnut that is almost a foot in diameter at chest height produces nuts every year.
The park’s understory is not especially rich in plant life, perhaps due to the steep grade, loose shale and history of fire. Ferns, however, are abundant: marginal and intermediate wood ferns, Christmas fern, bracken, polypody fern, New York fern, and a little up the trail from the stream, a good patch of the rarer oak fern. Large and likely quite old patches of pincushion moss dot many of the trails and might be the origin of the park’s name. In spring, native wildflowers include Canada mayflower, starflower, foamflower, wild geranium, Columbine and sarsaparilla. Large patches of trailing arbutus can be found at the overlooks. Occasionally, visitors will see a rare pink moccasin orchid. By late summer, a wide variety of goldenrods and several aster species abound. Large numbers of non-native plants populate the park as well, perhaps the result of fire disturbance.
The Village of Bath owns Mossy Bank Park. It arose phoenix-like after a lightning induced wildfire burned up and over the escarpment in 1963. Prominent village members and local Cooperative Extension personnel convinced the village to obtain the burned-over slope and overlook to create a park for picnicking and enjoyment of nature. Currently, several marked trails, suitable for easy day hiking or cross-country skiing, cut through the woods. Three large pavilions and numerous picnic tables are scattered around a central area encircled by a gravel road. Playground equipment, a newly constructed lavatory building and a fountain can be found in the same area. The park is very popular among locals who reserve sections for large picnics and other functions.
In 1998 with donations from the community, a log cabin nature center was constructed and named after Ted Markham, one of the park’s originators and fiercest advocates. A committee of volunteer citizens organizes nature programs at the center, and otherwise manages the park with the assistance of the village street department. Nearby but not immediately adjacent is another part of the park with a 5-acre pond for fishing and nature study, but no swimming or boating is allowed. This 14-acre site features another pavilion, more playground equipment and another lavatory.
Wildlife includes Canada goose, wood duck, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit, grey and red squirrels, Virginia opossum, raccoon, striped skunk, fisher, red fox, coyote, white-tailed deer and black bear. Birding is excellent, especially during spring migration. The Conhocton Valley below the park runs roughly northwest to southeast, so this high hill gets early morning sun exposure. The birds take full advantage, singing and warming themselves on exposed treetops. The park has recorded 18 warbler species of which six or seven nest here yearly. More than 90 other species have been observed. Three types of thrushes, two kinglets, Baltimore oriole, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, rose-breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager and indigo bunting are common. In the field bordering the road into the park one can find Eastern meadowlark, field sparrow, red-winged blackbird, brown thrasher and bobolink. At the overlook, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, sharp-shinned hawk, raven, osprey and bald eagle glide by at eye level. The brush immediately in front of the overlook usually holds an indigo bunting. Most of the colorful spring migrants mentioned above can be found singing in the trees surrounding the overlook in early May.
Even if there were no amenities or wildlife to see, the overlooks alone make a visit to the park worthwhile. The main overlook is accessible by car. From the pavilion there a magnificent vista spreads out over a 200-degree span. The Village of Bath is immediately below in the Conhocton River valley. The remarkably flat terrain on which Bath is built is the bottom of an old glacial lake, of which Lake Salubria is a remnant. I-86 runs between the village and the river. Another valley lies to the north-northeast in which runs NY Route 54 to the village of Hammondsport, lying just beyond view at the head of Keuka Lake. Far to the north, just visible above the hilltops, are the wind turbines near Cohocton.
A secondary overlook is located at the bottom of a steep trail leading down from the northern edge of the main overlook. This lower overlook has no protective railing and the drop-off is precipitous. However, it is worth the effort to go there – especially if you like birds. If you decide to make the trek, be sure to bring binoculars. An osprey pair has nested successfully for several years on top of a power pole on the near side of the river, across from the blue NAPA store in the village. A mere quarter mile from the osprey is a huge bald eagle nest. It’s just below this lower overlook, conveniently located on the closest side of the large oak standing farthest out in the field. This nest is situated such that you can look down into it to see any eaglets that may have hatched. You will need to get fairly close to the edge, so be careful.
Learn more and see photographs from the park on line at www.mossybankpark.com.
by D. Randy Weidner