By Michael Woyton
BEACON - In the middle of the city, in a former industrial area along the Fishkill Creek, is a 12-acre park that used to be part of a 27,000-acre estate.
Joe Kiernan, associate park planner for Scenic Hudson Inc., said Madam Brett Park combines human history and natural history.
"It's a peaceful little spot which is kind of tucked away," he said. "Even people who have lived in Beacon don't know it's there."
Scenic Hudson owns and maintains the park, which features one mile of trails, walking paths, a waterfall and an elevated walkway over the creek. There are also opportunities for fishing - with proper permits - cycling, picnicking and winter sports, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Maury Lacher, president of the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club, said he and his members use the park for bird watching.
"It's kind of interesting, in the midst of a formerly industrial area, there's this park," he said.
Lacher said the river and marsh attract anything from ducks to wading birds like egrets and cormorants.
"Part of what is appealing is, here we had something that wasn't very pleasing, and it's been returned to a more natural world and is easily available to the public," he said.
The land where the park is situated was once part of Catharyna Rombout Brett's estate.
The home she and her family built in 1708 still stands about a mile away near Beacon's Main Street and is a historic site.
From the 1880s to the 1940s, the area around the park was a center of hat-making, second in America only to Danbury, Conn.
The Tioronda Hat Works, established in 1879, used water from Fishkill Creek to clean and dye wool. Its owner, Lewis Tompkins, employed as many as 650 men and boys in his factories.
Kiernan said the southernmost part of the park will be closed through the end of the year for an improvement project. The trail from the parking area off South Avenue to the falls will remain open.
Trails will be resurfaced, brush and dead trees will be removed and a couple of seating areas will be installed.
"Some will have extensive views into the marsh," Kiernan said.
The improvements also include a 140-foot addition to the boardwalk that will culminate in an extension of the trail.
"That will make it handicapped accessible," Kiernan said.