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The Top 10 Favorite Viewfinder Stories of 2023

These 10 articles — and a couple editors' picks — were crowd favorites over the past year.

by Lynn Freehill-Maye
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Viewfinder’s 50-plus stories per year go deep into how people are connecting with the land, air, and water of the beautiful Hudson Valley. Of those many accounts, which did readers love most? An inspiring achievement that reminded New York the Hudson should be fishable, drinkable, and swimmable, and a hot new hobby that values the state’s old-growth forests. Climate solutions, from an ancient forest practice to a fresh new way to place solar. Surprising facts about regional wildlife, including opossums and snakes. Adventure stories with recs for safely paddleboarding on the river, hiking solo in the mountains, and beyond. Read on for more of residents’ and visitors’ favorite articles of 2023.

What Lewis Pugh Saw Swimming 315 Miles Down the Hudson

 

Lewis Pugh near the start of his swim down the Hudson. (Photo: Courtesy Lewis Pugh Foundation)

For a full month between August and September, a British endurance swimmer laid claim to being the first to swim unassisted for the full length of the Hudson River. Lewis Pugh achieved this goal in about two 5-mile swim sessions per day, finishing Sept. 13. The Hudson Valley was riveted by the feat, as our most popular story of 2023 shows. Readers wanted to know what he ate (bananas and isotonic drinks in the water; veggies and chicken out of it); when he swam (often at night, but it all depended on the tides); and what challenges he faced (everything from devilish water chestnut seed pods to pollution from PCBs).

Look Out for These New York Snakes

 

An Eastern racer is among New York’s impressive snake species. (Photo: Jonathan Suh)

Sure, snakes are polarizing: Some people find them elegant, while others shiver to watch them slither. But whether Hudson Valley residents and visitors wanted to avoid ’em or understand them better, our guide to eight snake species found here seemed to be helpful, judging by the reaction they got on social media. Biologist and wildlife photographer Jonathan Suh’s appreciation for the reptiles shone through with his vivid photos — and his knowledge of what makes each type special.

Big Trees and the Humans Who Find Them

 

The Old Dover Oak on the Appalachian Trail is one of New York’s most impressive old trees. (Photo: @myattfamthruhike)

It’s a hot new hobby that’s been publicized right up to Times Square: big tree hunting. All over the world now, people are competing to find the most impressive trees (measured by a combination of height, trunk, and canopy size). And of course, that interest extends to the Hudson Valley, where arborist Fred Breglia is at the forefront of the international movement. New York has the second-highest amount of old-growth forest left in the country — and based on the amazement this story generated, the number of big tree seekers here is only growing.

What to Know Before Hiking Solo

 

A solo hike can offer a different, more reflective, perspective — if you do it smart. (Photo: Courtesy Kaye Gonzales)

Hitting the trail alone can be meditative and liberating — but also daunting. But wise tips we shared from New York State Forest Ranger Anastasia Allwine helped people feel prepared to get out there on their own. Leaving a detailed plan with someone, carrying duplicates of everything, and turning around “the moment the weather turns, you realize you have the wrong gear, or you get an inkling that this is beyond your skill level” are smart ways to stay safe when by yourself.

Hats Off to Beacon

 

A worker shows off a “hat fit for a giant” made at a Beacon hatworks. (Photo: Courtesy Beacon Historical Society)

Long before Beacon was stylish for its arts and culture, the Dutchess County town was at the epicenter of the biggest style trend of its day: hats. Back in the days when virtually no one would leave the house with their head untopped, Beacon produced more hats than any other city in New York (and was second only to Danbury, Conn., nationally). The city hosted nearly 50 hat factories — some of which host hotels, apartments, and shop space today. Readers loved comparing Beacon’s look then and now.

The Opossum, a Surprising N.Y. Fan Fave

 

A baby possum dangles from an evergreen in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. (Photo: stanley45 / iStock)

We truly didn’t realize how beloved opossums were among New York’s small mammals until this installment of our #WildlifeLove series came out. Maybe we shouldn’t have been — in May, they were the top vote-getter in a poll conducted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. But between the facts that they’re North America’s only pouch-bearing marsupials and that they’re major tick destroyers, turns out there are lots of reasons to love these shy and gentle critters — and many readers do.

Floatovoltaics Makes Waves Approaching the Valley

 

There are at least 12 major floatovoltaic systems currently operating in the U.S., including two of the largest in nearby Sayreville and Canoe Brook, N.J. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In the push to decarbonize our energy sources, solar panels are being placed anywhere they make sense. Last year, the talk was on solar topping parking lots. In 2023, a fresh solution started to emerge in the Hudson Valley: photovoltaic panels on manmade water bodies, especially reservoirs. The city of Cohoes, N.Y., moved closer to that reality, gaining special permitting to install a $6 million floating solar system on its reservoir near the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Although floatovoltaic systems are more prevalent in other countries, Cohoes’ system is expected to become only the 13th major system in the U.S., and the first that is city-owned. People were fascinated by the concept, as one of our most-trafficked stories showed.

How to Stand-Up Paddleboard Safely Along the Hudson

 

SUP paddlers should carry a whistle, dry bag, carabiner, and personal flotation device, among other safety gear. (Photo: Tyler Blodgett)

Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is no longer unusual to see beyond where the sport was established in Hawaii. But since the Hudson is a significant and intertidal river, getting out on its waters on a SUP board can be intimidating. Experienced, enthusiastic paddler Diana Richards broke down where to start (Croton Point, Constitution Marsh, Kingston Point Beach), what to carry (whistle, dry bag, carabiner, flotation device), and how to time your outing (using a tide chart) for many curious — and receptive — readers.

Forest Farming Takes Root in Valley Woodlands

 

Anna Plattner (left) and Justin Wexler co-own Wild Hudson Valley and practice forest farming. (Photo: Courtesy Wild Hudson Valley)

It’s both an ancient Indigenous practice and a growing climate solution. Forest farming is what it sounds like: Growing food in the woods. And with more than 61% of New York reforested, the practice is on the rise. Shiitake mushrooms and ginseng are among the crops that grow well in wooded areas. Nuts and berries are also prime for forest cultivation. Judging by the traffic to this story, people are curious about forest farming’s potential.

Get Outside and Embrace the #WinterIsWarm Mindset

 

Consider bonfires, hot drinks, and great company to help keep your spirits up, Chevaughn Dixon advises. (Photo: @hungryhonduran / Courtesy Hudson River Riders)

Getting outside in the warmer months is comparatively easy. But Hudson River Riders director Chevaughn Dixon, who works to provide youth and people of color with access to the outdoors, suggested shifting to a #WinterIsWarm mindset in order to keep spending time in nature in the cold. Layer up, take or make hot drinks, and go out in good company, he urged — and many people in the Hudson Valley followed the suggestions for wintry fun.

Editor’s Picks:

In the Climate Fight, “Blue Carbon” Soaks Up New Attention (And Emissions)

 

Constitution Marsh is among the wetlands along the Hudson River that are being freshly valued for their role in fighting climate change. (Photo: Tyler Blodgett / Scenic Hudson)

As average temperatures rise, most people now seem to get that forests that can help protect against global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide. We were excited to share the latest scientific findings about wetlands being valued anew as “carbon sinks,” those areas that absorb and store more of the element than they emit. Given the number of wetlands along the Hudson River, this research should help inspire us all to protect more of the areas that are as ecologically valuable as they are beautiful.

Quiz: Can You Recognize These Parks Pre-Makeover?

 

Many Scenic Hudson parks were formerly industrial wastelands. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

Whether it’s houses, people, or places, everyone loves a before-and-after comparison. Shots of what was, in many cases, once industrial wasteland that is now an inviting public park are no exception, as this popular quiz showed. From Long Dock Park in Beacon to Van Der Donck Park in Yonkers, guessing which land was made into which Scenic Hudson park became a fun, interactive game.

Lynn Freehill-Maye is managing editor of Scenic Hudson’s HV Viewfinder. She is also a Hudson Valley-based sustainability writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Scientific American, Sierra, Civil Eats, CityLab, Modern Farmer, and beyond. 

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