Oakdale lake is a 14-acre public park in downtown Hudson, NY. It’s home to a 5-acre spring fed lake, a small sand beach, a ½-mile of trails, and a small playground. It’s walking distance from downtown Hudson housing, has parking for 75 cars, is free and open to the public, and is home to turtles, a green heron, and a healthy population of catfish, bluegills, trout, bass and crappie. Vitally, it’s also home to the Hudson Youth Department summer programming, which is free for Hudson resident youth, aged 5–13. Many of the participants have no other regular experience of outdoors, no experience swimming in natural water, and no other opportunities for camp and related activities.
The lake and park have many lovely and promising attributes. The beach houses an old-but-standing lakehouse with a small functional kitchen and bathroom and an office for Youth Department staff in summer months.
The Columbia County Department of Health monitors the lake’s water quality and considers it to be the cleanest Columbia County lake — lowest bacteria count — they monitor. Hudson has, in recent years, transitioned from traditional chemical treatments to non-toxic enzyme treatments with great success. The trails are only feet away from the historic Boston-Albany rail line that may in coming years be turned into a rail trail, connecting Hudson to Philmont, Ghent, and other neighboring rail trails and opening up access to a network of trails.
Both lake and park are, however, underutilized and in need of renovation and redesign. While the water can be kept at low bacteria levels, there is, other than a few catfish, no constant, ecologically logical cleaning or filtration in place — it’s just the annual application of enzymes. On several shores, feet and feet of muck and sludge buildup from a combination of garbage/detritus (50 gallon tubs, shopping carts, cans and bottles, wrappers, cinder blocks, cement, metal pipes, etc.) and organic decay make accessing the lake from anywhere other than the sand beach next to impossible.
There is only one structure that extends into the lake, an old decaying cement stand that once held two diving boards, but now houses only some rebar once used for diving board installation. The city installs a single floating dock each summer, but there is, otherwise, a conspicuous lack of docks, design elements, visual or physical elements encouraging swimming, exploring, using the lake from inside it, or from anywhere else along the shores.
Additionally, the existing cement structure, which is uneven, torn up, and deserted, deters potential visitors. While it’s not dangerous, it leaves the impression of decay and neglect. There are two small neighboring ponds that add to the impression of decay — both full of decades of urban castoffs like mattresses and machinery. Both are homes to wildlife, but need significant cleaning before they can be good conservation spaces. The lakehouse isn’t wheelchair accessible, has few windows, and is old and worn.
There are a number of levels on which a revitalization of Oakdale lake and park should happen:
Design: An overall air of neglect leaves a naturally beautiful place, nestled inside an urban environment, presenting the impression of something wrong: it’s right next to the road, so maybe it’s dirty, or there’s only one little area from which to get in, so maybe the rest of the lake is polluted or dangerous. There are no docks or platforms or other encouragements, which makes one wonder if it’s deep enough to swim. There are no places across the lake where you can see other people, which discourages exploration and use of available land. What about creative platforms? Multiple access points? Land use reconsideration? Use of reclaimed materials?
Landscaping: Buckthorn and other invasive species have taken over even the most beautiful and intentional of the slopes. Instead of a stand of trees, which include walnut, hickory, and oak, one sees messes of brush. Parts of the trail might need to be reshaped or rethought. Beneficial planting or other native plant reseeding to encourage more wildlife?
Water ecology: There is copper sulfate in the substrate layers of the lake which may be there forever, discouraging frogs and turtles. More importantly, there is no constant system in the lake for self-cleaning. Is there a way of helping the lake renew itself, clean itself other than the annual bacteria application? Beneficial plants?
Updating: The benches and tables are all very worn, the beach house threadbare. The crumbling infrastructure contributes to the feeling of neglect that makes both the lake’s current users and potential users feel as though they’re facing something sub-par, or all they have access to/deserve, instead of something beautiful, wonderful, a lovely, magical oasis in the heart of a city. Refurbishing or rebuilding is needed.
Urban clean up/urban integration: At some areas around the lake, rusty pipes are in direct contact with the water flowing in the lake. They have no purpose anymore, but to rust and for the rust to leach into the water. At other points, pipes aren’t in contact with water, and provide a rather lovely reminder that nature and city meet here, as do past and present. Some of the remnants of past lives of the lake — cement blocks beneath the surface, box springs, etc — should be removed — some remnants should be kept, and perhaps more added, to provide a coherence to the urban history.
Playground/early childhood: As the sole space available for the pre-school to adolescent children who participate in summer programming at the lake, Oakdale houses only one small playground with pebbles underfoot. The potential for the area devoted to the playground is significant. It is a short distance from the lake but isolated. It has been leveled. There are nut trees all around. Some additional and weatherproof infrastructure that integrated with surrounding landscape, purposes, and functions — playhouses, areas to build things from branches, etc. — would improve the utility of the space and broaden the park’s access for parents of young children.
A Way Forward
There are several phases in which renovation would occur.
- First, An organization or committee must provide an umbrella under which the Friends of Oakdale Lake can organize, strategize, plan, and seek funds.
- Following that, or, perhaps in tandem: Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation’s Hudson Valley Initiative (HVI) has expressed interest in sending current students or recent graduates to Oakdale Lake to research and produce feasibility studies, community workshops, renderings, design recommendations, and funding partnership suggestions. This is in keeping with the HVI’s mission, which is to facilitate applied research into the complex spatial, ecological, and economic opportunities of the Hudson Valley, including nine counties, 13 cities and over 200 villages and towns. From the HVI website: “By serving as the GSAPP clearinghouse for urban design, architecture, landscape, preservation, and planning work, the HVI enables substantive contributions to the long term health and viability of the region.” The HVI has undertaken similar projects, such as its recent collaboration with Poughkeepsie on its Fall Kill Creek.
- Lastly, the product of the HVI’s work can be used to consult all stakeholders, build strong-community-oriented consensus, raise consciousness, and eventually apply for appropriate grants and partnerships for redesign, buildout, and renovation.
On June 2, 2018 we gathered contact information from residents interested in improving Oakdale Lake at the annual Fishing Derby. Many shared their thoughts as well.
Update: Interested in donating? Check our our gofundme page.