The hillside burned for days. A lightning strike turned forest fire. It was 1963 and the site was undeveloped at the time. Inaccessible to fire equipment, airplanes eventually dropped water on the flames until fire roads could be made through the woods.
Steuben County Historian and author Kirk House writes:
“On October 15, 1963 a small fire got out of hand on the dry hillside south of Bath. Soon two hundred firefighters were in action — and then five hundred. By the second day the fire roared for a mile across Mossy Bank, stretching between Babcock Hollow and Cameron Road. Backfires were started. Four thousand gallons of water were dropped by air. The fire took three days to bring under control. People set up folding chairs where the Southern Tier Expressway was being built, and watched the action.”
The natural disaster sparked the Village of Bath to action. A decision was made: the nearly 170 acre forest would become a park called Mossy Bank. The primary intention was to provide residents and visitors a place for picnicking, outdoor recreation, and nature study.
Additional land was purchased and a pond was created to offer opportunities for fishing, other activities, and as a source of water for fire protection.
After many volunteer hours and the efforts of a number of people, the park opened to the public nearly 50 years ago. Yet it remains a secret of sorts.
For how often do you look up when you’re driving the Interstate? Unless you’re a local, chances are you’ve never been to this wonderful park.
With a playground, a handful of pavilions and other spots for picnicking, a lookout offering expansive views of the valley (including an eagle’s nest down below and often a glimpse of those majestic birds), Mossy Bank Park is a great place for families and couples looking for a brief escape, or as a gathering place for friends.
Enjoy hiking trails or the well maintained and exhilarating mountain bike course winding its way through the woods. While you’ll occasionally find families out for a quiet stroll or a bike ride among the hemlock and other trees, don't be surprised if you feel like you're in your own private forest.
The nearly 8-mile course has actually become the location for a new style of mountain bike race aptly named The Hills on Fire Enduro XC and offers riders a good mix of single and double track. Solo riders must complete four laps of the course within a six-hour span, whiles teams of two split that in half. Throughout the course are 3 timed segments: One Downhill, One Climb and One XC Single-track Section.
An annual fundraiser for Mossy Bank Park, the race also features a chicken BBQ, local craft beer, and easy access for spectators and family and friends to watch.
You might want to call it a hideaway. A retreat from the everyday humdrum world that continues to whizz and whirl as cars zip along the Interstate or the folks milling about downtown unaware that this haven in the woods is so close.
All it takes is an exit, a few turns, and a short drive (we’re talking five brief minutes at most) into the countryside, up a hill, past a few cows and some fields and a handful of homes, down a quiet road that feels like it’s about to end, but continues on into the woods, into this secluded park tucked out of the way on a hill over 500 feet above the gentle river carving its way through the valley below.
You can learn more about Mossy Bank Park here, but the best way is to take a drive up the hill. Once you get there, enjoy the beautiful space and the great outdoors.