Since 2012, members of the Catskill Mountain Club, a nonprofit organization founded in 2004, have been designing, building and maintaining user-friendly, close-to-home hiking trails throughout the Catskill region.
CMC Executive Director and Margaretville resident Wendell George said the roughly 250-member group is working on building its sixth trail with plans for a seventh next year. The Shavertown Trail, the club’s first build and first collaboration with the New York City Department for Environmental Protection, opened in 2012 in Andes. The group has created about 20 miles of trails.
According to catskillmountainclub.org, the Shavertown Trail “offers families and novice hikers … a spectacular view after only 1 moderately strenuous mile.” Trail features include a “lovely pond” and view of the Pepacton Reservoir, with a round-trip distance of about 2 miles.
The site says the CMC’s Palmer Hill Trail, its third construction and second DEP partnership, promises “spectacular views for most of its 3.7-mile length.” The Palmer Hill Trail crosses meadows, Bryant’s Brook, historic stone walls and farmhouse foundations, but has a trailhead two miles from Andes and nine from Margaretville, with parking available at the Finkle Road scenic overlook.
The approximately 4-mile Bramley Mountain Trail, on DEP property in the towns of Delhi and Bovina, takes hikers to a 2,817-foot summit with views of the mountain’s former fire tower, an abandoned bluestone quarry, caves and peaks of the western Pepacton Range. The trailhead is on Glen Burnie Road in Delhi.
The club’s trail building, George said, epitomizes its mission to make outdoor exploration accessible.
“We’re trying to offer the general public the opportunity to discover outdoor recreation in the Catskills that is not motorized,” he said. “We want to introduce people to what the Catskills have to offer, so we’ve built these five trails. It takes a season to build a trail; typically, we’re able to get them open by July, but we would’ve started working on them the previous fall.
“We’ve generally put trails close to communities, like we did in Andes and Delhi, and next year’s trail will be in Arkville,” George said. “Part of the reason for building the trails closer to communities was to make it easier for people to go hiking. If you have to get in the car and drive 40 minutes to a trailhead, it limits the opportunity to do it. But if there’s a trail right in your hamlet like there is in Andes … or this trail we’re going to build in Arkville, people have a much greater opportunity to go out and hike.”
The soon-to-come Arkville-area trail, he said, will likely open in September because of lengthy research required for interpretive signage.
“The trails that we’ve built are more introductory-type trails,” CMC board member and Andes resident Anne Roberti said. “That was our focus. There are a lot of trails in the Catskills more suited to strenuous hikers — 35 mountains over 3,500 feet — but there weren’t a lot near towns that were not so hard. We envisioned trails that people could bring small children to or older adults that aren’t up to walking straight up a mountain.”
During the design and building phases, George and Roberti said, planners also focus on how to keep hikers engaged.
“Going out and laying a trail, there are certain guidelines you want to follow so that it’s not too steep, you minimize erosion and give people a scenic route,” George said. “So we explore around to find the most interesting features — whether that’s rock outcroppings, quarries or waterfalls — and design a trail that visits those kinds of places.”
“When the DEP is involved, it can take a little bit longer because they have to issue permits, but the thing that takes the longest is actually laying out the trail,” Roberti said. “We visit numerous times to get a sense of where the best place is. We want to make it sustainable so that there’s no erosion, (ensure) it’s easy enough to walk on and maintain and that it passes interesting things. That’s a big part of what we’re doing when laying it out — looking for what’s fun to see.”
The club’s work to facilitate such forest forays, members said, has been met with enthusiasm.
“It takes a while to get your message out there and get known, but we have a lot of support,” George said. “Over 8,500 people last year hiked on trails we’ve built … and just this past year we’ve established a relationship with SUNY Delhi. We have a crew of students that take care of the Bramley Mountain Trail and we’re looking to expand that relationship, so we’re definitely in a period of growth and change.”
“People love them,” Roberti said. “Some people hike these trails every single day. When I’m out working on them and see people using them, it makes me feel great. It warms my heart to see them making such good use of it and … when people use the outdoors, they’ll protect it more and that’s important.”
As an extension of its mission, George said, the group introduced the “Catskills All-Trails Challenge” four years ago.
“We started a program to hike all the designated hiking trails in Catskill Park, which is 347 miles, and that’s really starting to catch on,” he said. “We started a Facebook group for it just a couple of months ago and it’s got 380 members, so there are a lot of folks out there that like this idea.”
“There are lots of places in the park and Delaware and Sullivan counties … with a lot of trails that simply don’t see a lot of use,” he continued, so this (challenge) is a way to encourage people to explore the park, learn more about it and spread that use around.”
A commitment to trail building, George said, goes beyond construction.
“Maintenance is a huge part of our program,” George said. “Going out and maintaining these trails, that’s the long-term thing. We have crews of people who do it, but recently we’ve been looking for people willing to adopt specific trails and take care of those on their own, because we’re getting to a place where there’s a lot of work to do.”
“We go out twice a year, usually in spring and late summer, and cut trees that have blown down or tall grasses and blackberry bushes that have grown into the trail,” Roberti said. “We also put up trail markers if they’ve gone missing during the winter. We’re always looking for additional volunteers.”
The pros of opening and maintaining trails, George and Roberti said, are many and worthy.
“We realized that there was a big economic benefit to a community when there are trails close to town,” Roberti said. “You get people coming to stay or have lunch that day.”
“We live in this place and we want these lands to be protected for the health of the planet and our own health,” George said, “but we also recognize that the people here need to make a living. When people come up here … you’re attracting people that go to restaurants and stay in bed and breakfasts, so there’s a benefit to the economy.”
“The benefits to public health are really tremendous,” he said. “And not just physical health; we’ve all known for years that we should do more physical activities, but the benefits to mental health when people get out and in nature are also tremendous. That is widely recognized as being an important way of helping people cope with the stress of life, so that’s important to us.”
For more information on CMC trails or trail-specific maps and coordinates, driving directions or route features, visit catskillmountainclub.org. Additionally, find “Catskill Mountain Club” on Facebook.