The Catskills Lark in the Park was established in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Catskill Park. Citizens of New York and visitors to the area should be grateful that over 100 years ago, the New York State Legislature saw fit to protect the forest resources of New York, first through laws and finally through an amendment to the New York State Constitution.
The Forest Preserve of the Catskill and Adirondack Parks were created by the New York State Legislature in 1885 to protect forests in the two regions. The original law creating the Forest Preserve included Ulster, Sullivan and Greene Counties in the Catskills. Delaware County was added as a Forest Preserve County in 1888. In a first for the state and the Catskills, New York made its first fiscal allocation for a trail on the Forest Preserve here in the Catskills, for what would become the bridal path that climbed Slide Mountain, portions of which are still used by trails that climb Slide Mountain today.
In 1892, the Adirondack Park was created by the legislature and defined in law as a “blue line,” hence the language we use today. Even following the creation of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park, it became apparent that the legislative protection afforded to the Forest Preserve by the original 1885 law was insufficient to truly protect the resources in the two preserves and legislators began working on a constitutional amendment which would permanently protect the Forest Preserve lands as Forever Wild.
In November of 1894, an amendment to the New York State Constitution went before voters and was passed by the citizens of New York. In part, the Amendment stated that “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” This amendment took effect on January 1, 1895 and the Forest Preserve lands of the Catskills and Adirondacks were permanently protected as Forever Wild Forest Preserve lands.
Following the creation of the Adirondack Park and the constitutional amendment providing further protection to the Forest Preserve, the Catskill Park was created by the New York State Legislature in 1904. Over the years since 1904, the Forest Preserve and the Catskill Park have grown, with the Catskill Park now comprising approximately 700,000 acres, about half of which is public Forest Preserve.
Today New York is very lucky, as the Catskill and Adirondack Parks are nationally unique as a checkerboard of public and private land; a grand experiment in how nature, even wilderness, and human society can coexist in a landscape. Our open space resources and outdoor recreation opportunities are greatly enhanced by the thousands of acres which have been protected and are open to the public.
State public lands in the Catskill Park fall into several different classifications and are managed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in a variety of ways depending on their location, size and remoteness. The diversity of management categories allows the State to provide for a variety of open space values, including public recreation, wilderness preservation, historic preservation, and long term maintenance of wildlife habitat and natural resources.
Hiking opportunities abound in the Catskill Park. There are approximately 300 miles of marked, maintained hiking trails on public Forest Preserve land. Stewardship and development of these trails is managed by the New York State DEC in partnership with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and the Catskill Conservation Corps. Several other regional groups including the Catskill Mountain Club, the Catskill 3500 Club, the Rip Van Winkle Hikers and the Adirondack Mountain Club work through the Trail Conference and the Catskill Conservation Corps to maintain trails and lean-tos in the Park. In addition, through the Catskill Conservation Corps, volunteers are able to take part in numerous other stewardship tasks throughout the Catskill Mountains.
The Catskills contain numerous mountain ridges and hundreds of peaks. However, there are 35 Catskill peaks boasting heights greater than 3500 feet in elevation, and people who hike to the summits of each of these peaks earn their membership in the Catskill 3500 Club.
Five of the Catskill peaks, Hunter, Overlook, Tremper, Balsam Lake, and Red Hill, have restored fire towers on their summits; remnants of an era gone by when forest fires were spotted from the peaks of mountains. The Catskill Fire Tower Project restored these towers in cooperation with other groups and the DEC, making them safe so that the excellent views and educational aspects of the towers can now be enjoyed by the public. Today volunteers staff the fire towers every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, allowing visitors to climb and enter the towers to observe the majestic vistas and be educated by Fire Tower Stewards at the same time.
Hiking maps and guidebooks for the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park are available from a number of different sources. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference publishes a map set for the Catskills, as does National Geographic. Both the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club have produced trail guidebooks for the region.
Both primitive and amenity camping opportunities abound in the Catskills. Primitive camping is allowed in the Wilderness and Wild Forest areas of the Catskill Forest Preserve, so long as you follow certain guidelines designed to protect sensitive summit forest communities and water quality of the streams. Wilderness camping rules include not camping within 150 feet of a trail, stream, or pond, roadway and not above 3500 feet in elevation except in winter.
Three-sided, roofed lean-to shelters have been constructed on several Catskill backwoods trails. The DEC maintains seven public campgrounds in the Forest Preserve; North/South Lake, Devils Tombstone, Kenneth Wilson, Woodland Valley, Mongaup Pond, Little Pond, and Beaverkill. These campgrounds have tent and trailer sites, restroom facilities, and other amenities varying by location. Numerous private campgrounds are scattered throughout the Catskills.
For more information regarding Forest Preserve Camping opportunities, contact the DEC in Region 3 (Sullivan and Ulster counties) at (845) 256-3082 or -3083, and in Region 4 (Delaware and Greene counties) at (607) 652-7364.
You can also contact the Catskill Mountain Club at email@example.com, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s Catskills Regional Office at 518-628-4243 or the Catskill Center at 845- 586-2611 for more information on the Catskill Park, it’s hiking and camping opportunities and for general park information.