Saturday, September 13, 2014

News: Catskills Lark in the Park Annual Celebration October 4 through October 13

The 11th Annual Catskills Lark in the Park will be held Saturday, October 4, through Monday, October 13, 2014

The 11th Annual Catskills Lark in the Park offers exciting hiking, paddling, cycling, fishing, nature walks and lectures as well as cultural and educational events throughout the entire Catskills region. From Saturday, October 4th through Monday, the 13th, you can enjoy dozens of outdoor activities during the 10-day Lark celebration, sponsored by the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, the Catskill Mountain Club, the Catskill Center and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

You can help mark the anniversary of the creation of the Catskill Park by hiking to a Catskill fire tower, paddling the Pepacton Reservoir, cycling on the Catskill Scenic Trail, learning about the region’s ecology, and much more. Lark in the Park group activities are typically free of charge – everyone is welcome!

The growing schedule of activities is available online at the newly redesigned website at and you can register for most events directly through the website. Events continue to be added to the on-line schedule so check back frequently.

Lark in the Park was originally celebrated in 2004 when the Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) marked the 100th anniversary of the Catskill Park’s founding. The NYSDEC is again a key supporter of this important anniversary.

An important part of the Catskills Lark in the Park is the Catskill Mountain Club’s Annual Dinner! Everyone is invited to join the fun which will include speakers, raffles, door prizes and auctions. For details, stay visit

For more information on Lark in the Park, visit the Lark’s website at, call the Trail Conference's Catskills Regional Office at 518-628-423, e-mail, or follow the Catskills Lark on Facebook.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Walking: Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place and Nature Walks at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary | Eastern Massachusetts

We recently had an opportunity to spend an evening visiting a few small natural areas in the Metrowest region of eastern Massachusetts.  Both sites, the Cranberry Bog Walk at Patriot Place and the Nature Trails at the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary are easy walks that offer visitors plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities and a chance to enjoy some peace and quiet in the hustle and bustle of the suburbs of Boston.

Both locations are in adjacent towns and only a few miles apart, making them a great choice for a summer evening of exploring the remaining natural areas and wetlands of eastern Massachusetts.

Cranberry Bog Nature Walk at Patriot Place

Turtles hanging out
Right behind the Bass Pro Shops at Patriot Place in the town of Foxborough, there is a half a mile long nature trail that goes around and through an active Cranberry Bog and its associated wetlands.  Beyond the bog, a short portion of the walk goes through a wooded area before returning you to the patio area behind the Bass Pro Shops.

On our most recent visit we were able to observe a number of different turtle species and just take in the flora and fauna that flourish just a few hundred yards from a very developed commercial area that includes retail development along with Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots.

Turtle Sex!
We have done the walk before and have a good description of trail already up, so this was just a return visit with a friend to enjoy a warm July evening.  On this trip I think the biggest attraction was the number of turtles. At first I just hoped to see a few and after the first hundred feet or so, I realized the most of the wetlands were teeming with several different species, including some very large snapping turtles.  In fact we even got to see some the snapping turtles getting it on while swimming under the walkways!

Thankfully mosquitoes weren't too much of a problem even though we were there in the evening hours.  After the walk we relaxed a bit at the patio behind the Bass Pro Shops.  There's outdoor seating available and there's a fire pit that I guess is used on special occasions.  We just took it as a place to spend a few minutes enjoying the evening.

Relaxing behind the Bass Pro Shops

Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

Located in Norfolk, Massachusetts, the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (trail map available) offers about 2 miles of nature trails in two large loops that brings visitors around and through a series of marshes, bogs and ponds.  The first section of the trail, from the Visitor Center down to boardwalks between Teal Marsh and Kingfisher Pond are universally accessible, making this a great choice for everyone to enjoy a walk.

At the Visitor Center
The visitor center for the Sanctuary is located at 108 North Street in the Town of Norfolk.  The visitor center is open various hours, but the trails are open year round from down to dusk.  Admission is free to Audubon members, otherwise it is a $4 donation.

We were there in the evening hours so the visitor center wasn't open, but even still there were a number of visitors enjoying the area around the center, fishing in the pond and enjoying the trails.  There were even several photographers trying to get photos of an elusive rabbit that was running around the yard of the visitor center.

From the northern side of the visitor center, the Sensory Trail heads northward and soon crosses the stream that connects Teal Marsh to Stony Brook Pond.  On our visit there was a swan nest just south of the bridge off in the woods on the edge of the marsh.  Never having the opportunity to see one so close, it was really interesting two see the two adult swans with their young in what I could only define as a nest area.  They had definitely taken up some of the real estate to rear their young!

A swan nest we discovered
After crossing the stream on the bridge, the trail is now on a small island that's surrounded by marshes and ponds.  Just ahead the Pond Loop Trail turns right, but we continued ahead to enjoy the boardwalks that cross through the marsh and ponds ahead.

There's an extensive boardwalk up ahead that carries you first over swampy lands and then into the open marsh and finally open waters on the edge of Kingfisher Pond.  All along there's plenty of opportunities to view plants and animals along the trail and then the turtles and other wildlife in the marsh and the pond.

We were able to see plenty of turtles once again, along with various birds and some fish in the pond too.  The wetland complex in this area is vast and the trail with its boardwalk brings you into the heart of the area, giving you an extensive view of all of the surround wetland features.

Teal Marsh
In the middle of the boardwalk there's a viewing platform with seating that gives you views of the marsh to your right and the pond to your left.  It was a really cool place to just sit, relax and take in the area and watch the goings on of wildlife.

As you reach the end of the boardwalk, you also reach the end of the universally accessible portion of the trail.  From here there is a short loop trail called the Beech Grove Trail that brings you around another dry island between the marshes and the ponds.  At the northern end of the loop there's an elevated viewing platform that gives you a view into the northern portion of Kingfisher Pond and is a nice place to sit and relax.  There are a few herd paths in this area though, so do pay attention as you make your away around the loop that you do not end up taking a fisherman's path to the water's edge.

Boardwalk and Kingfisher Pond
For the return trip we continued around the Beech Grove Trail and returned across the boardwalks of the Sensory Trail to its intersection with the Pond Loop Trail.  The Pond Loop Trail heads east across the small island and crosses the outlet of Kingfisher Pond on a small bridge.  There is a small dam  here that raises Kingfisher Pond up higher than Stony Brook Pond just downstream.

After crossing the bridge, the trail makes its way south along the eastern edge of Stony Brook Pond.  About halfway to the southern end of the pond, the trail intersects with a short trail that heads out to Route 115.  Continuing on, the trail reaches the Stony Brook Pond dam and then descends, crossing the pond's outlet on a bridge below the dam and then climbing back up to pond's shoreline before ascending gently back up to the visitors center.

Boardwalks viewing platform
All of the trails, especially the universally accessible Sensory Trail are very moderate grades that make them accessible to just about anyone.  The only slightly steeper section is on the Pond Loop Trail where it descends to cross Stony Brook and then ascends back up to the visitor center.  Even here though, there are two routes, one with steps and another route that is more gradually graded to make walking easier for everyone.

It was a really pleasant area to spend a little over an hour and a half as we walked the entire trail network and got to experience a number of different things we hadn't run into before like the swans' nest.  If I were looking for a place to bring visitors for an easy walk in the future, this would definitely be on my short list of places to go.

For more Information on Hikes and Walks in Eastern Massachusetts
and the Boston Metropolitan Region

Patriot Place maintains a website for the Nature Walk and the Massachusetts Audubon Society manages the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.

For more hiking and walking options in Massachusetts and the Boston region, the Appalachian Mountain Club publishes a Trail Guide for Trails in Massachusetts and a Trail Guide for the 60 Best Hikes Near Boston

Hiking: Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain via the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail | Catskill Mountains, NY | 7/25/2014

One of the views from Giant Ledge
The thru-hike over both Panther Mountain and Giant Ledge is a strenuous Catskills hike with superb views almost all along the way.

Giant Ledge, by itself is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Catskill Mountains.  The various viewpoints at Giant Ledge offer a comprehensive vista of most of the major Catskills peaks and makes a great destination for hikers who do not want to go through with the entire trip over Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain.

For those looking for some more adventure, continuing along the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail gives you the opportunity to climb Panther Mountain, enjoy several views along the ridge and then travel down through Fox Hollow for a total hike of just under eight and a half miles.

Trip Planning

Like many hikes and trails in the Catskills, this trip does not lend itself to hiking in a loop.  For those who want to complete the entire hike, two cars are needed at either end of the trail.  Our preference is to hike the trail from south to north - starting at the Giant Ledge Trailhead and ending at the Fox Hollow Trailhead.  This gets the majority of the climbing out the way in the first three or so miles and allows for a pleasant ridge walk across Panther and then a long descent into Fox Hollow.  It also reduces the vertical climb required (the Giant Ledge Trailhead is located at a higher elevation) and leaves the steepest sections of trail for the descent.

Looking east from Giant Ledge
The trailheads and trails are shown on Trail Map #142 in the Trail Conference's Catskill Trails Map Set.  The map is also available for purchase on smartphones and tablets through the PDFMaps app.

While there are a few springs along this trail, hikers should pack plenty of water as most are unreliable, especially in the summer months.  There is a spring just before you reach Giant Ledge and another spring just before the summit of Panther Mountain.  The only other spring is the one located at the Fox Hollow Lean-to.

Distance and Elevation
From the Giant Ledge Trailhead to the Fox Hollow Trailhead, the total hiking distance is 8.2 miles.  The elevation difference between the Giant Ledge Trailhead at the summit of Panther is about 1400 feet and the descent from the summit of Panther Mountain to the Fox Hollow Trailhead is about 2200 feet for a total gain and loss of 3600 vertical feet in this hike.  The average hiker can complete the roughly 8.2 miles in about five hours accounting for a lunch break and some time at the various vistas.

Due to the steep climbs to Giant Ledge, to the summit of Panther and the descent into Fox Hollow, we consider this a strenuous hike, especially when considering the distance covered.  While the Giant Ledge hike is popular with families, the trail can be difficult for young children and the who traverse of Giant Ledge, Panther and Fox Hollow would be a very difficult hike for young children.


The Giant Ledge Trailhead is located on County Route 47 (Oliverea Road) and the Fox Hollow Trailhead is located on Fox Hollow Road.  Both are accessible from Route 28 and on Route 28 are marked with trailhead way finding signage.  The Giant Ledge Parking area is located on the hairpin turn of County Route 47 as it begins to climb to Winnisook Lake.  For the Fox Hollow parking area, it is located on Fox Hollow Road, but after a series of intersections that can be confusing without a map, though directional signage has recently been installed on the road to make the trip easier.

Junction of Phoenicia-East Branch &
the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trails
On our last trip we left a car at the Fox Hollow Trailhead and then went back out to Route 28 and up County Route 47 to the Giant Ledge Trailhead and Parking Area.

One note on the Giant Ledge Trailhead, this is one of the most popular trailheads in the Catskills and fills up very quickly, especially on weekends.  We were there during the week and the lot was already almost full.  On weekends cars park along the road outside the parking area, but overall it is best to get there early to ensure that you can find a parking spot.

The Hike

Giant Ledge
Our hike began at the Giant Ledge Trailhead.  Here the yellow blazed Phoenicia - East Branch Trail, descending down County Route 47 leaves the road turning east and beginning to climb to the notch between Slide Mountain to the south and Giant Ledge to the north.  After crossing a small bridge near the road, the trail ascends slightly, passing a kiosk and a trail register (be sure to sign in - this information is used in case of emergencies to help locate you).  Past the kiosk the trail becomes steeper and begins to climb to the notch.

For the next 0.6 miles the trail ascends steadily in moderate to strenuous grade.  The trail then begins to level off before reaching the trail junction with the blue blazed Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail.  For the Giant Ledge and Panther Hike, turn left here.  Ahead the Phoenicia East - Branch Trail begins descending and about 2.7 miles reaches the Woodland Valley State Campground.

After turning on to the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail, the trail, gently at first, begins climbing to Giant Ledge.  The trail quickly becomes steeper and the climb more strenuous.  After about three quarters of a mile, the first view of Giant Ledge is reached (about 1.45 miles from the trailhead).  Giant Ledge is not a single "giant" ledge, but a series of openings on a long escarpment that offers views to the southeast, east and northeast.  There are at least three outstanding viewpoints in short order, along with several designated campsites for those who would want to spend the night here.


Panther Mountain
Passing the views of Giant Ledge, the descends slightly to the col between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain in just less than a mile.  From the col, the trail climbs steeply once again, passing another view on the shoulder of Panther before reaching the summit at 1.85 miles from Giant Ledge (and 3.3 miles from the trailhead).  Just past the forested summit is a large boulder and view that makes for a great lunch spot (at least it did for us!).

View from near the summit of Panther
From the summit, the trail follows the ridgeline of Panther Mountain while slowly descending.  It is a very pleasant, high altitude walk with occasional obstructed vistas through the trees.  About 2 miles north from the summit (roughly 5.3 miles from the trailhead), there is the last vista on the Panther ridgeline.  From this point the trail begins to descend more steeply and then very steeply descends as its drops off the shoulder of Panther Mountain into Fox Hollow.  Be prepared to work those knees!  This is a steep descent, especially after almost 6 miles of hiking.  However you'll be glad you're descending this way, versus making the very long and steep ascent from Fox Hollow.

Fox Hollow & Fox Hollow Lean-to
After steeply descending from the shoulder of Panther Mountain, at 7.9 miles the trail passes the side trail to the Fox Hollow Lean-to.  This makes a great stop to rest your legs a bit after all of the descending.  There's also a fairly reliable spring at the lean-to if you have run out of water on this mostly dry trail.  On our visit the lean-to was empty and it was a pleasant spot to spend a few minutes resting our knees and snacking a bit before the last descent to the trailhead.

Fox Hollow Lean-to
The Lean-to is only about 0.30 miles from the Fox Hollow Trailhead, but about two tenths of those miles are re a steep descent followed by about a tenth of a mile of flat out to the parking lot and trailhead.

There's a trail register just before you reach the trailhead and parking area - be sure to sign yourself out.

Once you've reached your car it's a quickly shuttle back over to the Giant Ledge Trailhead.

Alternate Trips
For those looking for in and out hikes, we would suggest a trip to the summit of Panther via the Giant Ledge Trailhead.  It gives you the views of Giant Ledge and Panther in a 3.3 mile hike in (6.6 roundtrip).  However if you have the option of having two cars or are able to set up a shuttle ahead of time, we think the preferred way to hike this section is a thru-hike.

Need more information on hiking and planning your 
adventures in the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park?

Catskill TrailsRead up on the Catskill Park at our Catskill Mountains Information Page for hikes, advice, travel and planning information.  We also have a Guide to Hiking in the Catskills available and on our sister site, ReviewThis is a Guide to the Catskill Park.  Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills?  We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set.  These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park.  How about a guidebook?  Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps that will help you as you hike and explore the Catskill Mountains region.

AMC Catskill Mountain Guide, 2nd: AMC's Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in the Catskills (Appalachian Mountain Club)   

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hiking: Kaaterskill Falls via the Kaaterskill Falls Trail | Catskill Mountains, NY | July 27, 2014

I had the opportunity to hike the short half mile long trail from Route 23A to the base of Kaaterskill Falls recently thanks to work.  We were there to begin looking at ways and starting a discussion of how to improve safety and access at the falls while protecting the natural resources.

Kaaterskill Falls is a very popular destination in the Catskills and there are often accidents and deaths due to visitors hiking and climbing in very unsafe areas.  Not only that, but the level of use creates parking problems on Route 23A and the entire route of the trail and the Falls area is very worn out from all the visitors.

We parked at the lower lot, below Bastion Falls on Route 23A and walked up to the trailhead.  This helped show just how dangerous even the approaches to the Kaaterskill Falls Trail really are.  The hike up was just as interesting, passing people who probably were not that well prepared and even someone hiking barefoot.

At the base of the Falls our group was able to see the many people hiking past the end of trail sign, some slipping and falling.  We also saw people swimming throughout the various tiers of the falls where the rocks are very slippery and a fall would cause very bad injuries if not death.  That's not to say that a visit to Kaaterskill Falls has to be dangerous, but visitors should be prepared by wearing proper hiking shoes, carrying water, staying on the marked trail and not going beyond the marked end of the trail.

If you're looking for a hiking guide to Kaaterskill Falls and the Kaaterskill Falls Trail and want to be properly prepared for the trip, please read our:

A story appeared in the Daily Mail from our visit.  There had been a death before our visit and just a few days later unfortunately, another visitor slipped, fell and passed away from her injuries.  Kaaterskill Falls is a very dangerous place.  Please stay on the marked trail and do not go beyond the sign that signals the end of the trail at the base of the Falls.

Need more information on hiking and planning your 
adventures in the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park?

Catskill TrailsRead up on the Catskill Park at our Catskill Mountains Information Page for hikes, advice, travel and planning information.  We also have a Guide to Hiking in the Catskills available and on our sister site, ReviewThis is a Guide to the Catskill Park.  Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills?  We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set.  These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park.  How about a guidebook?  Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps for hiking and exploring the Catskill Mountain region.

AMC Catskill Mountain Guide, 2nd: AMC's Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in the Catskills (Appalachian Mountain Club)