Stewart Dutfield is the Rail Trail Ambassador Coordinator for the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, and was recently honored for his volunteer work at the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s annual dinner in January.
Five Preserves: One Day
The map of MHLC preserves shows 19 or so protected areas; how to connect these, each with its few miles of well-maintained trails? On June 3rd, I chose to celebrate National Trails Day by traveling on foot between five of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s preserves, from near Schenectady to almost Greene County, and explore the trails in each one. After quite a bit of planning, I had assembled a packet of preserve maps printed from the MHLC website and a photocopy of a road map indicating the route.
Wolf Creek Falls: Fresh-footed and Fancy Free
Setting off early in the morning from the trailhead, I noticed a hunting hide in the woods and wondered at a way of spending time in the woods so different from what I had planned for the day: peering out of a slit into the dark woods rather than following one’s fancy from place to place. Some trails here feature turquoise markers for the Long Path, several miles north of the current terminus. I would follow them along the road for a while before making the climb into the Helderbergs.
Amidst the Maidenhair ferns were signs for the S70 snowmobile trail (“Culvert Ahead”) and evidence of dirt bikes. From the preserve’s southern boundary, old forest roads offer tempting ways into private land. The trail map suggests that S70 is usable outside the preserve—material for future exploration.
Thacher Park: Mud on the Long Path
Munching trail mix & sipping water from a backpack, I trotted along route 156 to rejoin the Long Path markers on Old Stage Road. At the official end point, Long Path markers suggest that the trail continues: in 2013 this led Kenneth Posner to overshoot his epic end-to end traverse.
The Long Path took me to High Point and, after a Mars Bar while admiring the view, through a very muddy section past a group of trail volunteers (doing their part for National Trails Day by trimming brush beside the trail). At the brand new Thacher Park visitor center I felt too grubby to linger, so I replenished my water supply and moved on up the hill to Beaver Dam Road. From here it seems that the Long Path once followed trails to the south, but the markers now take the road instead.
Keleher: Trail Work in Progress
The trailhead kiosk indicated that trail reroutings under way had superseded the map. I abandoned the white blazes when they seemed to turn back toward the trailhead, and used the position of the sun as a guide until something appeared that was recognizable on the map. A seat at the overlook offered a fine view through the trees to downtown Albany and beyond.
The trail back to the start had also been considerably rerouted, marked in places only by ribbons, but by running approximately toward the mid-afternoon sun I found my way out without the map.
Bennett Hill: Too Many Bathtubs
If MHLC’s Executive Director Mark King was expecting his camera to capture athleticism in action, he was surely disappointed. He drove up to find a (now grubbier) itinerant slouched on a log and scoffing what remained of a bag of trail mix. Photo ops done, I left at the most convincing trot I could manage. Making good time, I thought, as I made a left turn onto the loop around the summit. After passing only the second group of hikers I had seen all day, I noticed a bathtub spring just like the one I expected to pass on the way down. Only after another couple of hundred yards did I realize that the trail was going in the wrong direction; I had not taken the left turn after all, and wasn’t moving quite as quickly as I’d thought. It’s the mind that gives out before the legs do.
Holt: Cutting Corners
It was not far to the last preserve of the day. Tarrytown Road took me past the church in Onesquethaw built of stone which the builders rejected from the Erie Canal, and briefly on Route 32 before turning east onto Lower Copeland Hill Road. The sign-in book at the trailhead kiosk indicated that the lower trails were “very soggy”, so I followed the undriveable portion of what was once Copeland Hill Road up a steep hill to the trailhead for the upper trails. Here, rather than another loop after 11 hours on the move, I chose to walk out on Upper Copeland Hill Road/Appleby Road to the car that would meet me for the 45-minute drive back to the start.