Chenango County, it has been claimed, has the greatest concentration of forested state land when compared to the other counties in New York State. I have never confirmed this claim by doing the math, but a glance at a map of the state forest areas shows more large green splotches of color scattered all over our county than other counties. Of course, this doesn’t include the counties in the Adirondack or Catskill State Parks which are nearly all green.
Every Chenango County town, except one, has at least one state forest. The exception is the Town of Norwich which has zero acres of state land. These state forests belong to us, under the auspices of the NYS Environment Conservation Department. However, only a small percentage of the population takes advantage of this public asset, and that’s a shame.
Some of the uses of state forest land are; recreation, hunting, hiking, skiing, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, even camping. Also included in state forest benefits is the well-managed logging and lumber industry which employees thousands across the state.
Unless you are a town supervisor bemoaning the loss of taxable real estate, we are lucky to have vast amounts of state land in such close proximity. Within our nearby state forest lands are some interesting sites that deserve exploring; rock outcroppings, deep gorges, waterfalls, huge candelabra trees, ponds, beautiful flora, animals and crystal clear streams. Another nice feature of our state land is the solitude.
If you don’t venture into the woods for fear of becoming lost, the best way to explore our state lands is with a knowledgeable and professional guide. If you think guides are expensive or hard to find, you are oh so wrong. Every week at least one forest hike is conducted by the Bullthistle Hiking Club. There is often a mid-week hike and an occasional Saturday take-your- dog hike. I’ve been a member of this inexpensive club for about five years. I’ve been on countless hikes – all in Chenango County – and have seen things I never knew existed this close to home.
Inside some of our state forests are well-trodden and fully marked trails leading to the interesting sights and beyond. If you happen to hike on a portion of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), you will find it better maintained than some of the local roads. You will also find trail maps, direction signs, foot bridges, overnight lean-tos, benches and a privy or two along the route.
There is approximately 70 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail traversing Chenango County; from Lincklaen in the northwest, winding its way to Bainbridge in the southeast. Most of the FLT is on state land, but in a few places, the route is on private property. For those private landowners who allow us to pass, we are grateful.
Often times, wearing my FLT hat will start a conversation with would-be hikers. If I had a dollar for everyone who said to me “I always wanted to go hiking”, I’d be a wealthy man. Maybe you think hiking is too arduous. It is not, it’s as easy as a walk in the woods. Perhaps your excuse is the gear is too expensive. It is not, a sturdy pair of shoes and a whistle is my only requirement for hiking in our nearby woods. All the rest of the “exotic gear” is optional according to your personal comfort index.
Maybe you have a fear of not fitting in with the group, which was my initial concern. During my first organized group hike, it was all positive. Strangers at the start turned out to be good buddies by the end of the hike. Every hiking group is an eclectic mix of people. I have hiked with an engineer, Chobani employees, research scientist, retired cops, school teachers, college students, even a former Broadway show dancer and every one of them were friendly and interesting hike companions.
Once firearms deer season ends it will be a great time to get into the habit of a once-per-week hike. The weather is cooler, which usually means burning off more calories. The leaves are off the trees allowing for longer site distance in the woods and there shouldn’t be any flying bugs. (Do watch for ticks, though)
Here’s how to get started; first, go to the hiking club webpage or their Facebook page and explore there. Look at the photos and you won’t see any extravagant, expensive equipment. However, one piece of gear you should probably have is a camera.
Next, find the past “hike reports” section and read about some of the routes; the distance, the elevation, the people and their findings. Last, find the “upcoming hikes” section, take note of the time and place of the next hike, set a reminder, and then go take a hike. Learn more at http://www.bullthistlehiking.org