Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Land of Opportunity......The Delaware County Catskills

Have you ever had been to place for the first time and after you get back you want to tell everyone about it? But then you decide against it …. realizing that you run the risk of spreading the news too far and that all of your future journeys to this spot may not be as enjoyable?

After the most recent snowfall I will soon be visiting one of these places - forgive me if I happen to leave out some of the important details! I live near Highmount, on the Delaware County side at about 2,100’ and got 8-9” of snow from the Wednesday storm, followed up with another 4” that night. Without question, this sets up perfectly for cross-county skiing (or snowshoeing) this weekend.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the City of New York owns some incredible parcels of land throughout the Catskill Mountain region – especially in Delaware County. While these sensitive lands have been acquired for water supply protection purposes, they serve me (and hopefully other locals and tourists) just fine for some outstanding outdoor recreation that is always close to home.

I will be heading to a less than 100-acre parcel located about five minutes from my house which is also is adjacent to the soon-to-be Route 28 Scenic Byway (Andes to West Hurley), and is managed by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

This parcel is just one of …..are you ready for this – 110 parcels totaling over 31,661 acres that DEP manages/owns in Delaware County that are open for various forms of recreation! That is roughly 50 square miles of land (an area bigger than the towns of Bovina, Hancock, Harpersfield, Sidney and Stamford) just waiting to be explored by you (and me of course).

To access this parcel, an access permit is required. These permits are free, and can be printed out at the DEP website ( from the confines of your home. A number of these 110 parcels, especially those that adjoin the State Forest Preserve or other State-owned lands in Delaware County, are dubbed “public access areas”. These are units where no permit is required. For a list (and good maps) of DEP lands in the western Catskills, visit (

After parking alongside Route 28, putting on my snowshoes, and entering the woods what will I encounter? Well if you must know - after heading straight down the hill for a few minutes, I will reach the edge of a frozen pond lined with bedrock ledges and a dark stand of hemlock on its southern side. While I won’t be fishing for yellow perch this time, I do know firsthand that they are in there.

Continuing on along another old road I will reach one of the most beautiful places I know of in the western Catskills, if not the entire Catskills; A crystal-clear stream full of cascades, bedrock glides, and deep plunge pools at the bottom of a hemlock ravine. Ain’t it funny how the exact same payoff never gets old on this snowshoe?

Although I have probably set foot on only 10 of the 110, believe me, there are many ‘payoffs’ just waiting to be discovered by locals and tourists alike on DEP land. So get out there…no matter what the season. And the next time you see a car pulled off on the shoulder of Route 28, don’t assume they are talking on their cell phone, take a closer look and you just might see one of those white and blue DEP recreation signs nearby.

Aaron Bennett

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