Description - The Catskill Forest Preserve is the state land within the Catskill Park. Since its creation in 1885, it has grown from 34,000 to almost 300,000 acres of spruce-fir forests on boreal mountaintops, wetlands, trout streams, rattlesnake dens and old-growth forests.
Coyotes, bears, bobcats, minks and fishers are some of the more secretive residents of the Catskills, but coyotes are often heard and some of the 400 bears that live in the region are spotted, even though they generally avoid people. Red squirrels and porcupines are more common at higher elevations where they live among the balsam fir, red spruce trees and flowers of the boreal forest.
Old growth hemlock and northern hardwood forests on steep mountainsides and remote valleys were so inaccessible, they survived the logging, tanbarking and charcoal industries of the past 300 years. Elsewhere, repeated fires have burned deeply into the shallow mountain soils, forming mountaintop blueberry meadows.
This special and often remote mountain landscape was only occasionally used by Native Americans. Later it was settled and heavily exploited by the Dutch, English, Irish and Germans. Its rich history includes logging, bluestone quarrying, leather tanning, wintergreen and blueberry harvesting, trapping, fishing, mountain house tourism, railroads and even World War II pilot training. Today, over 60% of the land is privately owned with approximately 50,000 residents. The remainder of the land is designated "forest preserve."
Outdoor recreation includes over 300 miles of multi-use trails, numerous campgrounds, large and small game hunting opportunities and scenic drives.
- An 1894 amendment to the New York State Constitution (now Article 14) directs:
"the lands of the State now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever 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."
The forest preserve has thousands of acres of forests with meadows, remnants of old farmsteads, lakes, rivers, springs, waterfalls, cliffs, fire towers, bears, rattlesnakes and other wildlife, rare plants and animals. Also, there are hundreds of miles of abandoned woods, roads and trails to enjoy. Today, it serves as a watershed, recreation area, and ecological and scenic reserve.
Recreation - Public campgrounds are Mongaup Pond, the Beaverkill, Kenneth Wilson, Woodland Valley, Little Pond, Bear Spring Mountain, Devil's Tombstone and North / South Lake. For information call 518-457-2500, for reservations call 800-456-CAMP.
Three hundred miles of trails make much of the forest preserve accessible to hikers. The trails vary in length from a half mile to a 94-mile section of the Long Path connecting New York City's George Washington Bridge with East Windham (Greene Co.) in the northern Catskills. You can also find horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and mountain biking on some of these trails. Trail brochures are available from DEC.
The Catskills offer some of the finest trout fishing in the East. The Beaverkill-Willowemoc area is the birthplace of fly fishing in America.
Hunting is permitted on forest preserve lands. Hunting, fishing and trapping licenses are required.
Climate - The Palisades / Catskill Travel Region experiences average January temperatures above 22 degrees Fahrenheit (above -6 degrees Celsius). Summer temperatures average around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (around 22 degrees Celsius). Precipitation in the region ranges from 40 to more than 44 inches of rain and snowmelt. The central Catskills receive the highest precipitation.
Most people drive through the park on Routes 28, 23 and 23A from Kingston and the New York State Thruway on the east, or Oneonta on the west. State Route 17 provides access from the south. Venture beyond these roads or enter on one of the hundreds of smaller roads to discover the villages, remote mountains, beautiful views and steep river valleys that have made the Catskills a favorite tourist destination for over 100 years.