July 1, 2002
Dry Brook Ridge

The weather was so pleasant this past weekend we had to take advantage of it. With the number of people hiking in the Catskills continually increasing, a secluded yet challenging hike was more important to us than ones with dramatic viewpoints and unique spruce/fir summits. Perhaps the best place to achieve this combination is on Dry Brook Ridge. Dry Brook Ridge is a 7 mile-long crest, bisected by Ulster and Delaware Counties, which connects Margaretville on the north with Balsam Lake Mountain to the south. We began the hike at the trailhead along Mill Brook Road, about 8 miles south of Arkvillle.

We headed north along the blue-blazed Dry Brook Ridge Trail and after signing in at the register began to ascend quickly. The trail directed us through a large stand of Norway spruce trees that were home to the first or many wildlife sightings that day - a black bear. This was only the fourth time we've seen one while hiking in the Catskills. It bounded off quickly with the thunderous sounds of snapping branches. Sightings of deer, grouse, chipmunks, squirrels, woodpeckers and countless other birds made the hike very pleasurable.

After 1.2 miles we reached the Dry Brook Lean-to at 2,700'. Situated at the corner of NYS Forest Preserve and private land, this spot offers a unique opportunity to compare the 'forever wild' public land with an area where a recent timber harvest was performed. Many of the larger, healthy trees were left, leading us to believe that a 'thinning' was performed to encourage growth of the healthy trees and assist with the propagation of vibrant, young trees. After the lean-to we hiked back up the ridge to an elevation of 3,400'. We continued on to the trail junction with the red-blazed Huckleberry Loop Trail, about 4 miles from the start.

The ridge offers only a few vistas during leaf season; all looking west towards the Pepacton Reservoir. The forests on the lower slopes and on the ridge itself are composed of tall, green, healthy trees with scattered beech saplings and a dense fern mat on the forest floor - very visually appealing. Unfortunately this aesthetically pleasing forest, common in the Catskills, is a sign of over-population of deer. Deer eat most everything except beech saplings and ferns, and ferns simply shade-out all other tree saplings that the deer miss. This results in a very uniform forest type and little or no understory. Very few young maple, birch, cherry, ash, and hemlock can withstand the impacts of too many deer.

On the way back, we encountered two local members of the New York / New Jersey Trail Conference who were maintaining the trail. As trails become overgrown with vegetation, volunteers 'adopt' trails in order to keep them clear. Many trails in the region are without people to maintain them, so if you are interested, please contact your local forest ranger for information.

After the 8-mile excursion it was still early so we decided to head to one of our favorite places, Kelly Hollow, located 4 miles further west on Mill Brook Road. While Kelly Hollow is known for cross-country skiing, it is a great place to hike too. There are two loop trails, one is 2-miles, and the other is 3.8 miles. We chose the longer one because it takes you past a beaver pond and the Kelly Hollow Lean-to at its southern end. The eastern side of the loop skirts a vast red pine plantation. The banks of the small brook that flows between the trails is shaded with beautiful hemlocks, and the stream is lined with bedrock, resulting in one cascade of water after another for its 1.5-mile length.

After a humid, hectic week, a day filled with 12 miles of secluded hiking was just what we needed.

- Chris and Aaron



Catskill Mountain Club

PO Box 558, Pine Hill, NY 12465