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Skyline Drive State Forest (Kirkwood, NY)

hammock, hung in the southeastern portion of skyline drive state forest

hammock, hung in the southeastern portion of skyline drive state forest

Skyline Drive State Forest not the largest state forest, but it presents the prospective hiker, hunter, or camper with some challenges. The north end is flat, and accessible, but fairly swampy. By this, I mean that there’s usually standing water in the trails, and that there are plenty of frogs and mosquitoes around. The southern half of the forest has a fairly steep topography, and the terrain is rough if you venture off the trails. I thought about camping there once, but had difficulty finding a spot that was flat, marginally dry, and 150 feet from a trail. In some cases I had trouble even getting 150 feet from a trail.

shootin' stump at the end of skyline drive

shootin' stump at the end of skyline drive ("targets" were rudely abandoned)

People regularly discharge firearms in this state forest as both hunting, and target shooting are permitted. The evidence of this, spent cartridges and assorted garbage with holes in it, is strewn throughout the property. The central spot for target shooting seems to be a large tree stump at the northern end of the access road. There is an etiquette which is simple, and seems to prevent “sportsmen” from accidentally blasting hikers and birdwatchers. People just park their vehicles in such a way that they block the trail that they intend to use. Others will take note, and most likely avoid firing in that direction. It sounds terrifying, but I haven’t heard of any serious incidents there.

partial, annotated map of skyline drive state forest

partial, annotated map of skyline drive state forest

Trowbridge Creek runs through the northern section, and may be reached by following a walking trail that runs north-northwest from the shootin’ stump at the end of Skyline Drive Public Forest Access Road (P.F.A.R.). If you walk about 1/3 of a mile along that trail, you can pick up another that runs eastward, and will take you directly to the creek. Alternatively, if you’re sure-footed, it’s quite possible to reach the creek by cutting through the woods. Just walk about 100 yards to the north of the shootin’ stump, then head due east for 250-300 yards. You will come to a steep drop-off which plunges about 50 feet to the water. If you are able to slog through the thick underbrush to get to that far, then you can probably work your way to the bottom with only minor injuries.  I definitely do not recommend taking this route if you’re on your own, as it would be very easy to slip and sprain or break something important. Also be careful not to stray too far to the south while making your way through this section of forest, as it may bring you into the line of fire behind the shootin’ stump.

I’m obviously still navigating the old-fashioned way, with a map, a compass, and reasonably good eyesight. If anyone would care to provide me with a handheld GPS unit (I’m looking at you, Delorme, Garmin, Magellan), I would be glad to post coordinates where useful.

trowbridge creek in skyline drive state forest

trowbridge creek in skyline drive state forest

Wildlife is abundant throughout the forest. Squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere. I have been told that there are black bears in there at times, but I have never seen any sign of them in my few visits. There are signs of deer, on the other hand, all over Skyline Drive State Forest. I have frequently seen does along the P.F.A.R. when driving in, and have seen tracks and scat off the trails at both ends of the forest. I accidentally sneaked up on a deer at about 25 yards on one of the southeastern access trails one afternoon. It sneezed at me (snorted, technically speaking) and turned tail before I got a good look at it. I think that we were both equally surprised.

If you are seriously Into the Forest, especially soggy, dark, coniferous forest next to barely negotiable, crevasse-ridden, hardwood forest, Skyline Drive may be just your line of country. Watch out for stray bullets, bears, and sneezy deer.

Links:

Google Map: Skyline Drive State Forest
NY DEC: Skyline Drive State Forest
NY DEC: Unit Management Plan (.PDF map only)


Hawkins Pond Nature Area (Windsor, NY)

northern end of shoreline way, a trail in hawkins pond nature area

northern end of shoreline way, a trail in hawkins pond nature area

Hawkins Pond Nature Area can get you further Into the Forest than I might have imagined before I went there. It is technically a park administered by Broome County Parks and Recreation, and based on my experiences at Otsiningo Park and Dorchester Park I expected something along the line of a very good municipal park. What I found was more like the experience of a state forest.

No hunting, camping, swimming or boating is allowed within the borders of the county park. Camping and hunting are allowed, however in Hawkins Pond State Forest, which lies directly to the north of the park. The park and state forest are contiguous with one another, and you can hike from one to the other without leaving public land.

picnic area and shelter south of hawkins pond

picnic area and shelter south of hawkins pond

There is a sheltered picnic area just to the south of the pond, which is in reasonably good repair. This appears to be the only building on the property. It has a water fountain which is almost functional, and public restrooms which have apparently been closed due to persistent difficulties with the public.

Hawkins pond is is clearly the focal point of the park. Fishing is permitted in the pond, though I have not tried it. It’s not difficult to get to the western shore of the pond, but you’ll have to cast across a substantial expanse of grasses and weeds to fish from there in most cases. The water is somewhat cloudy in this pond. Between that, and the marshy condition of the shore, I couldn’t see any fish at all in the water. I did notice a fair number of leopard frogs, which is likely a positive sign.  While I can’t attest further to the health of the lake, it does make pleasant scenery from the circumjacent trails.

hawkins pond from the southwestern shore

hawkins pond from the southwestern shore, just before a torrential downpour

This county park turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s sort of an overgrown marsh pond with a well-maintained system of trails for hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. These facts, coupled with the close proximity of the park to the state forest of the same name, make Hawkins Pond an enjoyable and versatile “nature area.”

 

Links:

Google Map: Hawkins Pond Nature Area
Broome County: Hawkins Pond Nature Area
Broome County: Hawkins Pond Trails Map (.PDF only)

 

Dwyer Memorial Park (Preble, NY)

picnic site in dwyer park

picnic site in dwyer park

Dwyer Memorial Park feels like a cross between a typical municipal park and an old campground. Not only does it not feel like you’ve gone Into the Forest, but it’s actually quite isolated from the forest in the surrounding hills. There are loads of picnic tables, each with a grill for afternoon cookouts, each seemingly with its own small stand of trees. There are restrooms on the premises, though the use of them might constitute the greatest adventure in the immediate area. I also noticed the somewhat rusted backstop of a baseball diamond, which is by far the tallest of a number of factors which contribute to the slightly run-down feeling of the park.

eastern shore of little york lake

eastern shore of little york lake

Dwyer Memorial borders on two lakes. The northernmost of the two is aptly named “Green lake,” as its water has a greenish tint and is a bit cloudy. I’m not sure what conditions have caused this, but I assume that they are naturally occurring since people were fishing there without any apparent concern. Little York Lake lies to the south of the park, and is its most inviting attribute.

Little York is pleasant, but far from pristine. Its water is clear and clean, though a bit weedy for my liking. Schools of small bait fish were abundant in the shallows. I was able to throw a line in when I was there, but didn’t catch anything. I can’t say what a serious effort might yield. Pleasant, rolling hills almost completely surround the lake. Unfortunately the shoreline is tightly crowded with camps and houses. The clearest view of the natural scenery around the lake is to the east, which was saved from residential construction by the conspicuous presence of Interstate 81.

dock and landing at little york lake

dock and landing at little york lake

Altogether, the experience is less an escape than an enrichment of an already familiar environment. Navigating Little York Lake is like  swimming through a suburb. It is interesting, and can be fun, but not by any means a wilderness.

Links:

Google Map: Dwyer Memorial Park
NY DEC: Little York Lake
NY DEC: Green Lake (map only)

Oakley Corners State Forest (Owego, NY)

oakley corners pond

oakley corners pond

Oakley Corners State Forest is clearly a well-used recreation area. It’s very near to the Greater Binghamton population center, access is easy, and there’s much to recommend it.

Oakley Corners Pond is a significant attraction on the land. Despite its relatively small size, the DEC apparently stocks the pond with those vicious tiger fish (Tiger Muskellunge). I didn’t see any of them, but I could see a lot of bluegill and other baitfish in among the plants along the shore. The water is fairly clear, though it’s pretty weedy. The most troublesome aspect of the pond, for me, is that it is crowded with debris. If you look closely at the picture above, you can make out the remains of long dead trees along the bank. The remnants of an entire forest lie submerged in the water.  I suppose that they make good fish habitat, but they also  present something of an eyesore. I wouldn’t recommend taking a soft-sided kayak or canoe in this shallow and prickly pond.

trail in the northern section of oakley corners

trail in the northern section of oakley corners

trail in the southern section of oakley corners

trail in the southern section of oakley corners

There are wide, well-maintained, and well-marked trails throughout the property. People do ride mountain bikes on the land, and most of the trails are well suited to that activity. Camping is evidently popular as well. As I made my way along the trails on the western and southern sides of Oakley Corners Pond, I stumbled across at least a half-dozen campsites. These sites are simply flat, clear areas, each with a fire ring made from stones. I’m not sure whether they were planned, or whether they evolved organically through continual use, but they are quite adequate tent sites. Target shooting is not allowed in this forest, unlike most state forests in New York, and so you won’t trip over too many spent shotgun shells. Hunting is allowed, so remember your blaze orange in the fall, for sure.

camp site on the western shore of oakley corners pond

camp site on the western shore of oakley corners pond

The southern section of the state forest, the area with the ponds, is not particularly far from occupied houses, and you can sometimes hear the people. Other than that, it provides a nice retreat from the nearby cities. The northern section, away from the water, will bring you more nearly Into the Forest. A visit to either end is likely to make for a pleasant afternoon.

 

Links:

Google Map: Oakley Corners State Forest
NY DEC: Oakley Corners State Forest
NY DEC: Oakley Corners Pond

Otsiningo Park (Dickinson, NY)

Otsiningo Park Pond

otsiningo park pond

Otsiningo Park is under the administration of Broome County Parks and Recreation, and located near downtown Binghamton. It is an interesting mix of what one might expect to find in an urban green space, and what you might more likely find in a bigger state park or forest.

The park is well known in the area as the host of the annual Spiede Fest and Balloon Rally (see link below), as well as many other summer events which can be fun but are hardly peaceful. Otsiningo naturally has the facilities (public restrooms, fountains, picnic tables with grills, etc.) necessary to support large events and most casual use, and it is a comfortable place for a picnic or soccer game.

chenango river

chenango river

If you want feel farther afield from the city, as I generally do, there are about 3.5 miles of trails on which you might walk, run, or bike. The trails, four in all, stretch the length of the park along the Chenango River. The northernmost section of trail sees less traffic than the rest of the place, and offers the best chance of peace and quiet. There are are several side-trails which allow river access for fishing. People have also been known to drop a kayak in the river somewhere on Route 12a, and pull out at Otsiningo after a leisurely drift downstream.

There is abundant, and unwary, wildlife in the park. They’ve got piles and piles of Canadian geese there, and it’s not uncommon to see a cottontail rabbit munching weeds around the edges of the open spaces (link to video). The last time that I was there, I was walking along the river bank and saw fresh deer tracks in the mud. I’m not quite sure that I was supposed to be down there. I do go off the path at times but I suppose that’s beside the point. That you should always watch where you’re going in the park is very much to the point, since the geese are as large as dogs, and somewhat less disciplined.

kid looking at rabbit

kid looking at rabbit

If you can’t quite get Into the Forest, and some days we just can’t, the next best thing is probably a quick hurdle through the geese at Otsiningo, and jog in among the trees along the Chenango.

Links:

Google Map: Otsiningo Park
Broome County: Otsiningo Park
Facebook: Otsiningo Park
Spiede Fest: Event Information

Nanticoke Lake MUA (Lisle, NY)

Nanticoke Lake - southern entry point

southern entry point

The Nanticoke Lake Multiple Use Area (MUA) is not difficult to access, although you do have to head down some dirt roads in the Town of Lisle (see links below for directions). The parking area is about 1/4 mile from the lake itself. There is a gravel road to take you most of the way in, but vehicles are blocked by a gate near the unpaved lot. This seems to limit the number of people who turn up on any given day. I have only been there a couple of times, myself, but never saw more than one other group of people there at a time. The most common visitors seem to be local people who fish for pumpkinseed and smallmouth bass from the banks on the southern side of the lake. The south side opens to a field, and is easy to approach. The last time I was there I could see a dozen sunfish, hovering over their territories in the shallow water near the southern bank.

Nanticoke Lake - north end

north end

The water is actually clear in this lake, unlike most of the lakes I’ve seen in New York. The DEC page notes that there is a lack of aquatic vegetation, by which they must mean that the lake is not choked with weeds and muck like every other lake around. I have come to understand that New York fisherman prefer eutrophic conditions (see Dr. Robert Carlson’s web site) because they allow a lake to produce more fish. I, on the other hand, was appreciative of the relatively clear water in this MUA, which reminded me of a typical lake in Maine.

There is no path to the north side of the lake, as far as I know. Canoes and kayaks are permitted, however, and it’s worth it to haul one in if you can. You can very quickly paddle out of earshot of whoever might be on the southern bank, and pretty much have the lake to yourself. You don’t have to be too tricky to catch a couple of bass on the north end either, since they don’t seem to get many visitors.

Nanticoke Lake - view from north to south

view from north to south

All things considered, Nanticoke Lake MUA is a very good  place to get away from whatever you might be dodging. It’s large enough to be interesting, small enough to be manageable, and quiet enough that you may feel you’ve made your way Into the Forest.

 

 

Links:

Google Map: Nanticoke Lake MUA
NY DEC: Nanticoke Lake Multiple Use Area (map available)
NY DEC: Nanticoke Lake fishing information.
TBA Farms: Blog Post on the annual stocking of the lake.