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Visiting the Catskill Park in New York State

For any visitor or denizen of New York City, the Catskill Park of New York State is a unique, cultural and geophysical destination.  Located approximately 90 miles northwest of Manhattan, it is a state mandated, pristine environment.  Opinions about the origin of the Park’s name differ, but common explanations are that during the fur trade with Europe, there were many large felines and bobcats, but they were hunted largely to extinction; another explanation of the Park’s name is that from a bird’s eye-view and on certain maps, major ridges of the Park resemble the outlines of a tiger’s paw.  The Catskill region is accessible by automobile, bus, airplane and train.  It pays to plan in advance: depending on the season, travel to the Park can be a moderate challenge.

In upstate New York, the benefits of travel by train include faster and more comfortable accommodations compared to a bus, car or truck.  However, planning a spontaneous train ride to the Catskill Park require good logistic ability.  The Rhinecliff train station is 37-40 miles and 60-63 kilometers from the park entrance.  This trek is not for pedestrians or hikers and software applications don’t show perpetual conditions.  Yet, the traditional tourist or backpacker who can plan travel in advance should have no major problems from the station, if they allow themselves sufficient time.  The shortest ride from the train station requires crossing a major bridge and the payment of tolls; if you prefer to avoid a major bridge, an alternate travel choice will reduce the time transiting from the station to the park.  Altogether, coming by train and bus or private automobile are fantastic options for this destination.

The Catskill Center in Arkville has in-depth information about specific local attractions and the region’s local history.

Travel to the Catskill State Park by Route 28.  There are other options and they provide their own unique experiences.  Following one’s arrival in the towns of Kingston or Rhinebeck, Route 28 offers a direct way to the core of the Park making Route 28 the seemingly best option.  Route 28 is an ancient trail that was eventually paved.  It is the best contemporary route for its great driving experiences too – offering copious, scenic mountain-views and numerous access points to major trails, lakes and events.  The Catskill Center (www.CatskillCenter.org) has great information about specific attractions and the region’s local history.  It is approximately 55 minutes from the park entrance on Route 28 in an area named Arkville.

Urbanites come to the Catskill Park as a respite from the pressures of city-living.  They appreciate nature’s abundance of cresting mountain peaks, knobby pines and woodland creatures.  Foreign travelers often visit because of easy access from New York City.  Brief, but intimate conversations with such visitors also reveal a desire to observe the many human cultures that inhabit the park interior.  Folklore and international history have become major reasons for touring the Park. Tourism has long been a major boon to the area.  Since the 1950s however, the Catskill region has seen an exodus of many businesses and local people have been relocating to other towns and cities. 

With a fairly recent rise in racism, hate and xenophobia state-wide, visible minorities, women and others who are inexperienced with mountain living should remain on marked hiking trails, wear bright color accents in the woods and practice the avoidance of entering onto the private lands that abut the park.  Such people will benefit from traveling with a partner and should be prepared for the rare, negative interaction with the occasional, misguided local.  It must be noted that crime and violence have fallen greatly and overall since the Park’s founding.

This is a major trail off of Route 29 in the Catskill Park

An Indigenous Romeo & Juliet Story

In the Catskill Park, indigenous American culture, also known as Pre-Columbian culture is prevalent in location names and it is how the majority of communities express themselves through art and style.  The first, commercial center within the Park, Phoenicia, is along Route 28 and the town offers many festivals and events.  Further along Route 28, legend claims the hamlet of Big Indian was found at the foot of a tree where a tall native Munsee Man and a European woman eloped, and then where the giant Munsee was murdered by a jealous settler.  It is most likely a true indigenous recount that parallels Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet love story. 

Moving further west along Route 28, one reaches Pine Hill after leaving Big Indian. Within this hamlet, the Pine Hill Community Center on Main Street (www.pinehillcommunitycenter.org) offers many resources for the hiker, climber, camper and visitor.  As this community center is a nonprofit organization, donations are strongly encouraged.  The idea of the pioneer is also sacrosanct in Phoenicia and Pine Hill. The men and women who live in this State Park pride themselves on being rugged, independent, straight-shooters. 

Statue of quintessential New York Pioneer on main thoroughfare of Phoenicia, New York.

Late summers and early autumns are the best times to visit the park.  In the summer, it is common to witness a bear (the caniform) wandering a thoroughfare in one of the park’s many hamlets.  Speaking to a local, you might even hear several stories of bears entering basement-level apartment windows to eat the tenant’s food accidentally left out at night.  The Catskill State Park is a special place in New York and there are few places on Earth similar to it, along with the few human cultures that call it home.