By Will Soter, Catskills Assistant Program Coordinator
Mt. Tobias is not your typical Catskill hiking destination. Its relatively short, 2,540-foot summit and its lack of any official trails tend to keep hikers from seeking its peak. With the opening of the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in Mt. Tremper, there is now a renewed effort to construct a trail over this less-traveled mountain.
The trail will connect the Interpretive Center to the summit of Mt. Tobias in two phases: First, a bridge from the perimeter trail at the east end of the Catskill Center’s parking lot will cross the stream. From there, the trail will rise up the steep hill on a series of gently sweeping switchbacks. This trail will lead to a level open area that will then connect hikers to the second portion of the trail, which will start on an old woods road on the northeast side of Wittenberg Road. A third phase of construction will eventually tie into to the Willow Trail.
The hike up Mt. Tobias reveals clues of its history to the careful observer. Its lower slopes are criss-crossed by old logging roads and hardwood stumps. The abundance of chestnut oak and mountain laurel show that the ridge leading to the summit has seen a series of repeated fires. These fires were most likely deliberately set to encourage the growth and spread of blueberries, which can still be found sparsely scattered along the ridge to the summit. In searching the history of Mt. Tobias, there is not a clear picture of the mountain’s past, though there is certainly evidence and some record of tan barking, logging, and berry picking, as well as large-scale wintergreen harvesting. It is known that the Esopus Indians were active in the area; however, all that is clearly known is that they used the bountiful forest surrounding the mountain and creek below for hunting and fishing.
On Nov. 2, I had the pleasure of joining Trail Conference field managers Erik Mickelson and Kevin Simpson on their first trip to scout the route to the summit of Mt. Tobias. It was a wonderful opportunity to watch as Erik and Kevin assessed condition and possible locations for the trail. In just that trip alone, I learned a great deal about the processes involved in designing and creating a trail. Erik and Kevin carefully examined the soil to determine its composition and stability. They examined possible routes with a great deal of forethought, keeping in mind how a hiker would use the trail. It was interesting to see how they considered everything from safety and sustainability to key features and points of interest along the trail.
When the trail is complete it will serve to connect the Catskill Interpretive Center to the Indian Head Wilderness and Hunter-Westkill Wilderness. Currently, the Tobias Wild Forest serves as a bridge to link the Slide Mountain Wilderness to the Indian Head and Hunter-Westkill Wilderness areas. This newest section will act as a gateway from the Interpretive Center to these great wilderness areas of the central Catskills.
Construction on the first phase of the trail has already begun, and will be complete by late spring. If you’d like to help build the trail over Mt. Tobias, visit catskillconservationcorps.org for info on how to get involved.