This has been the summer to get outside and explore. COVID restrictions, increase in urban violence, and fantastic summer weather in the northeast have contributed towards out-of-town traffic in our rural area. The campsites, rivers, and hiking trails have not been this busy in decades! It’s fantastic to see couples and families getting out and appreciating the wilderness and vastness of upstate New York. It is reminiscent of a time when people came to the Catskills to escape the oppressive summer heat in the city. One can only hope that this jump in population returns next summer, which can revitalize our area.

My family is no exception to the phenomenon this summer. We have hiked more miles this summer than ever. My son and I have even joined my sister and her daughters in the Catskills Fire Tower Five Challenge. There are five fire towers remaining in the Catskill area, two of them over 3,500 feet in elevation. We have completed two already (Tremper Mountain and Balsam Lake Mountain), and plan to take on the Overlook this weekend. If we complete all five this year, we get a patch! (That part is more exciting for the kids than for the adults.) Even when we are not taking on a fire tower, we have been hiking on other trails in the area. Mullet Falls, Trout and Mud Pond, even Glen Okono in the Jim Thorpe area. In each of our hikes, we came across several people hiking the same trails. In years past, we rarely encountered anyone on the trails, but now there are campers, hikers, and kayakers everywhere we go!

While it makes me happy to see so many people outside enjoying nature, it is frustrating to see the destruction that comes with increased traffic. Trampled trails and campsites, campers in undesignated sites, overflowing garbage bins, and litter all over. I cannot tell you how many water bottles that I’ve come across on the trails and in the rivers. Plastic bags, some full of garbage, just left for someone else to carry it out. Leftover food just thrown into the woods attracts all kinds of critters, not to mention that some of it doesn’t rot for a long time (stop throwing your orange peels on the trails!). Glass bottles in the woods really tick me off (Corona seems to be the beer of choice this summer up here). Seriously, if you bring a canned beer, you can crunch it down when it’s empty so that it takes up very little room in your backpack. If you carried it in full, you could definitely carry it out empty! It is not a local person’s job or a Park Ranger’s job to pick up trash. I wish for the next season that anyone taking to the rivers or trails to respect it and take care of it while they enjoy it.

Top left is us at the top of Balsam Lake Mountain; Top right is Mullet Falls; Bottom left is us hiking the monstrous Glen Okono; Bottom right is us drenched on Tremper Mountain.

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