By James M Schaefer
The Long Path was created in 1931 by my father, the late Vincent J Schaefer (1906-1993). It followed in the tradition of the Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine) and The Long Trail of Vermont. Both the AT and Long Trail popularized “End-to-End”—through hiking.
The Long Path was designed as a corridor rather than as a singular blazed trail. My father’s hiking philosophy was to leave no trace – “all one needs is a compass, map and good woods sense.” From the start his concept was to engage hikers in finding landmarks on the Long Path — a mountaintop, a waterfalls, a geologic anomaly, or a cultural or historic site.
The Long Path (LP) originally celebrated the highlands of eastern New York State starting near the George Washington Bridge, wandering across the Palisades, Shawangunks, Catskills, Helderbergs and Helderhills, down the Schoharie into the Rotterdam and Glenville Hills across the Great Sacandaga into the Adirondacks, up Stoney Creek, past Crane and Gore Mountains through Panther Gorge or Keene Valley ending atop Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid. Today the route meanders approximately 550 miles on blazed trail, low volume road-walks, atop existing trails and in a number of cases bushwhacks. “Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road…( In the spirit of Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road’)
Hiker’s Interest Piqued
In the 1930s Raymond Torrey, hiking editor of the New York Post along with my Dad’s descriptions published the ‘Long Brown Path’ in a series of articles on successive Fridays. After long hiatus, the LP was featured in Jean George’s “American Walk Book” (1978). The New York/New Jersey Trail Conference adopted the LP as its Long Distance Trail featuring it in a NY/NJ Guide Book in 2005 and revised in 2012 describing the LP route from the 175th Street Subway to Thacher Park in the Helderbergs (358 miles). It has been completed as an End-to End hike and run many times by outdoor enthusiasts.
In 1991, my father crafted an unpublished “Field Guide to the Landmarks of the Long Path of New York.” He produced in a series of xerox copy booklets using 15 minute topographic maps locating 84 Landmarks for the Long Path North, from Gilboa, NY in the Schoharie to the top of Whiteface Mtn. The booklets describe hikes of possible interest to the outdoor adventurers. For example: Landmark 49—Ancient Corner Tree…A huge hemlock marked the corner junction of three ancient counties laid out by Colonial surveyors: Albany (now Saratoga), Charlotte (now Warren) and Tryon (now Hamilton). The tree was block blazed with witness trees in the cardinal directions. Found in 1936 by a small party of hikers led by my father – actually my mother chanced upon one of the witness trees! This year my son, Michael Schaefer located the site by GPS and found evidence of witness trees but the corner tree no longer exists.
Landmark 72 – Calamity Brook at the junction of several trails one leading to Indian Pass… where David Henderson met his demise. Landmark 80 Copperas Pond/Ice Caves south of the Ausable River – the ice caves can be found on the slopes of Little Whiteface.
In the COVID year of 2020, the Town of Rotterdam featured an End-to-End Hike on the Long Path at Landmark 30 the Plotterkill Falls area 4+ mikes through to the Mohawk River as part of its Bicentennial Celebration 1820-2020. From May to September 55 hikers have completed the hike and will be awarded a hiker’s patch for their efforts.
Blaze or Bushwhack?
Not without controversy, efforts to have the Long Path recognized as a blazed trail through the Adirondacks, using parts of recognized trails (Northville -Placid Trail) have not been found acceptable by various hiking groups involved.
So the Long Path exists on paper as landmark to landmark bushwhack — the preferred way to enjoy wilderness, and places of interest along the way, as originally envisioned by Vincent J Schaefer — leave no trace — no herd trails, no re-routing, no trail maintenance, no trash, no flora or fauna impacts, no parking dilemma,
Reference: “Serendipity in Science” An autobiography by Vincent J. Schaefer, ScD, Compiled and Edited by Don Rittner, Voorheesville, NY Square Circle Press 2013
Photo at top: Vincent Schaefer, taken on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club 1979 right near the LP route through Rotterdam. Above: Jim Schaefer, son Mike and daughter Mikayla on Rotterdam Long Path Bicentennial Hike 1820-2020. Courtesy of James Schaefer.
James M Schaefer, Ph.D. (Jim) of Schenectady, is the son of Vincent J Schaefer, the founder of the Long Path of New York and member of the Long Path North Hiking Club that spearheaded efforts to move the LP from Albany County to the Adirondacks. Formerly an anthropology professor and administrator at Universities of Montana, Minnesota, Sri Venkateswara (India), SUNY Central Administration and Union College. He and his family are hiking and skiing enthusiasts.