Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Long Path of New York: A historic note

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In 1991, my father crafted an unpublished “Field Guide to the Landmarks of the Long Path of New York.”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.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park.

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11 Responses

  1. steven leslie says:

    I think Mr Schaefer ought to publish his late father’s manuscipt now on the internet. That would be a fantastic tribute to this surely interesting, if somewhat niche, field guide. In the old days two, three decades ago publishers with access to presses and distribution channels controlled what got into print. But now everything should be available. I’ve hiked sections of the Long Path and would like to read it.

    • James Schaefer says:

      Thanks.
      The thought had occurred to me a decade ago. The xerox copied Field Guide to the Long Path North Landmarks is all there–typed notes and a topo map with each site marked. I remember suggesting to him that it would be more useful to have a cardinal direction pointer on the landmark’s circle. The grouped guides are ~ 5 x 5 folded and stapled easy to stow in a pocket or pack!
      Now, with GPS, and cell phone photo it could be a real handy guide. All the map numbers and such have been put in place. Some landmarks might be superfluous, but they are all original — 84 of them, from Gilboa to Whiteface.
      Needs a person or group with interest and a few $$/time to make it happen. I have several master copies on file.

  2. Nancy Brandt says:

    Very Inspiring! He was a pioneer! Would love to hike some of the trail in the north, but is there anywhere I can find a guide of the trail and the difficulty levels along the way?

    • James M Schaefer says:

      Nancy, as mentioned briefly in the Almanack article, the “Guides” are in limited supply — 5 x 5 xerox booklets with a topographic map and text describing a Landmark—a cultural, geologic or historic place worth a day hike. The difficulty might be judged by observing the topography on the slice of the map. A route is up to the hiker! No marked trail in many instances just a place to find using map, compass and sense of the outdoors that day. May be a logging road, an old game trail an open field scramble.
      Perhaps the very character of the LP North has limits for the inexperienced hiker. The smart way is to follow the DEC and other ADK preparedness guides to minimize getting lost or requiring rescue. Fortunately the vast majority of the 84 Landmarks are day-hikes of limited distance. They can be sequenced for End-to-End hikers, or set up for a variety of trips in all sorts of weather conditions. That is part of the challenge and enjoyment — completing the task in high humidity & heat, or windy & cold with snow & ice. Wilderness awaits!
      It might be worth getting the entire LP North Landmarks scanned and up on a website for folks to use via their favorite technical device.

  3. David Gibson says:

    So good to gain these background historic insights, specifics and recent photo of Jim Schaefer and his family on the LP. “The preferred way to enjoy wilderness and places of interest along the way.” Very true, Jim. This is also the Schaefer way. Thank you for all your efforts on the Long Path over the years, and now your family is extending that interest forward.

  4. Steve B. says:

    My memory from the 70’s is that the Northville-Placid trail was supposed to have been the northern Adirondack segment of the LP, who’s northern terminus was to be Whiteface Mt. Is how I heard about the NP trail back in my backpacking days as I had hiked a lot of the LP (living in Westchester at the time) and was active in my local club and in the NYNJTC. I always wondered why no real effort was made to connect the LP and the NP.

    • James M Schaefer says:

      Steve: Considerable effort was made between 1984 and 2003 to find cooperation, authority, financial support for use of existing trails (Northville-Placid), limited new trail cutting, and maintenance for a blazed Long Path through the Adirondacks. Resolutions about these key elements were completed between the ADK Club and NY/NJ Trail Conference. No progress was made.
      Ironically, my father saw this coming, and in 1991 he “solved” the dilemma by creating the pocket guides to the 84 Landmarks as described in my little article.
      Perhaps with new interest his Guide could be put on the Internet for anyone to use.

  5. David Craig says:

    Thank you for the wonderful article. We come back to visit relatives in NY from time to time and would love to hike parts of the Long Path.In my younger days we used to ski Whiteface Mt. Could you please advise me on where to obtain the latest information – maps, guidebooks, etc. to get better informed on hiking parts of the Long Path.

    Thanks, David Craig:

  6. Bob Jessen says:

    No Shrift given to the folks who designed the nuts & boults route and did the actual work to bring the Long Path to fruition…The New York New Jersey Trail Conference. In 1959. I asked Sam Wilkerson, than chairman of The Conference, what he thought of an idea I had found dormant in the back of an old AT guide. He gave me 25 bucks. I got Mike Warren, Bill Hoeferlin [Conference trails chairman] and a strong contingent of trail workers. Starting at the George Washington Bridge we worked our way north…inspired by articles in the New York Times and our own heady sense of mission. Schunemunk, The Gunks, Catskills, All done without a finger being lifted by anyone mentioned in these missives. Be so kind as to go to Friends of The Long Path and Andy Garrison for the real scoop. Bob Jessen

    • James M Schaefer says:

      Bob Thanks for calling attention to the active and rich resource — “Friends of the Long Path.” It should have been included in my article….Mea Culpa.

      Efforts by you and others to have a 358 mile blazed trail routed, rerouted and maintained under the auspices of hiking clubs associated with the NY/NJ Trail Conference from the GW Bridge to Thacher Park. It has been widely recognized.

      If nothing else my little article calls for “the rest of the story” — the LP actually ends at Whiteface, some 150 trail miles north of Thacher Park.

      Almost 90 years later the LP is a hybrid — blazed trail, road walk and bushwhack. With thanks initially to Raymond Torrey, Florence Fuller, WW Cady, all those you mention associated with the “Friends,” to say nothing of efforts by Howie Dash, Jakob Franke, Ed Walsh, Mark Travis, Herb Chong, Neil Woodward, Nancy Papish, Howard Hunt and many others.

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