August 2014: Finger Lakes National Forest

Hector, New York

In 1790 the Federal government gave away this former Iroquois land in 600-acre lots to Revolutionary War veterans. Settlers came, cleared the land and after 100 years of grinding a living out of marginal soils, mostly left. Between 1890 and 1930 more than half the farms and over a million acres of farmland were abandoned in south central New York State. Back came the Federal government. Between 1938 and 1941, over 100 farms were purchased in the area now in the National Forest. As this was done on a farm-by-farm basis not everyone was willing to sell, so today the forest lands are here and not there and sometimes over that way. In 1982 the forest was shuffled among federal agencies and became the Finger Lakes National Forest, New York’s only national forest and America’s smallest.  

The main activity in Finger Lakes National Forest takes place on the orange-blazed Interloken Trail that runs 12 miles north-to-south up the spine of the park’s largest contiguous tract of land. This is really an easy go for your dog as it weaves through second-growth forest and old-time pastureland. With a car shuttle you could complete the entire route or use the many intersecting trails to create loops of varying duration. Horses are only allowed in the southern sections where the terrain is a bit steeper; bikes and horses are both allowed north of Teeter Pond.Canine hikers may prefer a tour on the 1.25-mile Gorge Trail (Mark Smith Road off Route 79) or the Ravine Trail (at the Blueberry Patch Campground) that are reserved for foot traffic only. These are kinder, gentler gorges than the other nearby gullies. The stream’s work is less frenetic here and the soft dirt trail works along a rounded hillside. Both link with the Interloken Trail for an extended exploration of the forest.  

The National Forest currently manages 1,400 acres as shrubland, a relatively uncommon habitat in the Finger Lakes. For canine hikers this means stretches of open-air travel with long views and maybe a bit of sunshine on the neck. Management is designed to maintain and promote fruit production so you may be able to pluck a blueberry or two in your travels.

Forest headquarters are at 5218 State Route 414, north of Watkins Glen. To reach the Interloken Trail, turn right on Schuyler County Route 2, a half-mile north of the Ranger Station. Follow CR 2 for 4.0 miles until you reach the Blueberry Patch Campground and parking area.