Hiking Through History
Vincent J. Schaefer of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club originally conceived the Long Path in 1931. He proposed that New York establish its own "Long Path" similar to the Long Trail in Vermont. The Long Trail was America's first long distance hiking trail and was often described as a footpath in the wilderness. The Long Path was intended to be an alternative route from Bear Mountain for the Appalachian Trail hiker. Unlike other trails, the Long Path was to be an unmarked route connecting scenic or historic points of interest. These points of interest themselves would be described in a guidebook. Schaefer wanted hikers to "enjoy the sense of uncertainty, exploration, and achievement that reaches its highest level when the individual is dependent on the use of compass, marked map, and wood knowledge to reach an objective." The challenge for hikers was to use topographic maps and compass to connect these points in any way they could, using whatever they found along the way.
The Long Brown Path
The Long Path started receiving much public support from Raymond Torrey in 1933. W. W. Cady* took on the assignment of scouting the route from the George Washington Bridge through the Catskills. From Gilboa north, Vincent Schaefer and his brother Paul worked out a route through the Adirondacks to Whiteface Mountain. Every week, Torrey would write a description of the newly scouted section of the route in his column "The Long Brown Path" in the New York Post. However, Schaefer's concept of an unmarked route being called a path proved to be difficult for the general hiking public to grasp.
In 1935, the Palisades Park Commission began to acquire property for the construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway, greatly increasing access to the cliffs of the Palisades Escarpment. This revived interest in the Long Path project. By 1943, Alexander Jessup had marked the trail as far as Peekamoose Mountain in the Catskills, but World War II distracted people's minds. The project languished for nearly twenty years after that.
A Ramblin' Revival
In 1960 Robert Jessen of the Ramapo Ramblers and Michael Warren of New York City urged revival of the project. By now the post-war boom and the growth of suburbia had changed the original concept of the Long Path from an unmarked path in the wilderness into a blazed and cleared trail. There was now too much civilization to pass through. Many of the back roads and woodlands that Schaefer had planned to use for the trail corridor were now in private hands, either subdivided into homes, or otherwise unusable as backcountry hiking.
During the 1980s, construction of the trail proceeded as far north as the Catskills. In the Catskill Forest Preserve the Long Path followed existing trails as much as possible. However, new trail construction was needed over Peekamoose and Table Mountains. The last part of new trail construction in the Catskills of this era was completed when the "missing link" section around Kaaterskill High Peak opened in 1987. It became possible to continuously hike the then-225 miles of the Long Path from the George Washington Bridge to East Windham at the northern end of the Catskill Park, although there were still road walking sections even in the Park.
Long Path North Hiking Club and the SRT
The 1990s became another great period of trail building. With assistance from the National Park Service's River and Trail Conservation Assistance Program, the Long Path North Hiking Club was formed. Members of this organization have built and maintained over 75 miles of the Long Path through Schoharie and Albany Counties, and currently are developing a trail through Schenectady County. Additionally the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) was built connecting High Point, New Jersey with Minnewaska State Park in New York. The SRT provides an alternative route for the Long Path from Harriman State Park northwards. One can hike the Appalachian Trail from Harriman west to High Point State Park in New Jersey before heading north on the SRT to rejoin the main Long Path in Greenville, NY.** The SRT is co-aligned with the Long Path for the next 30-plus miles, when the Long Path heads north toward the Catskills, and the SRT continues east along existing trails into Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve, toward Rosendale and the end of the Shawangunk Ridge.
The existing trail route constantly changes to adapt to private land changes. In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, the northward movement of suburbia began to have a major impact on the Long Path's trail system. Where it was once possible to get permission to build a trail with just a knock on a door and a handshake, formal agreements were now required. The ridge tops where the trail passed were no longer immune to development. In some areas, the trail had to be moved from the woods to public roadways. In other places, bucolic country roads followed by the trail became suburban thoroughfares.
About 60 miles of the Long Path currently follow public roadways. The Trail Conference is working on several plans to reduce the amount of road walking. Particularly difficult is the Orange County section between Schunemunk Mountain State Park and the Shawangunks. Because of the lack of public lands and much suburban development, finding a suitable trail route is a challenge. Two strategies have developed to address the "Orange County problem."
Building a Solution
In Rockland County, the Long Path passes through a series of state, county, and town parks before entering Harriman State Park. While most of the trail in Rockland County is on public land, there are vital links across private property. Only 30 miles from New York City, this section is the most threatened. Together with the Rockland County Planning Board, the Trail Conference prepared a report in 1989 entitled "The Long Path in Rockland County." This report, which views the Long Path as "the spine of a Rockland County Greenway," provides guidelines to local planning boards for long-term protection strategies for the trail. The Long Path has received greater protection as it was put on the official county map.
In the summer of 2000, a major relocation was completed eliminating 3 miles of road walking and the use of the Mink Hollow Trail. Plateau Mountain was added. In the summer of 2001, the Long Path was rerouted over Indian Head Mountain and north through the Catskill Center's Platte Clove Preserve, eliminating another mile of road walking and the Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail. Camping is not permitted in the Platte Clove Preserve.
In 2014 the Long Path was moved onto a new trail that was constructed between 2012 and 2104. This trail starts at the foot of Wittenberg Mountain and runs across Cross Mountain, Mt. Pleasant and Romer Mountain, to Lane Street in Phoenicia. This relocation removed about 5 miles of road walking along Woodland Valley Road. Another relocation will happen in the area south of Vernooy Falls as the trail is moved to recently acquired land.
As of February 2016 the main section of the Long Path is a continuous 358-mile hiking trail that extends from New York City to Boyd Thacher State Park near the Village of Altamont, about 15 miles west of Albany (The alternate route of AT and SRT adds about 8 miles to the total). The trail has been extended across the Mohawk River to the Adirondacks (the description of a roadwalk to the Northville-Lake Placid Trail has been added), making the trail a total of 431 miles, but until more of this route has been placed off-road it will not be a requirement for the end-to-end certificate.
The Trail Conference & the Long Path North Hiking Club has also begun a concerted effort to extend the Long Path across the Mohawk River and into the Adirondack Park, thus enabling the Long Path to achieve its original goal of a long-distance trail from New York City to the northern Adirondacks. Work will continue to improve this section. After a two-year study conducted by the Trail Conference and the National Park Service, the trail is being built along the original route as envisioned by Vincent Schaefer in the 1930s.
Several sections of the Long Path are listed as National Recreational Trails: the section on top of the New Jersey Palisades, the section traversing Harriman State Park, and most recently the section in Mine Kill State Park in Schoharie County.
* Cady was born in Kansas, lived in Colorado, and moved to the NYC area in the 1920s. Currently, nothing more is known about him.
** In 1989, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, in cooperation with the National Park Service, initiated a study to determine the feasibility of relocating the Long Path from the roads of Orange County to the Shawangunk Ridge. The proposed route would follow the Appalachian Trail from Harriman State Park to High Point State Park in the northwest corner of New Jersey and then continue along the Kittatinny-Shawangunk Ridge to Minnewaska State Park. After two years of study, a report was issued that demonstrated the feasibility of this route. The Trail Conference quickly negotiated agreements with landowners, and 30 of the 36 miles of the trail were constructed during 1992 and 1993 under the leadership of Howie Dash and Gary Haugland. The remaining 6 miles were finished in 1997. Today, there are two Long Path routes from Harriman State Park to Minnewaska State Park: the traditional Orange County lowland route and the Shawangunk Ridge Trail with its breathtaking views. In 2012 almost half of the 35 miles of roadwalking in Orange County were eliminated by relocating the Long Path onto the Heritage Trail, an Orange County rail-trail.