OFF THE BEATEN PATH
DeRuyter State Forest is a short but sweet diversion for a lazy afternoon
In the wooded heart of southern Madison County, DeRuyter State Forest lies on a narrow hilltop engraved with a deep stream channel.
It’s a pocket-square of public land, 972 acres with a short but sweet carriage trail that runs from north to south through the center of the forest: the very definition of a day’s diversion.
The canopy of trees shading the trail looks ancient and untouched, but in fact this forest was managed long before Europeans arrived. The Haudenosaunee used fire, girdling of trees and selective planting to create a landscape ideal for deer hunting and harvesting nuts, bark and firewood.
In the 19th century, settlers cleared the trees but, as farming declined, the forest reclaimed old pastures and abandoned homes. The state bought this ribbon of wild land in 1933, and
the Civilian Conservation
Corps planted nearly one
million spruce and pine
Look deep into the woods to
spot the rough stone
foundations of long-ago
farmsteads, listen for the
crash of white-tailed deer
through a thicket of witch
hazel, and imagine the rich
history of settlement,
abandonment and regrowth
the forest masks but doesn't
Plan a ride: Pencil in DeRuyter for a day when a lazy meander through the woods – with no decisions about forks in the road – is the perfect cure for 20-meter circles in the arena. There is one well-maintained trail, for either riding or driving, with a few gentle changes in elevation that curve through glades of old-growth hardwoods and their slightly younger conifer cousins. At the northern end of the trail is a parking area with plenty of room to pull up multiple trailers and a circular drive that eliminates backing up, and hooray for that.
A roundtrip from the parking area is about three miles. This is a true hidden gem. No hustle, no bustle, nothing but birdsong. Our suggestion: Pack a picnic and a full haynet and take total advantage of this solitary slice of wilderness.
Field notes: The trail is lightly traveled but, to quote the Department of Environmental Conservation, “these seemingly lonely woods are alive with activity.” In early spring, listen for peepers and watch for nesting hawks and wild turkeys seeking prospective mates. Summer brings cedar waxwings to perch in the cherry trees. Year round,
look for deer browsing in the low
growth, and squirrels and chipmunks
chattering and scattering leaves.
Fees: There is no charge to use the
trail or to park.
The download: Directions and a link
via Google Maps to the trailside
entrance is available at
Required papers: Proof of a current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses; out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate.
Nerd alert, history edition: The 1875 Atlas of Madison County places cheese factories, sawmills, tanneries and a well-established community of farmers in and around the forest boundaries. The New York, Oswego & Midland, and Cazenovia & Canastota railroads linked them with distant markets.
While you’re in the neighborhood: Muller Hill State Forest, in neighboring Georgetown, holds the ruins of a mansion built in 1808 by Louis Muller, a French nobleman who fled the wrath of Napoleon for the New York frontier. Muller arrived with gold, servants and artisans who built a mansion of native cherry timbers. Following Napoleon’s exile, he returned to France and some say he became King Charles X. The mansion burned to the ground in 1905.
Be prepared: Pack a first aid kit with the basics for you and your horse. Carry a cell phone on you and not tucked into a saddle bag. That way if you part company with your horse – beware the ghosts of equine-eating French noblemen – you have the phone.