Monday, May 23, 2011

Sugar Hill Horse Camping Area Currently Closed for Memorial Day

Horse campers at Sugar Hill State Forest may be in for an unpleasant surprise over Memorial Day weekend if the park doesn’t get the funding to open the camp on Tower Hill Road.

This area, located west of Watkins Glen State Park, contains the horse stalls and restrooms that more than 100 trail riding enthusiasts trailer to for the first, big camping weekend of summer
Example of high-tying horses.

John Gibbs, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation regional forester in Bath, NY, said that unless the park gets the funding to employ a caretaker to maintain the facilities in that area, there is a possibility that the favorite horse camping area may remain closed.

“We’re trying to make the case to hire someone,” Gibbs said.

If the area remains closed, it will be the first time in many years that riders won’t be camping there on Memorial Day weekend.

“People have been coming here 40, maybe 50 years,” said Forest Ranger Bill Meehan, who works in the Sugar Hill area as well as all state land in Schuyler County. 

Meehan said the 35-miles of trails that attract riders are left rough, so they can be marshy and rocky in spots. 

“I guess the horse people like that, the challenge and the varied trails,” he said.

Wendy Youmans of High Country Stables, Hornby, is one rider who is keeping her fingers crossed that the camping area will be open.  Wendy and her husband, Roger, as well as their friends and boarders, are among those who regularly camp at Sugar Hill on the first big holiday weekend of summer.
Wendy and Cricket at a trail trial, Crystal Valley.

“It has really nice, marked horse trails,” Wendy said.  “The trails are safe.  They are marked well enough, so if you were out in the middle you could easily find your way back.”

She said there is a good variety in the trails as well, and no four-wheelers are allowed on the horse trails.
“There’s a fire tower you can climb.  You can see for miles, all of Monterey, all across Sugar Hill,” she said.  “The trails are a variety, some hilly, some flat, some that lead on roads and circle back on to state forest trails.  One trail, it’s a long trail, has a beautiful waterfall at the end. One goes past an old cemetery.”

Wendy said that, even with more than 100 campers and 75 horses, the camping area is large enough that “you don’t feel like you’re on top of each other.”  When she and Roger camp there, they use the sleeping quarters of their horse trailer, and they high-tie their horses.

“High ties are really safe, because they can’t get tangled up around their legs,” she said.  “Your have to make sure the rope to them isn’t too long, to tangle their head.”

When the horses are high-tied correctly, they can reach the ground to graze and even lie down, she said.

Her favorite trail horse, and actually her favorite horse, period, is her palomino quarter horse, Cricket. 

“He’s the best one because he is not afraid of new trails, he never acts up, he’s quiet all night.  He doesn’t fuss with the other horses,”  Wendy said.  She added that when she is in situations where other riders are green, she can stick them on Cricket.  “He’ll try all the new trails, so he’s a good lead pony.”

It doesn’t hurt that he is a very handsome horse.  

“He’s a beautiful golden palomino with long, curly blond hair,” said Wendy with a laugh, herself sprouting blond, wavy hair.

Wendy, along with many other trail riding enthusiasts, will be watching the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Sugar Hill web page to see if sufficient staffing will be secured in time to open the horse camping area for Memorial Day weekend.  The web page hosts plentiful information about the forest, including trail maps.

Even if the camping area is not open, riders will be able to access the trails and also the roads at Sugar Hill as well as in other parks, Meehan said.

“You can ride the roads in many state forests,” Meehan said.

For more information on Sugar Hill, including updates on the status of the camping area, go to:

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