Snowshoeing the Black Kettle Trail
Last week before the ice came I had a great hike with my daughters who are both home for a few weeks. They love to get outside after months in urban places so we take every chance we can to check out the woods. The snow last week was fluffy and light and every little crystal was twinkling because the temperature was so low (16 degrees when we left the car) and the sun was out.
We parked near the barn at Black Kettle Farm, at the corner of Leaning Road and Cook Road in Whallonsburg. Cook Road is not plowed during the winter but the road crew leaves a wide corner and plenty of space to park. We strapped on our snowshoes and headed up the hill to the new trail head. The trail used to begin behind the barn, but in deference to the animals that were occasionally penned there, the CATS trail designers moved it up the hill.
On The Trail
We signed in and headed into the hemlocks. There wasn't as much snow under the trees as there had been in the open but still plenty to warrant our snowshoes. In a few places we could feel rocks underfoot and had to be careful not to catch a toe on one. Last fall CATS put up some beautiful interpretive signs made by Sheri Amsel so we wiped off the snow and checked out the artwork.
The trail goes quickly to a beautiful lookout that surveys the expansive Champlain Valley all the way to the lake and across to Vermont. I always tell school groups I bring here that if they had stood in this spot in 1812 they could have heard canon fire from the lake. There are some big white pines that might have been seedlings at that time. Now the big pines and hemlocks host hawks and other raptors that prey on small mammals and birds in the overgrown farm fields.
We continued to a new lookout and the wind blew up snow crystals in big gusts. We heard birds but it is always hard to imagine how they handle the cold, cold temperature and the biting wind.
After a second lookout the trail winds around the hillside and heads down somewhat steeply toward a brook. A local Eagle Scout just finished a fine cedar bridge that is a huge improvement over the rickety board that was there until last fall. This brook is a quiet little brook but it hatches plenty of nice flies in spring and the school kids love to look for minnows and crayfish. I checked for mammal tracks in the snow but found none. Raccoons and mink often follow the brook in search of prey in winter.
The trail continues in the forest, briefly on old skid trail, and then comes back to the edge of a wetland. Still no sign of mammal tracks but there weren't any berries left on the shrubs so the birds have clearly been taking advantage of this protected spot. The brook winds a thin path through tall grasses and under a makeshift bridge where there were beautiful ice crystals forming along the banks. Facing up the hill we could see the barn and made our way through the open meadow, bracing against the wind. Heading into the forest again it was a short walk back to the trail register and then a quick downhill tromp back to the cars. It was fun to run into one of the teachers from Lakeside Preschool taking her baby for a walk on the trail as her 2-year old napped with another teacher. Lakeside uses the Black Kettle farmhouse and the school children know the trail well.
The CATS trails are perfect for short outings when you are up for fresh air and adventure but don't have much time. The Black Kettle Trail took us about an hour including stops to look around take a few photos. With more time I would have done a figure eight on the Black Kettle and Homestead Trails, ending with a nice downhill walk on the un-plowed Cook Road.
If you don't have the gear or the inclination to snowshoe the trail, it's a great workout to track up Cook Road on skis and slide back down to the car.