Home to the legendary Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep under a tree for 100 years, the Catskill Mountain region lies in southeastern New York state. The area’s rugged mountain terrain mixed with valleys, streams and waterfalls plays host to a wide variety of trees. Nearly 300,000 acres of public forest preserves in the Catskills provide visitors with an excellent opportunity to explore the trees that help make this area so unique.
Before the Catskill Mountains became known as part of “America’s First Wilderness,” the Iroquois Indians called the area home. After the Revolutionary War, people started building homes in the area and quickly began using the trees for lumber and furniture making. Pulp from the area’s hemlock trees also got made into paper, and the bark was used in factories for tanning leather.
The beautiful mountains and forests also attracted tourists who used the area for weekend getaways from the big city and for summer vacations. Early in the 20th century efforts to protect the region resulted in a large area becoming part of the Catskills Forest Preserve, allowing future generations to visit the area and enjoy the trees and forests.
The Catskills contain hundreds of species of trees, including firs, maples, and birch trees. At least eight different maple tree species thrive in the area, including red, silver and sugar maples. Buckeye trees with their unusual-looking nuts also grow in the area, with at least three species present. Pecan, chestnut and walnut trees provide nuts. Flowering trees such as crabapple, magnolia, and the tulip tree provide beauty in the spring. In the fall, many species turn brilliant colors of red, orange and yellow.
One of the Catskill trees commonly used by the Iroquois Indians was the white birch. The outer bark of the white birch was used in canoe construction and wigwam coverings. The bark also made baskets used to collect, store and cook foods, including berries and nuts found in the forests. Hunting and fishing gear, musical instruments, sleds and children’s toys also relied on birch bark.
The Catskills offer a home to a wide variety of wildlife and birds who find the trees a vital resource for food and shelter. Spring leaves and sprouts of new trees provide an important food for deer and other small mammals. Bears find the acorns from oak trees and the fruits from mulberry and serviceberry trees important food sources as they prepare for hibernation. More than 120 species of birds use the trees and shrubs for nesting, including cardinals, various songbirds and many birds of prey.