SELF GUIDED TOURS
There are four main areas at Mountain Top Arboretum: West Meadow, Woodland Walk, East Meadow and Spruce Glen. Each area takes about 30-45 minutes or more to explore, depending on your speed of strolling, visiting plant collections, enjoying views and watching wildlife.
Follow the map to visit the numbered features listed below.
Please note: It is difficult to push strollers and wheelchairs on most of the paths due to the soft surfaces.
The West Meadow has a variety of collections that feature plants compatible with the challenging conditions found here, including extensive bedrock, thin soil and windy exposure. After passing between the stone pillars, follow the path in a clockwise direction to view several of the highlights of the West Meadow.
1. The Rain Garden is designed to slow down and contain runoff from the meadow, and is planted with acid loving shrubs and perennials, which thrive in this damp sunny area.
2. The Bird Cove is just northeast of the Rain Garden. It is planted with a variety of native trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that offer birds and native pollinators food, shelter and nesting places. The Arboretum is a birding hotspot, and there are over 60 species you may see here depending on the time of year.
3. Cross through the meadow to the Spiral Labyrinth which is planted with grasses and perennials that are both deer resistant and favored by the native pollinators here.
4. Continuing clockwise, you will come upon the Dwarf Conifer Berms, displaying some of the smaller members of the conifer clan.
5. The Exposed Bedrock seen here dates to the Devonian era and is about 375 million years old. This ancient sandstone was once part of a Catskill Delta stream that flowed to the Catskill Sea, and the land along the stream part of the ancient Gilboa Forest. Around the pond are dawn redwood and bald cypress. The dawn redwoods are among the most ancient trees still living on earth, found across the entire Northern Hemisphere 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs still roamed.
The Woodland Walk is a deer-fenced area intended to preserve and display the native habitat of the Northern Catskills. You will find typical examples of the native trees of our region as well as their natural understory partners of shade tolerant shrubs and wildflowers. The walk itself is a short easy stroll on three connected circular paths that take you past many of the components of a woodland landscape.
6. Spring on the mountaintop arrives in April and features Native Wildflowers like Trillium. Another easy to recognize flower in the Woodland Walk is Jack-in-the-pulpit, and trout-lily or dog’s tooth violet. All these lovely spring blooms are found mostly along the upper path in the Woodland Walk.
7. Mountain Laurels, Kalmia latifolia, are native shrubs with spectacular blooms in late June. Our collection comprises species, hybrids and cultivars. This broadleaf evergreen likes some protection and does well in the less windy Woodland Walk. This area also has some American chestnut, Castanea dentata, taken from various chestnut stock and breeders’ selections. These trees will interbreed with blight-resistant chestnuts, and there is hope that seeds produced will develop an American chestnut that is both blight-resistant and well adapted to this region.
Continuing past the Mountain Laurels there is a gentle descent through an area of New York ferns which covers the forest floor. At the bottom of this path is the Sunny Meadow. The water that flows through here first emerges from the mountain above the entrance to Mountain Top Arboretum, and winds its way through the Woodland Walk, across the Sunny Meadow and continues downhill through the Hidden Marsh, eventually joining the Sawmill Creek in Tannersville.
8. The Outdoor Classroom, also known as the Woodland Amphitheater, is a good spot to sit for a few minutes and experience the sounds and scents of the woods.
9. The Fairy Garden is an area where children are encouraged to build fairy houses, gardens, forts and more, using natural materials found here.
After a short walk down Maude Adams Road, you will see the “East Meadow” sign on your left. Follow the winding path up through the pine allee and pass through the deer exclusion gate:
10. A long allee of tall white pines (Pinus strobus) marks the Pine Grove. Beneath the pines in the shady understory grow native ferns, wildflowers, grasses and groundcovers.
11. Continue out into the meadow towards the border plantings of the American Hedgerow, planted with cultivars and species of native shrubs like gray and red twig dogwood, winterberry, sweet gale, elderberry and various fiery twigged willows. The hedgerow is a good example of choices available for four season interest: masses of flowers in spring and summer, fruits and berries in fall, and the magnificent explosion of variegated twig colors in winter.
12. Continue your walk by heading east toward the Pump House. Passing through the northern deer fence gate toward the Pump House brings you to one of the Arboretum’s wet meadows. A view across the wetland to the mountains framing Platte Clove is a stunning sight in every season. Ahead, you will see a small building built in the early 20th century to pump water to a nearby home. Today it provides irrigation to the Arboretum’s plantings in the East Meadow. Water from this spring and nearby creeks are part of the immense New York City water supply system.
13. From the Pump House, follow the Wet Meadow Boardwalk to your right through the abundant wetland of native spirea, asters, goldenrods, winterberry, ninebark and many sedges and reeds. (Birding here is especially good.)
14. If you take the path to the right, you will follow the Fern Trail, containing native trees and understory ferns commonly found in a mountain wetland setting. The path forking to the left will bring you back to the Pine Grove and Maude Adams Road.
Spruce Glen can be accessed from Maude Adams Road past the entrance to the East Meadow. It comprises three distinctly different ecosystems that have been created by subtle changes in elevation and moisture levels. The Hemlock Trail winds through 150-year old stands of hemlock, spruce, fir, birch, beech, maple and their understory partners. Please stay on trails to help preserve the different fragile ecosystems within the Glen.
Along the HemlockTrail to Hidden Marsh:
A. Transitional Forest. Think of the trail you’ll follow as tracing the elevated fingers of a glacial hand that reaches out to the marsh below. As you begin on the trail from Maude Adams Road, you’ll have your first encounter with disturbance, the road itself. The road edge and historical presence of landscaped lawns and gardens creates an opportunity for invasive growth to occur. Along with the ash, beech, red and sugar maple trees that live along this part of the trail, you’ll find Japanese honeysuckle taking advantage of the edge opening around the trail. Here, the invasive honeysuckle successfully competes with native shrubs. As you move away from the road and into the forest, the honeysuckle is less evident before it disappears completely.
B. Emerald Bog. On each side of the Hemlock Trail, there are depressions--long boggy bowls on your left or slopes on your right--that fall away to the stream flowing down to the marsh. The boggy bowls are home to native wildflowers and sedges. Walking further along the trail, notice the changing of tree species. Look for hemlocks, yellow birches and the occasional black cherry, hop hornbeam and striped maple.
C. Spruce Nursery. If you pass the Spruce Trail and then turn left along the Hemlock Trail’s eastern loop, you will see along the edges of the trail natural spruce nurseries. Wetter soils and sheltered sites provide the nurturing required for the next generation of these beautiful conifers.
Notice the standing snags that are home to shelf mushrooms and various forest dwellers. Once on the ground, fallen trees and snags may become “nurse logs” for new trees. These “nurse logs” also contribute to the forest’s water reserve by holding water--like sponges--in times of drought. They will slowly rot away, decomposed by the millions of miles of fungi and biota under your feet right now.
D. Hemlock Ridge is one of several ridges in this area that were formed by glacial action as the glacier receded from this region about 15,000 years ago. Old growth hemlocks, like those around you in the Glen, have deep furrows and ridges thick enough that the reddish brown bark seems broken into irregular blocks. You can distinguish the mature spruces from the hemlocks around them by their pebbly or scaly, dark, uniform bark.
E. You are walking along an Old Bark Road. Loggers cut hemlock and stripped its bark to be used for the 19th century tanning industry. Walking along the Hemlock Trail, you may notice remnants of an old pit (tanning pit? old homestead?), stone walls and traces of an old road. Historical research and archeological work await.
F. The Hidden Marsh can also be called a fen. Fens are peat-forming wetlands that receive nutrients from sources other than precipitation: usually from upslope sources through drainage from surrounding mineral soils and from groundwater movement. Fens differ from bogs because they are less acidic and have higher nutrient levels. A fen can support a much more diverse plant and animal community than a marsh. This area is only just beginning to be studied. Alders and a few gray birch occupy raised hummocks. Yellow swamp candles, Lysimachia terrestris, bloom over the entire fen in summer, followed by hundreds of the pink native spirea, Spiraea tomentosa. Thousands of tiny insect-eating sundews, a Drosera species, grow under the various grasses, sedges and rushes.