A ‘Cabin’ in the Woods

May 27, 2020
Snapper Petta, Lean-to Chair
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


A ‘Cabin’ in the Woods


Have you ever dreamed of having a cabin in the woods?

One where you can sit on the front porch enjoying a warm mug of tea, cocoa, or even an adult beverage while gazing into the fire? Lean back; let the presence of the forest overtake you. Listen to the soothing sounds of the nearby brook. Quietly look upward. The sky has transitioned from blue to a deep purple. From there it seamlessly fades to black, where your gaze falls on the first star in the evening sky. Your wish? To experience many more nights like this. Eventually, a chill sets in. You pour water on the fire, check to be sure it’s out, and retire inside for the reward you earned this day: a deep night’s sleep in the wilderness.

Sound like a dream? One that’s financially out of reach? That might be your initial thought. But substitute lean-to for a cabin, Deacon’s bench for front porch, and understand that your bedroom is a sleeping bag atop your favorite pad. Complete that short mental exercise and all of this is available to you through the Trail Conference’s Adopt a Lean-to program.

Unlike a timeshare, adopting a lean-to in the Catskills allows you to pick your visitation dates with no lock-outs. You also avoid those constantly increasing maintenance fees and taxes.

Are there any drawbacks? Well, if you mind sharing your piece of paradise with others, this might present a problem. On New York State forest lands, all lean-tos (aka: shelters and/ or open camps) are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you arrive and another party is already there, take the opportunity to share your special spot with them. As a caretaker for the shelter, you’ll be able to educate them on how to care for this unique wilderness resource. This simple act assures you become like the proverbial pebble tossed in a pond, creating ripples of stewardship. Be assured, your efforts will extend outward to a larger audience, helping to preserve our wildlands.

What’s the catch?

There are some expectations if you agree to adopt a lean-to, but they are minimal. First off, no one is required to hike in and spend the night at your adopted shelter. While you’re always welcome to camp there, all of your work can be incorporated into a day trip.

Other than that, the general requirements include:

  • Visit your shelter twice each year: once in the spring and again in the fall.
  • Upon reaching the site, make a visual inspection of the area, including the shelter, outhouse, and around the buildings.
  • If you can, clear away anything that’s lying against or on the shelter and clean the water source of debris.
  • Check the outhouse and deposit dried leaves to aid in decomposition.
  • Shovel the ash out of the fire pit, dispersing it throughout the area to rejuvenate the soil.
  • Before leaving, pick up any trash you find and pack it out of the woods.
  • When you return home, complete the minimal paperwork before sending it on to the Trail Conference representative.

While a complete list of responsibilities will be sent to you when you agree to volunteer for the program, this is the gist of your obligation. And don’t worry—the program coordinator will accompany you on your first trip to show you the ropes and ease your transition into the program.

How do I know all this? My name is Snapper Petta and I’ve recently retired after 40 years of directing the SUNY Oneonta outdoor adventure program. For more than 20 years, our environmental service project has been to care for the Biscuit Brook and Shandaken shelters in conjunction with the Trail Conference and the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, who work cooperatively on this program.

In the last two decades, visiting these shelters has instilled a “sense of place” in me. All the benefits I wrote about in the first paragraph are open to you as well by joining in the adventure that is the Adopt a Lean-to program. For more information, contact [email protected] or sign up to adopt a lean-to.

And thanks, in advance, for your help. I look forward to having you join our sterling group of caretakers.