2015-12-23 / Take a Hike

Upstate Adventure Guide leader addressed Andes

Wonders of hiking, camping in region were highlighted
By Cheryl Petersen

Having moved from Connecticut to Kingston 16-years ago, Will Soter started hiking in the Catskill Mountains. His love of the outdoors nurtured a bountiful knowledge of countless trails available to hikers and campers in the New York State Forest Preserve.

“I took friends and visitors out on the trails all the time,” said Soter at the last Andes Roundtable meeting of the year. “When a buddy told me I could become a certified guide and charge people, I thought, no one would pay when they can get it free. I was wrong.”

Soter earned his guide certificate from New York State Department of Conversation and has been professionally guiding hikes and camping trips for four years. “People from the metropolitan area want a guide. They don’t know how to navigate the woods,” added Soter.

Within the 700,000-acre Catskill Park, about 60 percent of the land is owned privately, while New York State owns 287,500 acres, designated as the Catskill Forest Preserve.

Currently, public land is categorized as wilderness, wild forest, or state recreation. There are approximately 143,000 acres in wilderness and this land is regulated to foot only access; no motors and no bikes. There are 130,000 acres in wild forest, used for hiking, camping, crosscountry skiing, mountain biking, and some snowmobiling and horse trails.

Soter knows these rules and how to keep clients safe. He knows when to get a permit. He also has met other guides. They collaborate. “Depending on hikers’ ages and skill levels, I can guide between six and 12 people. However, more than that and another guide comes along with me,” said Soter.

Getting around

Soter networks. He is the assistant program coordinator for the Catskill Conservation Corps, the assistant program coordinator for the NY/NJ Trail Conference and he also serves on the board for the Catskill Mountain Club and NY Outdoor

Guide Association.

Before each outing, Soter asks questions. “I want to know what the clients are interested in. If they want to learn about flowers, mushrooms, or geology, I accommodate,” said Soter. “If I don’t have the knowledge, I’ll ask another guide to come along, especially with astronomy.” They camp out and stargaze while one of Soter’s colleagues teaches from his incredible comprehension of the cosmos.

Signing up for a guided trip with Soter includes meals and a list.

“If they aren’t experienced and we’re spending the night, I meet them for the first time at an outfitting store,” said Soter. “We go over the list and make sure they have everything they need. Boots must replace the flip-flops.”

Dog days

Hikers have brought along their dogs. “One of my dogs has climbed nearly every high peak in the Catskills,” Soter said before telling the story of how one dog came on a hiking trip last summer and just last week, when Soter was in New York walking the streets, he heard a familiar barking. Upon investigation, he recognized the dog. “He must have smelled me, it was fun to see him again,” said Soter.

Soter also networks with local lodging facilities. “Some people call roughing it a night’s stay in a hunter’s cabin rather than a fancy hotel,” said Soter. “And some want to hike but also want a nice B&B to return to.” Fishing and boating are also part of Soter’s Upstate Adventure Guide services.

When asked if some clients get tired and need psychology to get them back down the hill, Soter said, “If it happens, it’s usually the adults. The children like to move. A few adults have had to be encouraged. They don’t realize the magnitude of the Catskills and distance doesn’t register with them until we are outside, so I’ve had to use persuasion to let them know they can do it.”

Corporate outings, college students, high school senior trips, “Or, people wanting to stay in shape, are clients,” said Soter. “I’ve noticed though that marathon runners who are excellent on level land get a real challenge when climbing hills.” Soter also makes sure to carry enough calories for everyone.

Over the years, Soter has noticed increased interest in getting out into the woods. “There is a disconnect though between funding and tourism advertisement,” said Soter.

“There is no funding to preserve the trails yet, for example, when the I Love NY campaign advertised for Devil’s Path trail, that is where people went and it is today over walked and eroded.” Soter is working to leverage tourism effectively.

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