Keep an eye on your little dog

| 27 Jun 2017 | 12:17

All’s quiet, until the eagles buzz

By Pamela Chergotis

Running down the center of Sullivan County are three long reservoirs connected to one other like a string of aqueous beads. Swinging Bridge flows into Mongaup Falls, which drops into the Rio, which, in controlled releases, feeds the Mongaup River. This fast and fizzy little river is beloved by the sort of kayakers whose boats barely cover their derrieres, and whose GoPros make their helmets look like German Pickelhaubes. They bob and flip and bump and twirl. Then, in a final frenzy of froth, they’re ejected into the Delaware River, just above the Hawk’s Nest. On Scenic Route 97, next to this scene, is the start of a splendid trail that follows the Mongaup back upstream. It takes about an hour, out and back. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a flotilla of those strange man-boat rigs whooping and hollering their way downstream, high on life and a fresh release.

The trail is used mostly as a neighborhood dog walk. It follows the river closely, ending at an ancient cemetery hemmed in by hemlocks. Their shade casts an eternal twilight over the quiet graves. Some of their inhabitants died only 35 years after the formation of the nation. The handsome headstones, etched with weeping willow, look like marble, not the rock found in the old quarries that dot the landscape. It’s a good place to pause before turning back. And when you’re done, you can check this hike off the list of six that will qualify you for an Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River “Take a Hike!” patch. (Ever since Girl Scout days, I’ve been a fool for a good patch.)

This trail always rewards us with the sight of bald eagles that travel up and down the string of reservoirs. When Tom and I first moved here, eagles were endangered and sightings were rare. Now, in one of the few environmental success stories to comfort us these days, the birds are back in numbers sufficient to get them off the endangered species list. When they buzz this narrow valley they seem so much bigger than they do elsewhere, like German shepherds with wings, even though they don’t weigh much more than Henry, my eight-pound dog. But their wingspans can reach up to seven feet, and they clock 99 mph when diving. They need a pound of food a day and can hold up to two pounds in their crop.

When my friends first meet Henry, they all say, right off the bat, “Make sure a bird doesn’t get him.” Not a coyote, not a pit bull. A bird. There must be lots of bird-bites-dog stories on the Internet. But it did get me worried. Henry is absurdly tiny, bred a thousand years ago for aristocratic Japanese ladies to tuck into their sleeves. Sometimes other hikers sneer at us. You call that a hiking dog? One man said he thought we were walking a cat. Well, Henry can hike circles around your mangy mutt, thank you very much! But maybe, I fretted, Henry doesn’t belong on a trail with hungry raptors and the terrible, terrible people who walk their dogs off lead. We’ve become trail scolds, scooping Henry into the safety of our arms when yet another posse of free-range dogs hoves into view, and lecturing strangers about leash laws. Not one ever thanks us for this information.

Tom discovered a longer route extending the trip through the Mongaup Wilderness Protection which offers solitude. Scramble up the slope behind the cemetery, away from the river, and you’ll find a rough old dirt road that continues north toward the Rio. It’s easy walking if you don’t mind a little blowdown. The road passes another cemetery nearly swallowed up by woods, with inferior headstones worn to muteness. There the road splits: one heads uphill, the other back down to the Mongaup. We usually gravitate to the river, following it until we can just spot the Rio’s hydroelectric station through the trees. From our usual picnic spot on the riverbank, we can gaze at the lovely cliff rising dramatically from the opposite bank.

Suddenly, a piercing shriek bounces off the cliff walls. An eagle is flying overhead, close enough to cover us in his shadow. Henry doesn’t notice as he crunches his kibble. I pick him up and stick him in my sleeve.


Trail: Mongaup River Trail (unblazed)

Trailhead: Scenic Route 97, just north of the Hawk’s Nest

Trail length: 3.4 miles to the cemetery and back