Schuyler County: Cayuta
In 1973 British economist E. F. Schumacher wrote a book considered by some to be one of the most influential post-World War II books ever written. Titled Small is Beautiful, the book is actually about Western economics, though many people think from the book's green cover that it has something to do with nature. However, the phrase small is beautiful could certainly be applied with much accuracy to the Town of Cayuta. Set in the eastern part of Schuyler County (the New York State county with the smallest population), Cayuta, with only 550 people, is the smallest town in the smallest county.
Cayuta is divided by two intersecting, well-traveled highways--State Route 13, which runs north and south, and State Route 224, which runs east and west. Each road runs though a large glacial valley bounded on both sides by high rounded hills covered by unbroken forest. The views are fantastic; in spring the trees are covered with the light green and gray-green of new leaves; in summer the hills are a solid dark green; in fall the hills are a tapestry of red, yellow, orange, pink, and green; and in winter the hills are the brown of deciduous trees mixed with the green of white pines both underlaid with snow.
Along Route 224 flows Cayuta Creek, the outlet of Cayuta Lake, which flows more than 40 miles as it winds its way over rocks large and small into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River.
Houses are spread out here and there in the town with some of the land mowed for hay. A large portion of the land in the town is owned by Cotton-Hanlon, a timber management firm. Just east of the intersection of routes 13 and 224, you'll see a large lumber mill. That's Wagner Hardwoods, certainly the largest employer in the town.
So what's to do in Cayuta? Depending on your point of view, nothing at all or quite a lot. Both can be equally enjoyable. First of all, both routes 13 and 224 are excellent for bike touring, whether by bicycle or motorcycle. You can start in Ithaca heading south on State Route 96B, turn west in Candor onto State Route 96, which eventually becomes State Route 224. Then turn north onto State Route 13 to head back to Ithaca. The ride is pleasant on well-paved roads with good shoulders and will cover roughly 30 miles. The back roads of Cayuta are very hilly and should be attempted only by those who consider themselves experts at hill climbing.
Cayuta has two large tracts of forest open to the public. The Arnot Forest is more than 4,000 acres owned by Cornell University and provides hiking, on-road mountain biking, birding, nature photography, snow shoeing, and cross-country skiing. The Arnot Forest is bordered by Cliffside State Forest, a steep, irregular patch of forest overlooking the valley along State Route 224. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in either forest.
In addition, the old Lehigh Valley Railroad tracks have been converted into a hiking trail. Using the trail for biking is a bit difficult because the base in many spots is fist-sized sharp rocks that would be difficult to ride on. It looks like the trail is also being used by ATVers. You can enter the trail from either a very short dead-end road along State Route 224 opposite Burlingame Road called Johnson Road or from where the trail crosses over Cayuta Road where it runs through the Wagner Hardwoods land. Because of the ATV use, you might be tempted to drive down part of the right-of-way, but I would recommend against it as there is no place to turn around and the trail becomes somewhat overgrown. The distance between Johnson and Cayuta roads is less than 2 mi./3.2 km., but you can spend some time exploring little side trips. The north side of the trial borders Cliffside State Forest and, although it's too steep to climb, it is nice to look at with a fair amount of interesting vegetation and lots of birds, especially in the bushes along the trail.
The hamlet of Cayuta has a nice church and church yard that can be explored and across the road is the Cayuta post office. This is an old-fashioned post office, and you might want to stop in and say hi to the postmaster and look at the interior.
At the intersection of routes 13 and 224 is the hamlet of Alpine Junction. There are not many houses here anymore, but you will find a gas station, a motel, a drive-in ice cream shop, a gifts and collectibles shop, and a Harley-Davidson franchise.
The History of Cayuta
When you have a decent creek near two intersecting well-traveled roads, you find people. Cayuta is no different. The creek attracted a grist mill for those who farmed in the valleys and the local trees provided material for a saw mill. The Thomas family was one of the first families in the town in the late 1700s, and it was Joseph Thomas who became the town's first recorded death in 1802 and Rosetta Thomas who was the town's first recorded birth in 1804. The town has always been small and seems to like it that way.
REMINDER: In a town like this, with so much natural land, you have a better than average chance of coming upon a bear. If you're approaching a raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry patch in fruit, make sure you make a noise (whistling is good) to let the animals know you're coming. Never come between a mother bear and her cubs. Dogs must be leashed in both the Arnot and Cliffside forests.
Town of Cayuta
6360 State Route 224
Cayuta, NY 14824
100 N. Franklin St.
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Accommodations in Cayuta
6080 State Route 224
Cayuta, NY 14824
Restaurants and Pubs
See Schuyler County
Bus service along State Route 13 is provided by Chemung County Transit System.
6033 State Route 13, Cayuta, NY 14824, 607-594-3536
5985 State Route 13, Cayuta, NY 14824, 607-594-3486
Wild Wolf Hollow
6011 State Route 13, Cayuta, NY 14824, 607-594-2712