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Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forest

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McCarty Hill State Forest locator map

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Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forests, also known as Cattaraugus Reforestation Areas #5 and #8, covers approximately 6,229 acres. These state forests are located in Cattaraugus County in the Towns of Mansfield, Little Valley, Ellicottville and Great Valley. This unit shares its boundary lines with two major ski areas and is near Ellicottville, New York--a place that has become a year-round destination resort area. The most common recreational uses of this area are hunting, hiking, mountain bike riding, skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering, camping and snowmobile riding. These state forests also have a rich history which has shaped the way they look today.

State Forests in New York comprise almost 700,000 acres. In southwestern New York there are 97,000 acres more or less of state forest. In addition, there are Wildlife Management Areas, Multiple Use Areas and Unique Areas managed by DEC. State parks are not under DEC management. Since this area has a lot of recreational activity some people do confuse this with a state park but it is in fact a actively managed forest by DEC. These state forests are managed for multiple uses and are a source of raw material for New York's forest products industry which provides employment and income for many New Yorkers. They are managed for wildlife by the creation and maintenance of various habitats for many wildlife species. They are managed to provide recreational opportunities and for watershed protection.

Our forests are "Green Certified" meaning all ecological aspects are looked at when timber harvests are conducted. It is not uncommon to use things like trail and stream buffers to protect ecological, historical and aesthetic assets on the property during these harvests.

Recreation

Hiking

North Country Trail

A trail in the forest with some downed trees

The North Country Scenic Trail crosses this property. Coming from Route 353 the trail crosses a historic stone bridge built around 1840. This bridge is not on state land but on the foot trail right-of-way. The trail passes through a part of Little Rock City where it intersects with a nature trail through the rock area. The North Country Trail continues down to CCC Camp Seneca then over the hill near the new snow making ponds on the adjacent Holiday Valley ski area property and down old Canfield Hill Road to Holimont Ski Club. The Finger Lakes Trail Club and Foothills Trail Club have adopted this trail. For more information on these trails you can visit their websites by going to the links on the right -hand column of this page.

Little Rock City Nature Trail

There is one nature trail that goes through Little Rock City. Little Rock City is a natural outcrop of conglomerate rock on an unglaciated plateau. It is located at the end of Little Rock City Forest Road. This is one of three "rock cities" in Cattaraugus County. The others are Rock City, south of Olean, and Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park. A "rock city" is a rock formation with large rocks with narrow pathways between the rocks that may resemble city streets to some people. Please do not climb on mossy rocks or damage any plants in this natural area as many plants that exist around the rocks are unique to this ecological unit. Access to this trail is from the end of Little Rock City Forest Road at the turn-around loop. This trail is a loop trail through the rocks and intersects the North Country Scenic Trail where it can be followed back to the Little Rock City Forest Road. Please do not ride bikes or horses in this area.

Camp Seneca Loop Trail - This is a loop trail that starts near the pond at Camp Seneca and links into the North Country Trail. The east side of this loop is also called the Billygoat Trail on the WNYMBA map. The North Country Trail connects Little Rock City and Camp Seneca. Starting from Camp Seneca you can hike the Camp Seneca Loop Trail and hike to Little Rock City or follow the various other multiple-use trails all over the Unit.

Hiking can also be done on all mountain biking trails--see the mountain biking section below for more information.

Trails are planned to minimize impacts to the forest environment and to not conflict with other management objectives while providing a pleasant and interesting hike, ride or snowshoe.

Organized trail events need to have their coordinators obtain a Temporary Revocable Permit for use of the trails prior to the event. These can be obtained at the Allegany DEC Office at 716-372-0645.

Snowmobiling

A snowmobile trail enters the state forest at the end of Eagle Forest Road near the Ellicottville School. It climbs the hill to a forest road, to Mutton Hollow Road, over and down the hill to the west and then the trail continues over Murder Hill. The Cattaraugus County Federation of Snowmobile Clubs has adopted this trail.

Mountain Biking

Rim Bike Trail travels over many large rocks

A network of mountain bike / multiple-use trails cover this Unit. Multiple trail heads exist and access to these can be made from adjacent ski areas as well as from parking areas on the State Forests. These trails are excellent hiking trails--some can be used for cross country skiing or snowshoeing but the steep terrain in places can be challenging for this type of activity. Most of these trails require a high level of mountain bike riding skill. They are a great ride if you are an expert rider and are also great hiking trails. The Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association has adopted these trails. They have trail maps and more information at the WNYMBA website. Organized bike events require a Temporary Revocable Permit which can be obtained by contacting the Allegany DEC Forestry Office at 716-372-0645.

Skiing and Snowshoeing

All trails may be used. Trails can be steep and rocky in some areas but there are flat parts at the top of the plateau. Access is usually from the ski areas but you can also snowshoe or ski up the snow-covered town roads if you desire an easier terrain.

Horseback Riding

There are no approved horse trails that exist on this area but forest roads and skid trails may be used.

Hunting and Fishing

Hunting is allowed on Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forests. Terrain can be rugged in some areas so walking up and down hills is part of the hunting experience. Access is good using forest roads and multi-use trails to many areas. Forest management has provided a variety of habitats to hunt. Fishing is not a major activity due to lack of streams and ponds in the area.

Hunting is very popular on this Unit but with over 6,000 acres to hunt on this unit some hiking will take you to areas that do not have a lot of other hunters. See the Hunting page for more information.

Camping

Coverd picnic table on Little Rock City Forest Road

There are camp sites available with covered picnic tables at Camp Seneca and Little Rock City recreation areas. Rock City camp area has four available sites like the one pictured that are tent camping only. Camping is allowed at designated sites only and there is no water supply (look for yellow camp disks at sites). Build fires in designated rock fire rings and not on roads, turn-around areas, picnic tables, or anywhere else that will cause damage or leave a mess to clean up. There is no garbage pick up at these sites; this area is carry in - carry out only!

On other areas of these state forests you can set up camp as long as you are 150 feet away from a road, trail, stream or waterbody.

Yellow camp here disk

Look for our yellow "camp here" disks which designate camp sites on the property. Please see maps for general locations. For map locations of Rock City and Camp Seneca as well as other camp locations please view the camp map at the top of the page.

Geo-Caching

Geo caching can be done on state forests and more information on how can be found in the February 2005 conservationist article High-Tech Hide-and-Seek: Geocaching.

State Forest Regulations

Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forests offer a variety of recreational opportunities. State lands belong to all of us. Help care for this area and enhance the enjoyment of it for yourself and those who follow by observing these simple guidelines:

  • What you carry in - carry out. Leave the area cleaner than you found it. Burying of refuse is prohibited.
  • If you are planning to camp for more than three nights or have a group of ten or more, obtain a permit from a forest ranger. Do not camp within 150 feet of water, roads or trails.
  • If you build a fire, do so with care and use wood from dead and down trees only.
  • All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off-road use of motorized vehicles, such as ATVs, trail bikes and four-wheel drives, is not permitted.
  • No permanent structures shall be established, including tree stands or blinds.

Early History

Before this property was in state ownership it was home to native American people who considered what is now called Rock City a sacred place. They managed forests for food such as acorns, hickory nuts and chestnuts that they could eat and food for the animals that they hunted. Fire was the main tool used to clear land for growing their food. As a result oak trees are very common in this state forest due to acorns needing bare mineral soil to sprout which was created by these forest fires. After settlers came this area was used mainly as farmland and forest. In these early days a couple of exploratory or so called "wildcat" oil wells were drilled near the present CCC Forest Road but were not a success. Areas of this state forest were cleared for farming--some areas were pasture and some areas appear to have stayed in forest cover. Almost all of the forest on these properties were clear cut for chemical wood by about 1910. Most of this work was done in the winter with teams of horses and provided work at that time of the year when other farm work could not be done. Most of the area is rocky and did not prove to be good farm land so most farming ended by the 1930s at about the time New York State started buying property for reforestation.

Old cabin in the rocks, around late 1930's

The Civilian Conservation Era

During the late 1920s and 1930s the New York State Legislature authorized the acquisition of lands outside the Adirondack and Catskill Park boundaries for the purposes of reforestation, wildlife management, recreation and watershed protection. The Environmental Conservation Law authorizes acquisition of lands outside the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Park " ...for reforestation and establishment and maintenance thereon of forests for watershed protection, the production of timber and other forest products, and for recreation and kindred purposes...which shall be forever devoted to the planting, growth and harvesting of such trees as shall be deemed by the commissioner best suited for the lands to be forested."

As result the 1930s the Rock City and McCarty Hill State Forest Unit became the site of many work projects carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC. The CCC, established by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, provided employment opportunities for young men during the depression. CCC projects included the construction of roads and the planting of thousands of pine, larch and spruce trees in the open areas on the property.

On Rock City State Forest a CCC camp was built by the CCCs and was called Camp Seneca. CCC camps were run by the US Army and were laid out like Army camps of that time period. The stone-lined walkways to the barracks are still visible today and a few have been restored. Norway spruce seedlings were planted as landscape trees along the walkways by the CCCs and are now large, mature trees that can be seen today. A pond that supplied water to the camp and to the tree nursery is still visible as well.

Water was pumped from the pond up to the top of a series of terraces--these terraces were used to grow the tree seedlings. The terraces were arranged so the water would flow from one terrace down to the next by gravity flow until all the new trees were watered. The seed beds are now over grown with forest but with careful inspection they can be located today.

CCC camps were segregated camps during this time period as were Army camps. Camp Seneca was an example of this segregation by having all African-American enrollees who were instructed by white officers of the US ARMY. David Findlay was a New York State Forester assigned to Camp Seneca. The site of Camp Seneca is used as a recreation site today. Picnic tables and a small pavilion are located where some of the main buildings of the CCC camp were located. Some of the local projects done by the camp residents were building parts of what are now Hungry Hollow Road, CCC Forest Road and Little Rock City Forest Road.

"Little Rock City" History

Stone Bridge on old Rock City Road, now the FLT

Little Rock City is an area at the end of Rock City Forest Road that has a unique area of large boulders and has been a tourist attraction for many years. In the horse and buggy days access to the rocks was from what is now called the Stone Chimney Road off Route 353. This road was an old buggy road formally called the Rock City Road. It crossed a stone bridge which was built sometime around 1840 that still exists today. This old road is now part of the North County Trail which crosses this bridge on the section of the trail from the Stone Chimney road at the golf course to "Little Rock City".

Historically people would come to Little Valley on the train, stay at the Rock City Hotel or other hotels in the area and then ride in a buggy to Little Rock City. Later this road was abandoned and during the period of the CCCs the enrollees at Camp Seneca built a new road to "Little Rock City" and other roads to the camp to replace the old Rock City Road.

Geology

How the rocks came to be in Little Rock City

Little Rock City tells a story; a geologic story stretching from hundreds of millions of years ago all the way to the present. It tells of huge mountain ranges that no longer exist. Of rivers, oceans and beaches long gone. The story is waiting in the rocks for the curious to discover. Descending into Little Rock City from the picnic area or approaching on the Conservation Trail leads to an immediate observation: the rocks are big and blocky. A short hike further leads to narrow passages between boulders draped with mosses, lichens and ferns. The air there is cooler, darker and dank. Sounds muffled. The conscientious hiker sticks to the marked trail or steps carefully to avoid injuring delicate ground vegetation. Touch the rock to feel the sand and pebble composition. How did the rock form? Why here? Why is it called a "rock city?" How does it create a special environment for life?

Conglomerate pepples in boulders at Little Rock City

It could be said that it all began with a shallow sea hundreds of millions of years ago - that is the typical beginning of a geologic discussion of Western New York. But the conglomerate rock of Little Rock City formed on a beach at the edge of that sea. The conglomerate is younger than the vast majority of rock in Western New York. Typical sea bottom fossils like brachiopods and corals are hard to find. By the time the conglomerate formed, the sea had filled in with sediment and a beach was present. Quite a bit of sand but those milky white quartz pebbles in the conglomerate rock are the clue that it was a beach. Their telltale shape - not spherical but flattened is characteristic of a high energy beach environment. Every wave slides a pebble against the pebble beneath, weathering both to flat surfaces. Later, add some naturally occurring silica cement and compaction from overlying sediments and voila - conglomerate rock is born from a beach. The photo at right is a close up of round quartz pebbles in the conglomerate rock found at Little Rock City.

So yes, a sea or ocean is part of the story but it was the shore and specifically the beach that gave birth to the conglomerate we now see as Little Rock City. The late Devonian shore 370 million years ago was generally oriented on a North South line. The Acadian Mountains soared high to our East and Southeast in what is now New England and New Jersey. Finer sediment like clay had been transported down rivers to the ocean where it slowly settled, filling in the ocean. That clay became the shale so prevalent in much of the Western Southern Tier. But now coarser sediments like sand and pebbles were being deposited near the shore. It is that sediment from which the conglomerate largely formed. The roots of the Acadian Mountains still outcrop in New England and that bedrock belies the source rock for most of those pebbles. However, an occasional red jasper pebble can be found in the conglomerate of Little Rock City.

Red Jasper Pebble in Conglomerate Rock

Jasper pebble in conglomerate Interestingly, that jasper matches the composition of some bedrock near present day Lake Superior. But Lake Superior is to our northwest today and the white quartz pebbles came from almost the opposite direction. What's going on?

All of North America was rotated about 450 clockwise during the Devonian, meaning that source region of jasper was north of us. And Eastern North America was just north of the equator. Prevailing planetary winds similar to present day trade winds probably set up a longshore current which transported jasper pebbles to our area. So sediment was being moved by two methods: rivers flowing down the Acadians and ocean currents along a shore. Both from different directions. This rather complex scenario would be difficult to explain if not for the Theory of Continental Drift. Indeed, Little Rock City provides evidence for continental drift. Another interesting feature of Little Rock City is the superb examples of what happens when waves wash sediment from different directions. A crisscross pattern of deposition called crossbedding results.

Crossbedding on the side of a large rock as indicated by black arrows on the photo

Photo at right shows Crossbedding in directions shown by arrows.

Try to guess which way waves broke on the beach to make the patterns you see. During your next vacation to a beach, compare the patterns to what you see. So far we've focused on formation of conglomerate rock that makes up Little Rock City. But what happened afterward? How did the conglomerate end up 2200 feet above sea level and broken into huge squared off blocks resembling the blocks of a city? The conglomerate was once buried under thousands of feet of sedimentary rock, similar in composition to rock still found around Allegany State Park and in Pennsylvania. In fact, Thunder Rocks in the Park and Olean Rock City both have rounded quartz pebbles, deposited in streams when the shoreline and beach were further west. This overlying rock was eroded away after the Alleghanian Orogeny, or mountain building, uplifted Eastern North America about 290 million years ago. It was this event, resulting from the collision of North America and Africa that formed the supercontinent Pangaea. During erosion, the release of pressure allowed the conglomerate to expand and crack. These cracks, called joints, along with joints formed by horizontal compression during the orogeny itself, resulted in two sets of intersecting perpendicular lines which, through weathering, widened to become the pathways separating the blocks we see today. Joints trend southeast-northwest and southwest-northeast, like carefully planned city streets.

Contrary to popular belief, Pleistocene glaciations did not move the rocks of Little Rock City to their present locations. They are not glacial erratics from Canada. They belong to the immediate bedrock of the Little Rock City area. If glaciers had overridden the area, the boulders would have been carried southward, obliterating Little Rock City. In this way, Little Rock City tells us something about the extent of our last glaciation.

Lastly, Little Rock City creates a special environment for life. The quartz pebbles, sand and cement gluing together the conglomerate rock weathers to form an acidic soil. Soil pH has been measured among the rocks and found to be around 5.6. Outside of Little Rock City, pH was found to be near a neutral reading of 7.

Measuring pH levels in soil at Little Rock City

Photo at left shows student measuring soil pH near Little Rock City.

The shady, moist conditions among the rocks also create lower temperatures, higher relative humidity and lower light conditions than surrounding woods. It's not unusual to find snow in the narrow passages between rocks as late as mid May. These environmental conditions are more similar to the Adirondacks and several plant species common at Little Rock City are also common in those mountains of Northern New York. They include Clintonia, painted trillium, polypody fern, and rock tripe. Please be careful not to disturb these locally rare species while visiting Little Rock City. The last two species are especially sensitive to people climbing on the rocks. Let others enjoy this special gem of Western New York.

The information in this geology section is provided by tenth grade students form Pioneer High School who came out to Little Rock City and did geological research at the rocks. Pictured below is Instructor Jeanne Burns and some of the students that attended the Geology field trip.

A group of students led by an adult hiking and studying in the woods

Other References for this section:

Isachesen, et al. eds. Geology of New York: A Simplified Account. New York State Museum educational leaflet 28. 2nd edition. 2000.

Lobeck, A. K. A Popular Guide to the Geology and Physiography of Allegany State Park. New York State Museum handbook 1. 1927.

Other Historic Notes

Mutton Hollow Road was given that name because the top of the hill near Holiday Valley Ski area was a sheep ranch or farm in 1910. Areas that may have mature trees on them today had very short grass on them at that time.

Wildlife

Fawn along Little Rock City Trail

This area has been managed to provide young forest habitat as well as stands of older trees. This unit contains a good mix of sizes and species of trees. Forest openings and regenerated stands of new trees that grow rapidly provide habitats for game and non-game species. Management for a variety of habitats will continue. Due to the large number of oak and hickory trees this is a great area to view wildlife such as turkey, deer, bear and squirrel. Occasionally you may flush a grouse in young forest management areas that have been recently harvested.

Tornado Damage of 2010

view of tornado area after salvage harvest

In late summer of 2010 a tornado touched down on this state forest area off Hungry Hollow Road. It leveled 80 acres of mature forest that was then put out to bid for a salvage timber sale. The logging company will take what wood is usable for lumber and the rest will become course woody debris and create habitat for wildlife and also put nutrients back into the soil for future forest growth. Currently this sale has been completed and the forest will now be allowed to regenerate on its own. This site can be viewed from Hungry Hollow Road or from the bike trail off Little Rock City Road. It is a reminder of how powerful mother nature is and how management practices we do also mimic natural disturbances that occur in the landscape such as this one. This area had not been managed since the chemical wood clear cuts of the early 1900s. Tree species affected include black cherry, sugar maple, red maple, basswood, oak and white ash. It will be interesting to watch this area mature again into northern hardwood species while providing some quality habitat for deer, turkey and grouse.

Timber Management

The hardwood forests at Rock City and McCarty Hill are managed to grow timber, maintain diverse wildlife habitats and provide recreational opportunities while protecting water quality.

Large trees can be found on this unit, like this Black Cherry tree.

The existing forest stands are for the most part even-age stands that have resulted from the earlier clear cuts or land clearing for farming. Because of earlier clear cuts that allowed the establishment of Allegany hardwood tree species long time forest management, excellent growing sites and a climate make these forest stands some of the best in New York State.

Allegany hardwood stands are unique to northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. They usually consist of black cherry, white ash, red maple, sugar maple and other species. The other species may include red oak, tulip popular, basswood, beech, birch and a mix of other northern hardwoods.

Transition oak stands contain red oak, red maple and a mix of other hardwoods. Transition oak stands will gradually become other types of hardwood stands if they are not managed to reproduce oak. White oak is not common here nor is white pine but both exist on this unit in areas. Oak, white pine and hemlock are not as valuable for timber as are some other hardwoods but they are important for species diversity and therefore are maintained in managed stands. Hardwood trees are not usually planted as they spread vast amounts of seed and naturally regenerate.

Thinning of the forest through the sale of forest products gives the residual trees more growing space. This helps to keep the forest healthy and provides openings for new seedlings, a revolving supply of food and cover for wildlife and source of future crop trees. Some stands will contain large trees, giving an illusion of old growth, but are not in almost all cases. These stands have been harvested prior to state ownership or managed during state ownership to favor large trees. Many stands are mature and ready to be regenerated. This is usually done by a thinning to promote regeneration of new seedlings and then later followed by an overstory removal. Forest stands that are dominated by species that require direct sunlight for reproduction such as black cherry, ash and red oak are managed in this way.

Wild Orchid on Rock City State Forest

Forest stands that contain oak species may require the use of fire or other types of disturbance to maintain this forest type. Due to competition on these excellent growing sites transition oak stands will require a great deal of effort to maintain for species diversity.

The property has stands of pine, larch and spruce that were planted in old farm fields as they need open areas with direct sunlight to thrive. These have been or will be converted to hardwoods by removal of the conifer overstory and allowing the naturally occurring hardwood seedlings to grow to maturity. Many conifer stands have been harvested on this unit and converted to young hardwood stands and this type of management will continue.

Directions

From Little Valley take Route 242 which travels through the forest on the west side of Murder Hill. From Route 353 at Elkdale take Whig Street. Then take a right turn at the Whig Street Church onto Hungry Hollow Road which will take you to the top of the hill for access to the Little Rock City Forest Road or over the hill to Camp Seneca. If you go straight on Whig Street and take a right at the fork this will take you to the North Country Trail head near the Cattaraugus County communications tower.

From Great Valley take County Road 38, Mutton Hollow Road ,to the same location. From 219 just north of Salamanca take Hungry Hollow Road. This will take you past Camp Seneca and up to the Little Rock City Forest Road. CCC Forest Road connects Hungry Hollow and Mutton Hollow Roads.

Important Numbers

Allegany DEC Forestry Office (M-F 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) 716-372-0645

For emergencies, search and rescue, wildfire, or state land rules and regulation enforcement, call a Forest Ranger:

(716) 771-7191
(716) 771-7199
(716) 771-7156

Or you can reach the Forest Ranger general dispatch number at: (877) 457-5680

General Emergencies: 911