What I found along the border of the Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wildernesses recently however, was an extensive illegally-marked trail system cut through some of the wildest backcountry of the Adirondacks.
The Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wilderness are two of my favorite places in the Adirondack Park. They may lack the jaw-dropping views of the High Peaks, but they offer some spectacular scenery for those who are willing to leave the well-worn path. The limited access and few visitors make these areas special to me.
In mid-May, my bushwhacking once again took me into the heart of the Pepperbox Wilderness in search of birds for the Audubon Society’s Birdathon, a yearly contest to identify the most species in a single 24-hour period. Although this year’s birding adventure started at the western border of the Five Ponds Wilderness at Raven Lake, my plan was to immediately head west into the Pepperbox for the big day.
Although an in-holding with a significant camp occupies a small peninsula on Raven Lake’s southern shore, I imagined the western shoreline would be as wild as the majority of the southern Five Ponds Wilderness, but this was not the case.
While searching for an appropriate camping site along the western shore after an exhausting bushwhack from Raven Lake Road, I found myself on what I believed was a simple herd path. It was not an ordinary herd path though, it was well-marked, chainsaw cut, fairly often used illegal trail disappearing into the Pepperbox Wilderness.
Frequent yellow diamonds of plastic marked the trail, still boldly colored and nailed to trees. These markers were so regular in their placement that they put most official trails to shame. From my vantage point, at least three of the markers remained visible before the trail disappeared over the hillside. It took a while for me to acknowledge what I was seeing. Unofficial trails are a fairly frequent encounter while bushwhacking, especially in this area, but seeing a trail marked with colorful plastic markers – this was an aberration.
The yellow-marked trail headed west from Raven Lake for parts unknown within the Pepperbox. I hiked it for a distance the following day to begin my birding trek, but soon left it behind to pursue a large wetland to the north. Occasional older orange plastic markers mixed in with the glowing yellow ones, with faded flagging tied on a branch from time to time; apparently, this trail has seen its share of upgrades.
Back where I originally detected the yellow trail near Raven Lake, another red-marked trail continued north just out of sight of the lake. It was less frequently marked, at least from its junction with the red-marked trail. My curiosity got the best of me, so I followed the red trail for a while to see where it went.
A short jaunt from the junction with the west-going yellow trail was another yellow trail, this one headed east toward Raven Lake, following along a large wetland’s outlet that feeds into Raven Lake. The trail ended at the water’s edge, with a clear view of the in-holders building directly to the south.
Back on the red trail, evidence of chainsaw use abounds. Logs, snags and even living trees, none were spared for the placement of the trail. Two mounds of what appeared to be decaying toilet paper marked the trail at one point, a plastic resealable bag discarded nearby. A young beech tree, apparently blocking one of the red markers, was cut off about breast height, its top lying on the ground, the brown leaves still attached.
The trail entered a dense spruce/fir clump, with a near impenetrable wall of dog-haired saplings. Farther north, in a more open area, a long bridge crossed a stream. It was made of two logs with nailed wooden planking. Many of the planks were loose and one gave way when I stepped on it. I wondered whether the builders could be held liable for injuries.
The bridge was not fully intact; a small segment was located just downstream. The vegetation was cut back so it was easier to hop the stream near the broken end of the bridge. As the trail continued northward toward Muskrat Pond, I turned back.
I hope these illegal trails get a thorough investigation and those responsible are made to atone for their actions.
Photos: Illegal yellow-marked trail heading into Pepperbox Wilderness, trail system from Google Maps, red-marked trail cut through impenetrable spruce/fir and bridge along illegal red-marked trail by Dan Crane.