Saturday, January 9, 2010

APA To Meet: Keenan Reservoir, Lewis Cell Tower, Westport

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will meet on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. Highlights of the meeting will include reconstruction of the Keenan Reservoir spillway in Laurene, an application to build a cell tower between exits 31 and 32 of Interstate 87 (Adirondack Northway) in the Town of Lewis, and additions and revisions of the Town of Westport’s local land use program. The one day meeting will be webcast live on the Agency’s website at http://www.apa.state.ny.us. Materials for the meeting can be found at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/Mailing/2010/01/index.htm.

Here is the text of the agency’s meeting announcement:

The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 with Executive Director Terry Martino’s report highlighting monthly activity. Mrs. Martino will also introduce Elizabeth Phillips, Esq, who was hired in December 2009 as a Senior Attorney in the Legal Division.

At 9:15 a.m., the Regulatory Programs Committee will consider a shoreline structure setback variance request from the City of Glens Falls. The City proposes to reconstruct the Keenan Reservoir spillway which is located off Beartown Road in the Town of Lake Luzerne, Warren County. The reservoir is a component of the City’s water supply source and in need of repair.

The Committee will also deliberate a T-Mobile Northeast, LLC application for construction of a telecommunication tower. The tower would be located west of Interstate 87 (Adirondack Northway) between exits 31 and 32 in the Town of Lewis, Essex County. Project design includes tower space for an additional telecommunications carrier.

The committee meeting will conclude with a presentation highlighting telecommunication projects approved by the Agency in 2009.

At 11:15, the Local Government Committee will convene to review proposed additions and revisions put forth by the Town of Westport related to their approved local land use program. The town has administered an approved program since 1986. These proposals represent a multi-year effort by the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Office to correct deficiencies and provide greater opportunities for residents and businesses. Agency planning staff assisted the town in preparing the amendments.

At 1:00, the Economic Affairs, Park Policy and Planning Committees will meet jointly for two presentations. The committees will be briefed by Northern Forest Center Executive Director Rob Riley and Program Manager Joe Short regarding the status of the Sustainable Economy Initiative (SEI) and recently authorized Northern Border Commission.

Tug Hill Commission Executive Director John Bartow will then discuss the Tug Hill Resident and Landowner Survey. This survey was designed to gather input from citizens related to quality of life in the Tug Hill region and attitudes towards future land use decisions. It was a collective effort between Tug Hill Commission professional staff and The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College.

At 2:30, Town of Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava will be the guest speaker for the Community Spotlight presentation. Supervisor Scozzafava will overview his community and highlight important community issues facing this Essex County town.

At 3:00, the State Land Committee will receive an update on revisions to the Interagency Guidelines for Invasive Species Management on State Land. The Committee will also hear an informational presentation on the Jessup River Wild Forest Unit Management Plan Amendment.

At 4:15, the Full Agency will convene to take action as necessary and conclude the meeting with committee reports, public and member comment.

The next Agency meeting is February 11-12, 2009, at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.

March Agency Meeting: March 11-12 2010 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Adirondack Weather: The Strength of Snow

We’ve all seen it: a branch, a fence post, a sign where the snow that fell upon it seems frozen in a perpetual state of falling off, never quite letting go. How does it do that? It’s not like snow is endowed with abs of steel, or, like a snake, has near mythical suspension abilities thanks to overlapping scales. Or does it?

I’ve been taking the time this winter to read up on, well, winter itself. To most folks snow is merely frozen rain, end of story, but there are people out there who make it their life’s work to study snow, in all its glory, and they have discovered some pretty amazing things. I’m not just talking about how every snowflake is different, or how when water freezes it expands and floats. That’s old hat. I’m talking about the hidden characteristics of snow, those little details that make or break winter survival for small mammals and alpine skiers. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Snow, as it turns out, has three different phases of metamorphism: destructive, constructive and melt. Each one has its own set of characteristics that influence the snowpack around us. We’ll start with the first and work our way through them.

Let’s say it’s a typical winter day here in the Adirondacks. Flakes of snow drift lazily towards the ground, eventually landing to add their fluffy mass to all those that have gone before. From the moment a snowflake forms, it is acted upon by myriad outside forces, wind and temperature not the least among them. Their delicate forms, be they needles or plates, are battered, melted, and reshaped. Ultimately what remains is a rounded grain of ice. Smaller grains are absorbed into larger grains until all the grains of ice in the snowpack are comparable in size. The warmer it is, the faster this happens.

As you can probably guess, each time a small ice grain melds into a larger one, the associated pockets of air around the grains decrease. Bit by bit, the snowpack gets denser. The grains bond together more strongly. As the bonding increases, so does the mechanical strength of the snow. This is what allows piles of snow to ooze over the edge of a supporting structure while never actually letting go, like in the photo above.

Next comes the constructive metamorphism, alternatively referred to as the creation of a temperature gradient within the snowpack. Basically, what happens is this. The snow at the bottom of the snowpack is warmer than the snow on top. This makes sense, since the earth is warm and the air is cold. Because it is warmer below, the snow at the bottom of the pack begins to sublimate, turn from a solid directly into a gas, in this case from ice to water vapor.

It’s a basic property of physics (the Second Law of Theromdynamics) that stuff migrates from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. Therefore, the water vapor produced at the lower portions of the snowpack moves upwards towards colder and drier regions. As the vapor cools, it re-condenses on the ice crystals around it, increasing their size and thus their strength. Meanwhile, sublimation continues below, shrinking the size of the ice crystals at the bottom, reducing their strength, and creating what is known as depth hoar, a very loose and fragile type of snow that makes travel easier for the small mammals that run about under the snowpack while at the same time making it more treacherous for alpine travelers – think avalanche.

The final change that occurs in snow is the melt metamorphism. This may seem pretty straight forward: the air warms up, the snow (and ice) melts. Ah, but the devil is in the details, and this is no different with snow.

Fresh snow is nature’s best reflector of shortwave (solar) energy. Translation: it keeps away the heat of the sun, thus reducing the likelihood of melting. However, as we all know, snow rarely stays in that pristine white condition. Road salt and sand, bird seed and old leaves, branches, bits of bark, cone scales…all sorts of stuff gets onto the snow, changing it from the perfect reflector into something that readily absorbs longwave energy, what we commonly think of as heat. This heat is coming from earthbound objects, like trees. Trees are dark; they soak up the solar energy (shortwave) and release it (longwave) to the surrounding environment. This is why trees (and rocks, and buildings) are often seen with a dearth of snow at their bases – it has all simply melted away.

The details of melt metamorphism have to do with energy exchange: the energy released when a solid becomes a liquid, and the energy required for liquids to refreeze, and how this affects the snowpack as the liquid moves downward through the layers. Suffice it to say that at the end of this process, the entire snowpack has reached a uniform temperature.

Rain and fog continue the melting process. Again, we are looking at energy transfer, but this time from the atmospheric moisture to the snowpack. This is directly influenced by the air temperature and the amount of moisture that is penetrating the snow. In the final analysis, as water evaporates and condenses, energy (heat) is lost, which melts more of the surrounding ice, which evaporates, and condenses…until all the solid water (ice) is gone (either liquid or vapor).

What all this sums up to is the simple fact that the snow beneath our feet is constantly, and I mean constantly, changing. From moment to moment it is never the same. This gives whole new meaning to the phrase “there is nothing permanent but change.” So, we should all go outside and enjoy the freshly fallen fluffy snow while we can, for tomorrow it may be gone.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, January 8, 2010

Local Genius: Champlain Bridge Designer Ted Zoli

As a rule, bureaucracies and genius are incompatible. A notable exception will be found in the New York State Department of Transportation and the Vermont Transportation Agency, which recently released plans to replace an eighty year old bridge spanning Lake Champlain. Leading the team designing the new bridge is consultant Ted Zoli, a 2009 winner of a MacArthur fellowship, commonly known as the genius award.

Among other things, the MacArthur Foundation cited Zoli’s sensitivity to the context in which his “elegant and enduring” bridges are built, and Zoli clearly appreciates the natural, historical and social context of the bridge at Crown Point. » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 8, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adirondack Music Scene: Blues, Rock and Folk Duos

There are a lot of great musical acts to choose from this weekend in a variety of locales. I’ll be doing the Dewey Mountain Ski Jam because it’s such fun to ski in the dark and then be all cozy in their small lodge. Plus listening to one of my all-time favorite musicians Steve Langdon is almost enough to keep me from skiing. He sings and plays with such power and conviction, if I’m feelin’ blue his gigs always bring me up.

Friday, January 8th:

In Saranac Lake, Steve Langdon is performing at The Dewey Ski Lodge from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. This is part of the Friday Night Ski Jam and this one features food donated by Eat n Meet.

In Plattsburgh at Gilligan’s Getaway there will be a “Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel” concert. Show starts at 8 pm, ticket’s are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Call (518) 637 – 4989 for more information. You can also catch this show in Saranac Lake at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Will Rogers.

In Jay at The Amos and Julia Ward Theatre there will be a JEMS Coffee House featuring Stoneground Express. This trio features Larry Stone throwing some jazz into his accomplished country and blues repertoire.

In Saratoga the band Bearfoot will be performing at Cafe Lena.
I’ve checked out some their material on line and it sounds very very good. They hail from Anchorage Alaska. I wish they were touring closer to my home base.

Saturday, January 9th:

In Saranac Lake, The Stoneman Blues Band will be at The Waterhole. The show starts somewhere between 9:30 and 10pm

In Willington, Lucid will be performing at Steinhoff’s. Love these guys – they start at 10 pm.

In Potsdam, Der Rosenkaalier the Strauss opera performed live at the Met will be shown between 1 and 5:45 pm at the Roxy Theatre. Ticket prices vary so check the website.

In Saranac Lake a “Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel” concert will be given at Will Rogers. Show starts at 7:30 pm, tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Call (518) 637-4989 for more information.

In Lowville, Aztec Two-Step will be giving a concert starting at 8 pm. This is part of the Lewis County Historic Society’s Black River Concert Series. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door.

Sunday, January 10th:

In North Creek, “Working for The Man Songs and Stories of Adirondack Lumberjacks and Miners” will be presented at the Tannery Pond Community Center at 3:30 pm. Non-members will be charged $5.

Photo: Steve Langdon at 7444 Gallery, part of a Light Box Musicians set taken by Ned P. Rauch


Thursday, January 7, 2010

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Panther Mountain House: End of an Era

December 30th marked the end of an era in Chestertown. The Panther Mountain House—The P-House, the P, or Club P to locals—that venerable village watering hole, served its last drink. The closing comes on the heels of the death of M. Thomas Carroll, who with his wife Margaret (Markie), lived in and operated the small hotel with a downstairs bar since 1957.

Tom Carroll was born in Ballybaun, County Limerick, and immigrated to America in 1949. He spent ten years in the hotel business before taking charge of the Panther Mountain House from John “Pops” Wertime. The Wertime family had owned the hotel since 1924 when Cohoes attorney Walter H. Wertime bought the building from Mrs. John Baker Brown. The building was built just after the Civil War by the Faxon family. In 1930, the Wertimes had the brick building across the street built, designed to house a theater and retail space (Chestertown’s first bank was located there).

The Wertimes’ “thoroughly renovated and remodernized” hotel, was just that all through the prohibition years. It served as accommodations for 50 people (it was later expanded to accommodate 100), but it served little else. It was run by the daughter and son-in-law of Walter Wertime, Robert H. “Bob” Nicholson of Elizabethtown. Bob Nicholson’s family were pioneers of Elizabethtown (his great-grandfather was the town’s first postmaster in about 1800), with strong connections to the legal profession. Bob’s Nicholson’s brother was John D. Nicholson, head of the Rouses Point border patrol unit during prohibition. During the dry years, the Panther Mountain House housed border patrol officers, including the head of the Chestertown unit, David Walters.

On March 22, 1941, the Panther Mountain House was completely destroyed by fire. “Seven occupants of the hotel were forced to flee scantily clad in the blaze which was reportedly the worst in the history of the community,” according to the Ticonderoga Sentinel. Walter Wertime estimated the damage at $70,000, a loss he told the paper that was not completely covered by insurance (despite Wertime being an insurance broker). “Mr. Wertime escaped from the structure only partially clad,” the paper added “he has no plans for rebuilding.”

Nearby homes were scorched and the theater building across the street briefly caught fire. It was quickly put out, but not before serious damage had occurred to the front of the building, particularly the wooden portions. The windows in the A & P store on the first floor were broken by the heat of the fire and the doors were so badly warped that they could not be opened.

Wertime decided he would rebuild the hotel after all, and asked John Clark, an architect of Troy, to design a new building of concrete block and stucco measuring 84 by 42 feet – the building you see today. Construction was begun in the spring of 1941 (using some of the same foundation) and was completed in time for the summer season.

The Carrolls are hoping to sell the hotel. They say there is some interest, but for now the doors are locked.

Photos: The Panther Mountain House in the 1920s, and below, the downstairs bar.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Naked in the Woods: Witch-Hobble

As we stumble through the winter woods, some of us take note of the things around us: hemlocks bowed with snow, mouse tracks scurrying for shelter, the tattoo of a woodpecker upon a distant tree. But one of the wonders of winter life that stands out for me is the naked bud of the witch-hobble plant.

Witch-hobble (Viburnum alnifolium in most books, although apparently it is now V. lantanoides) is one of our native viburnum plants. A shrub of moderate height, its common names (witch-hobble, hobblebush) reflect its tendency to grow in dense clusters in the understory of the forest, where its flexible stems and branches ensnare the feet and legs of many a passing mammal. Okay, maybe it’s only the human mammal that gets caught up in the tangle.

At one time folks claimed that having this plant growing around one’s abode would protect one from witches, for they could not walk through it. By this logic, every person who has ever tried to push his way through a thicket of the stuff is endowed with the mystical powers allotted just to witches.

However, it turns out that in this case “witch” is a corruption of the Old English word wiððe (pronounced “withy”), which we know today as “withe.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, wiððe means “twisted cord, willow twig”; today we define withe as supple, as in flexible and easily bent. This describes the stems of witch-hobble and witherod (another of our native viburnums, which also goes by the name wild raisin, V. cassinoides), both of which are somewhat floppy of stem, bending over with ease so they can put down roots and expand their domains. This contributes to witch-hobble’s ability to ensnare the unwary.

When spring rolls around, witch-hobble blooms with flat heads of flowers that are as big as your hand. The white flowers later turn into bright red fruits, which are loved by many a woodland creature, such as ruffed grouse, cedar waxwings, brown thrashers, and squirrels.

As the days shorten and the nights get cooler, the leaves of witch-hobble start to turn a blotchy purple color, making them look rather bruised. The year is winding down and the plants in the woods are preparing for winter’s dormancy. Next year’s buds are secured for the winter, the sap is stored in the roots, and this year’s seeds have been produced and disseminated. It’s time to sleep.

This brings us back to those buds, which are now blatantly obvious in the winter woods, thanks to their sulphur-yellow color. Most plants in our northern forests have what we consider typical buds: little conical things that are covered with scales. Some buds become mighty branches over time, while others house next year’s leaves. The scales themselves are actually modified leaves, and are a relatively new evolutionary trend in the plant world, developed to keep the new life within safe from the rigors of winter (cold, dry air).

Not so with witch-hobble. Witch-hobble has gone a different route, one found more frequently in the tropics, where cold temps and dry air are not typically a problem, regardless of season. Because the tropics are usually warm and damp, buds don’t need protection from the elements, so they don’t develop scales.

Primitive plants also have scale-less buds. I suspect this is because way back in the days of the dinosaurs, when primitive plants ruled (and you thought the dinosaurs were in charge), the climate was essentially tropical, so, again, there was no need to protect new growth in weather-proof cases. Instead, these warm-climate plants, primitive and modern both, sport what botanists refer to as naked buds – those with no protective covering at all.

In the evolutionary world of bud development, there is a progression that runs the gamut from totally naked (embryonic leaves exposed to the world), to hairy (anything from a light pubescence to downright wooliness), to scales (some thin and papery, others additionally coated with a lacquer-like goo). Those of us who spend time gazing at plants through hand lenses are quite familiar with the differences; the rest of the world remains in the dark.

Now, knowing that scales developed to keep a plant’s future leaves protected from the elements of winter, one has to wonder why in the world witch-hobble (and the other viburnums, for that matter) has chosen to do the Lady Godiva routine. What sort of evolutionary advantage is there to having naked buds in the north? This is a question that I’ve had difficulty answering. The internet was no help; my 100-year-old botany books were no help. I called my friend Evelyn who recommended a couple more friends – the search for an answer was on. Nancy Slack was able to shed a little light on the situation.

Long story short, there are 120 species of viburnums in the world, growing variously from North America all the way to Java. Of these, some have scaly buds, and others do not. Those species found in the Adirondacks (witch-hobble, witherod) are in the naked bud category. Viburnums are not primitive plants, so we can’t claim that they are a hold-over from ancient times; it seems that they’ve just done very well without bud scales. When you look closely at these sulphur-colored buds, you see the basic leaf shape sitting right there, exposed for all the world to see. The “skin” of these embryonic leaves, however, is quite thick, and it is rather fuzzy. It seems that these two traits are all the viburnum needs to survive our cold, dry winters. They are tough little buds, able to face the worst winter can throw at them and still unfurl in the spring, to bring bright green leaves to the forest understory.

Once again old Mother Nature threw a puzzle in our laps, the proverbial gauntlet that the curious naturalist, like a cat, simply cannot refuse to pick up and pursue. It’s these little conundrums that make being a naturalist interesting, frustrating, and ultimately, triumphantly enjoyable. Grab yourself a hand lens and get out into the winter woods – you never know what mystery is lurking just around the next bend.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Siamese Ponds: The New Botheration Pond Trail

The 114,000-acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area has always been one of the premiere places to cross-country ski in the Adirondacks. But this winter, the region offers something even more compelling: a new trail.

This is the first winter that skiers can travel the eight-mile Botheration Pond Loop, a route that circles around the Balm of Gilead Mountain and several lesser hills. The route begins and ends at Old Farm Clearing, located near the Garnet Hill cross-country ski resort.

The loop combines existing trails with more than a mile of new trails and two bridges, 35- and 55-feet long, that were built last summer by nearly a dozen volunteers and DEC staff under the supervision of Ranger Steve Ovitt. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reminder: 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History

We’re still looking for ideas about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. We’ll be offering a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks on January 18th. Head over to the original post to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Suggestions should reflect the environmental, cultural, and political history of the park, and they need not be residents of the region, provided their impact was significantly felt here.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Skiing, Boarding Discounts

Though some people choose to stick to their favorite mountain for the ski season, others move around to experience all the downhill opportunities available in the Adirondacks. For those with ski passes don’t forget about the Reciprocal Pass Program between Gore, Titus, McCauley, Mt. Pisgah and Whiteface. This program allows the season pass holder to either ski for free on certain days or at a reduced cost.

There are also significant savings available for the mid-week non-season pass holder. McCauley Mountain holds to their Crazy Eight Days. Each Friday from January through April offers adult lift tickets for just $8.00. (Check for blackout dates.)

Present any Coca-Cola product at Gore and Whiteface and receive a one-day adult lift ticket for $38.00 (excluding 2/17/10.) This offer is only valid on Wednesdays. It is a great deal whether you are on vacation, have the day off or opt for a bit of “ski hooky.”

In addition, Whiteface has its Stylin’ Sundays wherein five select Sundays (December 13, January 10, February 7, March 14 and April 4) of the season feature $35.00 lift tickets for adults, $30.00 for teens and $25.00 junior tickets. Six and under are always free. Each of those select Sundays have a theme like Island Madness, Shamrock or Retro with slope-side games, live music and events.

Big Tupper Ski Area recently opened, after a ten-year hiatus, to much fanfare with a one-day adult ski pass for $15.00. Big Tupper is staffed with volunteers and relies just on nature for snow making so it is best to check their website to make sure they are open and that Mother Nature is cooperating.

Oak Mountain Ski Center in Speculator offers Fire Department Personnel, EMS Workers Hospital Employees and Law Enforcement Personnel $10 off a full day lift ticket on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the season. Residents & homeowners of Arietta, Hope, Lake Pleasant & Wells and the Village of Speculator ski for free every Sunday throughout the season.

Malone’s Titus Mountain offers a Super-Saver Special from Thursday – Saturday when all day passes are good until 10:00 p.m.

Smaller family mountains such as Bear Mountain in Plattsburgh presents $18.00 lift tickets to non-members and Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake offers a $10 lift ticket for anyone coming for the last hour and half of the day. That includes those evenings the mountain is open for night skiing.

West Mountain in Queensbury, Whiteface, Gore, Titus, Oak Mountain and McCauley offer a military discount as a thank you to active service men and women. If you or a member of your immediate family is an active service member, please ask about discounts.

Hopefully this list will help keep the jingle in your pocket while enjoying the beautiful Adirondack Park.

Photo courtesy: www.adkfamilytime.com


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Permaculture Workshop: Sustainable Backyard Farming

On Saturday January 9 the Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host a talk and workshop on permaculture, aka, how people can produce food while enhancing the natural environment on the land around them.

At 11:30 Keith Morris, a Vermont-based instructor on the faculties of Sterling College and Yestermorrow Design/Build school, will discuss the concept of permaculture and ways people can design homes and communities that are productive, ecologically restorative and less fuel-reliant.

At 1 p.m. Morris will lead a workshop on how yards and other human-centered spaces can produce food and support pollinators (and look beautiful). He will discuss challenges, such as small spaces and contaminated soils, as well as animals and plants suitable for the Adirondack region, including nuts, fruits, berries and vines.

“One of the key issues for us in the Adirondacks is our soil,” says Gail Brill, a Saranac lake resident who received permaculture certification last summer through a course Morris taught at Paul Smith’s College. “If we are going to have to feed ourselves in the near future and become a nation of farmers (thank you Sharon Astyk) in order to survive, we need healthy soil to do it. Our sandy soil makes growing difficult, so one of the key issues for us is making compost as a soil amendment. This is something every household can do and we need to do it on a grand scale. (On March 20th, the Wild Center will be having a Home Composting Workshop.)

“We need to extend our growing season with high tunnels and cold frames,” Brill says. “We need to understand what edible wild plants are readily available and plant perennial Zone 3 vegetables like Chinese artichoke and creeping onion and much more. There is much to be done.”

The event is part of the Wild Center’s 2010 Winter Wildays series and is free to members or with paid admission.

Photo: A backyard apple tree in Saranac Lake.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Online Sources for Adirondack History

Thanks to two new digitization initiatives there are now much larger collections of books online about the Adirondacks. The full text and images of some 140,000 books in the public domain, most published before 1923, are now available at the Internet Archive. The books come from the collections of the Library of Congress and Cornell University – many with Adirondack connections.

The newly available books from Cornell cover a variety of subject areas, from American history, literature, astronomy, food and wine, engineering, science history, home economics, travel and tourism, labor relations, Native American studies, ornithology, veterinary medicine and women’s studies.

The Library of Congress collection covers the period from 1865–1922 and include many difficult to obtain works, including hard-to-find Civil War regimental histories. The oldest work from the Library of Congress is from 1707 and covers the trial of two Presbyterian ministers in New York, but many of the works relate to the Adirondack region.

Among the new Adirondack works now available are:

E.R. Wallace – Descriptive guide to the Adirondacks (1894)

A. L. Byron-Curtiss – The life and adventures of Nat Foster, trapper and hunter of the Adirondacks (1897)

Albert Abraham Kraus – A hemlock bark study in culled forests of the western Adirondacks (1918)

Bob Marshall – The high peaks of the Adirondacks (1922)

Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester – Historical sketches of northern New York and the Adirondac wilderness (1877)

Warwick Stevens Carpenter – The summer paradise in history; a compilation of fact and tradition covering Lake George, Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, and other sections reached by the rail and steamer lines of the Delaware and Hudson Company (1914)

Henry W. Raymond – The story of Saranac; a chapter in Adirondack history (1909)

Report of the Adirondack Committee, [New York State] Assembly of 1902 (1903)

And a lot more…

Photo: Rusisseaumont Hotel, Lake Placid, c. 1900 from “The eastern slope of the Adirondacks. its mountains, lakes & springs” [1901]. The hotel was built in 1892 by the Lake Placid Improvement Company. It was destroyed by fire on July 2, 1909 and never rebuilt.


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Problem With The Wright Peak Ski Trail

The Wright Peak Ski Trail is a testament to the lure of down-mountain skiing in the backcountry despite the existence of lift-service resorts.

Cut in the late 1930s, the trail switchbacks down the northeast side of Wright, providing a thrilling and challenging descent through a beautiful forest. After World War II, the trail fell into disuse and became overgrown, but in the late 1980s, Tony Goodwin and other backcountry skiers received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reopen it.

The trail is now featured in David Goodman’s guidebook Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

The problem is that the ski route ends after a mile and joins the popular Algonquin Peak hiking trail. This means skiers must descend a few miles on trails often crowded with snowshoers. It seems like an accident waiting to happen. The snowshoers probably don’t like this any more than the skiers do.

What most snowshoers don’t realize is that this section of the Algonquin trail was once part of the ski trail. In those days, hikers went up Algonquin by a separate trail located a little to the north. In the early 1970s, however, DEC closed this trail and moved hikers to the ski trail. Since then, the old ski trail has been maintained with hiking in mind: water bars have been dug, rock steps have been created, brush has been laid down to narrow the passage—all of which makes the trail less suitable for skiing. What’s more, hikers have eroded the trail and exposed boulders that create dangerous obstacles.

Goodwin has come up with what seems like a sensible solution: reopen the old hiking trail for skiing. Under his proposal, the old hiking route would be clipped to its original width. Eroded sections would be filled with logs and brush. The trail would be smooth when covered with snow but remain gnarly enough to discourage hiking in other seasons. As it is, some hikers continue to use the old trail, causing erosion.

“We want to improve it for skiing but make it less desirable for hiking,” Goodwin told the Adirondack Explorer last year. “That would be a win-win situation.”

Goodwin said the volunteers would do all the work to reopen and maintain the trail, so it wouldn’t cost DEC a penny.

Yet DEC has scotched the proposal—not because it’s a bad idea, necessarily, but because it would require an amendment to the High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan. DEC doesn’t want to revisit the High Peaks plan until it finishes the UMPs for other Forest Preserve units.

Given DEC’s chronic shortage of staff, however, it will be years, perhaps more than a decade, before the other plans are done. DEC was supposed to complete all the unit management plans in the 1970s, but more than thirty years later, we’re still waiting on a dozen or so. In addition, DEC is writing recreational plans for vast tracts protected by conservation easements.

In short, we all could be dead or in retirement homes before DEC gets around to evaluating Goodwin’s proposal—if it ever does.

The same goes for proposals for trails in other parts of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council has talked for years of extending the Jackrabbit Ski Trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. DEC won’t rule on this until it completes the management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. When will that be? No one knows.

One purpose of the management plans is to ensure that trails are not approved willy-nilly, without due forethought to their impact on the Forest Preserve. But the system is broken. Because DEC lacks the staff to write these plans, proposals wither on the vine or languish for decades. Surely, there must be a way for DEC to evaluate worthy ideas more quickly without neglecting its duty to protect the Preserve.

Perhaps there are sound reasons for rejecting Goodwin’s proposal for the Wright Peak Ski Trail, but it deserves a hearing.

Photo of skiers on Wright Peak by Susan Bibeau/Adirondack Explorer.


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