Thursday, November 18, 2010

Personal Stuff Found On Adirondack Public Land

After writing about the illegally cut trees on Cat Mountain, which were neither dead nor down, I started thinking about other rule violations I have observed in the backcountry. One such rule violation I have frequently noticed is the storage of personal property on forest preserve in the Adirondacks.

The storage of personal property can usually be found in one of two different situations. It is either in small amounts scattered around lean-tos or in much more substantial quantities in wild and remote area where few will ever stumble upon these hidden caches. And although some of this property is probably abandoned, the majority appears to be in at least seasonal use.

Lean-tos often seem to attract a large amount of personal property. Some of this property has simply been abandoned and therefore is more accurately described as junk or refuse. I have found everything from chairs to coolers and canned vegetables to matches and candles. Some of these articles appear to have been left behind by well-intentioned individuals but other stuff (e.g. dirty underwear) is just refuse that campers have failed to pack out with them.

Ideally, nothing should be left behind in a lean-to. When leaving one of these shelters the entire interior should be free of all personal property. If you bring more in than you need (e.g. canned food, matches, candles, etc.) then this excess should be packed out. It is not your responsibility to outfit future visitors to the shelter.

But by all means leave such articles as fire grates, brooms, shovels, extra nails, spare shingles, etc. at the lean-tos. These items have most likely been left behind by the volunteer caretaker. Such items are essential to the up-keep of the lean-to and should not be packed out under any circumstances.

If you find a lot of refuse inside or around a lean-to then please pick it up and pack out as much as you can. I am sure future campers and the caretaker will appreciate your effort. I usually come back with a bulging bread bag of garbage on a typical backcountry trip most of which is not my own. And please take your soiled underwear out with you too, since no one wants to have to put THAT in their garbage bag.

Hunters as a group appear to be the chief violators of the storage of personal property rule. I have stumbled upon numerous hunters’ campsites in the Adirondacks during my years of exploring the backcountry. It never fails that a search of the immediate area around these campsites results in a plethora of personal property being stored for use during the hunting season.

One hunters’ camp north of Stillwater Reservoir had numerous pieces of equipment tied to the trunk and limbs of trees in an apparent attempt to keep such articles away from animals. There were numerous herd paths in the area of this campsite, one of which ended in an isolated toilet seat nestled within some dense saplings. Unfortunately, I satisfied my own urges in that department earlier the old fashion way and therefore this rare find was of no use to me at the time.

My favorite all-time hunter’s campsite was north of the Beaver River. Scattered not far from a large campsite were many old oil drums lying on their sides situated in dense coniferous thickets. Each one had a top with a door attached and inside were all kinds of equipment, from chairs to tools and nails. Nearby, out in a low, wet area there were several dug pits that had subsequently filled up with clear, cool water. In each of these pools were numerous cans of beer (and a little soda for the teetotaler of the group). Each one of these pools contained at least a case or two of cans of beer. I cannot claim to have resisted the temptation to slip one in my pack since a nice cool one at the end of a day bushwhacking is a true treat that I rarely enjoy in the backcountry.

Some people go way beyond simply storing property on state land and actually build their own structures. These structures run the gamut from ramshackle huts to elaborate small cabins.

One such structure I located near Whitney Lake in the West Canada Lake Wilderness. In a large open area apparently used for camping for many years was a large frame made out of young trees (most likely illegally cut) that clearly was used as a frame for a large canvas tent.

A more elaborate campsite was located near a stream in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. Situated within a dense forest of pole-sized fir trees was a small one room elevated cabin. Peering in the window I could see it was even furnished with a bunk for sleeping and a chair for relaxing after a hard day of whatever. There was even an elaborate series of garden hoses leading to a nearby stream that could have only been used with a pump to provide some backcountry form of indoor plumbing.

A third example of storage of personal property would be more at home in a third-world country than on forest preserve in the Adirondacks. Squatters often do not just store their personal property on state property but build their homes there. These places tend to be on the creepy-side and every time I approach one visions of hockey masks and chainsaws soon follow.

One such squatter’s shelter was near Sand Lake in the Five Ponds Wilderness. This shelter was made out of rotting canvas and apparently had not been used for some time.

Another such structure was discovered near Mud Lake in the Silver Lake Wilderness. While poking around the disheveled contents inside I found some peculiar photographs that convinced me it was time to be somewhere else.

Generally, I am not totally against the storage of personal property on state forest preserve in the Adirondacks as long as it is used occasionally and it does not involve building semi-permanent structures like cabins. But I am concerned that once carried into the backcountry and stored there much of this property will never leave. Just like the soiled underwear.

Photos: Personal property stored on public property, hunters’ beer pool and illegal cabin by Dan Crane

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking and hiking experiences at Bushwhacking Fool.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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