Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chain Saws in the Adirondack Wilderness

When we needed to do an early-season ski tour for the Adirondack Explorer, we opted for the Hays Brook Truck Trail north of Paul Smiths, which needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable.

On December 7, four of us from the office spent a good part of the day gliding through fresh, fluffy powder on our way to the Sheep Meadow at the end of the truck trail and to Grass Pond via a side trail.

With snow adorning the tall pines, the forest was serene and beautiful, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s available online.

Apart from two fairly steep hills, the truck trail traverses gentle terrain suitable for novice skiers. It’s a fun outing anytime in winter.

The biggest difficulty we faced was getting past two nasty pieces of blowdown about three miles from the trailhead. In one case, we thrashed through the woods to get around a large tree fallen across the trail.

Blowdown is something skiers and hikers put up with in the Adirondacks. It’s not a huge deal. Still, when I skied to the Sheep Meadow again with my daughter the day after Christmas, I was glad to discover that someone had cut through the blowdown with a chain saw. Hat’s off to whoever did it.

As we continued down the trail, it occurred to me that the doer of this good deed would have broken the law if the blowdown had been in a Wilderness Area instead of a Wild Forest Area. (The Hays Brook Truck Trail lies within the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.) Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation forbids the use of chain saws in Wilderness Areas except from April 1 to May 24. DEC can grant permission to use them from September 15 to April 1 as well, but this is not usually granted for routine blowdown such as we encountered on the Hays Brook Truck Trail.

I understand the rationale. A Wilderness Area is supposed to approximate nature in its primeval state. No motor vehicles, no snowmobiles, no bicycles, no motorized equipment.

As much as I support this management objective, I couldn’t help wondering what harm would have resulted if someone had cut through this blowdown even if it had been in a Wilderness Area. If the job were undertaken on a weekday, it’s possible that no one would have been around to hear the chain saw other than the person running the saw. In any case, the short interruption of natural serenity would serve the greater good. Although a few people who happened to be nearby might be bothered briefly by the noise, skiers would benefit all winter from the clearing of the trail.

I am not suggesting that forest rangers and others be allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness Areas anytime and anywhere. I do wonder if the regulations should be loosened somewhat to permit more clearing of trails before and during the ski season. I don’t have a specific proposal. I’m not even sure the regulations should be loosened. I’m just throwing out the idea for discussion.

Photo of the Sheep Meadow by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

Related Stories


Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




5 Responses

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.