Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Leaves Widespread Damage in the Adirondacks

Following a spring of historic flooding and two minor earthquakes, the Adirondacks has been slammed by the remains of Hurricane Irene leaving behind a changed landscape, isolated communities, disastrous flooding and epic damage to local infrastructure, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and trails.

Damage from the remnants of Hurricane Irene is widespread across the Eastern Adirondacks from Moriah, which suffered extensive damage during the spring flooding that had still not been repaired, to the entire Keene Valley and into the Lake Placid region. Trails in the Eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain wilderness areas have been closed through the Labor Day weekend. The bridge over Marcy Dam has been washed away and the Duck Hole Dam breached.

Every town in Essex County suffered damage officials say, but Upper Jay, Jay, AuSable Forks, and all hamlets in the town of Keene have been devastated by flooding of the AuSable, which rose to a record 12 feet over flood stage. Essex County Highway Department Tony Lavigne told the Press Republican that “the flooding is way worse than this past spring and much more widespread.” Mountain Health Center in Keene suffered heavy damage and has been closed. In Upper Jay, the historic remains of Arto Monaco’s Land of Make Believe are gone. Flood waters also raged through Lake George Village and closed dozens of roads in Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties. [Lake George Photos via Lake George Mirror].

Tom Woodman, who reported on the situation in Keene for the Almanack, wrote that “The hamlet of Keene is an astonishing and deeply saddening sight. The fire station has been torn in half by rampaging waters of a tributary of the East Branch of the Ausable. Buildings that house the dreams of merchants and restaurateurs, who have brought new life to Keene, are battered, blanketed in mud, and perched on craters scoured out by the flood waters.” North Country Public Radio‘s Martha Foley posted photos of the devastation in Keene.

Route 73 has been washed out and undermined in several places, closing the main artery into the High Peaks and Lake Placid from the east. Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation told Woodman that Route 73 should reopen before winter. Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay is expected to be reopened in a few days.

Although criticized at the time by many for being premature and unnecessary, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation warned recreationists to stay out of the backcountry and closed its campgrounds and other facilities across the Adirondacks on Saturday. That closure was fortuitous, as damage in some areas has stranded campers and has closed the Giant, Dix, and Eastern High Peaks wilderness areas. More than a dozen DEC campgrounds and day-use areas remain closed. These closures are expected to continue through the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

The historic dam at Duck Hole has been washed away, closing off only recently acquired access by canoe or guideboat into the High Peaks via Henderson Lake and Preston Ponds. Phil Brown has posted DEC photos of Duck Hole draining.

DEC District Forester Kris Alberga, who was among the first to see the widespread destruction in the backcountry during a flyover of the High Peaks Monday afternoon, reported that the bridge over Marcy Dam has been washed away and the dam is leaking seriously. “There are numerous washouts on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail,” Alberga said in a e-mail forwarded to the Almanack, “Marcy Brook between Marcy Dam and Avalanche Camps jumped its banks, carved a new channel and wiped out much of the trail. The Van Hovenberg trail above Marcy Dam is eroded 1-3 ft deep in many places. The handrails on the suspension bridge on the Calamity Pond trail are gone and the trail is not passable.” Phil Brown reported today that the level of Marcy Dam pond has dropped, revealing mud flats. The trails along Lake Colden are reported to be underwater and the trail to Avalanche Pass made impassable.

The bridge on the Adirondack Loj Road south of South Meadows Road has been washed out, cutting off the Loj and stranding some 31 visitors and Adirondack Mountain Club staff there. The access to the Garden Trailhead at Interbrook Road is no longer passable beyond the bridge over Johns Brook.

Phil Brown traveled to Marcy Dam Monday afternoon and snapped a photo of a new slide on Wright Peak, near Angel Slide. Other new slides reported include those on Mount Colden (including at the Trap Dike), Basin, Haystack, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw, in the Dixes, and on Giant Mountain.

Although reports have not been received from the Santanoni and Seward ranges, it appears that the Western and South-Central Adirondacks have not been seriously impacted. Backcountry users in those and other areas of the Adirondack Park should, however, expect blowdown and eroded trails, washed-out bridges and new landslides.

At a press conference held in front of the destroyed Keene Volunteer Fire Department, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency will suspend special permitting requirements to aid in a speedy rebuild.

Photo: Duck Hole Pond is draining after the dam went out. Photo courtesy NYS DEC.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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