The Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine have been working since 1997 to restore the fire tower and trails on that mountain. The group is a coalition of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the town of Chesterfield, Champlain Area Trails (CATS), the Mountaineer, local summer camps and businesses, several Adirondack Mountain Club chapters, and hundreds of individuals who know and love the mountain.
The fire tower was fully restored as an interpretive site in 2005. Educational displays showcase fire-tower and local history and the land uses within the viewshed of the mountain. Since 2002, the Friends have employed tower stewards for the summer hiking season.
We have redeveloped the Ranger Trail as an interpretive trail with eleven numbered stops keyed to a brochure on the human and natural history of “Poke-O.” We also worked with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy to guarantee access to a second trail, the Observers’ Trail, which was the original vehicle route to the fire observer’s cabin below the summit.
In 2011, the Department of Environmental Conservation prepared a unit management plan (UMP) for the Taylor Pond Wild Forest, of which Poke-O-Moonshine is a part. One proposal considers closing the original Ranger Trail. The DEC’s rationale is that the steep and eroded sections of the trail may be “unsustainable,” or impossible to maintain. This closing would occur if, at the end of the current UMP—a minimum of five years—trail conditions have not been significantly improved.
DEC does not have the funds to repair the trail. After a year of review and discussion, the Friends have decided to raise funds for the professional renovation of the trail. We have worked on the trail since the 1998 ice storm and continue every year to put time, sweat, and funds into the effort. But some of the trail is in very rough shape, so we have obtained a repair and reroute plan from the Adirondack Mountain Club Trail Program. With approval by DEC, work will begin late this summer. We have already rebuilt two significantly eroded sections of the Ranger Trail, yet there are more sections that need professional work.
We estimate a cost for the project of at least $100,000 and have set a goal of raising $125,000 by 2018, the centennial of the fire tower. As of May 2104, we have received over $28,000 in donations and pledges—in less than a year—and we are ready to fund the trail work in annual increments.
Why commit to this huge undertaking, when there is already the Observers’ Trail, which also requires maintenance? There are many good reasons. The Ranger Trail is the historic route between the cliffs and up the mountain, followed as early as 1843 by Abel Brown, an Abolitionist leader from Albany. This direct route offers a quick path to the summit; climbers and hikers use it for a challenging fast trek. Part way up the route is the panoramic lookout along the climbing cliffs and over the highways and the trailhead. Spring wildflowers along the ravine above the lookout attest to the rich soil drainage: blue cohosh, red trillium, trailing arbutus, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lily, among others, grow along the trail. Poke-O, as one of the “Champlain Hills” noted by ecologist Jerry Jenkins, shows immense plant diversity especially along this eastern drainage. Also, on few Adirondack trails is the mix of igneous and sedimentary rock so visible to hikers. The mountain’s name apparently stems from two Algonquin words meaning “rough” and “smooth,” and the Ranger Trail is full of bumpy granite and flat sandstone as it skirts the cliffs and boulders that have broken from them. In short, the Ranger Trail is a fascinating botanical, geological, and historical pathway to the summit, and our interpretive flier describes these sights for Poke-O’s hikers.
This route will always be followed by climbers and hikers, regardless of any future “open” or “closed” status. We want to make it a safe and sustainable path, a model of trail design on steeper terrain. It will become an even more enjoyable route, combining interpretation of its fascinating details with an interesting and well-designed trail past huge boulders, through the cliffs, among the wildflowers, and over rough and smooth kinds of rock. Once the Ranger Trail has been rehabilitated, we will be able to build a connector trail from its base to the foot of the Observer’s Trail; this will allow a circuit hike of the mountain and obviate the need for a car shuttle or a highway walk at the end of the day.
The fire tower will be a hundred years old in 2018.What better time to complete this project to honor the observers and rangers who loved Poke-O-Moonshine and its tower? We have named our campaign “Sum(m)it Up for Poke-O!”
We will be applying for a matching grant this summer. If we can hit the $40,000 mark by August, then we can double that amount and be two-thirds of the way to our overall goal before the halfway mark of the campaign.
If you’d like to help save the Ranger Trail, you can a tax-deductible donation to Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine, c/o AARCH, 1745 Main Street, Keeseville, NY 12944.
Photo above, Friends Coordinator David Thomas-Train with 2009 Tower Steward Brian Wittmer (Photo by Tom Hayhurst). Map of the Ranger Trail and photo of the Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower provided by Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine.
Naturalist and author David Thomas-Train is a coordinator with Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine.