The other day some friends and I enjoyed a day in the Forest Preserve, paddling on the waters leading out of Canada Lake, eating our lunches at a primitive campsite along the shore, and walking down a trail into a vly or large wetland flow. We were in the Forest Preserve unit known as the Ferris Lake Wild Forest, one of several large Wild Forests in the southern Adirondack Park. Ferris Lake WF is 147,500 acres in size, spanning parts of four towns in three different counties.
As we arrived at Stewart’s Landing and dam holding back Sprite Creek, the outlet of Canada Lake, we noticed a number of all-terrain vehicles parked and ready to ride. As we put our canoes and kayaks in the water near the dam we noticed and appreciated this Forest Preserve reminder: “Carry it in, Carry it Out.” This is a shared, public-private resource. One side of the flow is Forest Preserve, the other private Adirondack camps. Upstream, many kayakers and motor boaters were enjoying the Forest Preserve. With their motors turned off at their campsites, wildlife and their own awareness and appreciation of this beautiful wooded shore, held sway. A minority raced their boats as fast they could, kicking up waves and making paddling difficult.
Later, I walked the trail to Tamarack Vly and marveled at the towering silver birches, sugar maples, black cherries, and eastern hemlocks, and observed no interior trail damage from public use of ATVs, which had skirted the area to the north. The gate at the head of the trail was locked. At the Vly, beavers had flooded the trail with a fresh dam, a beautiful sinuous structure, controlling conditions in this wild place.
On this day, people truly seemed to not only enjoy themselves, but be receptive to the nature of our Forest Preserve, the privilege it affords us and the responsibility to pass it on unimpaired to those who come after us.
But the area is vulnerable. There is no unit management plan yet in place to guide planning and future stewardship of the Ferris Lake Wild Forest in compliance with the State Land Master Plan. Since 2006 the plan remains in draft form due to lack of DEC staff and other, more urgent priorities. Forest Preserve trail signs are old and unpainted. Trail registers are few. The DEC Forest Ranger force is truly stretched here and elsewhere. Budget shortfalls and retirements resulted in this district being vacant for several years, although I am told this area is now patrolled once again. Rangers are the public’s ambassadors for the woods and are sorely needed in heavily used locations like Stewart’s Landing and Nine-Cornered Lake. For years, ATVs have torn up the four-season trails throughout the area, including through sensitive, wet, wildlife rich locations like Hillabrandt Vly.
In fact, Wild Forest areas are vulnerable throughout our Forest Preserve, to overuse, abuse and neglect of our State Constitution. “Shall be Forever Kept as Wild Forest Lands” are the words, the forever promise, from Section 1 of Article XIV. All Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve is protected by them, but designated “Wild Forest” can become a second-class, fragmented, and uncared for Forest Preserve compared with Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe areas – if we allow it. That is one reason why Adirondack Mountain Club and Friends of the Forest Preserve volunteer Larry (Lawrence H.) King produced his film The Adirondack Adventure, which he is still showing to selected audiences.
Barbara McMartin lived in this very area, off of Canada Lake, and championed Ferris Lake and all Wild Forest areas. The late, noted Adirondack advocate, guidebook author, and former Chair of the DEC’s Forest Preserve Advisory Committee, wrote in Realizing the Recreational Potential of Adirondack Wild Forests in 1990:
“The people of New York own tracts of Wild Forest as undisturbed as any solitary hiker could desire. Other tracts are laced with gravelly old roads that entice horseback riders and those who favor motorized recreation. Wild Forests abound with small lakes and ponds, wooded hills, and ranges of open rock summits affording marvelous views. Yet, only a few blocks of Wild Forest have been given adequate consideration for other than motorized recreation.”
“Few trails have been constructed for family outings… A large percentage of DEC’s budget for trail maintenance has been concentrated in the popular High Peaks, a response to legitimate needs… Meanwhile, less fragile summits in Wild Forest have been neglected. In much of the Wild Forest there remains an overall shortage of marked foot trails to mountains, lakes, ponds, waterfalls… Good stewardship and wise management should include marking new trails, creating marked footpaths requiring little maintenance and building lean-tos, trail head parking and new snowmobile routes. It involve making sure that snowmobile trails are located and constructed so as to attract different kinds of use in warmer seasons; marking little-used snowmobile trails for cross-country skiers and advertising their availability; creating primitive campsites, hardening some existing trails for ease of access, and building some trails for handicapped access on suitable terrain”
Barbara’s challenge for Wild Forest areas largely remains, although part of her vision has been steadily adopted by our DEC and by volunteers, for example the Fire Tower program with local support organizations, and the DEC program for access by persons with disabilities, both of which have blossomed since Barbara wrote.
The timeless words of Justice Harold Hinman, writing in 1930 of the Forest Preserve and Article 14 of our Constitution, still apply here in the Ferris Lake Wild Forest:
“’We must preserve it in its wild state, its trees, its rocks, its streams. It was to be a great resort for the free use of the people in which nature is given free rein… It must always retain the character of a wilderness. Hunting, fishing, tramping, mountain climbing, snowshoeing, skiing or skating find ideal setting in nature’s wilderness. It is essentially a quiet and healthful retreat from the turmoils and artificialities of a busy urban life.”
Photo: Paddling downstream of Canada Lake, with Kane Mountain framed in the background.