Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Illegal Trails In Five Ponds, Pepperbox Wilderness Areas

Illegal yellow trail westDiscovering old trails – old logging roads, hunting trails or herd paths – in the northwestern Adirondacks is common while bushwhacking.

What I found along the border of the Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wildernesses recently however, was an extensive illegally-marked trail system cut through some of the wildest backcountry of the Adirondacks.

The Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wilderness are two of my favorite places in the Adirondack Park. They may lack the jaw-dropping views of the High Peaks, but they offer some spectacular scenery for those who are willing to leave the well-worn path. The limited access and few visitors make these areas special to me.

In mid-May, my bushwhacking once again took me into the heart of the Pepperbox Wilderness in search of birds for the Audubon Society’s Birdathon, a yearly contest to identify the most species in a single 24-hour period. Although this year’s birding adventure started at the western border of the Five Ponds Wilderness at Raven Lake, my plan was to immediately head west into the Pepperbox for the big day.

Although an in-holding with a significant camp occupies a small peninsula on Raven Lake’s southern shore, I imagined the western shoreline would be as wild as the majority of the southern Five Ponds Wilderness, but this was not the case.

Illegal Trail MapWhile searching for an appropriate camping site along the western shore after an exhausting bushwhack from Raven Lake Road, I found myself on what I believed was a simple herd path. It was not an ordinary herd path though, it was well-marked, chainsaw cut, fairly often used illegal trail disappearing into the Pepperbox Wilderness.

Frequent yellow diamonds of plastic marked the trail, still boldly colored and nailed to trees. These markers were so regular in their placement that they put most official trails to shame. From my vantage point, at least three of the markers remained visible before the trail disappeared over the hillside. It took a while for me to acknowledge what I was seeing. Unofficial trails are a fairly frequent encounter while bushwhacking, especially in this area, but seeing a trail marked with colorful plastic markers – this was an aberration.

The yellow-marked trail headed west from Raven Lake for parts unknown within the Pepperbox. I hiked it for a distance the following day to begin my birding trek, but soon left it behind to pursue a large wetland to the north. Occasional older orange plastic markers mixed in with the glowing yellow ones, with faded flagging tied on a branch from time to time; apparently, this trail has seen its share of upgrades.

Cut beech treeBack where I originally detected the yellow trail near Raven Lake, another red-marked trail continued north just out of sight of the lake. It was less frequently marked, at least from its junction with the red-marked trail. My curiosity got the best of me, so I followed the red trail for a while to see where it went.

A short jaunt from the junction with the west-going yellow trail was another yellow trail, this one headed east toward Raven Lake, following along a large wetland’s outlet that feeds into Raven Lake. The trail ended at the water’s edge, with a clear view of the in-holders building directly to the south.

Back on the red trail, evidence of chainsaw use abounds. Logs, snags and even living trees, none were spared for the placement of the trail. Two mounds of what appeared to be decaying toilet paper marked the trail at one point, a plastic resealable bag discarded nearby. A young beech tree, apparently blocking one of the red markers, was cut off about breast height, its top lying on the ground, the brown leaves still attached.

Bridge along illegal red trailThe trail entered a dense spruce/fir clump, with a near impenetrable wall of dog-haired saplings. Farther north, in a more open area, a long bridge crossed a stream. It was made of two logs with nailed wooden planking. Many of the planks were loose and one gave way when I stepped on it. I wondered whether the builders could be held liable for injuries.

The bridge was not fully intact; a small segment was located just downstream. The vegetation was cut back so it was easier to hop the stream near the broken end of the bridge. As the trail continued northward toward Muskrat Pond, I turned back.

I hope these illegal trails get a thorough investigation and those responsible are made to atone for their actions.

Photos: Illegal yellow-marked trail heading into Pepperbox Wilderness, trail system from Google Maps, red-marked trail cut through impenetrable spruce/fir and bridge along illegal red-marked trail by Dan Crane.

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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.

49 Responses

  1. Phil Brown says:

    Dan, are these trails being used by ATVs or only hikers?

  2. Paul says:

    It is a lot easier to move the little tag then cut down the tree, that was weird?

    Did you call and report that activity to the DEC ranger who patrols that area?

  3. Bill Ingersoll says:

    It’s important to note that a portion of one of the Raven Lake trails was incorporated into the DEC-marked canoe carry to Lyon Lake, so these trails are neither new nor unknown. As of my last visit in 2012, the informal trail to Muskrat Pond was clearer than the canoe carry between Raven and Lyon. I had to track down two wayward members of my party to inform them they were hiking to the wrong pond.

    The Pepperbox has never been truly trailless in my experience.

    • Dan Crane says:

      I don’t think any of these marked trails were incorporated into the canoe carries, at least from what I could determine.

      The trailless Pepperbox myth will probably be the subject of my next post.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:

        Trust me, one of these informally marked trails merges with the Raven-Lyon canoe carry. Been there, hiked it, GPS’d it, included it in a guidebook, don’t need to be told it doesn’t exist by someone who has only just discovered this trail system now.

        These trails have existed for years, and there are more you haven’t found yet. The best (in my opinion) loops around the south end of Muskrat Pond and dead-ends at a cairn, probably an old property marker. A second path (which you started to follow but turned back on) leads toward Sunshine Pond. See pp. 34-36 of the 2007 edition of “Discover the Northwestern Adirondacks.” You will find descriptions of these routes as I and one of my contributors found them eight years ago.

        The trail that parallels Raven’s west shore bends northeast beyond the point where you turned back, and merges with the Raven-Lyon canoe carry. I admit I have not been through since 2012, but the intersection was always plain to see in my experience.

        There is a fourth trail in the vicinity that the forest ranger asked us not to include in the book for reasons I can’t recall at the moment. It begins on the Raven Lake access road and ends at a wetland due south of Sunshine. We were not quite certain if it was intended to continue to Deer Pond or not, but I have used it as an approach to Sunshine.

        And I assume that you know about the trails to Threemile Beaver Meadow, Bear Pond (SW of Pepperbox Pond), and Martin Brook.

  4. tim-brunswick says:

    Bill Ingersoll is more of a realist than too many of you Eco/Enviro extremists! Heaven forbid that there be an area in what you folks perceive as your own private playground that some older/Senior outdoors loving folks can actually hike and/or enjoy without bushwhacking and or suffering a heart attack trying to reach a favorite pond.

    Further, while it certainly offends Mr. Crane’s and probably Mr. Brown’s sensitivities to possible violations of the “wilderness” areas, it is highly doubtful that the actual inhabitants of those areas ( i.e., bear, deer and other critters) care one wit. In truth trails make is easier for them as well.

    Thank you ….I’m done!

    • John Warren says:

      The vast majority of the Adirondacks is not only available to older people by trail, it’s nearly all within three miles of a road.

    • Dan Crane says:

      I find it somewhat ironic that you indicate we are perceiving these areas as our own private playground, when, in fact, that is precisely what those that cut and mark their own trails are doing. I’d imagine that you (and those that cut the trails) would be indignant if someone cut a trail on your own property, but it is fine on State land that belongs to everyone. There is a process for placing trails on State land, if individuals think more trails are needed then perhaps they should address their concerns to the appropriate managing departments (i.e. the DEC) through the legal process.

      • Paul says:

        Seems a little different than the analogy of someone cutting a trail on private land. Something like that is going to be hard to hide and actually use if the landowner finds out.

        Many people probably do view some trails like this as an “improvement”. And of course anyone can use them unlike the idea of a trail on private land. Here it is pretty clear that the folks that cut it were not making any real effort to hide the trail, sounds like the opposite. Many other trails made by hunters are very cleverly hidden. Some are marked only with these small reflective markers that can only be seen at night using a light, or they are not marked at all. A trail that terminates with an obvious landing on a pond is not a trail that someone was trying to hide.

        What this shows is that these areas (and they are growing) are pretty much impossible to effectively patrol. Hunters have been coming across stuff like this forever. Laws that cannot be enforced are not of much practical use.

        Dan, have you found some “outlaw” camps on your travels? You must have if you are really doing lots of bushwhacking in the Adirondacks. I have actually found some that have more than one floor (I guess the second floors are really a loft but still pretty impressive structures). The Adirondacks is such a big place that you never run across these things except every once and a while. This trail looks pretty obvious but you could probably step across it pretty easily and never know it was there. Maybe it has too many markers to do that?

  5. John Conway says:

    Great discussion. Retired 3 years ago and moved from Upstate NY to Silver City, NM. While we miss the Adirondacks, it’s a pleasure to note the trails in the Aldo Leopold and Gila Wilderness areas of the 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest suffer from under use. Volunteer crews working with USFS can’t quite keep up with trail maintenance needs (albeit it’s fun and rewarding). If you want to treat yourself to a “see no one for days” wilderness experience in beautiful and rugged terrain, put us on your radar!

  6. Paul says:

    Some illegal activity on Forest Preserve land is stuff of legend. Clarence Petty grew up in an “illegal” cabin on Upper Saranac Lake. You won’t find too many people who fault him for that. I don’t think a few foot paths cut or marked out by the locals is much to fret about. If you have not found illegal camps and trails like this you really haven’t spent much time off the well beaten path.

  7. Justin Farrell says:

    The Adirondacks are full of unoficiall trails & footpaths.
    Some are well markedand traveled fairly often, some aren’t. Some are helpful for hunters, fishermen, bushwhackers, and climbers you use the area often. Some are helpful to give some people to complain about.

    • John Warren says:

      And some are straight-up illegal.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Aren’t all “unofficial trails” technically illegal?
        If these trails had lead to a trashed campiste or something I could see the gripe, but an illegally marked/cut trail in the Adirondacks is nothing new. It’s been a part of Adirondack history since forever. As mentioned above, anyone who spends a lot of time off-trail will no doubt find things like this. Write a story and complain about if you wish, that’s certainly legal, but give me a break dude. I wonder how the bird count went?

        • John Warren says:

          “Aren’t all “unofficial trails” technically illegal?”

          No, they aren’t. You should probably have a better understanding of the Forest Preserve, and it’s history and management, before you comment.

          • Justin Farrell says:

            Ok thanks for the tip, John.
            Clearly sharing my opinion is not welcome here. My apologies.

          • Bill Ingersoll says:

            Actually, John, I would consider this a gray area. Certainly the state would frown upon people going out into the woods and hacking out informal trails. There are state land use regulations about building structures, affixing objects to trees, and using chainsaws–all of which would apply to the Raven Lake trails. And then there is this regulation:

            §190.13 Wilderness Areas in the Adirondack Park
            f. Miscellaneous restrictions.
            3. In the High Peaks Wilderness Area, no person shall:
            ix. mark trails with plastic ribbons, paint, blazes or other devices, cut or clear trails, or mark summits with canisters except by written permission of the department

            So it is clearly illegal to cut a trail in the High Peaks Wilderness. Arguably, one could argue that DEC has the intent to extend this regulation to other parts of the park as well.

            On the other hand, DEC is already well aware of many of the existing unofficial trails throughout the Adirondack Park, and many of them are inventoried as “Class I” footpaths in the various UMPs. Some may be very old, others relatively new. Quite a few of today’s marked hiking trails began as “user-created” trails. So in many cases these trails become sanctioned by the state.

            In regards to Raven Lake, check out the 2004 Annual Guide issue of Adirondack Life magazine. There was an excellent article that year about the Pepperbox, in which Mark Bowie (author/photographer), John Scanlon (DEC forest ranger), Kevin Prickett (then an AfPA employee, now an APA planner), and Mary Kunzler-Larmann (licensed guide, NCNST advocate) bushwhacked from Raven to Sunshine. The marked trails aren’t mentioned in the article, but they must have seen them in their travels. Mary K-L is a friend of mine, and we used to talk about that area quite a bit, so I know she was aware of them. And whoever marked the Raven-Lyon canoe carry for DEC was obviously aware of these trails, because the carry trail intersects the unofficial trails in two places.

            The point is, the Pepperbox may not see much popular use, but many knowledgeable people (including state employees) do have boots-on-the-ground experience there. I personally have known about those trails for at least a decade, and as I mentioned before I included them in my guidebook for that region. Want to know where other similar trails are? Borrow the book from your local library and read all about them.

            I believe (but am not positive) that the people who own the small inholding and camp on Raven Lake are members of the Fisher family. Lyon Lake is named for one of their ancestors. The Lyons and Fishers once owned most of the land along Stillwater Road, including the Pepperbox and what was billed as the “Wilderness Lakes Tract” in the 1980s (otherwise known as the Fisher Forestry Tract). If indeed the Fishers still camp at Raven, and it is they who have been maintaining these trails, then quite possibly the trails that Dan Crane just discovered this year predate the state’s acquisition of Raven Lake, which occurred in 1982.

            Just to put things in perspective.

            But anyone who thinks these trails at Raven Lake are an outstanding situation clearly doesn’t know the Adirondack Forest Preserve well at all. I am in no way condoning the private construction of trails on public land. I am just pointing out that it is common practice. Rock climbers have become the latest culprits, as they create new access trails to favored cliffs. If you read the new Adirondack Rock 2-volume guidebook they even name the people who cut these trails, in some cases. There is a whole network of new unmarked trails in the Silver Lake Wilderness near Arietta, leading to cliffs on Chub Lake Mountain and Sherman Mountain.

            • John Warren says:

              Bill, my point was that it IS a gray area. So as I said in reply to Justin’s snarky “Aren’t all ‘unofficial trails’ technically illegal” (and BTW, Justin made additional comments on the Facebook page) – that no they aren’t, and anyone, as you and several others have pointed out, who bothers to think more deeply about the question will easily discover.

              Is THIS trail network illegal? I think it’s pretty clear it is, despite the possibility that in this political climate pretty much anything goes. Feel free to call me a purist for thinking that maintaining a trail network that is not in the UMP by cutting standing trees, building a bridge, and marking it with plastic markers is outside the law.

              And in terms of criticism, I don’t see anyone here who doesn’t take criticism. This is the internet. The Almanack has taken on the most difficult questions – far more complicated and difficult questions about the Adirondacks than any other media outlet. Not once, ever, has a writer demanded not to be criticized. In fact, I’ve personally taken so much direct, ill-informed, and unfounded criticism over the last 10 years – many times a week in fact, that I’m not really interested in hearing lessons about how I should handle internet comments.

              One reason the Almanack comment section is not like your average local newspaper is because I take an active role in trying to keep it that way.

              Am I always entirely friendly? No. Does the Almanack have the most diverse and intelligent comment section of any Adirondack media? I think so and I’ll stand on that.

              • Bill Ingersoll says:

                “In fact, I’ve personally taken so much direct, ill-informed, and unfounded criticism over the last 10 years – many times a week in fact, that I’m not really interested in hearing lessons about how I should handle internet comments.”

                …which translates into “I think I’m so good at handling criticism that I don’t care to hear your criticism of how I handle criticism, Mr. Ingersoll.”

                Message received, noted, and filed for future reference.

                Yes, I’ve seen you tell the trolls they aren’t welcome… and they keep right on coming back undeterred. But knowing Justin Farrell and his wilderness exploration credentials, your responses seemed especially thin-skinned in this case, particularly your third and fourth responses–which were personal insults, not substantive arguments, simply because Justin used the word “dude” and therefore sounded “snarky” to you. However, a real troll wouldn’t introduce himself by his full name, putting his real-life reputation at stake as Mr. Farrell did.

                But as you just told me very explicitly, you know what you’re doing and have no interest in hearing my criticism. Got it. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself then.

                • John Warren says:

                  Take it easy Bill. His several comments set the tone and you are not privy to the full picture. You’re not exactly a saint in the way you’ve treated people in comments here.

                  But hey, you’ve got me – I’m “especially thin-skinned”. I’m sometimes more than that.

          • Bill Ingersoll says:

            And for what it’s worth, I detected no “snark” in Justin’s comments at all. Dan Crane, Bill Ingersoll, John Warren, and anyone else who posts commentary on this Almanack must be prepared to face criticism here in the public comment section, not just unanimous, unqualified praise. If you don’t like what someone says, don’t respond to it.

            But you should at least respect any reader who posts here using their real, full name. Very few people have the courage to do that.

        • Dan Crane says:

          FYI: 49 bird species were detected during my day in the Pepperbox, tied for second best in that area for me during the Birdathon. As far as named places on a map, I visited the western shore of Raven Lake, southern Sunshine Pond, Deer Pond and Cropsey Pond.

          Perhaps I’ll write a summary of the whole adventure for here sometime this summer. A detailed trip report will appear on my own website sometime in the more distance future, as I have yet to post last year’s adventure.

          • Justin Farrell says:

            Nice, thanks Dan.
            And thanks Bill.
            And just for the record, my comments on facebook were the same as here, there was nothing “addition”. I wasn’t trying to be snide, just wanted to share my thoughts on the subject, as I too have seen many of these types of unofficial paths.
            Nice chatting with you.
            Take care.
            – Justin

  8. Merry says:

    In the winter of 2011, we discovered a beautiful ski trail along the Bog River that had been carefully created by someone local. The disk markers were soup can covers, carefully painted and very fine. No trees were cut, but still of course it was illegal.
    Phil Brown also discovered this trail and wrote about it in the Explorer a little later that same winter. He also wrote on here that he had a feeling the trail might disappear when the DEC found out about it.
    The DEC removed those disks in short order.
    If the trails around Raven Lake are DEC-approved, shouldn’t they be marked with DEC disks? Certainly those ugly pieces of plastic will be removed.
    The road out there from below the Stillwater Dam is gated and locked. It is officially a Primitive Corridor that ends at Raven Lake and as far as I know is only for vehicular access to the old private camp on Raven Lake.

    • Hope says:

      Those ski trails are now “Official” DEC marked ski trails thanks to local TL officials who also liked to ski them. They are marked and mapped now and no longer illegal.

      • Phil Brown says:

        That was the outcome I was hoping for. They can now be promoted to tourists.

  9. Paul says:

    So I wonder what you can do. Obviously you can’t use markers. But can you cut down trees to clear a trail on state land? I think you can. Most of the trails I have cut for hunting you never really needed to cut live trees. As long as you don’t “remove” the dead and down wood it is probably legal.

    • Paul says:

      Sorry to clarify that should read “can you cut downed trees” not “down”.

    • Dan Crane says:

      I don’t know all the rules and regulations by heart, but I do know that you CANNOT use a chainsaw in a Wilderness Area. It looked like a chainsaw was used to cut the trail that are the subject of this article. That would make them illegal, as was verified by a local Forest Ranger.

      • Paul says:

        For sure a chainsaw is out on a Wilderness parcel. My question was more general rather than specific for this. Also, the tree you showed was live and standing so you can’t cut that. But with a good bow saw you can clear some pretty nice trails without cutting any live timber.

        Did you see any large logs that were cut through clearly indicating a chainsaw was used. Can you use a chainsaw to clear trails on Wild Forest Land?

  10. Doug says:

    By the look of the tread this trail doesn’t get much use and the condition of the bridge would indicate that it has been there for a long time. I’d say at least 15 years. The cut stump looks like it could have been cut with a bow saw especially at that cut height. .
    I any event this seems like a lot of hoopla over something of little consequence.

  11. Marco says:

    Trails are often created and let go fallow again at need in the ADK’s. Yes, there are a LOT of unmarked and/or unsanctioned trails. Hikers often exchange this information at the various shelters. They are not often complete with cut tree’s, however.

    Animals often create trails. Wherever there is a choke point in the terrain, they will create a path. People are wrong assuming other people made it, sometimes. Herd path is a more correct term, I guess. In some cases, the herd path is in better shape than an official trail! The so-called “trail less peaks” are another example of unsanctioned, but tolerated, trails.

    No big deal. The DEC has cut many roads to otherwise unmarked ponds and lakes. I have even stumbled across some semi-permanent dwellings, complete with wood stoves, in the woods…with no trails leading up to them. How about a large 3 room structure near a lake, but on public land. Unused trails have a way of quickly reverting to forest. Not to worry. The DEC has it’s reasons for keeping the access’ unknown.

    Yes, there are likely several “trails” in the Pepperbox. Many of the campsites along the Oswagatchie lead off to some sort of trail, even if it is not well maintained.

    • Paul says:

      You won’t see trails leading to those camps. If you did the wouldn’t last long. This is why many of the game protectors in the Adirondacks historically were guys that had been hunters (and big time bush-whackers). They knew all the tricks that “bad” guys used. Many camps like that only have an approach by water and maybe a traverse across an old beaver pond so they can even stay hidden with snow on the ground. Given the decline of hunting I expect we will see a decline in that kind of activity. I think we already have by my measure.

  12. J Hart says:

    This is a good discussion. I hope there is still some interest in continuing the conversation, now that the article is off the front page of the Almanack.

    What I find missing in the back-and-forth is any reference for determining what is legal or illegal in terms of making a new trail. What exactly are the rules/regulations that determine legality? Mr. Ingersoll has provided one such written regulation:

    “§190.13 Wilderness Areas in the Adirondack Park f. Miscellaneous restrictions. 3. In the High Peaks Wilderness Area, no person shall: ix. mark trails with plastic ribbons, paint, blazes or other devices, cut or clear trails, or mark summits with canisters except by written permission of the department.”

    But there is no reference to the source of this information. Where did it come from? Is this excerpt from a settled regulation, or is it a proposal?

    It seems that it would be useful to know what the guidelines are and what the DEC would use as a legal basis for the actions that they may take in determining the legality of a particular trail.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      I quoted that regulation from DEC’s website:


      These are actual regulations, not proposals. The High Peaks regulation quoted above can be found under Part 190 Page 2.

      Obviously, that reg was written in a way that makes it only applicable to the High Peaks Wilderness, so it doesn’t entirely help in either the Five Ponds or Pepperbox areas. However, you will find other regs under Part 190 Page 1 (constructing structures on state land, affixing things to trees) that would seem to apply.

      But again, I’m having a hard time feeling the outrage that Dan Crane and John Warren apparently feel over this issue. This topic arose when Mr. Crane “discovered” the trail system near Raven Lake for the first time and reported it as though it were a breaking story… not realizing that these trails had been inventoried and publicized long ago. There is therefore a comical aspect to the debate Mr. Crane and Mr. Warren aren’t aware of, and this is the source of the so-called “snark” that Mr. Warren has detected in some of the public comments. (Justin Farrell, who is a friend of mine, has visited Raven Lake with me twice in the past.)

      • John Warren says:


        I’m not outraged. There is plenty of actual outrageous behavior available elsewhere, and you seem to have plenty of outrage for this issue to go around.

        This was not presented as “breaking news” because it’s not breaking news. It is simply an essay that you happened to disagree with.

        You say these trails “had been inventoried and publicized long ago” – aside from your own guidebook, which is not the public record, where are these trails inventoried and publicized?

        This story was confirmed by a DEC official intimately familiar with the area, who also characterized at least some of these trail as “illegal” – is that DEC official wrong?

        • Bill Ingersoll says:


          If you have relevant facts to present, or a specific argument that you feel needs to be made, then by all means present them for the sake of discussion. I’ve stated my positions and the reasoning behind them, and pointed out two publications where one can find out more information about this area. I’ve tried to provide a larger perspective by demonstrating that DEC and APA personnel were probably already aware of these trails, and by theorizing who might be responsible for maintaining them. I’ve never denied that such trails are in violation of the letter of the law, and I have even provided the relevant regulations as I understand them.

          And when I saw a good friend of mine being attacked as a troll, I felt compelled to intervene.

          I’ve reacted to Dan Crane’s article in the only way I possibly could. I get it; he was preparing to bushwhack to a remote pond, but his enjoyment of the wilderness was fouled up a bit when he found a preexisting trail along his intended bushwhack route. By publicizing it here, and by concluding “I hope these illegal trails get a thorough investigation and those responsible are made to atone for their actions,” he was unambiguously trying to shame whoever built the trail and provoke a public outcry–he wanted readers to share his emotional reaction, his outrage.

          His post described the physical condition of the trail segments he explored, but he didn’t explore the entire network to learn their full extent, nor did he consult with DEC prior to writing this Almanack post. Therefore this piece (as well written as it may be) is not exactly journalism. Dan Crane was merely expressing his emotional reaction to what he judged to be an intolerable situation on state land. He has every right to do so.

          By presenting the story as he did, and when he did, there is an implied urgency in his tone, and his piece does read very much as though this is a “breaking story.” Mr. Crane just now learned of these trails, and he couldn’t wait to tell the world. Okay, fine, but it would have been much different had he written about how he found the Raven Lake trails, reported them to DEC, and learned a bit about who has been maintaining them. He could have concluded by reporting on DEC’s response to his complaint and whether anything was done. In my personal opinion, that would have been a more interesting and enlightening read.

          But since the piece as presented was an attempt to play on the reader’s emotion–an urgent expression of outrage, with a hope that the guilty parties would be publicly shamed–I am naturally going to have a similar reaction myself. In this case, it’s impossible to share a sense of urgency over a set of unofficial trails I’ve known about for a decade. Nor can I share the outrage, because in my view this is hardly an isolated incident. Trails like this are dime a dozen. Why Raven Lake, and not someplace like Sherman Mountain or Shanty Cliff, where recently I’ve had perfectly good bushwhack plans interrupted by the discovery of brand-new rock climbing access trails? Why not the unmarked-but-maintained trails to Sand and Rock lakes from the end of Bear Pond Road, or the Threemile Beaver Meadow trail a little further west in the Pepperbox? How is the Raven Lake situation worse than, say, the ongoing ATV trespass situation a few miles to the south, near Brantingham Lake?

          I don’t claim to speak for anyone else but myself, but after following this discussion for the last week it seems clear that others have had similar reactions; they just expressed their thoughts in far fewer words than I have. (I apologize if anyone thinks I’ve been hogging up too much space and behaving like a blowhard.)

          But, John, the only reason you and I are now squaring off in this thread is because I rebuked you for going after a good friend of mine, and that’s something I won’t apologize for. Beyond that, if you have a substantive argument to make on this topic that doesn’t involve anonymous state officials, ad hominem attacks on people whose tone you disapprove, or other information that you claim only you are privy to, then I would enjoy reading them, and perhaps we could have a discussion on the merits.

          Otherwise I’m through.

          • John Warren says:


            I’m glad we agree “that such trails are in violation of the letter of the law”. That was the point of Dan’s piece after all, and as is clear in Dan’s bio at the bottom, he is not a journalist, and this is not a traditional piece of journalism. He’s not required to cover all the aspects of what makes a trail legal or not, the bounty of other illegal trails, or anything else for that matter. This story was about his experience on this one trip, not the wider issue of illegal trails.

            Dan did the right thing here in writing about what he found. I had hoped someone with more information, someone such as yourself, would add context to Dan’s discovery in an essay of their own about the larger issues. Unfortunately, you chose a different approach in becoming offended that Dan “discovered” anything.

            Dan did in fact consult with DEC prior to writing this Almanack post. As I said, a DEC official confirmed his interpretation of their illegality. As far as your suggestion that I am lying, I’m going to write that off as a hot-headed internet comment. I am certainly guilty of those myself.

            Your point about this hardly being an isolated incident is spot on – all the more reason to bring these cases forward and expose them, as has been done a number of times here at the Almanack.

            When you’re done being mad, I hope you’ll write about the larger context of illegal trails and illegal uses which are obviously and blatantly abetted by DEC and APA.

            • Paul says:

              John, I am not sure that the APA shares much blame here. This seems like a straightforward enforcement issue for the cash and people strapped DEC.

            • Justin Farrell says:

              Wow! My sincere apologies for my poor typing skills and internet intellect. I certainly wasn’t trying to cause any kind of feud. As I mentioned earlier, and as others have mentioned also, trails like this are nothing new. They exist all over differnent regions within the Adirondacks, especially if a private inholding happens to be located nearby. Thank you John for correcting me that not all of these types of unofficial trails are technically illegal. I guess I stand corrected. Thanks again to my friend Bill for having my back, like any true friend should, and I stand behind everything that he has shared in this discussion.
              I enjoy reading this website, and the many stories that Bill, Dan, and others share on a regular basis, but I’ve definitely learned my lesson in sharing my opinion publicly on this website without having proper legal knowledge on the subject.
              Once again, I’m sorry if I came across as being an ignorant troll, just wanted to share my thoughts on a piece that is seemly comlaining about only a couple of the countless unofficial & technically illegal trails in a tiny corner within the entire Adirondack Park that feature freshly cut trees & brush, makeshift bridges, and home made markers. It is my belief that trails like this exists all over the Adks, many of which have been used for decades, maybe over a century in some cases, by those who enjoy the backcountry. Again, if these trails had lead to a trashed campsite or something similar, then I would comletely understand the gripe. However, as well as the story is written, I don’t see the big deal, but that’s just my opinion.
              – Justin

              • Teresa DeSantis says:

                Dear Gentlemen, I have been following this thread and have enjoyed the discussion.

                I looked on the DEC UMP website-
                and the DEC says:
                “A unit management plan (UMP) was completed for the Pepperbox Wilderness Area in 1985. If you have questions or would like a copy of the UMP, please email us at r6.ump@dec.ny.gov.”

                We can reflect upon the fact that the UMP is 30 years old, and also is not directly viewable on the DEC website at this location- ie. it must be directly requested from the DEC.

                Also, this year the DEC is proposing a: “2015 Draft Amendment to the UMP – For Lean-to Construction and Trail Designation- This amendment proposes the construction of a lean-to near Gregg Lake and the designation of a foot trail for access to the lean-to- with a Public Comment Opportunity- The Department will be accepting public comments on the Draft UMP Amendment until May 15, 2015.”

                Since the Public Comment period just ended, It would be timely if an interested party did a FOIL for the comments that were received by the DEC and see what was discussed in the context of this proposed amendment to the UMP.

                Link to Proposed Pepperbox UMP Amendment:

                From the discussion, it sounds as if a review of the 30 year old UMP is needed. I know the DEC is budget strapped, but is there a typical review/update schedule set for the Adirondack UMPs- perhaps at a 10-15 year interval? I talked to a DEC official about a year ago and they said they were behind.

                As there seems to be a concern for what is happening on the ground in this area, input could be given from interested parties to the DEC to encourage a review and possible update of the UMP- along with including important current data for the area. In this way, what is happening on the ground now can be inventoried and discussed, in context with an updated full UMP.

                Best wishes,
                Teresa the roving Cartographer

                • Paul says:

                  I think they are supposed to update the plans every five years. Some units (Debar Mt. for example) don’t even have a first draft plan. So updating old ones is probably a low priority on their to do list.

  13. Paul says:

    Dan, In an earlier article you wrote about this area you never seemed to make much note of the “legality” of some of the trails you described in the area. In fact you seemed to be promoting their use in some sense. Why the change of hart?

    For example you said this

    “The combination of hunting trails and unbroken wilderness makes the Pepperbox an excellent area for the beginning and experienced bushwhacker.”


  14. J Hart says:

    Thank you Mr. Ingersoll, for the link to the DEC regulations. That is a very good resource.

    I think this discussion comes down to very different expectations that different people have for conditions in Adirondack wilderness areas. Some seem to accept the reality that Adirondack wilderness is not truly wild and untouched and are unconcerned by that reality. Others appear to expect that wilderness should be what is described in the March 1999 DEC final draft of the High Peaks
    Wilderness Complex Unit Management Plan:

    “The wilderness resource is a composite of many basic biophysical and sociological
    resources, but what make New York Wilderness Areas unique is the settings in which they occur. The APSLMP described this setting as:
    ! A place not controlled by humans, where the land’s primeval character and
    influence are retained and natural processes are allowed to operate freely.
    ! A place not occupied or modified by humans, where humans are visitors and
    the imprint of their work is substantially unnoticeable.
    ! A place with outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and
    unconfined type of recreation.
    These settings are truly special and outstanding – not only to New York State but to the
    entire eastern United States as well. It is because of this uniqueness that wilderness lands were
    granted the highest priority in public land management by the APSLMP.”

    I personally would like to think that it is possible to manage wilderness areas so that they approach this description, but perhaps I am being naive. Reality has a way of getting in one’s face. About ten years ago, my family backpacked from Wanakena to Sand Lake, a truly beautiful and special place. That was about 13 miles of hauling packs along designated trails, but the beauty of Sand Lake made it worth it. We went exploring around the lean-to and found what we thought was a game trail that led along the little ridge between Sand Lake and Rock Lake. The trail continued past the outlet from Rock Lake and we followed it for a few hundred yards through the forest. To our surprise, the trail soon intersected a road! It was a rough road, but one that clearly had been used enough to keep it from growing over. It was not an ATV trail, but had obviously been used by full-size vehicles. We followed it for a moderate distance and found trash discarded along it. Talk about disillusionment! We realized that for all the work we had put in hiking there, it was possible that someone could get to the same place sitting on a vehicle seat. My vision of Adirondack wilderness was grossly altered by that experience.

    Perhaps part of the problem with the lack of wildness in some wilderness areas is that some of the lands need more time to revert to a primitive state. Some may be relatively newly designated as wilderness, and it may take many years for the old users to give up their old haunts. A bit of DEC enforcement would help, too. In the meantime, the Adirondacks are the best that we here in the east have available to us. And there are some places that I’ve bushwhacked and never come upon any sort of trail.

  15. Paul says:

    The specific regulation that prohibits trail building in the high peaks wilderness doesn’t have much practical value. There are so many marked and unmarked trails there already why would you want to build any new ones. Maybe to get to Pete Nelson’s Lost Brook Tract? In fact many places have more than one trail to get to them.

    The place is turning into a jungle gym with all the ladders and stairs anyway. It isn’t really a wilderness anymore.

  16. John P. Grant says:

    Done with this “News Journal.”

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