The Essex Chain Lakes and Boreas Ponds have been hogging much of the publicity over the state’s acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands. That’s understandable, for both waterways are jewels that are sure to become popular paddling and hiking destinations.
Lost in all the hoopla is Pine Lake, another handsome body of water located a little south of the Essex Chain. In another time, Pine Lake by itself would have been a celebrated acquisition.
I visited Pine Lake in early May for the first time. It’s a four-mile trek up a dirt road. If you’re a strong hiker, you probably can reach the lake in two hours or less, not including a possible side trip to Clear Pond.
Another option is to ride to the lake on a mountain bike, which is what I did. Not only is biking faster, but it makes the journey more interesting. Walking on a gravel road is not my idea of a great hike.
We’re allowed to ride to Pine Lake only because of the controversial decision by the Adirondack Park Agency to amend the State Land Master Plan to allow bicycling in the Essex Chain and Pine Lake Primitive Areas. Normally, bicycles are prohibited in Primitive Areas.
Whether you bike or hike, the journey begins at former clubhouse of the Outer Gooley Club. Although the vacant structure is in the Forest Preserve, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is letting it remain until deciding what to do with it. It might be preserved; it might be demolished.
The field in front of the clubhouse affords a nice view of the Hudson River. This is just upstream from its confluence with the Indian River. Thanks to the Finch, Pruyn deal, whitewater paddlers can travel down the Hudson from Newcomb and take out just before the confluence. If they were to continue, they’d enter the Hudson Gorge, where the rapids are considerably bigger.
The dirt road, known as Chain Lakes Road South, continues beyond the clubhouse, but there is a motor-vehicle barrier. After signing a trail register, I hopped on my bike and began climbing for a tenth of a mile or so. It was one of several hills I encountered en route to Pine Lake. An experienced mountain biker would find the road a piece of cake. I found the pedaling harder than expected, given the hills, the rocks, and sometime sandy soil. On a few occasions, I pushed my bike short distances. Overall, though, I had an enjoyable ride.
At 0.65 miles, I reached a junction with a road entering from the left. I continued straight here, following a blue trail disk. At 1.2 miles, I came to a hiking trail on the left that leads in three tenths of a mile to Clear Pond. Bikes are not allowed on the trail. Since I had visited the pond once before, I forwent the side trip, but if you haven’t been there, go for it. The pond offers a good view of the hills in the neighborhood.
At 1.5 miles, the road reaches another vehicle barrier and a large parking area. In big-game season, DEC allows hunters to drive as far as here. Beyond the gate, I coasted downhill to Mud Pond, which can be seen from the road through the trees.
I soon passed another junction and then, at 2.75 miles, arrived at a split in the road. Turning left, I came to a short footpath on the right that leads to a flat stretch of the Cedar River. DEC intends to build a snowmobile bridge somewhere in the vicinity. If the bridge is built, mountain bikers will be able to ride from the hamlet of Indian Lake to Newcomb. I say if because some environmentalists contend that putting a bridge here, where the Cedar is designated a Scenic River, would be illegal, and they are suing to stop it. They also say the snowmobile trail would be illegal.
Roughly a mile on, I reached the northeast shore of Pine Lake. At more than ninety acres, it is one of the largest lakes in the region. It’s a beautiful sheet of water, with views to the west of several small peaks. Not surprisingly, the lake is ringed by evergreens, but not just pines. A small island, mostly rock, with two bushes, lay about fifty yards offshore. If it had been later in the season, I’d have been tempted to swim to it. Instead, I had lunch on a spit of bedrock and ate lunch while enjoying the view and the peaceful solitude.
But even Pine Lake is not free of worldly controversy. Floatplane operators are allowed to fly clients to both Pine Lake and First Lake, which is part of the Essex Chain Lakes. On both lakes, at least one campsite is reserved for floatplane parties. Some argue that DEC should put an end to the flights and should not set aside campsites for a special group of people.
I’m not crazy about sharing a wild lake with floatplanes, but I imagine some hikers might not be crazy about sharing the trail with a mountain biker. With that in mind, I picked up my iron steed and began the journey back to the car.
Photos by Phil Brown: Pine Lake, Outer Gooley Club, Chain Lakes Road South.