She had joined others from the Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for a day of hard work along the Hudson River. YENN volunteers from tye Capital District met me at the Adirondack Mountain Club Headquarters off of Northway Exit 21 (thanks to Danielle for hosting us). After a brief orientation to the Adirondack Park, we drove to Luzerne and then up River Road into the Town of Warrensburg.
To our left, the magnificent Hudson River swelled, flashing in the morning sun, moving briskly even in this dry spring. Out on the the big river, a common merganser was treading water between fishing trips. We passed beautiful cropland, pasture, old homesteads, modern ranches, cemeteries, interspersed with dense stands of white pine and hemlock – Forest Preserve – State Land that has been acquired since Niagara Mohawk first began to sell its many holdings along the river in 1993. Moving steadily but slowly, we bounced along the rough road – moving in and out of morning sun and deep shade until we saw two men dressed in green – NYS DEC Forest Rangers Chuck Kabrehl and Evan Donegan, who would spend the day with us.
There were nine of us volunteers, led by Jaimz Edwards, Cherrie Burgess and JodyAnn Allsop of YENN; Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild, and five young men who had crawled out of bed early to lend a hand. This day of service to the Adirondacks was in honor and memory of their father, grandfather and mentor Brother Yusuf Burgess (Abdul-Wasi), a resident of Albany who had founded YENN, and done so much to expose urban young people to life in the outdoors. Brother Yusuf’s work was renowned, especially at DEC, where he worked for a time, as well as the Albany Boys and Girls Club. He was featured in the acclaimed film documentary Mother Nature’s Child, and in the writings of Richard Louv. His work continues, thanks to Cherrie, Jaimz and many others with YENN. Adirondack Wild is pleased to contribute and support these efforts.
By way of introduction, the Forest Rangers described their many duties in the Adirondacks. Their work on the front lines, as it were, varies from day to day they said, and that is the way they like it, but often proves critical to the health of people and the woods. Clearly, these Rangers appreciated the chance to communicate why their job matters. They are undermanned but determined to respond whenever and wherever needed. These young men and women are equal stakeholders in the present and future of the Adirondack Park; by planting trees in service to the Park, they are leaving some of their own sweat and DNA here, as well as trees which may outlive us all. The young trees Brother Yusuf and earlier YENN volunteers had planted to the south in 2012 under the Rangers’ direction are now well over our heads. The legacy continues.
These Forest Rangers and their DEC Forester colleagues have spent many years working with anyone willing to listen to stop the damage being done from inappropriate vehicular access and heavy user pressure at favorite campsites and shorelines up and down this Hudson River Management Area of the Forest Preserve. They told us that by planting trees in selected areas as buffers, we are helping them to restore damaged sites and shift user behavior and pressure without having to close the sites to public use. One young man, who in a friendly way is known as “the professor,” contributed more information – each tree planted produces oxygen through photosynthesis, offers shade, and helps keep the soil from eroding.
We drove north to our first planting site. After unloading the trees, Ranger Donegan demonstrated proper planting technique to give each tree the best chance to thrive. Ranger Kabrehl discussed the characteristics growth forms of these trees – white pine grows in annual whorls of branches around the trunk which (with the right conditions) can be counted to estimate its age.
After the talk – work. The soil at the first site was forgiving. Steadily we worked, no breaks, no snacks, nobody plugged in, just some hydration and back to the shoveling and planting. An hour or two later, we had done the job – one hundred freshly planted young white pines, balsam fir, and dogwood shrubs. Ranger Donegan hooked up the Rangers truck and began to pump water and the volunteers thoroughly soaked each tree before we packed up and moved to the next site. There, the soil was stony and the shoveling more difficult.
The Rangers showed where four-wheel drive trucks had damaged the terrain, running over young trees in the process. We were there to replace those trees with fresh ones, greening this hillside again. Later, the Rangers would move some boulders into place to show where vehicles should park at this campsite, and where they should not. Again, we put our arms and backs into the work. Many hands made light work and suddenly this job was done – and what a site to see that new growth of green, an accomplishment to take pride in. We had planted about 250 trees and shrubs, all provided by DEC’s Saratoga Tree Nursery.
Before we went for a bite to eat, there was one more stop to make. The Rangers took us a few hundred yards south to a forested hillside where just days earlier a large forest fire had raged, taking out all the underbrush and lightly scorching the forest. They told us how fire behaves in this hillside of oak, beech and other hardwoods, and how they and about 40 other volunteers fought it, creating as many man made fire breaks as possible for there were no natural breaks like swamps or seeps to stop it. It was difficult work on slope with a 500-foot elevation gain, they explained. The fire had begun at a campsite where the campers had allowed the fire to over-top the rock ring and catch the leaf and duff layer around it. The fire quickly moved uphill into the forest. The lesson here was keep your camp fire small and inside the fire ring, and remove all the leaf litter around it. When you leave, just don’t dowse it with water; stir it constantly while soaking it thoroughly so that all of the deeper coals are reached. Keep dowsing it and stirring it. Never leave a hot campfire unattended.
Feeling good about the work and the experience, we drove out of the woods and beyond the river for a well-deserved meal. Before we were done, the Forest Rangers had received an emergency radio call – another forest fire. They quickly told us how much today’s work had meant, thanked us, and were off to this latest emergency.
There were only about 100 field Forest Rangers in the entire State of New York that day, attempting to oversee public use on 4-5 million acres of public land and easements. We were grateful to be with two of the best of them. They taught us a lot, and they were grateful for the help.
We plan to be back again for another educational adventure – an “ed-venture,” as Brother Yusuf was fond of saying.
NOTE: On Saturday, May 7, 2016, DEC will be working with volunteers on additional improvements at the Hudson River Special Management Area, also known as the Hudson River Recreation Area. Projects will include tree planting, hardening of a universally accessible waterway access site, litter pick up, and painting of gates and privies. Volunteers can sign-up ahead of time at the Parks & Trails New York website. Volunteers should bring water, a snack and lunch, and should wear garden gloves, boots and long pants. Meet at intersection of Thomas Rd and River Rd in Lake Luzerne at 9:30 a.m. For more information, contact Robert Ripp via email (Info.R5@dec.ny.gov) or phone: (518) 623-1209.