Friday, May 4, 2018

An Arbor Day Experience On Thomas Mountain

Late last year, our NYS DEC removed a cabin atop Thomas Mountain in the Lake George Wild Forest. The cabin, dating to the mountain’s former private ownership, had been vandalized and had become a public hazard. Its presence was also a violation of Article XIV, Section 1 of our NYS Constitution. DEC did the right thing to remove it.

Restoration of the former cabin site was a logical next step, and Arbor Day the right occasion. Adirondack Wild was very pleased to be invited by DEC to collaborate. We reached out once again for volunteers to the Youth EdVenture and Nature Network (YENN).

This past week eight youngsters and four adults from YENN in Albany joined me on behalf of Adirondack Wild and DEC Forest Rangers Chuck Kabrehl and Evan Donegan on Arbor Day to green-up the former cabin site.

YENN’s mission is to help transform the lives of urban youth through experiential teamwork in the outdoors. Adirondack Wild seeks to train and engage with youth who will be the future advocates and stewards of the Adirondack Park. Forest Rangers are the DEC’s field ambassadors and guardians in green.

It’s been an inspired partnership and this year was no exception – our 7th year of collaboration. The service day was started by YENN founder Brother Yusuf Burgess (Abdul Wasi) with Adirondack Wild and DEC Forest Rangers and Foresters. It continues in Yusuf’s memory thanks to YENN leaders Cherrie Burgess, Jaimz Edwards and others, DEC (including DEC Saratoga Tree Nursery and Operations Division), and “ed-venturous” young men and women of all ages.

For many, Thomas Mountain was their first uphill hike in the Adirondacks – especially challenging for several who were not, in their words, “nature people.” Their courage and determination overcame any limitations.

We gathered at the trailhead with weather threatening, to meet DEC Forest Rangers Evan Donegan and Chuck Kabrehl. The Rangers and DEC Operations crew (Warrensburg) had positioned our tree planting tools and young trees (courtesy DEC’s Saratoga Tree Nursery) on the mountain earlier in the week.

The hike up Thomas was adventurous for many and challenging for others who had never or rarely hiked before. All of us were stretching muscles out of winter hibernation. We encountered rocks and snow fields on the way up. Step by step, “no pain, no gain,” with encouragement and determination, the whole group made it.

The expected rain did not fall. The sun shone through the clouds. Along the way we tasted the wintergreen inner bark of young silver birches, saw shades of spring green unimaginable a few days earlier, found red eft salamanders migrating across our trail and heard broad-winged hawks, just arrived from South America, soaring above us.

At the summit, came the grand view of Lake George to our east, Prospect Mountain to our south, and Hadley, Crane and Gore Mountains to our west. The changeable colors of the day were awe inspiring.

One young man said on the way back down, “If I knew how great the view would be I would never have complained about the hike up.” His name was Thomas. This was “his mountain.”

After some refreshment at the summit, the Forest Rangers Chuck and Evan taught the YENN volunteers how to plant young northern white cedars and white pines where the former cabin had been.  These Rangers are excellent role models as well as instructors. They know when to intervene, what to say, and when to step back, and they clearly enjoy working with young people

Nearly 100 trees were planted to keep future hikers off the site and allow it to re-vegetate. Everyone pitched in. The rocky soil did not give way easily to our tools and the results will only be proven over time, but the Rangers were pleased with our stewardship efforts.

Afterwards, the rain did pour down, but we were off the mountain by then. All received our Adirondack Wild pin as a small token of appreciation. We drove to Lake George village to celebrate our hard work with pizza at Giuseppe’s Pizzeria (it was excellent). Mother earth had been kind to us and we tried to be kind to her in return. Our young trees back on the mountain were being watered by the rain. Ours was a fine bit of teamwork on behalf of the Adirondacks and in memory of one of its finest stewards and youth educators, Brother Yusuf.

Photos,  from above: DEC Forest Ranger Chuck Kabrehl teaching a young YENN volunteer to plant a tree at the former cabin site; and Adirondack Wild’s Dave Gibson helps a youngster with the tree planting on Thomas Mountain.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

8 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    Great work everyone! I never think tree articles arboring.

  2. Richard Jarvis says:

    Great job to all! Thanks to Dave Gibson and Dec staff for leading future environmental stewards on a worthy project, with cooperation of the weather.

  3. Paul says:

    It’s good to get these kids excited about wild places. But is it a good idea from a biological diversity standpoint to put some cloned trees from a Saratoga nursery up there? Why not let it naturally re-seed from the trees that are there? Just rope it off and be patient.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Why might it be a bad idea?

      • Paul says:

        Like I said. These nursery trees are usually very genetically non-diverse. Let the local biodivesity that is there seed the place.

        • Justin Farrell says:

          Won’t that happen as well?
          The articles doesn’t mention what type of trees were planted, but judging from the photo in this trip report on Adkforum it looks like at least a couple different species were planted…

          This happens elsewhere in the Adirondacks as well, often with the replanted area surrounded by orange tape, which eventually falls down or gets taken down & removed as Mr. Gibson mentions below.
          I n any event, I don’t see any harm in the efforts to re-vegetate the area, or see any real reason to knock it. Kudos to those who helped make a difference.

        • Boreas says:

          Germination, especially in compacted soils, will be certainly slower. It could also be argued that grasses and nitrogen-fixers could have been planted after some surface scarification. In 1-2 thousand years – the length of time it takes to recover genetic and species diversity – it probably won’t matter.

          Forests don’t regrow in a human time scale. You could replace every original tree with a new tree of the same age and it still is not the same forest and will not be as healthy or stable. A forest develops as a community, and the flora, the fauna, as well as microbes all develop together over centuries – each individual playing its own role.. All of their roots intertwine and network and often support each other through times of stress. Just as there is a difference between 1000 people and a community, there is a difference between 1000 trees and a forest.

  4. David Gibson says:

    Roping off the old cabin site and allowing the site to naturally revegetate is certainly one management alternative – that perhaps makes the most sense to those of us who do not have day to day management responsibility for the Forest Preserve. For those who do, like the NYS DEC Forest Rangers who supervised the work, I can think of several reasons why the planting and not roping off the site were chosen. First, the Rangers may have wanted to make an immediate public impression of active stewardship at this location- and not have to wait patiently for natural re-seeding. Second, given the very compacted soil on the site, natural reseeding might take a very long time. Given site conditions, they may have thought that preparation of each bare-root tree by digging, planting and watering the chances of successful survival in a year’s time were greater. Roping off the site, now that’s a question throughout the Park and the Catskills too. The Rangers may have the experience that rope, in a short while, becomes trash that must be hauled out of the Forest Preserve. They also know that this is Forest Preserve, not a local park and recreation facility. Roping off a site in FP may not be the best option in a Forever Wild environment, perhaps done only for certain very important public safety or endangered species reasons. These are my guesses. Again, the Forest Rangers were the decision makers here, and we were the volunteers carrying out the work.