Think about the last unexpected mammal, bird, or amphibian that you crossed paths with in a wild space. Perhaps it was a black-backed woodpecker near a bog. Maybe it was an unassuming spotted salamander among the fallen leaves. I once saw a frolicking family of fishers on a walk in the woods.
Anecdotal wildlife encounters help to remind us we aren’t alone in this world. We share natural landscapes with thousands of species who call them home. But look at a map of the Eastern Adirondacks and a few things stand out: Lake Champlain’s massive coastline, the Adirondack Forest Preserve closer to the Park’s interior, and the Adirondack Northway (I-87), splitting the region in two.
Whether on a quest to find a mate, to find food, or seeking a quiet and secure space to raise their young, wildlife need to move. As weather trends shift, the ability for wildlife to roam becomes essential for survival. While no designated wildlife corridor currently exists, an increasing patchwork of lands protected by advocates like the Northeast Wilderness Trust could make safer wildlife passage possible from Lake Champlain to the High Peaks.
Putting myself in the mindset of a fisher, or a bobcat, (choose your own favorite Adirondack animal) I wondered how I might lap water from Champlain’s shoreline, successfully cross the highway and dozens of roadways, and wander my way into the High Peaks. I endeavored to try it for myself.
On January 16th, I stood at the Willsboro Bay State Boat Launch on Lake Champlain. Despite a spell of below-freezing temperatures, I was shocked to discover that the bay was mostly open water! Ducks waded in the shallows, sheltered by the gentle coastal hills. The silhouette of Rattlesnake Mountain loomed to the west.
According to my map there was no public access toward the west from here, so I resigned to driving back through town toward Long Pond. A private land owner on that side of the mountain graciously allows hikers to access the summit of Rattlesnake via a narrow trail. From this elevated position above the Adirondack Coast, the potential of a wildway – a wildlife corridor from Champlain to the High Peaks – seemed more than possible.
Back in the car with my spirit renewed, I drove to the next public access point – the Taylor Pond Wild Forest. Donning my snowshoes, I darted up the Ranger Trail towards Poke-O-Moonshine’s fire tower. The noise of the highway diminished with each step. Pulling out my compass, I followed a bearing deeper into the forest. The adventure was only beginning.
Bushwhacking now, I soon discovered that I was immersed in the intangibles of wildness. I personally appreciated the silence and the solitude as I distanced myself from the trailhead, and imagined wildlife might value it as well. A pair of black-capped chickadees soon fluttered over to inspect me and I crossed some snowshoe hare tracks. Then a puzzling track in the snow soon caught my attention. The deep powder revealed the curious path of a porcupine! I wasn’t so alone after all.
Nearing the edge of New York State Forest Preserve land, I stopped on a rocky ledge for a look westward down the valley and across the North Branch of the Boquet River. Here was a piece of land I had ventured to see – 2,434 acres – the hopeful future Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve.
There were precipices that might host a peregrine falcon nest, miles of valleys with brooks for the trout, and a ubiquitous hardwood forest that seamlessly blended into the Jay and Hurricane Mountain Wilderness Areas beyond.
En route to the interior of the Adirondacks, this transitional preserve is where an animal would go next.
What if these islands of isolated, yet protected public lands could become interconnected? Much like the visionary Split Rock Wildway to the south, there could one day be a Willsboro Wildway to the north. Those interested in helping to make this a reality can donate to Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve project by March 15th.
Images, from above: Map of a future Willsboro Wildway, and weasel tracks in the snow by Tyler Socash.