Sunday, February 3, 2019

Tyler Socash: An Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve

A future Willsboro Wildway

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.

Weasel tracks in the snow 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.

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Tyler Socash is ADK’s Outdoor Skills Coordinator. He believes in fostering a personal connection with our public lands through exposure, education, and stewardship. The day after completing his master’s degree at the University of Rochester, Socash embarked on a 7,000-mile thru-hiking journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Te Araroa in New Zealand, and the Appalachian Trail. He joined the Adirondack Wilderness Advocates as an activist to promote the intangibles of wildness and their benefits to humanity. In an effort to meld humor with conservation efforts, Socash co-created and co-hosts Foot Stuff Podcast, which spotlights stories of adventure, antics, and activism around the country.




12 Responses

  1. Davis Moquin says:

    I certainly hope this becomes a reality in the near future and made a contribution towards this worthy goal just a few months ago. As Plattsburgh begins to sprawl and corporate farms decimate windrow cover, deer yarding areas and any semblance of earlier days in the region these gems are critical going forward. It’s more than apparent that we can’t get DEC to provide reasonable protections at this point, let alone the APA to adopt clustering requirements for proposed development in the Park. Future generations will be the biggest beneficiaries of efforts made at this critical juncture.

  2. Just north of Poke-O-Moonshine, there are also a couple thousand acres of sustainably logged forest, under an open space easement agreement between the Johansen family and the Open Space Institute. Public access is not permitted.

  3. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Great…..one more “Wilderness” area in a park that is not true wilderness in any sense, having been traversed by loggers, heavy equipment, etc for hundreds of years.

    “Wilderness” in New York State translates into access by a limited few residents who are physically capable of hiking into the back country…..I vote NO!!

    • Boreas says:

      Tim-Brunswick,

      After the raping of the world’s forests and other wild areas by extraction industries “for hundreds of years”, it can be argued there is no more “true wilderness”. Therefore, wilderness must be created and preserved as such where we can. Otherwise, we may as well remove the word from our vocabulary.

      I vote YES.

      • Paul says:

        Boreas, I don’t think it is a vote yes or no thing. They want you to donate money, so “yes” means get the checkbook. There is a link to donate.

        • Boreas says:

          I was being facetious (aping the commentator’s “no” vote), but if I can find a few bucks lying about, I may send them off. I am a fan of private reserves in general.

  4. Paul says:

    So I understand this… So you donate money to the trust then it buys the land and then they give it to NYS? Is that how it will work? Wouldn’t it be a better wildlife corridor if the land once acquired by the trust was kept private so people don’t mess with the animals there? This seems like a recreational project as well as an environmental one. NYS will have the added benefit of the tax dollars rather than the tax payments they have to make on Forest Preserve land. Most people seem in agreement here that we don’t have sufficient ranger numbers to care for all this FP land, why make the problem worse?

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      FWIW, I didn’t read anything on their website about giving or selling it to the state – but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Sounded more like they want to keep it as a preserve. Just my take on it.

      • David Thomas-Train says:

        As I understand it from their staff,, Northeast Wilderness Trust will hold the title to the land, continue to pay local taxes on it, and allow recreation, including hunting.

    • Paul, thanks for asking this question. Northeast Wilderness Trust will own the land and has no plans to sell or donate the land to the state. The primary goal of the project is to protect the rich biodiversity of the 2,500-acre property, but it will also be open to public access and a trail will be developed in partnership with Champlain Area Trails and Adirondack Land Trust.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks for the reply, this is great. If there are public access issues later that you think are degrading the property you can reassess. Best of luck on this project.

  5. Rose Anne W. says:

    What about the critters from the east that are going around the southern end of Lake Champlain and then trying to go around the southern end of Lake George? Is any group thinking how a wild pathway might be saved for them?

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