Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Questions Surround New Frontier Town Campground Trail System

The new Frontier Town state campground was opened to great fanfare just before the July 4th holiday this year. The campground is now fully developed with campsites, trails, and amenities such as showers, playgrounds, horse stalls, pavilions, and scenic lookouts on the banks of the Schroon River, among other features. Construction of the new Paradox Brewery is well underway.

The Frontier Town Campground is designed to pay homage to the western themes of the old Frontier Town wild west amusement park that was in its heyday in the decades after the Second World War. The amusement park had become dilapidated over the years and the new campground was a State intervention to help restore the site to some form of commercial use. The main gate has a western design and many of the shower and bathroom buildings have western saloon facades.

The campground is built with special facilities for equestrian camping, in line with the site’s wild west amusement park heritage. The trails in the campground are built to horse trail standards and the scenic overlooks on the Schroon River are designed for horses and riders. Over-sized, specially designed staircases were built in two locations to assist horses and riders traverse steep terrain. One area of the campground has stalls, manure pits, loading areas, and other features for keeping horses overnight. That area also has a “stud pen.”

Beyond the equestrian campsites, the campground has a half dozen long roads that end in cul-de-sacs, all lined with 91 newly built campsites with firepits, picnic tables, raised tenting areas, mowed lawns, and parking spots. The campsites are attractive and spacious, perfectly fine for car or RV camping. The shower and bathroom buildings are all new and spotless. The campground has several pavilions, two large, beautiful playgrounds far better than we have at most Adirondack elementary schools, and even a special playground designed for toddlers.

The campsites are linked with a newly built pathway that snakes through the campground, designed with an artificial surface of small stones and graded flat and wide, running around 10 feet wide, though wider with grassy shoulders in many places. The gravel pathway was four or five feet wide. It’s designed for horses and riders or people walking side by side. The roadways in the campground are new and when I was there on a hot weekend in mid-July the campground was probably 20% or so occupied and a few kids on bikes were riding around.

The campground is different for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) because it’s constructed through a conservation easement and not on the Forest Preserve. The State owns the right to operate a campground, but the underlying rights are owned by Essex County and the Town of North Hudson. Though it’s the only state campground built on easement lands in the state’s campground system, it operates the same as the other state campgrounds. The State should get high marks for its storm water management systems, as there are catch basins and rain gardens built throughout. Though it’s a new site I did not see any of the invasive species often found is areas with new construction that required lots of disturbance.

There’s an extended trail system that emanates out from the campground and into private lands on the east side of Route 9 and into parts of the Hammond Pond Wild Forest. The Hammond Pond Wild Forest Area Unit Management Plan was recently revised to designate new multi-use trails that could be linked with the trails at the Frontier Town Campground. The trails on the east side of Route 9 in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest are only partly constructed but they appear to be some kind of weird administrative annexation of a Wild Forest area into an Intensive Use/state campground area. One new multi-use trail in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest is a bike, hiking, horse and class II snowmobile trail.

There are few people in the Adirondacks who have spent as much time as I have on class II snowmobile trails, but this one takes designs and impacts to a whole other level. The trail is the standard format of class II trails: 12-foot wide trail with a surface graded flat, many boulders removed from the trail corridor and debris piles pushed off onto the trailside, many areas of the trail that are 15 feet wide or wider, oversized 12-foot-wide bridges, extensive tree cutting and stumps, destroyed forest understory, and the trail and trailsides that are planted heavily with grass. The thing about “multi-use” trails built by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and DEC these days is that they’re built to specifications for class II snowmobile trails, which makes them unattractive for hiking or biking.

The new feature with this newly built trail in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest east of Route 9 is that it was apparently built with the same design as the trail that snaked through and around the Frontier Town Campground. It has the same four- or five-foot-wide wide gravel tread area in the center of the trail and wide trailsides planted with grass. Outside of a few trails that have been built in Wild Forest and Intensive Use areas in the Forest Preserve that were specially designed to facilitate use by disabled individuals, such as Icehouse Pond or Helldiver Pond trails in the Moose River Plains, and feature crushed stone pathways for wheelchair use, there are not many of these kinds of the trails.

Many tons of small crushed stone were used in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest area to build this trail. There are many questions for the APA and DEC about how such a trail could be legally constructed.

My reading of the recently amended Hammond Pond Wild Forest UMP does not find anything about a class II/multi-use trail with tons and tons of crushed stone. The raised bed in the center of this trail gives this “trail” a distinct road-like feel, with long grassy shoulders running along each side. While the DEC had carte blanche to build any kind of trail it wanted on the Frontier Town Campground conservation easement lands, it is bounded on the Forest Preserve by the rules of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Despite the legal differences on the two land use areas, there appears to be no difference at all between the trail sections on easement lands and the trail sections in Wild Forest lands.

There are other questions about the Frontier Town Campground.

Basil Seggos, the DEC Commissioner, states that the campground will help to disperse public use out of the High Peaks Wilderness. I question his logic. After touring the Frontier Town Campground I don’t see how it is that a visit there is going to satisfy someone who is seeking the experience of hiking up High Peaks like Algonquin or Giant or Colden.

The most visible part of the former Frontier Town wild west amusement park was the large A-frame at Northway Exit 29. This is not part of the new campground or state complex and its future use is uncertain. The state has plans to build some form of Visitors Center or Information Center associated with the campground complex and brewery, but I question the wisdom of building such a facility at Exit 29 where people will have to make a special trip to find it.

The Frontier Town Campground cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million. In addition to questions around compliance of associated trails in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest area with the State Land Master Plan there are valid questions about whether this is the best investment of $25 million to help build Adirondack communities and the local economy? It is certainly a shot in the arm for North Hudson, but are campers simply being recruited from other nearby private or state campgrounds? Does this campground help to build local institutions and businesses? What are the long-term costs to the state to maintain it? How will design elements of this campground affect other state campgrounds in the Adirondacks?

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.

Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.




43 Responses

  1. Bev Stellges says:

    Just follow the money,I guess! This is also the only DEC campground with electric sites which, I thought, weren’t allowed in the park. Plus the money spent on this is a disgrace when we need many more rangers not more campgrounds to take care of! Plus there are DEC campgrounds that are in such dire need of upgrading, the bathrooms and showers at Buck Pond for one that date back to the 1950’s. And instead of a new campground it would be nice to keep Buck Pond open beyond Labor Day!! Spend the money on those things!!

    • drdirt says:

      sshhhhhush now, don’t be telling people about Buck Pond .,.,. and don’t go upgrading bathrooms,,.. it’s supposed to be our secret paradise and be bare bones so the moose keep passing through. (and don’t mention the bathrooms have hot water).

  2. Boreasfisher says:

    Let’s hope usage picks up, given the investment. I was there a couple of weeks ago and there seemed to be more employees of the campground present than visitors.

    I understand the Khan family has purchased the A Frame from the town and is trying to figure out what to do with it. I am wishing them huge huge huge good luck in repurposing it for something useful to the community….and even huge-er thanks for trying.

  3. Chris says:

    The not-so-secret secret is that beer sales have been declining for years and we’ve reached (or are past) “peak brewpub.” Maybe there’s a demonstrated need in the area, or maybe it is a state-subsidized hope of “build it and they will come.” The state of VT just helped build a very (very) large craft distillery in Montpelier that is way out of proportion with the locale. I can’t imagine a restaurant surviving on traffic from a seasonal campground.

    • John Warren says:

      Last I heard there were no plans for a restaurant. It’s a brewery with a farm brewery license for a “tasting room.”

    • Justin says:

      A year round brewery brewpub would do well here. All the climbers coming out of the Chapel Pond area and elsewhere that weren’t passing through lake Placid or Keene Valley can get food and drink.

  4. David Thomas-Train says:

    This seems to be the same ill-considered costly big-glitz planning that is bringing us the unnecessary 4-plus mile trail to Cascade; both of these, splashy projects with questionable long-term traction.

    All this money, when we need more Rangers, and more widely dispersed trail rehab to make the recreational resources we have workable.

    Just up Route 9 from Frontiertown is DEC’s Sharp Bridge campground, the first built in the Forest Preserve, and one of the nicest, now likely to see a further downslide its usage, as a result of this project.

    • ADK Camper says:

      Just stayed at Sharp Bridge last week. It was pretty busy on the weekend considering it’s usually a sleepy campground. It cleared out a bit on Tuesday. I think that the people who know about SB will continue staying there. And, it will always have some appeal for rock climbers who go there to climb the cliffs.

  5. Pablo says:

    The information in this editorial is out of date. The A-frame has been torn down. It’s also likely that Peter doesn’t like the project and sat up late thinking of questions about it. The idea came from the former North Hudson supervisor, who was retiring until someone he didn’t like was going to run, then suddenly took back his retirement and ran for re-election, only to decide again to retire the day after he was sworn in. That allowed the town board to appoint someone he liked to the job, so she could run as an incumbent.

  6. I am an Adirondack native withe great memories of the stagecoach holdup at Frontier Town. I’m also a lifetime career horseman.
    According to an American Horse Council independent survey there are 13 Million people over 18 in the US who consider themselves “horse people.”
    Many of those consider a vacation with their horse something to dream of.
    Many of these 13 Million love trail riding and the miles of trails are vanishing. Even the “Rails to Trails” are being paved for easier use to bikes, etc.
    I think (and I will do my part) this wonderful camp ground with trails needs to be promoted to the 13 Million, introducing a whole other group of people to our beautiful Adirondacks.

    • Jim S. says:

      Pardon my ignorance, I am not a horse person, however I am curious. Who cleans the poop?

      • This is in reply to “who cleans up the horse poop?”
        Horse folks have learned to live with non-horse people sharing trails by getting their horses off trail before pooping. However that certainly can’t happen every time.

        But…horse poop is made of hay/grass and water. The water dries up and the hay/grass blows away or become food for hay/grass loving forest creatures.

        • Wally says:

          What about the manure pits in the campground?

          • Yes, manure pits would be most helpful. Horsemen are accustomed to picking up before leaving a site. Of course manure pits attract a great number of insects, so it would have to be cleaned out/removed on a regular basis depending oh the number of horses camping

  7. Vanessa says:

    A lot of the questions and comments here smack of local politics that as a non-resident, I don’t feel like I have a lot of context to weigh in on. Any large scale development will help some aspects of a local economy. Sustainability for present residents is a completely different question.

    But what I can confidently say is that as a huge ADK hiking fan, I will never be visiting this campground. Sure there are trail connections, but to Peters point, not the mountain trails I want. If I want to car camp and relax I’ll do so closer to home. I come to the ADK for the best mountain terrain in the Northeast – so being close to the mix there is really important.

    That said, I can see how this would be appealing to other demographics, specifically folks with kids. So maybe it will deter high peaks use? For 25 million, it’s a really expensive bet to lose :/

  8. Festus says:

    Well put Vanessa. Patti, Very informative, thank you. I must admit I know nothing about the economic potential associated with the equestrian community. I really hope they come in significant numbers. This campground was modeled after a similar equestrian one in Vermont so we have some hope.That is the wildcard here and we’ll have to wait a few years and see how things pans out. And Pablo, I was there yesterday checking out the Boreas Ponds road development project and the A-Frame is still there (but in serious dis-repair)…

    • Boreas says:

      Festus,

      I was at BP the previous Sunday and the midway gate was closed – I assume because there were no construction crews on Sunday. Did you get past Midway? What is going on back there? Just curious.

      • Festus says:

        I drove the 3.2 miles into the Fly-Pond lot (I think that’s what you are referring to as midway) and biked from there to the ponds (3.5 more miles). The deer flies were the worst I’ve ever seen in the ‘Daks! I won’t go back for 3 to 4 more weeks as they were that bad (I’m usually not a whiner…). That is significant regarding this whole 5 towns plan I think…Anyway, the expanding of the entrance-way parking lot just off of the Blue Ridge Road is coming along nicely. That parking area has been widened in just the past week or two and has a nice material for a base – by the looks of how much they are widening it I think they are predicting a lot of cars will park there someday…The road into the Fly-Pond lot was graded and graveled last Summer, is holding up well and is easy to drive. The Fly Pond lot gate was closed and will be for the rest of the Summer (at least). From there on in there has been a fair amount of work done since late June. I would say they are going slow but steady. They are now hauling large dump-truck loads of dirt to level off parking spots at various points along the 3.5 miles towards the ponds. These road-side sites have been made to be quite large and will be used as either campsites or as trail-head parking areas (Boreas Mountain etc.). At 2.5 miles from Fly Pond you get to the third large, metal gate just past Labier Flow (1 mile from Boreas Ponds). Here a smaller parking lot is being leveled on the right and just past that at the “4 corners” a much larger lot. There will be a card you can put into this 3rd gate at the 4 corners lot and thus get to drive the last mile. This option is for those that choose to buy 1 of the 4 or 5 daily permits sold to the public at Frontiertown. Just before the ponds there is a lot for permit holders (also under construction) a 1 minute walk from the dam. There is also a 3 car lot right at the dam for the disabled…All these lots are mostly done as are the walkways/canoe launches/takeouts at Labier and Boreas. Not yet started is the mountain bike crushed stone trail that goes from Fly Pond lot (behind the outhouse) to 4 corners (just past Labier Flow). None of the hiking trails are started either. Prison crews and summer work crews of travelling, volunteer teens are supplying the man-power. The teens built one road-side campsite and did a great job by all reports and the prison crews have to quit early some days as the flies are too much for them to bare! A large sign board is also up at the final gate (4 corners) so that will have a lot of info (trail maps etc.?). For future bikers – the first mile from Blue-Ridge is killer uphill on gravel, then easier grade to Fly Pond. From Fly Pond – mostly downhill to the ponds with the flies getting worse as you go. You can’t outbike ’em either! The 3.5 from Fly Pond has not been graveled as of now so that is still great mountain biking! Ambitious plans. At least they are going for it!

        • Boreas says:

          Festus,

          Thanks for the detailed account of the work progress!! I did notice that many of the big rocks in the road had been removed and the surface leveled with new gravel. A higher-clearance vehicle certainly is no longer needed.

          When we stopped last week the deer flies seemed to cover the windshield and mirrors. We didn’t leave the vehicle. I don’t remember deer flies being this bad when I was younger, but I didn’t hike or bike much in mid-summer because of the heat and bugs. Something seems out of kilter though. Wet springs and hot summers?

  9. A large portion of The Equestrian community will love the campground …. when they learn about it.
    You have to take a deep breath and realize that isn’t going to happen without advertising. And, of course, find some social media FB and the like that deal with horses.
    Since you’re not a horseman, you don’t realize how so many horse people would die for an opportunity to ride and camp with their horse in the Adirondacks …. ONCE THEY KNOW IT”S THERE!

  10. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Admittedly, I did not read the entire article and honestly because it was written by Peter Bauer who seldom writes anything that isn’t rife with “issues”, “concerns” and alarmist language.

    I have read the comments though and feel like my instincts were on target.

    The Frontier Town campground is a new venture and my goodness/heaven forbid we should try anything different in the precious Adirondacks. Probably best if we just built a fence around the entire park and allow passes to a select few to enter on Holiday weekends and hike, observe wildlife and OMG maybe even camp overnight!!

    The Frontier Town campground is a refreshing change and I hope the Horse folks make the best of it.

    My response to all the naysayers is …..”GET OVER IT” !!

    • Balian the Cat says:

      Tim,

      In your quest to have the world try something “new and different…” would you please put the boring as hell whine about “Probably best if we just built a fence around the entire park and allow passes to a select few to enter blah blah blah…” as a response to anyone who thinks resource protection might trump alleged economic gain mantra to bed already?

    • Vanessa says:

      I feel like this comment may be partially directed to me, so I’d like to address something important: I am not against the building of the campground per se. If people enjoy it and it helps give good jobs to local folks, all the better.

      But there is an on-going discussion here and elsewhere re funding priorities for the park, and how money is invested in tourism, which is essential to the ADK economy. 25 million on an “if you build it, they will come” bet is rightly controversial, imo. Especially when hikers are an already known stable source of income. Imagine at least some of that money going towards staffing more rangers, for relevant example. Plus, once built, does the community with the campground have infrastructure to support that many people in the summer? What money will need to be spent on said support, by whom, etc?

      It’s because we give a crap that we ask these questions. So no, the position is not to just, ahem, build a wall…

  11. Brandon says:

    Well another swing and a miss here. This supposed new snowmobile trail on the east side of rt 9 is not new at all,in fact it’s older than the apa, sure they may have widened it but it has been a designated snowmobile trail for my entire life and a generation or two before me. It was also part of a community bicycle trail prior to the states new easment and if memory serves me correctly it was on the states original master plan as a snowmobile trail and if Pete were paying attention he would notice that the trail follows the original rt 9 bed and utilize the original rt 9 culverts as bridges from pre 1950’s re routing

  12. Jack says:

    Again Cuomo trying to ruin the Adirondacks.. A campground is directly across the road which caters to kids. A State campground is 4 miles down the road which is open now, but closed a while back for lack of campers. Why another? The trails which were built will soon be filled with Atvs. Garbage will be everywhere. Illegal campsites will be made where Encon can’t see them or find them until the trash builds up. There are no grocery stores in the area near the campground. The closest is Schroon Lake. Now for the Brewery. A campground and a brewery is just asking for trouble. Drunks camping, trash from the brewery and impaired drivers. I can see it now. Beer bottles and cans will be everywhere. Our pristine wilderness area will be a thing of the past. By the way, I do live in the area. Thanks Mr. Cuomo for all you have undone to our quaint little town of North Hudson.

  13. Justin Farrell says:

    Definitely a dishearteningly negative article to read. Is this guy ever happy about anything? Geez man!

  14. With regards to the 3 new bridges, I suspect they were also for the horses who are often hurt trying to cross boggy areas,… not sandy/stony stream beds.

  15. Ed Burke says:

    Toured the new campground on July 15 before hiking to Hammond Pond. Was quite surprised how large it is. The faux rock fireplaces are visually a tough sell but look very durable. Also, first time seeing the adjacent Paradox brewery which has a deck and great view of the mountains. Brief inspection but can’t find fault here, the combination of the two looks like a ‘perfect storm’ for campers who enjoy a good pint. Addition of a food truck would be great. Perhaps a good use of the A frame would be a controlled burn for nearby VFDs.

  16. Boreas says:

    I wonder if the state or local governments have any plans to patrol the horse trails to look specifically for invasive plant/weed species. Also, are there campground/trail regulations requiring certified feed/hay? Just curious. I was there 2 weeks ago and it looks like a great place to ride and camp (no one was evident). But a Park gateway for people can also be a gateway for invasives if not properly managed.

  17. It’s really up to the horse owner to worry about toxic plants. And, it’s largely true that most horses do have “horse sense” about avoiding poisonous plants.

    I’ve never been to a horse camping area that supplied hay. Once again, that’s up to the horse owner to take care of.

  18. Oh…I see what you mean that horsemen might bring in hay that contains invasives. Never thought of that … don’t know how many horseman might think of it. The one thing the Adirondacks have going for it is that because of the short growing season, many invasives don’t get the chance to grow. But it is a good point.
    If there was some kind of a hay check, would they have to open every bale. That’s be quite a mess, waste of hay, etc.

    Perhaps each horse camp needs to clean up their left over hay (and manure) before leaving. Horsemen are accustomed to picking up after their horses before leaving a site.

    • Boreas says:

      Patti,

      I believe the parks that require certification just need some sort of certificate or a marking on the bales showing certification. I don’t believe any on-the-spot inspection is done on the feed itself.

      Most of the concern is on the trails – especially in areas closer to Wilderness areas. A horse that has eaten feed containing invasives can spread the seeds deep into the interior. If they get a foothold, which invasives are good at, they can be a nightmare to eradicate. And they can spread easily in a wide corridor like a horse/snowmobile trail.

      My feeling is this type of patrolling and control could be done in cooperation between DEC and the local governments benefitting from the trails, and even help from volunteers. Rangers certainly can’t be expected to do it.

      • Boreas–

        Horses that are reasonably fed will turn their noses up at invasives. I’m not sure about starving horses, but then starving horses couldn’t handle Adirondack trails.
        Horses aren’t like goats. They are selective eaters and I believe would not eat the invasives (most of which are toxic) and spread the seeds in their poop.

        • Boreas says:

          Patti,

          My issue isn’t with horses, it is with management of the trail system. Invasives can be dispersed as easily on hooves and shoes as in the digestive systems of any animals – including deer and humans. It isn’t a question of when or how it will happen, but rather WHO will be responsible for monitoring these trails for invasives. I feel the responsibility should fall on local governments with training and cooperation by DEC to monitor these wider trails as they are the groups that lobbied for their construction. This can create a few local jobs as trail crews as I would no longer expect DEC to be effective with this responsibility.

  19. Dick Carlson says:

    Boondoggle! Frontier town will go nowhere! $20m+ when many other areas are languishing – NPT – the signature long distance trail in the Adirondacks is an embarrassment of useless outhouses, and almost zero trail maintenance. Many other trails are in similar shape. Without the legions of volunteer trail workers it would be even worse.

  20. Jim Kobak says:

    They should build a trail to MacComb and the Dixes from there…. take some heat off of Elk Lake and Round Pond at least…. plus there are a few smaller peaks like Wyman Mt that are quite nice.

  21. Paul says:

    On the deer flies, I agree they are out of control this year in many areas. I have a pretty high tolerance but this thing where they were swarming my eyes (maybe since the only part without bug dope) was insane! There is no control for these bugs and places like this land (that used to be timber lands) the public will begin to understand why the lessees of these places in the past (hunting clubs) understood that they were only fit for human habitation in the fall and winter. Maybe with a few exceptions where camps where closer to the water an a stiff breeze. You can’t outrun them! I suggest a full bee keepers suit and one of those smoke things for hikers in these new areas. Welcome to the lowlands!

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