Sunday, November 21, 2021

Accessible Adirondacks: Exploring the Clintonville Pine Barrens

columnist sweatshirtI have this T-shirt that says “COLUMNIST:” Because Badass Miracle Worker Isn’t An Official Job Title.”

I didn’t say I was proud of it, I said that I have it.

Anyhow, when visiting the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay last spring, the shirt caught the attention of Mike Hirsch, the opinion page editor of The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The Morning Call and my paper, The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md., had one specific thing in common: Mack Trucks plants. In those glory days of plants and papers, we covered the trucking industry and the tens of thousands of people it employed with uncommon intensity. Though we didn’t know each other, Mike and I were both on the Mack Trucks beat in the ’80s and ’90s — probably attended the same press conferences — destined to meet on a small dairy farm in the Adirondacks decades later.

Mike, who has ALS, is in a wheelchair today, but it is wrong to say he is wheelchair-bound. He is bound by nothing. It is also wrong to say that the Adironcdacks, where so much is measured in terms of verticality, is not accessible to people with physical challenges.

This year, slinging too many bales of hay and too many sacks of feed left me with a hernia the size of a goat’s head. Following surgery this week, I have been under strict doctor’s orders to refrain from lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk (fine) and to scale way back on hiking (gulp).

These orders, along with the inspiration I found in Mike’s story, got me out of the house to a blissful little fairyland known as the Clintonville Pine Barrens in Black Brook. The barrens are owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy, and there is little else in the Adirondack Park that is like them.

pine barrens

Twelve thousand years ago, as the planet warmed, a wash of glacial melt deposited a deep sand delta north of the Ausable River. Sand not being the best potting soil, only the least demanding species from a nutrient standpoint took root. Today that translates most abundantly into pitch pine and blueberries, filled in with mosses, lichen, fern, wintergreen, bearberry and other interesting stuff to create a feathery green groundcover studded with ruddy pitch pine and a smattering of white pine and oak.

The blueberry and pitch thrive on fire, and from here north to the Altona Flatrock berry pickers would set the ground ablaze to rejuvenate the crop.

The Clintonville Pine Barrens trail is short, scarcely a mile and a quarter. Solitude is all but guaranteed. As we grow older and less firm on our feet, I suspect trails such as this one will have their day — an easy, soothing stroll packed with interesting species, along with rich natural and human history. Don’t wait for a hernia to come visit.

Pine Barrens photo by Tim Rowland.

Editor’s note: This has been updated to change the history of glacial melt to 12,000 years ago, not 1,200. This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

Related Stories

Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

4 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    This area is a jewel I am lucky to live close to. Probably more interesting to a botanist than a zoologist, it is a very unusual place indeed. This spring I centered a nightjar survey on the Barrens. Oddly, there was more nightjar activity in the forest farther up the mountain, but there were one or two Whip-poor-wills usually calling in the barrens. It is also a good place to look for amphibians and reptiles that inhabit barrens such as this.

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks for this article Tim. For people interested, there are a few barrens scattered around the region, though each is somewhat different. The one I used to live near is toward the W in Parishville.

    For “the record,” “twelve hundred” should be “twelve thousand.”

  3. Evelyn Greene says:


    Thank you for this barrens article!

    Less athletic people in general can also find interesting natural stuff any place there is a little wildness left, including in their own yards. You have to just pay attention while you are sitting in your yard to what you hear or see. Or where you happen to park your car when meeting a fellow naturalist. The natural world is full of wonderful puzzles and beauties that you will totally miss if you don’t slow down and look around.

  4. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The natural world is full of wonderful puzzles and beauties that you will totally miss if you don’t slow down and look around.”

    How very perceptive & right-on you are about this Evelyn! It is just amazing all of the unseen (by some) things I happen upon in my travels, in forested regions, or even in rural graveyards and fields afar and near to roads. The more intact the ecosystem is, and the further you are away from humans, the more you will see, and/or hear.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox