Sunday, November 14, 2021

Exploring wild places

In a week where we were again reminded that development pressures are always with us, it seemed a good time to visit a spot where the reverse is occurring. On a wooded glade bordered by wetlands near the hamlet of Essex is the Brookfield Headwaters Trail, which loops eight tenths of a mile over old farmland that is embarking on a 200 year journey toward becoming, once again, an old growth forest.

Meantime, it has another job to do. It is part of 7,000 acres owned or protected by the state and various land trusts that taken together form a corridor — known as the Split Rock Wildway — for animals to resume their ancestral migration trails into the mountains in relative peace.

Land trusts regularly monitor their land to make sure no one is illegally cutting trees, dumping trash or otherwise misusing the land. The 81-acre Brookfield Headwaters tract is owned by the Vermont-based Northeast Wilderness Trust, and Trust naturalists Sophi Veltrop and Abby Wilson let me tag along as they made their rounds.

We saw no local atrocities, but there was evidence of vandalism on a global scale. In a ditch a purple aster happily bloomed, untouched by frost. In November. In the Adirondacks.

This is likely an outlier, and even near the Adirondack Coast I wouldn’t bank on still being able to pick tomatoes on Halloween most years. But the trend is clear, and the effect is broad. As a linguist, I am even concerned about climate change’s effect on Adirondack Menfolk Talk, to wit, when, say, a roofing project intended for spring  languishes until late summer, a guy is likely to ominously intone, “It’s September.” Leaving his comrades to respond with “I hear you” or “I know what you’re saying” or various other affirmations, indicating they understand if they want to get the work done before the snow flies they had best get a move on. It would be a shame to lose that.

Climate change gets us talking of hardening infrastructure, and in a sense land trusts do too. Veltrop said among the considerations for NWT when protecting property are resiliency and connectivity. For example, does the land have enough variances in its microclimates that species can find areas to adapt in warming temperatures?


Connectivity plays a similar role, as creatures roam further in search of hospitable climes. The Split Rock Wildway could use another 7,000 acres of connected forestland to match what it has now, Veltrop said. As the years pass, visible evidence of the hand of man on Brookfied Headwaters will recede.

That evidence still exists: a rotting stack of pallets, a pit excavated long ago, a steel barrel badly rusted, shot full of holes and unspeakably picturesque. Before long, casual hikers won’t notice so much as a trace of the woods’ agricultural past, Wilson said.

Trees die, fall and decay, creating soft wet mounds common to mature forests that have not been recently farmed. Fungi and lichen do their work. Animal and bird habitat increase. The soil becomes rich, walking on it is less like a sidewalk and more like a sponge. Even as the climate changes, life is provided with more options. “Nature knows best,” Veltrop said. “Nature will adjust as long as we give it an opportunity.”

Above: Northeast Wilderness Trust naturalists Abby Wilson (left) and Sophi Veltrop. At top: Brookfield Headwaters Trail. Photos by Tim Rowland

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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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.

6 Responses

  1. Evelyn Greene says:

    Tim is not just a very funny humorist but a fine naturalist and conservationist! Big surprise to me. I’ll have to get his hiking book.

  2. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Thank you for the article.

  3. Boreas says:

    Great article! On a multinational scale, we need to encourage “wildlife” corridors – although I prefer the term “natural” corridors because “wildlife” suggests simply birds and mammals. We don’t realize it, but plants/forests migrate as well – just at a MUCH slower scale. They migrate N as glaciers recede, and migrate S as ice develops. Natural corridors allow for this slow (in our eyes) migration without the chopped-up, patchwork of blacktop, buildings, and “managed” lands. Mammals and birds can travel great distances in a lifetime. Not so with forests. Their movements are much slower and un-managed corridors help with this necessary, long-term, survival strategy.

    • Bill Ott says:

      Every time you write something here, it makes me think. So I thought to look up synonyms for “natural”, and there were 44 of them. “Essential” struck a chord with me. Words are important. Just try belting out the word “Trump” on Sunday at church.

  4. Susan says:

    Why don’t those entrusted with this property’s care remove the rotting pallets and the rusty barrel?

    • Tim Rowland says:

      Yes, good question, it’s because they are smack on the boundary with private property, so ‘ownership’ is not entirely clear.