Tuesday, April 26, 2022

An Earth Day outing at Essex Quarry

essex quarry

There’s nothing like a generator to spoil a good, old-fashioned Adirondack power outage. We happen to have one, so even though the juice was out for 33 hours, instead of kerosene lamps, a good book, heavy blankets, and gin rummy by candlelight, it was the same old LEDs, microwave popcorn and reruns of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

We had several friends who took the blame for the late-April snow, confessing that the weekend before they had moved the Adirondack chairs to the deck, or put up their skis and microspikes for the summer. And this was a real snow, this was not the more typical spring wintry mix.


This was a solid foot of snow on top of fresh mud that turned trails the color and consistency of a hot fudge sundae. So the more intense hikes would have to wait. I was in the picturesque town of Essex on Lake Champlain this week to talk with Supervisor Ken Hughes and Chief Operator Tina Gardner about winning the Wastewater System of the Year Award — and the immense challenge these communities have, building multi-million-dollar sewer and water systems with only a relative handful of people to pay for them.

Afterward, the relatively firm trails of the Essex Quarry Nature Preserve beckoned. You’ll find it at the edge of the hamlet on the right if you’re driving south. It has perhaps a mile and a half of loop trails, but the main attraction is an old bluestone quarry, which produced material for many local homes, but also was shipped to Albany for its statehouse and New York City to help fill an order for the Brooklyn Bridge.

essex quarry sign

The quarry is approaching its 150th anniversary, and appears somewhat of a snapshot from the day stonecutters left the job for the last time. Big blocks of blue limestone rest around the pit, which is not particularly large, and a 1971 boom truck last registered in the ’90s (if my memory from a previous visit serves) remains laden with an order of stone that never got delivered.

Almost like the cross section of a sawn tree, the bluestone has been sliced in a way that reveals stories that go back 460 million years to a time when New York was a seacoast and offshore was what would become the planet’s oldest coral reef. Nature is filling in the rough edges, with a pool, aquatic plants and native shrubs accenting the tiered stone in a scene that could have been created by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The same stone and shallow soil that makes sewer lines so costly to dig supports a unique white cedar forest and calcium-rich woodland habitat. This and the fossil record is artfully interpreted by Champlain Area Trails, which purchased the property in 2019.

The trails offer a nice stroll, although fossil viewing while sitting and relaxing on a slab of bluestone might be the most attractive pursuits here. A little secret indicative of the fracture stone can be discovered by walking to the top of the quarry lip and turning right on a trail that soon crosses a small stream. Head downstream a few dozen feet and you’ll notice that the stream simply vanishes into the ground. It’s been brushed in for safety, but you can still get the idea. It’s interesting and surprising — almost like a late-April snow.

bluestone at essex quarry

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A special thanks to Tim Rowland for taking over the “Explore More” newsletter over the past six months or so since the departure of our past editor Brandon Loomis.

With the recent hiring of Adirondack Explorer’s first climate reporter, Cayte Bosler, we’ve decided to switch gears and are launching “Climate Matters,” a new weekly newsletter that will replace this one.

We’ve enjoyed reading about Tim’s adventures and will continue to feature them on the Explorer website on a regular basis.

We hope you will sign up to receive Cayte’s newsletter. Follow this link to sign up for Climate Matters and/or others in our line up (including daily dispatches from the Adirondack Almanack).

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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.




3 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    Thanks, added to my list for this summer

  2. Norma Goff says:

    Nice article! Thank you! We love it there too!

  3. Todd Miller says:

    A perfect article for the Adirondack Explorer! Humorous, informative, and great pictures. Made me to want to visit the preserve.

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