Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.
When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.
Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.
Of all the deep, wild urges rooting around in my head (god knows there is a subject that could turn away scores of readers), said urges being imbued in every way with the powerful, primeval pull of the Adirondack landscape, the strongest has always been trailblazing.
The fantasy of traveling on foot into parts unknown, marking a path like a scout of lore, has been the adventure that has most fired my imagination and passion. It is simply the most romantic thing of which I can conceive. » Continue Reading.
In this week’s dispatch we take up the remainder of the story that delivered Lost Brook Tract intact and pristine into the 21st century. When we last left it smoke was hanging in the air and one edge of the parcel was singed, courtesy of the 1903 fires. Logging and paper companies were moving into the area to salvage lumber from the vast amounts of burned acreage.
Adirondack residents and workers were returning to normal life. Hikers were encountering and documenting the tremendous devastation in the back country, decrying the “acts of God” that caused them. Amazingly, while the damage to the forests was horrific, by and large population centers were spared. That may be a reason why people continued to see these fires as fate instead of folly. » Continue Reading.
Dear Dispatch Readers, take a little journey with me back to the year 1903, just after the turn of the century and less than a decade after Forever Wild. Construct if you will a picture, an imagination of the events I am about to relate. I myself cannot conceive of what it was really like to live through this time in the Adirondacks. It is even harder – and quite painful – to visualize the aftermath. Thank goodness with the passage of more than a century the forest has recovered for the most part. But the landscape was forever altered.
I will, as always, claim to be a storyteller, not a historian. But lest you think that this account is fanciful, especially the climax as it relates to Lost Brook Tract, I assure you that it is not. » Continue Reading.
There is a common conception that logging for prized wood such as the Eastern White Pine or the Red Spruce led to the depredations that nearly lost the Adirondacks for posterity. This is not exactly right.
In truth it was mining that led the charge to subdue these mountains. One of the early names given to the Adirondacks was the Peruvian or Peru Mountains, so named by the French – optimistically, one would have to say – and then used by early British miners as well, Peru being a country fabled for its precious ores and Incan gold. » Continue Reading.
As a boy in the Adirondacks I would explore the undeveloped woods on or near Blue Mountain Lake with all sorts of wilderness fantasies as my companions. Being as imaginative as the next kid I was certain that most of the islands and shoreline were akin to the Yukon. I particularly relished imagining that my footfalls were landing when no human foot had trod before.
A few years ago as a man in my forties I enjoyed the same kind of fantasy on a bushwhack to Redfield Mountain with my son Adam. After navigating blowdown too horrible to describe we came to a small streamlet with green, grassy banks that fed the gorgeous tarn at Redfield’s southern base. It was so far away from anything, so isolated and difficult to get to that it was easy to imagine we had stopped to eat a sandwich where no one had ever stopped before. Given that this basin was logged, the water courses mapped long ago and – as it turns out – there was even a trail to Redfield from this direction early in the twentieth century, that imagination was certainly fiction. But such fantasies are not easily outgrown. » Continue Reading.
I just returned from an impromptu March visit to Lost Brook Tract, having had a reason to come to New York State on business. Short but sweet, the visit began in winter and ended in spring. Given the winter weather the Adirondacks have had I was happy to encounter any significant snow at all.
Accompanying me was my brother Michael. Michael is roughly my age and is actually my nephew but we call each other brothers; that’s the kind of relationship we have. .. and despite the tough slog in, still have, thankfully.
We began the trip on a property owned by a friend where we are allowed to park our cars. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs as there was little more than a dusting. It was sunny and crystal clear but cool and crisp; the forecast had promised winter temperatures that day and night. » Continue Reading.
Over the last two weeks I have been involved in quite a discussion in another venue about wilderness as a matter of subjective point of view versus wilderness as an objective designation. Simply put is wilderness only a matter of opinion? Are we left with one person’s wilderness being another’s spoiled back country Grand Central?
At the same time in my last Dispatch I explored Joe Hackett’s point of view about the “stamp of man” being unavoidable in the Adirondacks. The vehicle for that exploration was a trip to Flowed Lands which, for all its seeming primeval beauty and remoteness, has been thoroughly altered by industry of one kind or another. There is no doubt that the imprint of humanity is omnipresent in the Adirondacks, if not always noticed. But does that mean that wilderness is nothing more than an idea in the mind? » Continue Reading.
In these dispatches and in other Almanack posts over the last two weeks there has been quite debate going about wilderness. Is there really such a thing in the Adirondacks? It is only in the eye of the beholder? Has it been defined primarily by 19th-century aesthetic paradigms? Would a more substantial version of wilderness be “rescue-free?” These and other issues illustrate the complexity of how we experience our park.
In last week’s dispatch I suggested three different ways to frame the question: the ecological, the anecdotal and the experiential. I devoted most of that post to the anecdotal perspective, having as I do a predilection for good stories, of which there is no shortage in the Adirondacks. Whatever the truths about wilderness, our experience of it is deeply engaging, romantic in a broad sense. I think that’s why the anecdotal perspective is valuable. Stories of the wilderness feed our romantic notions, inspire us, remind us of our own stories and evoke memories and images that are part of our history, both real and imagined. » Continue Reading.
For some time I have been musing about the question of what we call wilderness, how we deem an area to be wilderness, what it means in the Adirondacks and what it means to me. Is Lost Brook Tract really wild? Can I think of something as wilderness when it is possible for me to run from the heart of it to a warm car and a coffee shop in an hour if I have to? This is complicated question.
Several weeks ago when I began these dispatches I resolved to write about the question of wilderness. Then last week came the most recent post from Steve Signell, our resident mapping expert, his topic being Adirondack land classifications. The debate it engendered in the comments section addressed the very subject I was just beginning to write about. Serendipity! » Continue Reading.
It was early June in 2011 and we were planning our first extended visit to Lost Brook Tract, to take place over most of July. Our plan was to explore part of the land, try to find at least one side of our property lines, evaluate different bushwhack routes in, haul enough gear back to establish a permanent base camp and rebuild the lean-to which was on the verge of collapse, its roof having long ago caved in.
Another part of the plan was to make camp ready for visitors. We expected a couple of my relatives to maybe come up for two or three days. We expected a dinner date on the land with Vinny McClelland. And then we expected Shay.
Amy has a brother, Dan. Shay is his wife. They have two young children, Sofie and Jonah. Dan, Shay and family are not hard core hikers and bushwhackers like we are. With Lost Brook Tract being a bona fide wilderness experience it was incumbent upon us to give some thought about how to best accommodate and provide for the needs of more ordinary campers like them.
To be honest my concern had a narrow focus. Dan is not exactly a wallflower. He is a triathlete and marathon runner who has hiked in the Adirondacks with us before. Three years ago I sent Dan and Amy on a two-day hike from The Garden to the Upper Works via the Great Range. One of Dan’s boots fell apart on the way up Pyramid and he completed the hike with a boot on one foot and a collection of leather and rubber held together with duct tape on the other. Dan’s charitable, warm and loving references to me during his descent of Saddleback have become treasured family lore, although sadly they cannot be repeated here. Meanwhile if I have learned anything over the years of being a parent it is that there is no bipedal creature better equipped to thrive in the Adirondack back country than your average small kid, so Jonah and Sofie were no concern either.
That left Shay. Now I don’t want to mislead anyone. I wasn’t really worried about Shay. She may not be an avid hiker and camper but she has chutzpah. Shay typically tends to doubt herself more than anyone else does, denying that she can or will do something. But more often than not she eventually does it anyhow. Summiting a High Peak was a “No” until she did Giant. Winter camping has always been an unequivocal “No,” accompanied by a whiff of tone that suggests she thinks Amy and I are disturbed. But now I notice a “maybe one night” in her lexicon. There are, however, some hard lines in the sand.
As one gets to know Shay she becomes more and more precious, a primary reason being that she is one of those extremely rare people who is completely authentic. There is never any nonsense or posing with Shay. This is coupled with a lovely, self-effacing verbosity. Shay has a remarkably innocent way of just coming out and saying whatever she is feeling. If there happens to be a line in the sand related to any potential adventure under discussion, Shay will state it succinctly and unquestionably. So for example when Dan and Shay were planning to car camp in the Central Adirondacks not too far from our new property and I was talking to them about spending a couple of nights in the wild with us, Shay’s denial of any interest in using a hole in the ground to take care of her business was laid out in clear terms.
Already having charged myself with considering the welfare and comforts of potential guests of Lost Brook Tract, I reassured Shay – perhaps a little too reflexively – that we would have a lovely, cozy, clean privy with a real seat waiting for her when her family arrived. As I recall this assurance was met with a “heh heh,” but I could be misremembering. In any case I’d said it and so there it was, left in the air, needing to be fulfilled.
Considering that the closest one can get a car to Lost Brook Tract is something over four miles away and two thousand feet down, I had made a non-trivial promise. But I was damned if I was going to break it, so I began to sketch out a design. I wanted to come up with a privy that was light, yet strong enough and private enough to do the job. Amy and I also added a requirement that it be a composting privy.
With Amy’s help I arrived at a design that seemed clever enough. The bottom two feet and the roof would be reasonably canonical but made with light pine waterproofed to within an inch of its life. The whole top of the seat area would hinge off for composting purposes and an opening in the back would facilitate air flow. Between the bottom and the roof there would be nothing but four 2 x 2 posts with screening stapled between them. The door would be a lightly framed screen door. At the top on each side, nestled under the roof, we would have red and blue waterproof tatami-style mats rolled up that could be rolled down between the posts for privacy, creating an ambient purple lighting effect not unlike a fortune telling parlor.
This level of thinking began to move the project target from functional-and-not-unbearably-heavy to downright toney; the whole thing evolved into an intentional testament of my love for Shay, a deep and affecting love that has quite frankly grown to immense proportions. So we really went for it. Amy added a Japanese pattern fabric for the bottom half of the door and a neat battery-powered LED light. We rounded it out with various hooks and niceties, candles and a laminated Hebrew prayer about healthy orifices. The final design… well, we’re talking a Taj Mahal of back country privies. All that was left was to get the materials back there and actually build the thing.
Discretion being the better part of valor I decided to pre-build Shay’s privy to see if the design made any sense. I cut the wood, sank a few screws, held the rest together with duct tape and erected most of it. Now, our neighbors have learned to give us a wide berth. For example we design and operate an elaborate haunted house every year for the Green Bay Packers (don’t ask) and we typically build, stage and test new props, devices and scene elements in our driveway starting in late summer. It’s usually quite a mess. I’ll never forget the time our next-door neighbors, desperate to sell their home after months of trying, held an open house on the same afternoon we were perfecting our exploding walking dead effect in a front yard littered with body parts, blood and clown suits. The grateful look in their eyes spoke volumes. But I honestly think that watching a full-sized outhouse go up out in front of our garage was the last straw for a few of them.
The design seemed to work; so far so good. But then came the dis-assembly and as the parts piled up it became evident that my clever weight-saving strategy had left us with only a couple hundred pounds to haul miles into the middle of nowhere. And that was before the waterproofing changed the light pine into not-as-light-pine.
Haul it we did. Including the hand tools and other gear we needed five trips and brought in an estimated six hundred pounds of camping supplies and privy components (thank goodness we had three adult teenage boys to help). My first pack load was close to ninety pounds and left me propped against the lean-to, near death. The second trip was worse. In addition to another fifty pounds of boards on my pack and about the same weight in hardware and tools in Amy’s pack we each took one end of a bundle holding all the seven foot lengths of wood. I hope by now that readers, recognizing my unqualified expertise and sage wisdom, will believe me when I tell them that there is nothing more pleasant than bushwhacking four miles uphill with a thirty-pound collection of seven-foot-long lumber. My affection for a certain young woman to whom I am not related by blood – and who I hope is reading this – was given a proper and thorough test that day.
Tribulations or not, at last we had all the materials back on our land. We found a perfect spot, elevated, in good soil and sheltered by a large rock wall. Amy dug the hole, leveled the ground and we assembled Shay’s palace with hand tools (those of you who possess the latest power drill really need to feel the wonderful sensation of a screw grabbing into wood under the influence of a big, beautiful hand auger). It was a joyful experience and we were very proud of our labors. The second picture you see accompanying this dispatch is our youngest son staring with what I hope is amazement at the result (sans roof).
A few days later Dan, Shay, Jonah and Sofie arrived, hiking in with us on a beautiful day. Our triumph in revealing the privy was somewhat overshadowed by Shay’s discovery that a statement I had apparently made assuring her that the camping area was “open,” perhaps evoking a nice big Wisconsin prairie field in her mind, was patently false. This was an understandable miscommunication on my part; after all I am an Adirondack type and so “open” to me means I found a twenty-square-foot area in the woods for a tent that is actually sort of flat and sort of clear of trees. You can find such openness on Lost Brook Tract if you look very hard. But despite the fact that Dan and Shay spent an afternoon terraforming a tent site, the visit was perfect. The kids had a great time throughout, the weather was spot on and the privy was a star performer – as was Shay, who in all seriousness was wonderful throughout a truly wild back country experience.
I know you are reading this dear… be careful: these kinds of adventures are catching.
Photos: Assembling Shay’s Privy, and the The Finished Product.
The wonderful thing about entering the primeval forest is that you feel it before you really see it. This has been my experience in old growth forests in other places but it is heightened at Lost Brook Tract because of the elevation gain and the remoteness, both having their own attendant sensations that add to the overall effect. Or perhaps it is heightened because I love the Adirondacks more than any place I’ve ever been. Whatever the underlying reasons, it is a powerful feeling.
I haven’t noted exactly where it happens, but somewhere on the way up the bushwhack route the forest changes as one moves beyond the territory that was logged in the early part of the twentieth century. Continuing on into the virgin forest a completely immersive feeling descends. I can’t put it into words very well but I want to say that it is a weight, an immensity, some combination of sight, sound and smell that presses in. Every time I come into the area of Lost Brook Tract I experience a sense of awe, of hushed breathing, even a tiny spark of fear. This is followed by a distinct and exquisite sense of beauty. My wife Amy describes it as being swallowed up. » Continue Reading.
It was New Year’s Eve 2010, our first visit to Lost Brook Tract, just two days after we had closed on the property. I was standing in four feet of snow, contemplating potential trouble. I had bushwhacked down from the small plateau that marks the low point of our land, trying to get a feel for the ridge upon which it lay so that I could solidify the route in my mind.
My family and I had been guided in by Vinny McClelland the first time and on the way I had a noted couple of tricky spots. I was glad for the deep snow that provided sure tracks back to camp for at that moment I stood at one of those locations that raises the pulses of off-trail adventurers. » Continue Reading.
It was Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, 2010. I had driven through the night to make it to the Adirondacks from my home in Madison. I had to see for myself the amazing opportunity I had stumbled upon while browsing around on the web. I was already tired, unknown territory lay ahead, and there I was, face to face with one of the most imposing natural wonders in all the Adirondacks: Vinny McClelland.
No doubt many Almanack readers are familiar with Vinny, but if you don’t know him he is the owner of The Mountaineer in Keene Valley among other vocations and he is intimately involved in the community in a plethora of ways. Amy and I have come to have great affection for Vinny. He is a “salt of the Earth” kind of guy: capable, authentic, generous of spirit.
We also find Vinny to be – and I can’t think of a better way to say this – hard core. Vinny has this way of looking at you, a certain sort of sizing-up. It is not egotistical and it isn’t judgmental of your worth as a human being, but it is as if to decide whether you know what you are doing. Either you do or you don’t, either you make the cut or not. Vinny knows what he is doing. I don’t really know how many things he is expert at: mountaineering, skiing, building, guiding, landscape engineering, exploring… it’s a long list. Vinny knows the Adirondacks; for example he knows that if you are going on a day hike four miles into the wilderness on no sleep, off trail, in new territory, in winter conditions, with two hours of daylight, two thousand feet of climbing and a lot of ice… well, either you know what you are doing or you don’t. Probably you don’t.
At the moment Vinny was looking at me with what I would describe as a level of skepticism. From what he had to go on at that point I didn’t blame him.
Amy and I had been daydreaming, searching on real estate sites for small houses we might buy on the cheap and fix up over several years before eventually fulfilling our long-held plan of moving to the Adirondacks. One such MLS search produced a list that included a sixty acre parcel with a picture that showed a beautiful, densely forested mountain view. These are the sorts of listings I have learned to ignore seeing as I am not a multi-millionaire. But the asking price of this acreage was unbelievably low, far less than any other listing I’d seen except for those that turned out to be poor or recently cut-over land. The picture sure didn’t make it look like it was poor land. How was this possible?
Incredulous, I called the realtor whose site I had been using and asked her to contact the listing agent with a few basic questions. When she called back to tell me that the parcel held mature timber and views and was embedded in State Wilderness I was stunned. Apparently the price was low because the tract was inaccessible, with no road or trail to it and no possibility for development. In other words it was perfect! It was the embodiment of my life-long dream to own wild land in the heart of the Adirondacks, a dream I had never once considered could become reality.
I was seized with the kind of fear one gets when a miraculous opportunity seems too good to be true. In the unlikely event that the land was anything like it was being represented, then to a value system such as mine it was priceless. Surely there were like-minded people who would covet such a piece of wilderness and be all over this offering. I was sure it was already gone. The realtor called me back: no, it wasn’t sold but an offer was imminent.
Time was of the essence. I decided to be rash. It was Thanksgiving week and my college classes were not in session. I consulted with Amy, she agreed and I headed for the driveway with a pair of boots and a sleeping bag.
On my way through Illinois the realtor called to discourage me from coming out as the offer was expected at any moment. Besides, she said, the listing agent told her that the land was “difficult to get to” and that the last potential buyer he had sent back to look at it “got lost” and never made it. This sounded better and better by the moment. “Too late,” I said, “I’m already in the car and on my way.”
We arranged to meet at 1 PM at a café in the nearest town after which I would hike to the land. In the meantime the listing agent continued to express his concerns. He provided her with a map containing GPS points on the route in. “I hope he has a GPS,” he said. “There is snow up there,” he warned, “It’s off trail.” I assured her that I was experienced.
No doubt harboring a healthy measure of reserve, the listing agent decided to attend the meeting too. I have since speculated on what his thought process must have been… “Here is some guy who lives in the Midwest. He’s driving through the night to look at a piece of land without having the slightest idea what he’s getting into. He’s probably a lunatic or an idiot; I’d better see for myself…”
By now you have guessed the name of the listing agent. Vinny McClelland is also a real estate professional. He typically represents marquee properties but as fate would have it he was selling this little forgotten swath because he had a personal connection to it going back years. He is one of the few people in the world who has actually been there.
It was nearly 1:30 PM before we got started with our meeting. Vinny had assembled an impressive packet on the parcel with a name on the cover: Lost Brook Tract. I asked some questions. Vinny seemed anxious for me to go. He reminded me that late-November days are short, that there was snow up high and a lot of ice. “Do you have gear?” he asked. I said that I did (I had boots, after all). I asked another question or two. “You need to get going,” Vinny urged. “Do you have GPS?” I replied that I never used GPS (I can’t stand the idea of it). At this point I could tell that the “idiot” assessment was prevailing. I decided to play an assurance card. “Vinny,” I told him, “My most recent bushwhack this summer was Allen to Redfield,” knowing full well that not a lot of people try that one. I wanted to think it helped a little but Vinny showed no outward sign that he was impressed. Now that I know him better I think that saying I’d just done the North face of Eiger might have helped more.
In any case, off I went. The way up was indeed icy and progress was slow. I did not get all the way there – at least I never saw his flagging – but I did bushwhack to a small outcropping on the way with a view of the parcel from a short distance. It looked beautifully forested, dark and dramatic, utterly wild. I was enchanted.
I returned to Madison. We made an offer, prevailed somehow and closed on the property two days after Christmas.
On the afternoon of December 29th Vinny took us up to Lost Brook Tract, following an old bushwhack route he first took as a child. For two miles it was easy, relatively open woods and a gradual climb. At the halfway point near a pair of huge boulders Vinny paused for a moment to inform us that the route got “gnarly” from there. The snow deepened, the forest thickened and the grade became formidable. Our snowshoes were subpar, our packs were heavy and we fell well behind. After an exhausting climb we came upon Vinny sitting at an old lean-to, contentedly enjoying a late lunch. He told us he admired our family for doing this, wished us a happy new year and bid us farewell.
We had arrived in a winter paradise. The first thing we all noticed was the snow-draped spruces towering overhead. Some looked to be more than eighty or ninety feet in height, something I’d never seen at this elevation in the Adirondacks. We were filled with wonder at the sight of them. “I think this is old-growth forest,” I whispered. We dug through four feet of snow, pitched our tents and make a fire pit. The temperature dropped to twenty below.
We spend two magnificent days. We explored the immediate area and the interior of the partially collapsed lean-to. We made our way down to Lost Brook, frozen and under a sea of snow. We uncovered part of an original fire ring and for a time got two fires going. Just before leaving I blazed a tree by the brook so as to be able to find the land again. We hiked out on our own, following the snow trail we had made going in. I thought of all the writers of old from my tattered copy of the Adirondack Reader. I recalled their reverent descriptions of the primeval and the wonder of discovery with a new understanding. This is what it is like.
One of the most romantic characteristics of Lost Brook Tract is that hardly anyone has ever been there. This is not a wishful abstraction; we know it to be true. Fascinated by having found it to be old growth forest when we first visited it, I plunged into a research project to find out everything I could about the land.
Remarkably, the record is complete enough to paint a fairly thorough picture of its history. I was able to assemble a detailed chronology that shows Lost Brook Tract was simply missed by the surprising volume of human activity that occurred in the park, to the point where it is likely only a handful of people have ever walked on it. I find this a very compelling idea. It is incredibly romantic to imagine that in wandering through it I might set foot on some part where no one has ever trod. But is this a characteristic I am justified in preserving?
In last week’s post I offered my rationale for writing these dispatches. However I see now that what I presented was incomplete. Shortly after it posted one reader wrote a comment that this endeavor seemed self-serving, “praising the Park and its availability to all at the same time he is enjoying his secret hideaway with one of the few stands of old growth, no visitors allowed, thank you.” I think this is a valid criticism. I thought so before he wrote in. In fact I have been troubled by this very issue and it is one of the reasons I decided to write these dispatches.
It did not occur to us initially, but my family and I find ourselves deliberating a serious and difficult question about Lost Brook Tract that is an analog of the larger dispute over the Adirondack Park itself: how do we strike a balance between our interests, the interests of the public and the interests of the woods themselves? This is a challenging problem in ethics and aesthetics – that I used the term “primeval aesthetic” in my previous dispatch is no accident. Perhaps I should enlist the help of the Almanack’s resident Philosopher, Marianne Patinelli-Dubay, but in the absence of her input let me share a little bit about how we have tried to sort it out.
First, there are what I would describe as the two extremes. At the one extreme we simply deny access to anyone other than family and keep a shotgun handy to ward off any trespasser who ignores the signs that say “Posted.” This is easy enough to do. All it requires is a typical embrace of the centuries-old European cultural heritage of private property rights. Whatever one might think of this heritage (and it is a bloody one), it has prevailed in almost all the civilized world. From this view there is no debate at all: property ownership is sacred, especially land. This is the case with Lost Brook Tract: we have a deed, you cannot set foot on it without our permission, end of story.
I think most people would recognize this as the default condition (perhaps absent the threatening shotgun, but consider that this right is so sacrosanct as to give me the justification to shoot a trespasser to defend my property). If so, how can I characterize it as an extreme position? My answer to that has to do with context. It is fashionable to think in absolutes these days, especially with respect to political and social rights and morality. But absolutes are never universal. “Thou shalt not kill” seems about as defensible an absolute as there is. But it is beholden to context, lest we rule out war, the death penalty, self-defense, doctor-assisted suicide and even food consumption. As concerns property rights, absolutes are uncommon in practice. The average suburban homeowner makes multiple levels contextual distinction with hardly a thought. Consider a handsome stranger on your property without your permission. If he walks onto your front lawn will your authority as land owner engage at the same level as if he walks to your front door? Through the front door into your living room? Into your bedroom? At night?
Even if we have the force of law and cultural norms entirely on our side it seems to be a problem of context if we choose not to share Lost Brook Tract at all. Virgin forest is a precious and rare resource that is potentially of great importance to others. To hoard it while trumpeting wilderness values raises the damning specter of elitism.
At the other extreme we open the land to all. We go further: recognizing its unique value to the world at large and having preached about the importance of the primeval experience we invite all the readers of the Almanack to come up for a visit, describing its location and the route in, attaching a map and giving out GPS coordinates.
Obviously this is no balance either. For one thing we did not purchase Lost Brook Tract without a good share of self-interest on behalf of ourselves and our heirs. While we like to think we’re as altruistic as the next folks we’re not ready to entirely give up those interests, which include solitude among other things. But of course there is another competing interest in the mix, that of the land itself. Advertising it to several tens of thousands of Almanack readers risks what makes it valuable in the first place. Sixty acres is not a whole lot of land. If one percent of the Almanack’s readers came out to camp in a calendar year the land would be irrevocably damaged.
As always, that leaves the middle ground. How do we sort it out?
Our thinking has proceeded from the idea that Lost Brook Tract’s uniqueness and importance is directly due to its inaccessibility. The idea that a visit to such a place should be earned by effort and skill is not uncommon in the wilderness ethos. But this implies that it can and should be earnable. Therefore we decided to achieve our balance by allowing people to earn the experience of the land on the land’s terms. We’ll give up the romantic notion that no one should walk on it but we’re not going to make it any easier to get to.
Here’s how this has translated into practice.
First, we did not post Lost Brook Tract. Barring a disastrous series of incursions we never will. Instead we have a visitors log posted in our lean-to. The log welcomes hunters, hikers and campers. It has rules that we require visitors to follow; those rules are designed to protect the land. We allow use of the lean-to but not the gear we have stored there. We prohibit camping elsewhere. We allow fires in the fire ring, but only during hunting season and winter. Other rules are consistent with DEC wilderness regulations
Next, we have advertised Lost Brook Tract to important people in the political and environmental spectrum of the park who we think should know about the forest and see it. Several have already visited. We have invited an Adirondack-based ecologist who is currently doing research on old growth forests to come and conduct field work on the land.
Finally, we’re writing about it, for reasons already given. We do so knowing full well that makes it a potential destination for an enterprising reader. If someone really wants to find Lost Brook Tract they will. We have to trust that such an effort would be made with reverence for the land, for its wildness, and that the hike in, compass in hand, would earn it.
We welcome any comments or ideas on this balance.
Photo: Long Pond, in the Saint Regis Canoe Area (Courtesy Wikipedia).
Lost Brook Tract is a miracle both modern and ancient. Steeply situated on a high ridge in the central Adirondacks, miles from the nearest road and with no trail to it, it is a sixty-acre swath of Adirondack territory virtually unknown to all but a handful of people. That it exists today, an utterly unspoiled piece of high mountain boreal forest tracing unbroken lineage all the way to the ice age, can only be explained as a remarkable accident of fate.
As it turns out, that is indeed how it is explained. In future posts I’ll tell that story, how this little jewel came to be spared and saved from the debilitations that were suffered by most of the Adirondacks. For now it is simply there, a virgin forest never logged, never burned, largely spared even from the depredations of acid rain. Surrounded on all sides either by strict conservation easements or by New York State lands designated as Wilderness, it is in the fullest sense primeval. » Continue Reading.
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