Almanack Contributor Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Skiing To High Rock on the Oswegatchie

Sue Bibeau, and her dog, Ella (Bibeau photo)Earlier this winter, after several long days in the office, I went to bed dreaming of my first backcountry ski trip of the season, a jaunt to High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Conditions would be perfect. Over the last few days, we had received eight inches of fluffy powder.

Then I woke up. Outside, it was twenty-four below zero, according to my Weather Channel app. Like any sensible person, I immediately broadcast this fact to Facebook. A few people suggested I postpone my trip.

“I have skied at 20 below, but I was 14 and foolish. Stay home, for god’s sake,” posted a former colleague.

But most of my Facebook friends were surprisingly indifferent to the possibility of my freezing to death.

“Burrrrrr & Enjoy!” wrote one. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Backcountry Skiing: Fresh Snow, But More Needed

Evergreen-flats-web-600x4143We got several inches of light snow over the weekend, so I went to the Jackrabbit Trail on my lunch hour Monday to check out the ski conditions. I skied the two miles from McKenzie Pond Road to McKenzie Pond. The woods were beautiful, with fluffy snow adorning the branches of the evergreens. The trail looked nice, too.

Unfortunately, there was little or no base underneath the fluff. For the most part, this was not a problem. In several places, though, roots and rocks lurked beneath the surface. The diciest spots were on two small downhills on the return trip. Both sections have rocks. I took these slowly. If the trail gets skied and the snow scraped off, I imagine the downhills will get worse. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Green Groups Say NYCO Drilling Would Violate Law

plumley lot 8Earthjustice, an environmental group that specializes in legal issues, contends that NYCO Mineral’s plans to drill for wollastonite samples in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area would violate several state laws and regulations.

Earthjustice, headquartered in California, stakes out its position in a January 17 letter to state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, written on behalf of Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club, and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation. These environmental groups oppose NYCO’s plan to expand an existing mine onto the Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 13, 2014

DEC Plans To Dismantle Marcy Dam

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Tropical Storm Irene damaged Marcy Dam, draining most of the pond behind it, hikers debated passionately whether the dam should be rebuilt to restore an iconic vista enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors over the years.

It looks like it won’t be.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently decided to dismantle the wooden dam in stages over the next five years.

DEC spokesman David Winchell said the cost of rebuilding the dam to modern standards would have been too costly and may have conflicted with the management principles for the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Those principles seek to minimize the presence of man-made structures. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 13, 2014

On Old Beer Cans: Artifacts Of The Trail

Mike-Jarboe-600x3193On Thursday I skied to Burntbridge Pond deep in the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest. About four miles from the road I came across a historical artifact: an old Black Label can hanging from a branch.

It reminded me of a humorous essay by Mike Jarboe, “Happiness in a can,” that we published in the Adirondack Explorer in 2000. Mike wrote about scavenging for old beer cans at a dump below Death Falls near Raquette Lake. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Western Adirondacks Best Bet For Nordic Skiers

The view this morning from Baker Mountain outside Saranac Lake.The Tug Hill region east of Lake Ontario got clobbered by a lake-effect snowstorm Tuesday.  I was hoping we’d get a decent snowfall in Saranac Lake, but we received only a little more than a dusting. The woods on Baker Mountain looked pretty this morning, but they would have made for ugly skiing.

The western Adirondacks, however, picked up several inches of fresh snow.

Chris Tapper, business manager of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company in Old Forge, said the Old Forge area got about five inches of light snow. The area now has about eight inches on the ground, and Tapper said most trails favored by Nordic enthusiasts should be skiable.

“Wider skis are going to be the tool of choice, because it’s light, fluffy snow,” Tapper said.

Rick Kovacs, owner of the Wanakena General Store, said Wanakena area received about six inches of snow Tuesday on top of a two-to-three-inch base. He said skiing should be good on most trails. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 6, 2014

New State Lands: An Explanation and Analysis

The Essex Chain (Nancie Battaglia)After months of public debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Adirondack Park Agency voted in December to prohibit motorized recreation on most of the former Finch, Pruyn timberlands the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy a year ago.

The unanimous decision will create a 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness and ensure that the quiet of the remote Essex Chain Lakes will not be disturbed by motorboats. Under the APA plan, the lakes will be the centerpiece of a 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Green Groups Question Aspects Of Classification Decision

snowmobile-bridge-600x432Three green groups are taking the Adirondack Park Agency to task for failing to provide an analysis of the environmental impacts and legal ramifications of its classification of forty-two thousand acres of state land in December—including twenty-two thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn land purchased from the Nature Conservancy.

At its monthly meeting, the APA board voted unanimously to create two motor-less tracts, the 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area and 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, with a snowmobile corridor (classified Wild Forest) running between them.  (You can read about the decision in the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer.)

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Issue Of ‘Explorer’ Analyzes Essex Chain Decision

Explorer Cover January 2014We’ve just finished the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Our lead story is a lengthy analysis and explanation of the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of the former Finch, Pruyn lands—one of the agency’s most important, controversial, and complicated decisions of recent years.

My reporting for Adirondack Almanack—six stories in the week before the decision—laid the groundwork for the Explorer story, but the print article pulls it all together and adds quite a bit of new information. Fittingly, the Explorer will publish the article on the Almanack as well.

The Finch, Pruyn package takes up five of the newsmagazine’s sixty pages. Besides the main story, it includes two sidebars, several photos, a large color map, and a chart. The issue also contains an editorial in support of the APA’s decision–but with reservations.

What else is in the January/February issue? We won’t tell you everything, but the contents include stories about: » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Brown: NYCO Overcame Aversion To Proposition 5

800px-2013_Adirondack_Land_Exchange_MapNYCO Minerals spent $662,000 to secure passage of Proposition 5, whereas opponents of the measure spent hardly anything. Yet the proposition passed by a fairly narrow margin, earning only 53 percent of the vote.

Opponents of Prop 5 have portrayed the ballot battle as a David-versus-Goliath confrontation in which David almost won. The assumption is that, despite spending almost no money, the little guys persuaded 47 percent of the electorate to vote against the proposition.

There is some truth in this, but the bigger picture is more complicated. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pigeon Lake Wilderness:
A Ski Refuge in Snowmobiling Country

cascade lake near inlet map by Nancy BernsteinLast winter, a former colleague got in touch to see if I wanted to go skiing in the Inlet area. Not one to turn down a chance to ski or catch up with a friend, I suggested we do the loop around Cascade Lake in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness.

We agreed to meet for lunch at the Hard Times Café in Eagle Bay, a few miles west of downtown Inlet. When I arrived, just before noon, the restaurant was packed with snowmobilers. I felt a little out of place in my cross-country-ski boots. Tim, who lives south of Utica, walked in about ten minutes later. He couldn’t find a space in the lot, which was largely occupied by snow machines, so he had to park across the road. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Hudson River Rafting Owner Fined $25,000

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe owner of Hudson River Rafting Company has been fined $25,000 for sending customers on whitewater trips without a licensed guide—violating a court order just a few days after reopening his business following earlier legal troubles.

Supreme Court Justice Richard Giardino found Pat Cunningham, owner of the North Creek business, guilty of contempt of court, in a decision dated December 3.

Hudson River Rafting sent customers on trips with an unlicensed guide at least five times in July and August. In each instance, the guide put in the river at railroad tracks near the hamlet of North River. The rapids there are not as big as in the Hudson Gorge, but the first part of the trip takes place on a stretch of river where state law requires companies to provide licensed guides.

» Continue Reading.


Friday, December 13, 2013

APA Approves Finch, Pruyn Classifications:
Hudson Gorge Wilderness, Motorless Essex Chain Lakes

FULL SIZE - APA Essex Chain Lakes Recommendation MapThe Adirondack Park Agency voted unanimously today to approve a staff recommendation to create a 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area and a 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area on lands once owned by the Finch, Pruyn paper company.

The vote climaxed a year of work that included public hearings, which elicited thousands of comments, and negotiations between state officials and various stakeholders.

Underscoring the importance of the decision was that Basil Seggos, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary for the environment, drove up from Albany to attend the APA’s meeting.

» Continue Reading.


Friday, December 13, 2013

APA Votes Today On Finch, Pruyn Classifications

FULL SIZE - APA Essex Chain Lakes Recommendation MapThe Adirondack Park Agency board will vote today on a staff recommendation to create a 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area and a 9,894-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, two motor-free tracts separated by a snowmobile corridor that will enable riders to travel between the hamlets of Indian Lake and Newcomb.

The indications are that the board will approve the recommendation. At public meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, none of the eleven board members raised serious objections to the proposal. Most of the discussion and questioning concerned details. Board members spent the last part of Thursday’s meeting refining the wording of the resolution they will vote on today.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Unanswered Questions About Essex Chain Proposal

FULL SIZE - APA Essex Chain Lakes Recommendation MapThe Adirondack Park Agency began deliberations Wednesday on the classification of 21,200 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands, with staff members explaining why the agency’s staff settled on a Primitive classification for the Essex Chain Lakes. However, some questions were left unanswered.

The staff had considered proposals to classify the Essex Chain as Wilderness, Canoe, and Wild Forest. As reported earlier on the Almanack, the staff rejected the Wilderness and Canoe designations largely because local towns own the floatplane rights to First Lake, which is part of the Essex Chain, as well as Pine Lake, which is located a mile and a half south of the chain.

“The presence of floatplanes landing and taking off would detract from the sense of wilderness,” Kathy Regan, a senior natural resource planner, told the APA board.

» Continue Reading.