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.
I confess to being a groupie of the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike, a 19th century transportation artifact that ran from Lake Champlain 75 miles inland to an outpost in the northern Adirondack foothills.
A lonely ribbon through the wilderness, significant mileage exists today exactly as it did in 1833 when it was completed. It tiptoes through the lovely community of Loon Lake and bobs and weaves its way past the underappreciated Loon Lake Mountain trailhead.
North of that, it passes the entry to Debar Pond Lodge, a site of consequential history and, over time, three major lodgings, the last of which, built in 1940, still stands. Perhaps most notably, the land in the late 1800s was owned by the son of a German brewer who planted a record-setting 300 acres in hops.
Call it reverse ageism, but I have concluded that breaking trails after a heavy snow is a job for younger people. This, after slogging up Blueberry Mountain in Keene last year through 14 inches of fresh powder. I made it to the top, but it was work, and as the late Junior Sample said on Hee Haw, “work, that just kills me.”
So with that in mind, I set out to take advantage of the recent snowfall by visiting a trail that I figured was certain to be well trod. The Cobble Lookout Trail in Wilmington is only eight years old. And it’s a lesson in the speed at which an Adirondack trail can go from undiscovered to popular to a quarter mile hike along the road just to get to the trailhead.
I’m currently editing a manuscript by a North Country native whose views on climate change have been shaped both by his role as a military scientist and by extensive time in the woods beginning as a boy in his father’s Adirondack hunting camp.
Among the delightful vignettes is a bone-chilling recollection of the fireworks and ice palace on the shores of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. Was the forty-five minute show worth the ensuing six hours it took to get back some semblance of inner warmth? But of course.
Construction will soon be underway for this year’s ice palace, but going forward one of the more interesting angles of the work may be lost. In the past — interrupted by the pandemic — much of the work has been performed by inmates of the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility.
We had been instructed to bring snowshoes, which we did out of a sense of honor, but on the first day of 2022 there was really no need. We would be tramping over skinny snow, the Weight Watchers version of the real thing, the typical plump mounds and drifts reduced to an unhealthy parchment stretched thin to cover what it could of stones, stumps and tufts of grass.
Because I had snapped a photo of the thermometer at the time, social media was good enough to remind me that on the first day of 2018 the temp was 24 below. So the 37 degrees registered by the car thermometer in the Visitor Interpretive Center parking lot at Paul Smith’s College represented a 61-degree swing for which we were not entirely ungrateful.
The sprawl along Corinth Road west out of Glens Falls is about what you’d expect — shopping centers, convenience stores, government offices, subdivision signs advertising “huge lots.” Nothing for a bear or a bobcat to see here.
And why would it be otherwise? This is inside a population center and outside the Blue Line, although just barely. Yet to conservationists, the low mountains of the Palmerstown Range in Saratoga County represent a rare opportunity for plant, animal and human alike.
Indeed, said Jamie Brown of the Open Space Institute, wildland connectivity from southern Vermont into these Adirondack foothills and the Adirondacks themselves is an important goal of multiple organizations that see value in stitching together and protecting long-distance corridors of forestlands.
Adirondack communities have always been resourceful; they’ve had to be, necessity being the mother not just of invention but of 180-degree course corrections. When there were no longer enough children to support the Inlet Common School, community members turned it into a learning venue of another sort, where community members of all ages will share their expertise with others.
Similarly, Adirondack towns have customarily squirreled away a few hundred acres that they logged every so often to earn a few bucks to make up for a paucity of state support. But now, some of these towns, such as Keene and Lewis, are discovering these lands have more value as recreational venues.
As the Adirondack region looks for solutions to overcrowding some of these towns are recognizing that they can help by luring hikers away from trails that resemble mosh pits with roots.
Endemic to the Adirondack Park are a number of brilliant birders and I’m pretty sure they all roll their eyes when they see me coming, because I’m not much good with biological IDs of any kind, and I’m always peppering them with dopey questions like, “What bird is small, black and white and has a song that kind of goes ‘chickadee-dee-dee.’”
It might not have been the biggest Halloween trick in the history of the Adirondacks, but as Dizzy Dean would say, it was amongst ’em.
For years, if not decades, ’dak-o-philes had drooled over the prospect of paddling Boreas Ponds, a Shangri-La (blackflies notwithstanding) that stood out even in a park filled with natural wonders.
Locked away by timber interests longer than anyone had been alive, then subject of a lengthy, impassioned battle over access, the Gulf Brook Road finally opened to the ponds in the fall of 2019 — and was promptly washed out six weeks later on Halloween by a monster rainstorm.
I 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.
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.
Dugan said the county, with a $750,000 state grant and a $250,000 match, is building a shed to keep its stores of sand under roof. Before it’s stockpiled, salt has to be mixed into the sand to keep it from freezing into unspreadable chunks. Dougan said the shelter will keep the sand dry, and greatly reduce the ratio of salt to sand.
Dugan said he would also like to be allowed to cut trees in the highway right of way to let in the ice-melting sun, but even though environmentalists agree this is an important strategy, in the Forest Preserve that’s not allowed.
“I certainly feel an obligation to carry through with his mission, and I feel like Wilmington is leading change in the North Country,” Holzer said. Smart salt law can strike a balance between safety and the environment, while saving taxpayer money by reducing the need to purchase salt, he said.
A relatively quiet summer hiking season in the High Peaks wrapped up with a zany holiday weekend that, according to Town of Keene officials, included jammed trailheads, full shuttles, lost children, a dog bite and, why not, a group that wanted to parachute from a helicopter onto Marcy Field (they were told this might not be the best weekend for it).
When the air is crisp and the leaves are the color of lollipops and hikers descend on Keene Valley like seagulls on a sub, thoughts in this quarter inevitably turn to Cranberry Lake in the Adirondack’s northwest quadrant.
Cranberry Lake in the autumn has the feel of an outpost on civilization’s edge — a port from which the last ship has sailed for the year, leaving behind a skeleton crew of people to keep systems operational through a long dark winter.
There’s nothing secret about it; the town sends out email alerts whenever it happens. The Department of Environmental Conservation allows it, up to a point. If there are too many rain storms and too many overflows, the town is fined because, well, you can’t assess a fine on God.
Ticonderoga is not alone. A half century ago, communities saw no reason not to mix sewage and storm water and send it all to the treatment plant, and that worked until more development led to more effluent, which in time exceeded sewer-plant capacity.
The Ticonderoga story has a happy ending, however. Within the next few weeks the town will “throw the switch” on an $8 million project primarily designed to separate storm water from sanitary sewer effluent. The storm water will be channeled into a “day stream” that is dry except in times of high water. It will receive some basic treatment for removal of trash and litter before being diverted to the river. The rainwater will not go through the treatment plant, which will be freed up to do the job in which it was intended.
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