State officials felt they had no choice but to kill an injured moose that had been hanging out in the Ausable River in Wilmington Notch, according to David Winchell, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“The primary factor was its deteriorating condition,” Winchell said this morning. “It was not able to move out of there on its own, and the likely outcome would have been its death anyway.”
The bull moose showed up last weekend in a steep ravine on the West Branch of the Ausable. Over the next several days, motorists would stop to gawk at the animal, creating a traffic hazard along the narrow Route 86 corridor. On Saturday, a DEC wildlife technician shot the moose with a paintball gun to try to get it to leave. Although favoring its left leg, the moose was able to move into nearby woods. At the time, DEC thought the animal stood a good chance of recovery. » Continue Reading.
The Ausable River Association will host a Ride for the River bike ride on Sunday, September 16. The event will include a 37-mile scenic bike ride following the river from headwaters to lake designed to raise awareness of issues affecting the Ausable River’s vital natural resources and raise funds for the Ausable River Association (AsRA), a local organization that stewards the watershed’s resources and connects communities around protection of the river.
Ride for the River will start near the source of the Ausable East Branch by the Ausable Club and follow the gentle path of the river valley to conclude with a picnic on the Main Stem at the famous Ausable Chasm. For the more adventurous, a ride back to start will accomplish a total of 74 miles. The Ride has an intermediate grade along the river and is entirely on state roads, the majority of which have wide shoulders. A portion of this route is used in the Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon. » Continue Reading.
This Thursday, August 16 beginning at 1:30 PM there will be a public tour of the river restoration project now taking place along the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene Valley.
The tour will be at Rivermede Farm. For more information, contact Dave Reckahn of the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225, [email protected], Corrie Miller at the Ausable River Association, [email protected] or Dan Plumley at Adirondack Wild’s regional office in Keene, [email protected]» Continue Reading.
Located near Au Sable Chasm, the Au Sable Bridge in itself is a child’s playground. After coming out of the woods from a hike we passed through Clinton County via Route 9 when both my children yelled for us to stop the car.
The water rushing over the falls is breathtaking so we pull over at the nearby parking area and go for a stroll. I watch my kids run across with snowball in hand to toss over the side.
I am leery of heights, to put it mildly. I can climb mountains and sit on the edge of a cliff but my brain is never at ease on a manmade object of any significant height. This highway bridge that spans the gorge dates from 1934 so my children are quick to reassure me of their safety. (What about me?)
We find out this isn’t the first bridge near this spot. The earliest bridge was built in 1793 of logs and located about one mile downstream. Various other wooded bridges were built but consumed by flooding or rotted from the mist from the falls. In 1890 a one-lane iron bridge was erected and can still be seen upstream from the 1934 stone bridge.
The current bridge’s most distinguishing features are the 212’ steel arch span and the concrete arches faced in local granite and sandstone. My children’s eyes start glazing over with the history lesson. They always amaze me with their ability to retain information while acting disinterested only to parrot back information later to their friends.
For now they just want to watch snowballs drop and disappear into the rushing waters of the Au Sable River. According to the Au Sable Chasm website the Route 9 bridge was the main route that connected the northern communities such as Plattsburgh and Montreal to the southern sectors like Albany and New York City before in the Interstate was built in the mid 60s. It is said that remnants of the original railroad bed foundation is underneath the existing bridge but I wasn’t about to peer over the side to look for it.
Burlington College students, under the direction of their instructor, Adirondack Almanack editor John Warren, will conduct Oral History interviews to record the Tropical Storm Irene stories of Jay and Keene residents on Saturday, December 3rd, at the Keene Community Center, (8 Church Street, in Keene), between 10 and 4 pm. The public is invited to share their stories; the resulting oral histories will be added to the collections of the Adirondack Museum. Participants can schedule a time on December 3, or walk-in anytime between 10 am and 4 pm. It will only be necessary to spend about 15-20 mins at the Community Center where participants will be asked a number of questions about their experiences with Irene and will be provided an opportunity to tell the stories they think are important to remember about the events of this past late-summer.
To schedule your participation contact John Warren via e-mail at [email protected] or call (518) 956-3830. The public is invited. Walk-ins are welcome.
One of the more amazing statistics to emerge from Tropical Storm Irene was that the East Branch of the Ausable crested at 18.43 feet in Ausable Forks—three feet higher than the previous record and more than eleven feet above flood stage. The river’s flow peaked at fifty thousand cubic feet per second, a hundred times greater than normal.
Just a few months after the record storm, the U.S. Geological Survey is warning that it will be forced to discontinue most of the streamgages in the Lake Champlain basin on March 1 unless funding can be found to keep them going.
Throughout New York State, the USGS plans to discontinue thirty-one gages, including nine in or near the Adirondack Park. (The USGS uses the spelling “gages” rather than “gauges.”)
The gage that measured the record crest on the East Branch of the Ausable is not on the chopping block, not yet anyway. However, one nearby that is at risk has been in operation for more than eighty years, longer than any of other gages scheduled to be discontinued.
“We’ve got eighty-two years of records at this site. It is important for determining how flows are changing over time,” said Ward Freeman, director of the USGS New York Water Science Center in Troy. The center’s website contains real-time data from rivers throughout the state.
Streamgages measure the height and flow of rivers. Data are used to predict floods, calculate nutrient pollution, assess conditions for paddling, and determine when it’s appropriate to put lampricide in tributaries of Lake Champlain.
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, warned that without stream data, riverside communities will find it more difficult to protect themselves. “We won’t know what the changes in a river’s height and volume are, and as a result we can’t plan for flooding events,” he said.
In the past, many gages were funded through congressional earmarks, but lawmakers eliminated the earmarks a few years ago to save money, Freeman said. He added that the USGS needs $134,000 to keep the nine North Country gauges operational. (Each gage costs about $15,000 a year to operate and maintain.)
Eight of the gages are on rivers that feed Lake Champlain. Besides the Ausable, they are the Great Chazy, Little Ausable, Salmon, Boquet, Mettawee, and Putnam Creek. The ninth is on a narrow part of Lake Champlain itself near Whitehall.
Gages on another dozen rivers in Vermont that feed Lake Champlain also are scheduled to be shut down. Four others were discontinued in October.
This year, USGS was able to keep the gages on Lake Champlain tributaries running only after obtaining financial assistance from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Freeman said he hopes the Lake Champlain organization and other interested parties can come up with money again.
“We’re going to do all we can to save these gages,” Freeman said.
Eric Howe, a technical coordinator for the basin program, said the non-profit organization will do everything it can to keep the gages operational, but it’s too early to tell if the group will have enough funds. Last year it spent about $150,000 to keep the gages running.
“The gages were extremely important during Tropical Storm Irene,” Howe said. “They helped us see what the tributaries were doing in the flooding.”
Thanks to a gage on the Winooski River, he said, farmers were able to round up volunteers to harvest crops in advance of floods.
Freeman is asking those willing to contribute funding for the gages to call him or Rob Breault at 518-285-5658 or email [email protected]
Click here to read the Adirondack Explorer’s comprehensive coverage of Tropical Storm Irene.
Photo by Ken Aaron: a high-water line near Ausable Forks.
How much rain fell during Tropical Storm Irene? Seems like an easy question, but it’s not.
The National Weather Service relies on volunteers to collect rainfall, and given the variance in rainfall and the finite number of volunteers, there are bound to be gaps in the data record.
For the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Nancy Bernstein created a rainfall map based on the Weather Service’s own maps. It shows that more than seven inches of rain fell in Keene, Jay, and Au Sable Forks. But how much more? The Explorer’s publisher, Tom Woodman, measured eleven inches at his home in Keene. » Continue Reading.
Landowners and volunteers are being sought to participate in planting trees along river and stream corridors in the Ausable River Valley on Friday, October 14. The tree planting will be part of an event to kickoff a new program to restore and protect river and stream corridors in the Lake Champlain watershed by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Landowners with property along the Ausable River, either of its branches or any their tributaries that need trees along the river and stream banks can receive free trees from the DEC Saratoga Tree nursery planted by volunteers. The trees will shore up eroded stream banks, protect property from flood damage and improve wildlife habitat. Volunteers are being sought to join federal, state and local officials in planting trees along stream and river banks. Volunteers will meet at Marcy Field along Route 73 in the Town of Keene at 10 am on October 14. Refreshments will be available at that time. After hearing about the new program and receiving encouragement and instruction from officials, volunteers will be assigned to teams and plant trees under the instruction of a team captain. DEC and others will be providing transportation for volunteers and the trees.
The tree planting will wrap up by 4 pm, or when all trees or sites have been planted. Volunteers do not have to stay until end, they can plant for as much time as they desire. Volunteers are asked to dress properly for the being outside and the weather conditions for that day as the event will take place rain or shine. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots will be needed. Volunteers should also bring the following items:
* Work gloves; * Shovel (if possible, there will be some shovels available ); * Water bottle; * Snacks (if desired); and * Lunch (if you plan to work into the afternoon).
Landowners and volunteers are encouraged to contact their local town office or the DEC (897-1291) before close of business Thursday, October 13, if they plan to participate. In the Town of Keene contact Supervisor Bill Ferebee at 576-4444, and in the Town of Jay contact Supervisor Randy Douglas at 647-2204.
The Lake Champlain conservation projects are part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative and these conservation projects are receiving $1.3 million dollars. On October, 12 the Obama Administration is releasing a report which details how AGO is opening up access to lands and waters, restoring critical landscapes, and supporting thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. The report outlines combined conservation and recreation successes, including gains in youth employment, new trail designations, the creation of urban campgrounds, and historic investments in large landscapes from Lake Champlain to the Florida Everglades.
Photo: A recent Ausable River tree planting volunteer effort (Courtesy Ausable River Association).
Carl Schwartz, US Fish and Wildlife Service and John Braico, NYS Trout Unlimited will lead a walk of the Ausable River on October 24 focused on rebuilding and repairing streams effected by flooding. Funds recently secured by the Ausable River Association (AsRA) for restoring tributaries damaged during Irene flooding are being considered for allocation.
Both Schwartz and Braico have worked extensively throughout New York to repair rivers and restore aquatic habitat. Schwartz works actively on river restoration projects and operates an excavator to build natural channels. The Ausable River Association and the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District are inviting and encouraging Citizens, Town Council members, Town DPWs, County DPW, DOT, DEC, and NonGovernmental Organizations to attend.
Date: October 24, 10 AM; Meet at the mouth of John’s Brook at the Rt. 73 bridge in Keene Valley; 2 PM Meet at the Gazebo in Ausable Forks.
“It is unfortunate that dredging has proceeded without any guidance from river experts who could provide natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat,” stated Carol Treadwell, Executive Director of the Ausable River Association (ARA).
Natural stream dimensions? Bankfull? Pool depth? Riffle spacing? What is this, a how-to manual? A certain amount of assembly required? Or a level of river awareness and fluency that any floodplain community had better strive for? It is understandable why the small streams and rivers in this heavily damaged region of the Adirondacks (twice this year) may be viewed as marauding aliens and enemies which require a serious “talking to” by backhoe. The human and community impacts of the flood are enormous and gut wrenching.
Yet, post World War Two we keep building in floodplains, whether we know we are or not. A favored textbook reads: “The average annual flood damage nationwide… has continued to increase… The use of flood-prone land continues to rise faster than the application of measures to reduce flood damages. This continues to be one of the foremost challenges to land planners – finding ways to control the use of flood-prone areas, and ways of requiring those who seek the advantages of use of floodable areas to assume a fair proportion of the financial risk involved in such use” (Water in Environmental Planning, by Thomas Dunne and Luna Leopold, 1978).
Carol’s quote was submitted for a news release issued this week by a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals who live in these communities, along with a letter to Governor Cuomo seeking an end to floodplain management by bulldozer, and a meeting to assess how best to respond to the altered nature of these waterways in ways that are mindful of people, property, stream health, aesthetics and tourism on which so many of these towns and Essex County depend.
Carol denotes an apparent lack of “river experts” and related oversight of the heavy earth moving equipment moving about our region’s streams during the Governor’s month-long emergency authorization. The Ausable River Association has spent years studying the Ausable. Similarly, the Boquet River Association on the Boquet. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency know something about the behavior and morphology of rivers and floodplains. NYS DOT has environmental experts who know how to manage highway rights of way without taking a proverbial two by four to the environment. So, where are they? It was good to read that the Essex County Board of Supervisors is calling on these experts to help them assess and, if necessary, adjust the in-stream work as may be necessary. Governor Cuomo should have had his environmental experts in the field overseeing any stream work a month ago.
Yet, our state agency experts and field managers at DEC, APA, DOT still seem unable to respond in a coordinated, effective fashion, despite the fact that the Emergency Authorization issued by NYS DEC on that fateful Sunday, August 29 states: “This Authorization hereby allows emergency work to occur in navigable waters, streams and wetlands regulated under Environmental Conservation Law Article 15 and Article 24. The work hereby allowed must be immediately necessary to address an imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources. All work carried out under this Authorization must be conducted in a minimally invasive manner, consistent with the goals of the restoration work. Non‐critical work is not allowed by this Authorization. All work must be undertaken in compliance with the conditions below.”
The emergency authorization and all conditions for working in the rivers is found at the DEC website. Based on what Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild has observed, many of these conditions are being violated every day, but this assumes that the equipment operators understand the conditions, and that DEC is on-site to explain them, which it appears not to be.
There is probably a strong difference of opinion whether the work to date has been “minimally invasive” and necessary to address imminent threat. At the same time, the workers in the streams and their supervisors are doing all they can with the information and resources at hand. Which gets me back to Carol Treadwell’s quote: “natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat.”
What is she talking about? I return to and quote from Dunne and Leopold’s Water in Environmental Planning (1978). Rivers construct their own floodplains, laterally migrate, and deposit lots of sediment in the process. Over a very long process of movement the river occupies each and every position on the flat valley floor, with the river moving laterally by erosion on one bank and deposition on the other. That is the meander that rivers want to achieve as their way of expending energy most efficiently. In fact, really straight stretches of river (absent human channelization) are rare “and seldom does one see a straight reach of length exceeding 10 channel widths.”
Yet, the river does not construct a channel large enough to accommodate flood stages. The bankfull stage referred to by Carol “corresponds to the river discharge at which channel maintenance is most effective, that is the discharge at which moving sediment, forming or removing bars, forming or changing bends and meanders, and generally doing work that results in the average morphologic characteristics of (river) channels.”
The authors Dunne and Leopold continue: “It is human encroachment on the floodplains of rivers that accounts for the majority of flood damage. Because it is a natural attribute of rivers to produce flows that cannot be contained within the channel, the floodplain is indeed a part of the river during such events. It is therefore important that planners know something about these characteristic features, and thus possibly counteract to some degree the emphasis placed on flood-control protection works. More logical is flood damage prevention by the restriction of floodplain use.”
In short straight sections in between meanders, stream pools and riffles alternate in consistent ways due to the creation of gravel bars on the convex side of a meander. “The distance between successive bars averages five to seven channel widths.” The alteration of steep (over the riffles) and less steep water (over the pools) is characteristic of rivers, as is the fact that meanders are steeper than the average straight section. I think this is the “pool-riffle spacing” Carol is speaking of. She may be suggesting that in-stream work should seek to maintain this kind of pool-riffle spacing, and ensure that stream slopes are not severely altered.
The worst thing to do, according to Dunne and Leopold, is to severely shorten a river channel with consequent change in channel gradient. “An imposed change of river slope can cause an instability quite irreversible in any short period of time, and is the most difficult change to which a stream must adjust.” It appears this is exactly what heavy equipment operators did to Johns Brook, and may be doing to other stream sections.
The authors’ conclusions may be ones which Governor Cuomo, DOT, DEC, APA, and Essex County should pay particular attention to: “Among the potential costs or disadvantages accruing from channel modification are: 1. Channel instability or effects of channel readjustment to the imposed conditions; 2. Downstream effects especially increased bank erosion, bed degradation or aggradation; 3. Esthetic degradation, especially the change in stream biota and the visual alteration of riparian vegetation, and of stream banks and channel pattern or form.”
Photos: Johns Brook, Keene, before and after channel dredging and grading by state-funded heavy equipment, photos by Naj Wikoff.
It is heartening to know that Governor Cuomo has twice visited Keene Valley, and other Adirondack communities so hard hit by the hurricane. And to see that Rt. 73’s rebuilding in St. Hubert’s, and along its corridor to Lake Placid has become a high state priority. Clearly, the Governor is doing his utmost to release emergency aid for homes, businesses, roads, bridges and other critical needs.
I am puzzled, however, by the instinct in this Governor to order that environmental permits from agencies like the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency be waived. Governor Cuomo announced August 30 that “government needs to do all it can to help devastated communities and homeowners get back on their feet,” but that doing so also means that government must “get out of the way and allow for quick rebuilding and restoration.” It is as if those DEC or APA permits are fifty-foot high obstacles to getting reconstruction or restoration work done, and have absolutely nothing to do with the quality, effectiveness or durability of the work. It is as if DEC and APA field personnel want merely to push papers as obstacles to cleaning up and restoring the communities in which they and their families also live and work. It is as if government is there to only throw money, but not good, experienced minds, at emergency situations. It is as if the quickest action in an emergency is assumed to be the best action.
I disagree with those premises. I don’t think recent history in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would suggest that the quickest action in an emergency is always the best action. Both DEC and APA staff, for instance, have demonstrated an ability in the past to issue permits from the field, and rapidly in emergency circumstances while influencing decisions which, from an environmental, engineering, economic and other perspectives may save time, money, labor and environmental quality in the short and longer-term. For example, emergency work done in a stream or river bed, or along its banks can be done in ways which appear to help the situation in the short-term, but which actually make matters far worse downstream in the mid or longer-term. Both DEC and APA, as well as the Ausable River and Boquet River Associations and others, are trained and knowledgeable in how rivers work in general and particular (fluvial dynamics), enough to offer practical as well as prudent permit advice which addresses both the immediate and longer-term problem. Where and how to reconstruct may not be as much about butting heads as it is about adding heads from varying disciplines to reach better decisions. APA and DEC staff should be part of that mix.
Of course, Governor Cuomo and his aides might have thought that there are so few DEC and APA regional permitting staff that it would be near impossible to get field involvement or permit decisions made in a timely fashion to address the emergencies across DEC Region 5. If so, I think that sells his own state personnel short. The efficient teamwork at DEC Region 5 and at the APA has been tested often by storms of all kinds in this and past decades, and performed remarkably well – and there has never been a decade I have seen where DEC or APA had enough staff – and there never will be one.
Furthermore, local governments and agencies attempting to reconstruct want clarity about what is required or expected, as much as any regulated business wants to know what is expected of them. The Governor’s announcement of the waiver of permits may have the unintended consequence of injecting confusion into an already confused situation. It cautions that reconstruction, restoration and other work should be sensitive not to unnecessarily harm or damage natural resources. For instance, would a town supervisor or engineer find clarity or confusion in the following words contained in the Governor’s press release:
“Permitting for construction and repair projects in these areas is suspended. When possible, work should be undertaken in consultation with the DEC to ensure that the project will be carried out in a manner that will cause the least adverse impact to natural resources. To consult on environmental impacts in the wake of Hurricane Irene, individuals and businesses may contact the Regional Environmental Permits Office.”
Local government might be forgiven if it misinterpreted these words as “DEC will get out of the way, but rest assured, I had better call them, they sure as heck won’t be calling me, but their eyes will be burning into the back of my head.”
Wouldn’t it better to have the clarity and certainty of regulators working in the field with the authority to both consult on difficult restoration and reconstruction work and to issue field permits for reasonably well thought-out solutions that take environmental conditions into account?
The Governor’s statement releasing communities in this emergency from the burdens of government regulation perversely also contains the following regulatory language: “In an effort to keep overall cleanup costs to a minimum and to reduce the overall impacts from the disaster debris it is important that those conducting the cleanup be mindful to separate out those waste materials which are benign or exempt from regulation, such as tree branches and limbs, from other more environmentally concerning debris during the cleanups. Care should be taken to set aside such materials as household hazardous waste, gasoline containers and propane canisters and other regulated solid wastes that would require special handling.”
In general, I think that waiving environmental permit requirements in an emergency like this in the Adirondack Park, with all the cautions and caveats thrown in, is
• unnecessary to getting good work done reasonably quickly
• insulting to knowledgeable, experienced DEC and APA regional permitting staff
• conducive to making quick decisions that may have negative consequences
• inimical to a place as important as the Adirondack Park
I hasten to add that I am ready to be proved wrong or ill informed, and that DEC and APA staff are actually in the field helping their local counterparts where help is needed or requested, with or without permits in hand. I also hasten to add that the Governor’s press release also may have contained helpful information that “DEC is also providing general assistance and guidance to help local communities address damaged facilities, debris disposal and solid waste. DEC has developed guidance for storm-related waste from damaged areas. Responsible parties should contact the DEC regional office for specific project applications.”
Following a spring of historic flooding and two minor earthquakes, the Adirondacks has been slammed by the remains of Hurricane Irene leaving behind a changed landscape, isolated communities, disastrous flooding and epic damage to local infrastructure, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and trails.
Damage from the remnants of Hurricane Irene is widespread across the Eastern Adirondacks from Moriah, which suffered extensive damage during the spring flooding that had still not been repaired, to the entire Keene Valley and into the Lake Placid region. Trails in the Eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain wilderness areas have been closed through the Labor Day weekend. The bridge over Marcy Dam has been washed away and the Duck Hole Dam breached. » Continue Reading.
What follows is a special report by Tom Woodman, publisher of Adirondack Explorer, who resides in Keene.
I live in the Town of Keene just outside the hamlet and so I had an idea of how damaging Irene was. Starting with our rain gauge, which measured 11 inches of rainfall from the storm and including seeing the shower of pine branches brought down on our house by the winds, it was clear we were in the middle of something bad.
But it wasn’t until I grabbed a camera and started surveying the area on Tuesday morning that I understood what we had experienced.
The hamlet of Keene is an astonishing and deeply saddening sight. The fire station has been torn in half by rampaging waters of a tributary of the East Branch of the Ausable. Buildings that house the dreams of merchants and restaurateurs, who have brought new life to Keene, are battered, blanketed in mud, and perched on craters scoured out by the flood waters.
I headed east on Route 73, which has been closed to traffic, to see what damage I could reach and how bad it is. In Keene Valley, shops had piles of merchandise outside for drying and cleaning. Before I got to the road-closing near the Ausable Club, I parked near the entrance to and headed out on foot to explorer St. Huberts, a small community tucked on the banks of the East Branch. It’s badly hurt. A bridge that carried the one road over the river is collapsed into the waters. Upstream the river has cut under a house, leaving an addition and part of a garage hanging in air. The roadway is buried in mud a foot or more deep and trees and utility poles lean at sharp angles.
From the west, Route 73 is closed at the entrance to the Ausable Club. Parking there, I again set out on foot. Within sight of that entrance are two washouts at least four feet deep and chewed most of the way across the two-lane highway. One has Roaring Brook tumbling through it, the river having changed its course during the flood so that it now flows where the highway is supposed to be.
Several other washouts eat into the highway between the Ausable Club and the overlook for Roaring Brook Falls. A couple cut deeply into at least half the width of the road. Others are slides at the edge of the highway. Guard rails dangle over these, the ground that had held them, resting fifty feet or more below them in the river’s valley.
I’m not qualified to estimate how long it will be before this road, the major entry to the High Peaks Region from the south, will reopen. But it seems months away at best.
Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, assured us this afternoon that despite the heavy damage Route 73 will reopen before winter. That’s good news for Keene Valley, Lake Placid, and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area. Breen said DOT expects to reopen Route 9N, which connects Keene and Upper Jay, in a few days.
For news on the storm’s damage to the backcountry, check out these posts on the Outtakes blog on the Adirondack Explorer website (the most recent is listed first):
Johns Brook (the apostrophe fell away long ago) is said to have been named for John Gibbs who lived at (or at least owned) the spot where the brook enters the East Branch of the Ausable in about 1795 (about where the Mountaineer stands today in Keene Valley).
The trail from the Garden Parking Area to Mount Marcy, on which Johns Brook Lodge sits, is said to have been laid out by Ed Phelps, son of legendary Keene Valley guide Old Mountain Phelps. Known primarily as the Phelps Trail (but also called the Johns Brook or Northside Trail), the route also serves as the northern boundary of the Johns Brook Primitive Area. The Primitive Area is one of four DEC management units (the High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Canoe Route, and Ampersand Primitive Area are the others) that make up the High Peaks Wilderness Complex [UMP pdf]. » Continue Reading.
What follows is a story of some young men from Albany learning to fly fish on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and who for the first time experience the pull of the river, its rocks and pools, a trout on the line, and in their hands. I start with some background.
When Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve organized one year ago, we decided to seek out non-traditional allies and educational partners in our efforts to broaden aware, informed support for wild nature. One of those partners is Brother Yusuf Burgess of Albany. For many years, Brother Yusuf has been helping young urban youth to discover discipline, teamwork, self-awareness and self-worth in the great outdoors. As often as time and funds allow, Yusuf brings youth from Albany to the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley and beyond to learn outdoor skills such as boat-building, fishing, skiing, camping. He understands young people and the streets. He has walked their walk.
A former counselor at the Albany Boys and Girls Clubs, Yusuf is employed as Family Intervention Specialist with Green Tech Charter High School. He is an experienced kayaker and fisherman, founder of the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation, and is also New York’s representative on the Children and Nature Network. For several years, Yusuf worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to recruit more children and families of color into DEC’s Summer Campership program. His successful efforts to create teen “eco-clubs” in urban America have been noticed at home and internationally, and he is widely sought as a speaker. Some of the young men and women whom Yusuf influenced have gone on to professional careers, and some have returned to help Yusuf mentor today’s teens.
Yusuf and his students are featured in the acclaimed 2010 documentary film, Mother Nature’s Child (Fuzzy Slippers Productions, Burlington, VT), which explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development. To quote from the film’s promotional materials, “The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall childhoods of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today.” For more, go to www.mothernaturesmovie.com.
Recently, Yusuf brought six young men from Albany’s Green Tech Charter High School to learn fly fishing from Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley, to apply what they learn on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and to camp out at Dan’s oak grove in Keene. Yusuf had each boy equipped with fly rod, poncho, and camping gear. Dan worked tirelessly to improve their casting technique, where the thumb and tip of the rod work together to drop the fly where it wants to be – right where the hatch is rising and the fish biting. Few other sports require the wrist and shoulder to be so still. Slowly, with Dan’s careful guidance some of them got the feel for it.
On the river, Dan explained about the Forest Preserve and its significance, and taught the boys that this particular section of the West Branch was a “no kill” conservation area, where fish are “catch and release” only. He showed them how to tie a fly, how to hold the hook to avoid being punctured, and how to read the river for the best places to fish.
One boy got in the waders, took Dan’s favorite rod, and immersed himself in the life of the West Branch. Completely absorbed, he moved upriver to an unoccupied pool, casting by himself. About 2 pm, we heard him. He had a trout on his line! His friends joined him as he unhooked a nice brown trout, proudly held it for the cameras, and released it. This was one of many special moments where these young men exchanged self-consciousness for independence as they explored a completely new and challenging outdoor world.
As other fishers left a pool unoccupied, Dan moved the group to that very spot and found that within minutes the trout were rising to a hatch, perhaps the black flies which were beginning to harass us on the bank. Dan positioned the young men for success, but their casts were just falling short of the constantly rising fish. Finally, Dan took his rod and practice-cast upstream, and then dropped the fly perfectly. After several attempts, he had a trout on the line. He called for one the boys to bring it in slowly and very soon in their hands was a handsome, small brook trout which tolerated a photo-shoot, and then shot from their hands back into the river: a magical conclusion to the afternoon’s “edventure,” a term Yusuf uses frequently.
Back at their camp in Dan’s oak grove, the boys settled in to tend and watch their camp fire, joke and laugh, and also to think on the day and what they had accomplished. “I am thinking about how far I am from home right now,” said one young man very quietly as he stared into the fire’s light. I knew he was not merely referring to road miles, but to inner miles. Next morning, Dan asked another about his overnight experience. “It was my first time camping, and it was extremely fun!”
It is remarkable to see how Yusuf works with these young men who, without the guidance and opportunities for growth he provides, might easily fall under many negative influences close to their homes. Yusuf participates in their camaraderie, knows these young men, and knows how to bring out their best qualities, put them to work, and to earn their respect. I am pleased we are playing a small role in Yusuf’s determined campaign to transform the lives of several generations of urban youth through exposure to nature in the wild Adirondacks.
Photos: Brother Yusuf Burgess with the young men he brought with him to the Ausable; Brother Yusuf; Dan Plumley coaches from mid-stream; Trout in the hand.
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