I saw it on Route 28 just west of McKeever. It was definitely feline. You could tell by the way it crouched next to the guardrail, looking like it wanted to spring across the road. And it was big.
“A cougar!” I shouted.
By the time my passenger looked, the cat had retreated to the other side of the guardrail and was ambling away from the road.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says wild cougars (also known as mountain lions, panthers, and pumas) have not lived in the Adirondacks since the nineteenth century. The agency concedes that cougars are spotted on occasion, but it insists that they are released pets. Last week, DEC denounced as a hoax a rumor that a cougar had been struck and killed by a vehicle in Black Brook. » Continue Reading.
My first backpacking trip was on an abandoned trail.
It was around 1981 or so, and my uncle Evan Bergen of Grafton was keen to take his girlfriend and me on a two-day trip in late November to Cliff Mountain, one of the trail-less high peaks. And he wanted to do it on a trail that had been closed – a route that was originally called the East River Trail.
At the time, I hadn’t realized that my first attempt at backpacking would involve a wet snowstorm, a low of zero degrees, crossing bridge-less rivers on boulders glazed in ice or a snow-covered fallen log, bushwhacking skills and no actual view. Hey, what did I know of backpacking? Included in my external-frame backpack were a full box of raisins and a pair of binoculars – I had not yet realized how heavy a backpack gets after a half-day of walking. It was an Experience. Traveling along part of that route several weeks ago – as reported here – got me thinking about that old trail. Why was it closed? Did anybody miss it?
So I called Tony Goodwin, executive director of the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, to see what he knew about it.
Turns out the trail was once the primary southern route into the High Peaks. It followed an old road, made of logs, built to accommodate winter logging sleds. The road was built around the 1920s, about the time that the state acquired much of the land from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (which once owned 40,000 acres and some of the state’s highest peaks).
When hiking became popular, this was the main hiking trail in. Later, the ghost town of Upper Works became the main southern route in via the Calamity Brook Trail, and the longer East River Trail fell into disuse. Goodwin says the trail was closed around 1980, not long before I hiked it.
“There were long stretches of sidehill bridging and corduroy,” he said. “And those were finally collapsing. The DEC didn’t feel there was any reason to restore those bridges or cut lengthy reroutes around them.”
I can certainly speak to the corduroy. On the second day of our hike to Cliff – we made it far as the height of land before the short day forced us to turn around – I was constantly slipping on the trail. Not because I was becoming hypothermic, as my uncle suspected, but because my rubber “Micky Mouse” Army surplus boots kept slipping over the snow-covered logs of the old roadbed.
My 1962 copy of the ADK’s Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peak Region, describes this trail in the dry prose of the day. The trail at the time departed from Sanford Lake, closer to the Tahawus Mine, and not at the present-day parking lot near the old blast furnace. “The footing is quite treacherous, especially in wet weather, due to slanting, slippery corduroys,” the book even warns (a warning that, apparently, my uncle chose to ignore).
Reading about it today, I’m amazed to see that what took us a day and a half of walking was only eight miles (but there was those slippery rocks and logs, and Lynn did fall into a stream at one point, and then there were those damn raisins, which I didn’t even eat, and those binoculars, which I didn’t even use …).
It also got me wondering about other lost trails. Goodwin spoke of a few in the High Peaks, including some ski trails around Whiteface built for the 1932 Olympics, and a now-defunct route to Dix near the current trail from Route 73. There’s also the trail from Mt. Van Hoevenberg to South Meadow, now closed due to blowdown and a bridge that was washed away, but Goodwin says efforts may soon be underway to reopen it.
Elsewhere in the park there are other ghosts of trails. A 1930s-era map from the North Creek area shows dozens of miles of ski trails used by those who took the Ski Train up from Schenectady, now either part of Gore Mountain Ski Area or lost to roads or overgrowth (several routes still exist that follow the historic routes — one even goes by a 1930s shed for a rescue toboggan).
Further to the south, a route to the top of tiny Cathead Mountain near Northville was lost due to a dispute over private land access.
Do readers know of other abandoned trails? Should the state bring some of them back?
One of the perks of living in the Adirondacks is the lunch-hour hike or ski. In winter, I sometimes ski with sandwich in pocket to Oseetah Marsh. From Route 86 on the outskirts of Saranac Lake, I follow a trail through a pine forest for a half-mile to the edge of the marsh and then ski across the marsh. The marsh has fabulous views of nearby peaks, including McKenzie, Scarface, and the Sawtooth Range. The trail through the forest and across the marsh happens to be a snowmobile route. This would not be noteworthy except that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan identifies Oseetah Marsh as a “Special Management Area.”
All told, the plan lists eighty-nine Special Management Areas, selected for their scenic beauty or their geographical, natural, or historic significance. It’s kind of an odd list. For instance, seventeen summits were selected for their scenic beauty. I’ve been up all but two. They all have nice views, but there are other mountains with equal or better views. Why these seventeen?
Twenty-six places were singled out for their natural significance. They include patches of old-growth, two mountains (in addition to the other seventeen), a few bogs and marshes, and one pond—Church Pond. Of the three thousand ponds in the Adirondacks, what’s so special about this one?
The master plan gives the state Department of Environmental Conservation the authority to draw up management guidelines to protect these areas and, where appropriate, to install interpretive signs.
I wondered what special management Oseetah Marsh receives. I also wondered why, if this marsh is so special (it was chosen for its natural significance), snowmobiles are allowed to ride through it. I don’t know if the snowmobiles are doing ecological harm, but the machines do emit oil and gas.
As it turns out, Oseetah Marsh receives no special treatment. But DEC spokesman David Winchell said the agency will consider special guidelines as it draws up a management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest (the marsh lies within the Wild Forest tract).
As far as I can determine, few of the eighty-nine Special Management Areas receive special management. The High Peaks Wilderness Area, for example, contains more than a dozen Special Management Areas. Most receive no mention or only incidental mention in the 336-page unit management plan for the High Peaks.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the list of Special Management Areas was drawn up in the early 1970s by the APA and DEC. He said the purpose of the list is not only to provide management guidelines, but also to publicize these treasured places.
“It was to identify areas of the Park that are really magnificent,” he said, “so people can enjoy them and visit them.”
But my guess is that few people are aware of the list of Special Management Areas in the back of a rather obscure state document. Indeed, it seems to have escaped the attention of officialdom as well.
Photo by Phil Brown: snowmobile tracks at Oseetah Marsh.
Today we were going to list the Ten Most Influential Adirondackers, based on input from you, the Almanack readers. We’ve decided to keep nominations open for one more week (please make your recommendations here). In the meantime, one of you suggested, “How about the Adirondacks’ ten biggest asshats? . . . [T]hat’s one discussion I’d like to read.”
So, scroll through for a list of ten all-star Adirondack jerks and a-hats, in no particular order. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Council has announced that is has filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court in Albany against the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) over their plan to site snowmobile trails in wild areas.
Last fall the Adirondack Council asked the APA to reject DEC’s proposed snowmobile trail plan saying that it was an attempt to keep wide snowmobile trails deep inside the Forest Preserve rather than move them toward the edge of public lands, closer to existing travel corridors. » Continue Reading.
The Wright Peak Ski Trail is a testament to the lure of down-mountain skiing in the backcountry despite the existence of lift-service resorts.
Cut in the late 1930s, the trail switchbacks down the northeast side of Wright, providing a thrilling and challenging descent through a beautiful forest. After World War II, the trail fell into disuse and became overgrown, but in the late 1980s, Tony Goodwin and other backcountry skiers received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reopen it. The trail is now featured in David Goodman’s guidebook Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The problem is that the ski route ends after a mile and joins the popular Algonquin Peak hiking trail. This means skiers must descend a few miles on trails often crowded with snowshoers. It seems like an accident waiting to happen. The snowshoers probably don’t like this any more than the skiers do.
What most snowshoers don’t realize is that this section of the Algonquin trail was once part of the ski trail. In those days, hikers went up Algonquin by a separate trail located a little to the north. In the early 1970s, however, DEC closed this trail and moved hikers to the ski trail. Since then, the old ski trail has been maintained with hiking in mind: water bars have been dug, rock steps have been created, brush has been laid down to narrow the passage—all of which makes the trail less suitable for skiing. What’s more, hikers have eroded the trail and exposed boulders that create dangerous obstacles.
Goodwin has come up with what seems like a sensible solution: reopen the old hiking trail for skiing. Under his proposal, the old hiking route would be clipped to its original width. Eroded sections would be filled with logs and brush. The trail would be smooth when covered with snow but remain gnarly enough to discourage hiking in other seasons. As it is, some hikers continue to use the old trail, causing erosion.
“We want to improve it for skiing but make it less desirable for hiking,” Goodwin told the Adirondack Explorer last year. “That would be a win-win situation.”
Goodwin said the volunteers would do all the work to reopen and maintain the trail, so it wouldn’t cost DEC a penny.
Yet DEC has scotched the proposal—not because it’s a bad idea, necessarily, but because it would require an amendment to the High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan. DEC doesn’t want to revisit the High Peaks plan until it finishes the UMPs for other Forest Preserve units.
Given DEC’s chronic shortage of staff, however, it will be years, perhaps more than a decade, before the other plans are done. DEC was supposed to complete all the unit management plans in the 1970s, but more than thirty years later, we’re still waiting on a dozen or so. In addition, DEC is writing recreational plans for vast tracts protected by conservation easements.
In short, we all could be dead or in retirement homes before DEC gets around to evaluating Goodwin’s proposal—if it ever does.
The same goes for proposals for trails in other parts of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council has talked for years of extending the Jackrabbit Ski Trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. DEC won’t rule on this until it completes the management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. When will that be? No one knows.
One purpose of the management plans is to ensure that trails are not approved willy-nilly, without due forethought to their impact on the Forest Preserve. But the system is broken. Because DEC lacks the staff to write these plans, proposals wither on the vine or languish for decades. Surely, there must be a way for DEC to evaluate worthy ideas more quickly without neglecting its duty to protect the Preserve.
Perhaps there are sound reasons for rejecting Goodwin’s proposal for the Wright Peak Ski Trail, but it deserves a hearing.
Photo of skiers on Wright Peak by Susan Bibeau/Adirondack Explorer.
In response to last week’s post on leg-hold traps, the wife of the trapper who inadvertently snared a bald eagle earlier this month sent the following comment today, run here in full:
“I’ve made coonskin hats our of hides we tanned ourselves. So now for the rebuttal from the trapper (my husband) who caught the eagle (and in fact played a big part in the rescue). Ranger Eakin cut a pole and with the help of Deputy Wilt lifted the trap drag off the branch so that the eagle could fall to the ground where my husband and I were waiting with the net that we threw over the bird to keep him from flying off again. The bird was so cooperative as to flip over onto his belly on the blanket Eakin provided so that we keep him off the snow, and cover him with the blanket we provided. Having caught his own finger in the same trap we know that it doesn’t break bones or do any damage in and of itself.
“It didn’t even really hurt so the traps are as gentle as is possible. In over 30 yrs. of trapping the only animal he’s ever seen chew off it’s leg was a muskrat that the trap failed to drown. And having caught many rats missing legs – they recover and live just fine without it. He’s never had anything other than a squirrel or rabbit that was caught in the trap become a meal for a predator – and that’s natural. Nobody should be commenting on the trap set because nobody ever looked at it. The carcass was buried, although the coyote that was also caught the same time exposed part of it.
“There are two types of traps, leg grippers and body grippers (conibers). Instead of complaining that leg grippers should be outlawed (leaving only body grippers available for use) you should realize that an animal caught in a body gripper is dead when the trapper arrives – a much worse situation for the dog, cat, eagle who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Caught a dog and a cat this year in different leg grippers. They were released without injury to grateful and understanding owners. Dog was off leash, owner accepted responsibility. Cat belonged to a former trapper. Most domestics don’t run off and fight the trap (which causes some pain) rather they lay there and wait for assistance. Ever stepped on your dog’s toe? Probably more painful than the snap of the trap jaws.
“Oh, and the eagle was released two days after being rescued. And the rehabilitator told the ECO on scene that this was the first eagle in a trap she’d seen in 15 yrs as a rehabilitator. So let’s direct that righteous indignation toward all those abused and neglected domestic animals in our communities rather than making such a big deal out of a once in a lifetime mishap that had a happy outcome – no permanent injury and a happy reunion with his mate, who happened to have been waiting nearby while he was in the tree. And an awesome memory to have had my hand a mere few inches from his majestic head.
“A truly magnificent bird with no fear, nor anger toward the humans I’m sure he knew were trying to help. Just an amazing calm and patience in those all-seeing eyes that commanded respect. And to think I’ve heard mention that our national bird was almost the turkey?”
The DEC has announced that is has opens the gates on snowmobile trails on Adirondack Forest Preserve lands in Franklin County. According to an announcement provided by DEC, the agency “typically waits until there is a foot of snow cover before opening the gates in order to protect the trail surface, the riders and natural resources adjacent to the trail.”
Franklin Snowmobilers Inc., the group that maintains the snowmobile trails under an “Adopt a Natural Resource” agreement with DEC, are expected to have the trails cleared early this coming week. Until they have finished clearing and grooming the trails, riders should be cautious of blowdowns and other trail obstructions. » Continue Reading.
New York State has officially closed its investigation of the July 5 sewer break that spilled thousands of gallons of sewage into Lake George and closed Shepard Park Beach to swimmers for the remainder of the summer.
But according to a consent order drafted by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Lake George Village must agree to complete millions of dollars worth of improvements to the Village’s wastewater collection system if it is to avoid $10,000 in fines and other enforcement actions. The Village’s Board of Trustees has not yet authorized Mayor Bob Blais to sign the consent order, said Darlene Gunther, the Village’s Clerk-Treasurer.
“The board is awaiting notification that the Village has received a grant that will help pay for the improvements, said Gunther.
“Once we receive the grant, we’ll sign it and then go ahead and do everything that is required of us,” said Mayor Blais.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has placed Lake George Village’s wastewater collection system on a list of municipal projects eligible for immediate federal funding, said Blais.
The Village should hear within a matter of days whether it has been awarded the grant, said Gunther.
Lake George Village has also submitted an application for funds that would allow the Village to install equipment at the Wastewater Treatment Plant that would remove nitrogen from effluent, said Blais.
Even if it signs the consent order, Lake George Village will still be required to pay $5000 in fines, but Village officials hope that sum can be reduced through negotiations, said David Harrington, the Village’s Superintendent of Public Works.
In return for agreeing to improve the system, state officials will agree to forego additional enforcement actions against the Village for violating, however inadvertently, state laws prohibiting the discharge of sewage into Lake George, the consent order states.
Among other things, the DEC requires Lake George Village to repair the broken pipe that caused the sewage spill and undertake remedial actions at the pump station in Shepard Park.
According to Harrington, those actions were completed within days of the break.
Crews from Lake George Village’s Department of Public Works and the construction firm TKC completed repairs to the pump station in Shepard Park and a new section of pipe where the break occurred was installed. Village crews also installed additional alarms within the building, said Blais.
The consent order also requires Lake George Village to draft an Asset Management Plan for the wastewater system, which, according to the consent order, must include: “an inventory of all wastewater collection system assets; an evaluation of conditions; a description of necessary repairs or replacements; the schedule for repairs; costs of repairs.”
At its November meeting, the Lake George Village Board of Trustees appropriated $5000 to retain C.T. Male Associates to draft the Asset Management Plan.
According to Blais, C.T. Male associates helped develop the application for the grant that is now pending.
“We were asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s staff to establish our priorities, and our priority is to slip line every sewer line where there’s a problem with infiltration of water,” said Blais.
“DEC’s priorities, as we understand them, are the priorities we’ve established,” Blais added.
Walt Lender, the Lake George Association’s executive director, said that he had not yet seen DEC’s order of consent and could not comment on its terms.
Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, praised the DEC for requiring Lake George Village to complete an Asset Management Plan.
“This is the first step in the prevention of future sewage spills; we need to know where the flaws in the system are, and this will help identify the improvements that must be made if we’re to address the chronically high coliform counts in waters near the Village,” said Bauer.
Dave Harrington estimated the costs of improvements to the wastewater system to be $3.2 million.
DEC’s consent order requires those improvements to be completed by September, 2011.
Photo: Shepard Park in June, before the spill that closed the beach. Lake George Mirror photo.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that “a major initiative to crack down on illegal deer hunting from the Hudson Valley to the Canadian border” has led to nearly 300 charges against 107 individuals in just six weeks. Dubbed “Operation Jackhammer,” Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) focused on deer jacking, the illegal practice of killing deer at night by shining a spotlight on the animals feeding in fields to “freeze” them long enough to shoot them. According to DEC spokesperson Yancey Roy, this fall’s six-week long enforcement operation was “the largest coordinated anti-deer jacking initiative in the state’s history” and included more than 100 Forest Rangers from the Hudson Valley, Capitol Region, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. Rangers targeted rural locations, mostly in the weeks before deer season opened when DEC tends to field more complaints about deer jacking. » Continue Reading.
Two decades ago, some Adirondackers forced the state to back down from a decision to close Crane Pond Road inside the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.
A few weeks ago, I went to Crane Pond Road to take photos for a story that will run in the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer. The dirt lane became a cause celebre two decades ago when the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) tried to close it. » Continue Reading.
Since 1948 when Camp DeBruce opened in the Catskills, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has operated a residential conservation education summer camp for young New Yorkers. Four camps, Camp Colby (near Saranac Lake), at the Pack Demonstration Forest in Warrensburg, and DeBruce and Rushford (downstate), serve children 12 to 14 and also provide locations for week-long Ecology Workshops for 15 to 17-year-olds. Students who want to attend the camps can choose from one of eight weeks in July and August. They are encouraged to participate in Returnee Week, for campers who have already had the camp program. Returnee week includes special trips and activities and includes more than 200 annual returning campers. According to the DEC, “Returning campers are specially chosen for their demonstrated interest in building upon their outdoor recreation experiences and their knowledge of the state’s natural resources.”
This past week DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced that DEC and the National Heritage Trust (NHT) has established a summer camp scholarship fund in memory of Emily Timbrook (above left), a camper who attended and later volunteered at Camp Rushford in Allegany County and who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in April 2009.
The money collected through donations to the scholarship fund will be used for scholarships to send some returning campers to DEC’s summer camps for free.
Those who want to contribute to the scholarship fund to help send a young person to camp can send a check to NHT Camps, c/o Director of Management and Budget Services, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-5010.
Those wishing to make a contribution in memory of Emily Timbrook, should write “Emily” in the memo section of the check. NHT is tax exempt pursuant to Section 170(b) of the Internal Revenue Code and has been designated a 501(c)(3) corporation. The Trust will send out acknowledgment letters to donors.
Information and detailed program descriptions of the environmental education camps are available at www.dec.ny.gov/education/29.html. For additional information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518-402-8014. Registration starts in early February.
It’s 4 a.m. on a chilled morning in early June. Still three hours away from sunrise so my weak headlamp casts an eerie and unnatural glow to the trail as I pick my way through rock, stream, and unseen balsam fir branches. I’m heading to the summit of Wright Peak in the Adirondack High Peaks Region. Nearing the summit I must first stop every 250 meters from a predetermined point on my map. Here I listen for any bird song that might be heard and then record it in my notes. I chuckle as I think that it’s more like the first “yawn” I hear from these birds. Over a 30-day period myself and dozens of other crazy but doggedly determined volunteer birders are assisting an organization to acquire desperately needed information on some bird species that live on the mountains. Fast-forward to the end of June, still early morning, and I’m slogging my way through a blackfly-infested bog in the wild regions of the Santa Clara Tract. I’m nearing an area known as the Madawaska Flow. Here I’m still listening for, identifying, and counting bird species but now I’m in a completely different habitat. This lowland environment reveals new species that need to be counted for another study. » Continue Reading.
All three of Governor David Paterson’s representatives on the Adirondack Park Agency board have reversed votes made in September and opposed designation of the waters of Lows Lake as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe. By a 6-4 vote the APA had added most of the waters and bed of Lows Lake to the Five Ponds Wilderness in September. The rest of the lake was classified as Primitive, which would have prohibited motorized use. It was later learned that the tenure of one of the APA commissioners had expired and the vote needed to be retaken – that vote occurred today and ended in a 7-4 reversal of the previous decision. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Council is asking the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to reject a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed snowmobile trail plan saying that it would allow mechanical groomers on Forest Preserve land and also what the council called the “illegal widening of snowmobile trails on state owned land.”
The APA is considering today and tomorrow in Ray Brook whether the plan, known officially as Management Guidance: Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance on Forest Preserve Lands in the Adirondack Park, is consistent with provisions of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The proposed changes include the building of mechanically groomed “Community Connector” trails nine feet wide (12 at curves). » Continue Reading.
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