Posts Tagged ‘Hudson River’

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Make Way for Adirondack Turtles

Evening walks in the spring are utterly enjoyable, despite the blackflies and mosquitoes. Every trip out the door is like opening a gift: the anticipation of some wondrous thing, the joy of seeing it for the first time. Even though we expect certain events at certain times of the year (because they occur regular as clockwork), they still delight us when we see them. I suspect this is something that harkens to our primitive selves, like watching the flickering flames of a campfire.

Tuesday evening Toby and I took our walk down to the Hudson River, checking some of “my” nestboxes along the way. The sun was out and a nice breeze was blowing – almost enough to keep the insects away. We toured around the Information Center at the river’s edge, noted that the water level is back down, and then turned around, heading for home. I was thinking that fairly soon we should start seeing the wood turtles wandering the roadsides in search of good nest sites, but I figured that it was still a bit too cool, thanks to the recent cold front.

Suddenly Toby stopped, sniffing the road. We investigated the pavement, which yielded nothing that I could see, and just as I was turning back around to continue our walk, I spotted her: the first wood turtle of the season. She was on the side of the road, her back to us, standing completely still. She wasn’t very large; her carapace maybe eight inches long. I greeted her and stroked her shell, which she didn’t seem to appreciate for she tucked in her legs, tail and head, doing her best to disappear. A quick scan of the sandy road shoulders didn’t turn up any evidence of recent digging, so I’m not sure if she had already laid her eggs or if she was just starting to search for a site.

This is the time of year when turtles of all stripes emerge from the woods and waters to lay their eggs. They search for good sandy soil that is easily dug. Using their powerful hind legs, they scoop out holes and fill them with ping-pong-ball-like eggs. The soft, leathery shells allow the eggs to drop without sustaining any damage. Once they finish laying, the turtles push the sand back over the eggs, completely hiding all evidence of their labors, and then wander off to continue their lives in the woods (or waters) they call home.

But turtle survival is a tenuous thing. Temperature is important for the development of the eggs (it also determines the sex of the embryos). If the weather is cool and wet all summer, they may not develop at all. Then there are the predators. Like warm-blooded metal detectors, foxes, raccoons and coyotes sniff out turtle nests along the roadsides; when one is located, they dig it up and devour the contents. Sometimes nests are laid in sandy roadbeds only to later on be paved over by road crews. In the almost nine years I have lived here, have never seen a wood turtle hatchling. Snappers, yes, we see baby snapping turtles every year (they must be hardier souls), but never a baby wood or painted turtle.

From late spring throughout the summer I tell people to be on the lookout for turtles. If you see a turtle crossing the road, do your best not to hit it. Better yet, you can be a turtle’s best friend if you pull over and assist it in its travels. Most turtles you can pick up, gently, like you are holding a sandwich, and just carry across the road – take them in the direction they were heading and let them go. Larger snappers, however, you might want to lift with a shovel (I always have one in the back of my car – good for snow removal in winter, turtle removal in summer). And if you should find a turtle that was not so lucky, and was hit by a car but is still alive, put it in a box and call a rehabilitator. You’d be surprised what they can do with fiberglass and super glue these days!

Remember, too, that many turtles are protected by state law. This means you cannot legally collect them, either to sell or to keep as a pet. Likewise, if you should have a pet turtle, like a red-eared slider for example, never turn it loose in the wild! This is how non-native populations become established. Some non-native species are not problematic, but too many others become invasive, using up natural resources and pushing out native species which cannot compete with the aggressive newcomers.
Our native wildlife and plants are having a tough enough time surviving in today’s changing world – let’s not make things more difficult for them by introducing additional competitors.

Photo by Steve Silluzio.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Dredging the Hudson: An Illustrated Timeline of Delays

When the first bucketload of oily Hudson River muck rises today, ten miles south of the Adirondack Park Blue Line in Fort Edward, it will mark the end of a quarter century of preparation, study, legal skirmishing and no small amount of foot-dragging. Throughout, the goal has remained consistent: the removal of approximately 2,650,000 cubic yards of Hudson Riverbed sediment laced with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Here is a timeline of the delays:

September 1984 EPA formally places the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site on the National Priorities List. EPA chooses to take no remedial action, citing possible environmental risks posed by stirring up the PCB deposits. Babies born around this date will have graduated with advanced degrees in environmental sciences by the week clean-up actually begins. Unfortunately, considerably more babies will have graduated with degrees in law and public relations.

December 2000 After more than a decade of study and advances in remediation technology, EPA proposes a dredging plan to remove PCB pollution from a 40-mile long stretch of Hudson River between Hudson Falls and Troy NY. A final act of the Clinton Administration’s EPA.

(image right: In a last-ditch effort to derail the inevitable multi-million dollar expense of dredging, GE launches a PR campaign to convince the public and lawmakers to just let the PCBs be.)

August 2001 Following an extended public comment period EPA administrator Christine Whitman agrees to go ahead with the plan.

(image right: The decision by Whitman to back the dredging plan exposed a rift in the traditionally pro-industrial GOP. On the Hudson, the future of the river ran between Governor Pataki and his one-time protege Congressman John Sweeney.)

February 2002 EPA issues its official Record of Decision for a phased dredging project. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2005.

(image right: In March 2002 the EPA gets off to an impolitic start, siting the project field office in Saratoga Springs, 21 miles from the dredging site in Fort Edward. The decision is hastily reversed, prompting delays.)

October 2002 The war over cleaning up the Hudson River is eighteen years old, over twice the length of The War for American Independence.

(image right: Reenactors celebrated the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga at a Fort Edward farm belonging to a cousin of Fort Edward Supervisor Merrilyn Pulver, a dredging opponent.)

March 2003 EPA issues an adjustment to the dredging schedule to accommodate negotiations with GE on payment for and conduct of the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2006.

October 2005 EPA and GE reach an agreement on payment for and conduct of the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2007.

July 2006 EPA Region 2 Administrator Alan Steinberg cites delays in the delivery of specialized dredging equipment. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2008.

November 2006 EPA and GE agree to a Consent Decree that will begin dredging.

2008 EPA approves design of Phase I implementation plan.

Jan 2009 Modification to 2006 Consent Decree stipulating payment for clean water supplies for affected communities during the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin May 2009.

May 15, 2009 In time for the 400th anniversary of the first chronicled exploration of the Hudson by Europeans, the innovative minds that helped build General Electric into one of the mightiest industrial empires in human history have finally run out of excuses to not clean up the river. Or so we believe. . .

(Cartoons originally appeared in the Glens Falls Post-Star, and Hill Country Observer)


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dry White(water) Season

Low snowpack and scarce April showers have led to burn bans around the Adirondack Park. The drought also has river paddlers wandering, searching for streams pushy enough to float their colorful little boats.

“Whitewater kayakers are being forced into summer habits of traveling downstream, unfortunately by car, to seek water levels suitable enough to sink their paddles in,” writes Jason Smith, on Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters blog. “The Hudson River along with the Moose River, in the central Adirondacks, offer reliable spring flow and are popular spring runs. But even these mighty rivers are running lower than usual. . . . [D]on’t be alarmed if you see a vehicle loaded with short, plastic kayaks driving aimlessly around your neighborhood.”

Other Adirondack critters known to crave a good spring rain are amphibians. In Paul Smiths, in the high-elevation north-central Adirondacks where ice was still on ponds as of Thursday, wood frogs and spotted salamanders began to move on a warm rainy night about two weeks ago, observes Curt Stager, professor of biology at Paul Smith’s College. The cold-blooded creatures live buried in the forest floor most of the year, braving exposure to predators and car tires on rainy April nights to travel to the ephemeral ponds where they breed. Peepers, American toads and other frogs and salamanders also congregate at waterholes this time of year.

Showers Saturday gave creeks and rivers a noticeable boost. The last two weeks had brought snow and then unrelenting sun. “They [herps] have been dribbling around. It was an early start and then it got cut off by the dry weather,” says Stager, who studies local phenology. “Every year is a little different in the Adirondacks. You’ve got to watch it for decades to notice a real pattern.”

High/dry kayaker sketch courtesy of Jason Smith


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Homegrown Adirondack Paddle Porn

Spring = snowmelt = big rivers = paddle porn. Snowmobilers had their spread in February; now whitewater gets equal time.

Most of these linked videos were made by Lake Placid-based Split Rock Video, which travels widely for fast water and film. This ultimate crash and burn highlight reel features the North Country’s own Black and Moose Rivers alongside the Zambezi and Gauley.

Here is some “classic old school” river running.

A bad swim on the Oswegatchie River.”

An even worse day on the Oswegatchie ends with a broken back.

The conquered-but-still-insane Split Rock Falls on the Boquet River.

Creekin’ on Johns Brook, in Keene, might not look quite as hard, but what the camera doesn’t show is that small streams like these offer few exits.

And lastly, another montage for the rafters: “2007 Hudson River Highlights.”

If you want to know when flows are at optimum levels, gauge data and timing of dam releases in the Hudson and Black River watersheds can be found at the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District Web site.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region

Yesterday’s crash of a Greyhound bus near Elizabethtown reminds us of some of the tragic events that have occurred in the Adirondack region. Here is a list of the ten we believe were most tragic:

October 2, 2005 – Ethan Allen Sinking
Twenty-one people drown when the Lake George excursion boat Ethan Allen flips and sinks while turning against a wave.

1903 – Spier Falls Dam Ferry Capsizes
Sixteen men and a young boy were drowned when a ferry carrying workers capsized on the Hudson River near the Spier Falls Dam (then under construction) in Moreau between Lake Luzerne and Mount McGregor. The ferry was overloaded when high water made a temporary bridge too dangerous to use.

November 19, 1969 – Crash of Mohawk Airlines Flight 411
A twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport in NewYork to Glens Falls crashes on Pilot Knob killing all 14 onboard. The accident is blamed on downdrafts on the leeward side of of the mountain.

August 3, 1893 – Sinking of the Steamer Rachel
The Lake George excursion steamer Rachel, chartered by more than twenty guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House, is steered by an inexperienced Captain out of the channel and into an old dock south of the hotel. the old peir tears a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line and twelve were killed – many caught on the shade deck as the boat listed and almost immediately sinks.

July 30, 1856 – Burning of the John Jay
The 140-feet long Lake George steamer John Jay, loaded with 70 passengers, catches fire near the Garfield House about ten miles south of Ticonderoga on Lake George. Five die trying to swim to shore to escape the flames. The fire is blamed on an overburdened soot-clogged smokestack – the crew had kept a large hot fire in the boiler in order to make up lost time.

June 3, 1927 – Chazy Lake School Picnic Drownings
Five students, one quarter of the Dannemora High School senior class, drown when their rowboat is swamped in a squall on Chazy Lake during an interclass picnic. The only survivor is their teacher Emma Dunk, whose hand was caught in the boat keeping her above the cold water after she lost consciousness.

August 28, 2006 – Greyhound Interstate Bus Crash
Five passengers are killed when a Greyhound Bus Company’s bus No. 4014, traveling from New York City to Montreal, and making midafternoon stops in Albany and Saratoga Springs, overturns on the Northway (I-87) just before Exit 31 near Elizabethtown.

1995-2005 – Drownings at the Starbuckville Dam
A dangerous backflow whirlpool kills five swimmers at the Starbuckville Dam on the Schroon River over the course of ten years. The dam is finally rebuilt in 2005-2006.

August 12, 2003 – Split Rock Falls Drownings
Four teenagers, all ages 18 and 19, drowned at Split Rock Falls near Elizabethtown while on their day off from their jobs as camp counselors for a Minerva camp. When one fell into the water the other three tried to rescue him.

February and September 2004 – Border Patrol Checkpoint Accidents
In two separate accidents four are killed and more than 60 injured (four critically) when Canadian based buses fail to see a US Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 87 in Elizabethtown – poor signage is blamed.

We’d be interested in hearing about others.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Earth Day 2006 and the Adirondacks

In honor of Earth Day 2006, some interesting and important Adirondack related sites.

It’s still not too late to take part in this year’s Hudson River Sweep a clean-up of the Great North River sponsored by the Scenic Hudson. They even have a cool page to locate your local clean-up event. Unfortunately, the closest clean-ups in our area are down in Saratoga County. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dick Cheney and Adirondack Guide John Cheney – Same Genes?

In September 1845, David Henderson (partner in the Adirondack Iron Works and husband of Archibald McIntyre’s eldest daughter) was searching for a source of water for his iron works. The company’s engineer Daniel Taylor believed that a half-mile long canal could be built between the Opalescent River and a branch of the Hudson nearby. Henderson, his eleven-year-old son Archie, and guides John Cheney and Tone Snyder set out to investigate the area. The following year, Joel Headley, in the company of John Cheney, returned to the spot. He related the hunting accident that happened there:

We are off, and crossing a branch of the Hudson near its
source, enter the forest, Indian file, and stretch forward. It is no child’s
play before us; and the twenty miles we are to travel will test the blood and
muscle of every one. The first few miles there is a rough path, which was cut
last summer, in order to bring out the body of Mr. Henderson. It is a great
help, but filled with sad associations. At length we came to the spot where
twenty-five workmen watched with the body in the forest all night. It was too
late to get through, and here they kindled their campfire and stayed. The rough
poles are still there, on which the corpse rested. “Here,” says Cheney, “on this
log I sat all night, and held Mr. Henderson’s little son, eleven years of age,
in my arms. Oh, how he cried to be taken in to his mother; but it was impossible
to find your way through the woods; and he, at length, cried himself to sleep in
my arms. Oh, it was a dreadful night.” A mile further on, and we came to the
rock where he was shot. It stands by a little pond, and was selected by them to
dine upon. Cheney was standing on the other side of the pond, with the little
boy, whither he had gone to make a raft, on which to take some trout, when he
heard the report of a gun and then a scream; and looking across, saw Mr.
Henderson clasp his arms twice over his breast, exclaiming I am shot!” The son
fainted by Cheney’s side; but in a few moments all stood round the dying man,
who murmured, “What an accident, and in such a place!” In laying down his
pistol, with the muzzle unfortunately towards him, the hammer struck the rock,
and the cap exploding, the entire contents were lodged in his body. After
commanding his soul to his Maker, and telling his son to be a good boy, and give
his love to his mother, he leaned back and died. It made us sad to gaze upon the
spot and poor Cheney, as he drew a long sigh, looked the picture of sorrow.
Perhaps some of us would thus be carried out of the woods. He left New York as
full of hope as myself; and here he met his end. Shall I be thus borne back to
my friends? It is a little singular that he was always nervously afraid of
firearms, and carried this pistol solely as a protection against wild beasts;
and yet, he fell by his own hand… Poor man! It was a sad place to die in; for
his body had to be carried over thirty miles on men’s shoulders, before they
came to a public road.

Cheney reported that Henderson had spotted some duck and had handed Cheney his pistol to go after them. The ducks fled before Cheney could get off a shot so he handed the still-cocked pistol back to Henderson. While Cheney and Archie Henderson were going for fish, the elder Henderson laid his knapsack and gun belt on a large rock when the pistol suddenly discharged sending the ball into his side and toward his heart. The Plattsburgh Republican later reported that the little body of water where Henderson died had become known locally as Calamity Pond.

Cheney (John not Dick) was also a renowned and experienced hunter, but a reckless one. Over the dozen or so years following his arrival in Newcomb in about 1830 he reported killing 600 deer, 400 martens, 48 bears, 30 otters, 19 moose, seven wildcats, six wolves, a panther, and what he believed to have been the last beaver.

One day I was chasing a buck on Cheney Lake. I was in a canoe and had put my pistol down by my side. Somehow the pistol slipped under me and discharged, the ball striking me half way between the knee and ankle. Being 14 miles from any habitation at the time and alone, I only stopped long enough to see what harm had been done. Then I seized the oars and started after the buck again as the thought struck me that I might need that deer now more than ever. I caught up with him and made short work of it, took him ashore, dressed and hung him up. But I soon perceived that if I ever got out of the woods I must lose no time. By then my boot was full of blood and my ankle began to pain me bad, so I cut two crotched sticks and with their help I managed to get out of the woods in about eight hours. I only stopped to set down once because it was so hard to start again.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), there were 34 shooting incidents in 2004, three of which were fatal. 2004 is the last year for which confirmed numbers are available. Tentative numbers for 2005 include four hunting deaths in the state.

Despite those tragedies there has been a nearly 70 percent decline in hunting accidents in New York State since the 1960s, due largely to increased training and educational programs for new hunters such as the state mandated hunter safety course. In the 1960s, when there was an average of about 720,000 hunters, there were an average of 137 hunting accidents. In the years since 2000, the number has fallen to 45 (about 688,500 hunters now take to the woods each year).

According to the DEC the best way to be safe while hunting is to: assume every gun is loaded, always keep guns pointed in a safe direction, keep your fingers off the trigger until ready to shoot, be sure of your target and what’s beyond it, wear hunter orange, and keep your distance from men named Cheney.


Suggested Reading

Through the Light Hole: A Saga of Adirondack Mines and Men

Adirondack Forest and Stream: An Outdoorsman’s Reader