Now that the weather has finally warmed up, we can appreciate ice a little more. Among other things, ice greatly improves summertime drinks, and an icy watermelon is hands-down better than a warm one. And in this part of the world, ice also provides us with unique wildflower meadows.
Along stretches of riverbank in the Southern Adirondacks, rare Arctic-type flowers are blooming now in the fragile slices of native grasslands that are meticulously groomed each year by the scouring action of ice and melt-water. » Continue Reading.
Saranac Lake based Northern Power & Light, Inc. has gained approval to operate under a new program created by New York State that allows electric customers to purchase a share of the electricity from a small renewable generator.
The company operates a a 700 kW hydroelectric plant, Azure Mountain Power, in St Regis Falls. » Continue Reading.
Brandon Park, the 28,100-acre former estate of William A. Rockefeller, Jr. (a co-founder of Standard Oil with his brother John D. Rockefeller) has been purchased by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma of China for $23 million according to the Wall Street Journal. Alibaba is the world’s largest e-commerce company. The property was put on the market in 2012, and the sale was completed in May of this year.
He bought the property “principally for conservation purposes, but also plans to use [it] as an occasional personal retreat,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a spokesman for Ma. Brandon Park is located west of Paul Smiths and north of the St. Regis Canoe Area and includes about eight miles of the Middle Branch of the St. Regis River, nearly a dozen trout ponds, and 2,200-foot Buck Mountain. » Continue Reading.
Molpus Woodlands Group has purchased the 112,238-acre holdings of The Forestland Group. A price was not disclosed. The purchase makes Molpus, of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner at more than 273,000 acres. [Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Molpus is in fact the largest private landowner – in recent years Lyme Timber Company has sold 121,000 acres and now owns 239,500].
The lands are in Lewis, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, and include frontage on several northern-flowing rivers, including the St. Regis and the Grasse. Prior to The Forestland Group, the lands were owned by Champion International. Molpus had owned only 30,000 acres (near Saranac Lake) until its January 2014 purchase of nearly 131,000 acres in St. Lawrence, Clinton, Franklin and Lewis counties from Rayonier Forest Resources. » Continue Reading.
The community of Brasher Falls, located on the St. Regis River in northern St. Lawrence County, can be described as “in the middle of nowhere,” defined here as about halfway between Potsdam and Hogansburg. No insult intended. Remoteness, after all, is a desirable attribute for many North Country folks, and at just a couple miles north of Route 11, it’s not really the boondocks. It’s a small community, and in 1880 had a population of about 240, making it all the more remarkable that a nationally famous musician and a true pioneer of vaudeville, movies, and radio is a Brasher Falls native.
Benjamin Albert Rolfe was born on October 24, 1879, to Albert Benjamin and Emma (Ballard) Rolfe. Both of his parents were interested in the performing arts, taking part in local theater productions. Both were also musically inclined, providing entertainment regionally as Rolfe’s Full Orchestra, and introducing their young son to the joys of playing musical instruments. » Continue Reading.
On Sunday, I took a delightful canoe trip on the East Branch of the St. Regis in the northwestern Adirondacks. It was so enjoyable that I didn’t stop until I reached the end of public land, making for a round trip of twenty miles from Everton Falls.
Four years ago, I had paddled the East Branch in early spring before the greening of the alders and the grasses. On that day the riverside scenery was a bit drab.
How different things are in July. Hues of green were everywhere—in the grasses dancing in the breeze, in the trees beyond the floodplain, and in the river grass bowed by the current. Wildflowers provided dashes of color: the purple whorls of joe-pye weed, the yellow globes of the pond lilies, the drooping scarlet petals of the cardinal flower, the violet spikes of pickerelweed, and the glistening white arrowhead. Add in a blue sky with puffy clouds, and you have the perfect day. Soon after putting in along Red Tavern Road, I heard one or two passing cars, but as I journeyed farther upstream, I penetrated deeper into the wild where the only sounds were natural: a beaver plopping into the river, the one-note whistle of a red-winged blackbird, a merganser skittering over the water to flee a human intruder.
In ten miles I encountered no development. It’s no wonder that researchers for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) recommended back in the 1970s that most of this stretch (some eight miles) be designated a Wild River in the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational River System (WSR).
All rivers in the WSR system receive a degree of protection, but Wild is the most protective designation. State regulations prohibit the construction of dams, vehicular bridges, or other structures within a Wild River corridor—not even lean-tos are permitted. The only exceptions are footbridges. Just as important, no motorboats are allowed on Wild Rivers.
If you check the APA land-use map, though, you’ll see that roughly the first fifteen miles of the East Branch, including the stretch I paddled, are designated Scenic and that the rest of the river is designated Recreational. Both are less-restrictive classifications, allowing some development, such as vehicular bridges, and motorboat usage.
Usually, the APA followed the recommendations of its field researchers in classifying rivers. Why not in this case?
In his classic guidebook Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, Paul Jamieson writes that the classification was downgraded “probably at the insistence of a paper company and its lessees” (that is, hunting clubs).
Jamieson’s book came out many years ago. Since then, New York State has purchased this part of the river from Champion International and added it to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. In other words, the original objection to designating part of the East Branch a Wild River no longer obtains. APA spokesman Keith McKeever conceded as much in an article I wrote after my earlier trip up the East Branch. “The big impediment to that classification was that it was private land, and that’s no longer the case,” McKeever said.
Well, then, let’s change the classification to Wild. This would ensure that the river corridor stays pristine and that motorboats will not upset the natural serenity with their noise and pollution.
It also would bestow upon the East Branch a cachet that might attract a few more paddling tourists to a neglected corner of the Adirondack Park.
Of the 1,200 miles of Adirondack rivers in the WSR system, only 155 are designated Wild (about 13 percent). Indeed, there are only thirteen river segments in the entire Park that are classified Wild. They tend to be remote and/or rocky. Only one of them—a long stretch of the Main Branch of the Oswegatchie—is easily accessible and navigable by the average paddler. The East Branch would be in rarefied company.
In truth, I don’t know of any plans to build lean-tos, bridges, or other facilities on the river. And I doubt that motorboats often ply the East Branch. Thus, the reclassification might be seen as more symbolic than practical. But symbolism has its place. Designating the East Branch a Wild River would acknowledge its unspoiled beauty. It’s the least we can do.
Photo by Phil Brown: the East Branch of the St. Regis River.
This weekend I paddled the West Branch of the St. Regis for the first time. Until a few years ago, nearly all of the West Branch inside the Adirondack Park was closed to the public.
As a result of a conservation-easement deal with Lyme Timber, fishermen and paddlers now have access to about eight miles of the West Branch northeast of Carry Falls Reservoir.
However, the public is allowed in only from May 1 through September 30, so Thursday is the last day you’ll be able to enjoy the river this year. But don’t fret too much: the river will still be there next spring. Given the looming deadline, I was motivated to paddle the river this past Saturday. Much of the eight miles contains rapids, but there is a 3.5-mile stretch that will delight flat-water paddlers. Here is a description of the trip.
The opening of the West Branch is just one example of the public benefits of conservation easements. Under easement deals, the landowners agree not to develop their land. In return, the state picks up a portion of the property taxes. Most deals allow public recreation, though the degree of access differs.
In the case of the West Branch, the public has the right to fish and canoe. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has opened four parking areas along the timber company’s Main Haul Road, with carry trails leading to the river. Camping is permitted only at designated campsites.
We all should be grateful that at least part of this beautiful river is now open to the public.
But I do have a complaint.
From the put-in, you paddle upstream through marshland for 1.6 miles. Rounding a bend, you can see the buildings of the Weller Mountain Fish and Game Preserve, a hunting club whose main lodge sits at the confluence of the river and Long Pond Outlet. At this point, you must exit the river and portage 0.3 miles through a spruce forest and put back in upstream of the lodge. You can canoe another mile and a half upriver before reaching rapids.
The river near the hunting club is perfectly navigable flat water. It’s just that the members don’t want the public paddling past their piece of paradise, which is leased from the landowner (Woodwise Land Company bought the property from Lyme Timber this summer).
OK, I understand the club desires privacy, but my portage around flat water struck me as unnecessary. Would the members (if any were there) have had their day ruined by a lone canoeist quietly paddling past their camp? They would have had to endure the sight of me for at most a few minutes.
I sometimes hear people complain that paddlers are “elitists”—because paddlers advocate banning motorboats from some waterways. But paddlers are not elitists. And certainly not in this case. If anybody is elitist, it’s the members of the hunting club who object to the public paddling by their lodge.
Some readers might wonder how the landower can keep the public off this short stretch of the West Branch. If the river is navigable, isn’t it open to the public under the common law? Unlike other rivers I’ve written about, such as the Beaver and Shingle Shanty Brook, the public must cross private land to reach the water. Thus, the landowner has the right to set conditions for access to and use of the river.
But the law doesn’t always square with common sense, not to mention common courtesy. It just seems mean to force the public to portage past the hunting club. And the portage may discourage, if not prevent, the elderly, disabled, and less-than-fit from continuing their trip and enjoying the river upstream from the lodge.
DEC should negotiate a better deal for the public. After all, we do pay taxes on this land. Ideally, this condition would be scotched. At the very least, it ought to be modified to allow the public to paddle past the club during those times of year or days of the week when the club is little used. Requiring people to portage past the club when no one is there is the height of absurdity.
I do respect the club’s wish for privacy, but that needs to be balanced with the public’s recreational claim on this stretch of river. Let canoeists paddle past the lodge, but forbid them to fish, picnic, or otherwise linger in the vicinity. And instruct paddlers to keep quiet while traveling by. This strikes me as the basis of a reasonable compromise.
George Fowler, Weller Mountain’s secretary/treasurer, told me that he will raise the public-access issue at a meeting of the club. I hope some good comes out of it.
In the end, though, if the only way we can enjoy the West Branch is by putting up with the portage, so be it. Those who can do it will be amply rewarded.
Photo by Phil Brown: West Branch of the St. Regis River.