Posted on November 30th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Well, we didn’t get the 4 to 7 inches of snow in the forecast, but we did get a few inches–enough to make the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway skiable from top to bottom over the weekend.
I did the road on Sunday with Ron Konowitz, one of Keene’s more prominent ski bums. When we got to the tollhouse about 10 a.m., there already were a half-dozen cars parked on the road’s shoulder.
Locals often run into old friends and acquaintances on early-season ski trips up the highway, as usually there’s nowhere else to ski. On Sunday, Ron and I stopped to chat with several people we knew, and as a result it took us a few hours to reach the Lake Placid Turn, about 3.5 miles from the tollhouse.
The sun had been out when we started up the road, but by the time we got to the hairpin turn, we were in the clouds. On a clear day, the turn has a wonderful view of Lake Placid, Whiteface’s summit, and many of the High Peaks.
A mile beyond is the Wilmington Turn, another hairpin. At 5.3 miles, the road ends at the castle, which houses a restaurant in summer. To reach the 4,867-foot summit, you have to take off your skis and hike the remaining two-tenths of a mile. The ascent from tollbooth to summit is 2,535 feet.
The wind on the upper part of the road and near the summit can be brutal, creating arctic conditions even when it’s mild in the valleys. So be sue to bring warm clothing, including a balaclava.
Despite the long climb, the ski down the road is fairly easy if the conditions are right. In Ski and Snowshoe Trails of the Adirondacks, Tony Goodwin rates the descent as intermediate-novice. But novices, especially, should be aware that the road is often bare or icy in spots.
Many people choose to head down after reaching the Lake Placid Turn as the skiing above is not that great. With the summit socked in, Ron and I had little incentive to go all the way to top, so we went only as far as the turn and then glided back to our car. I stopped just once (to chat with friends) during the 3.5-mile descent. What a way to start the winter.
Directions: From Lake Placid drive east on NY 86 to Wilmington. At the four-way stop, turn left onto NY 431 and drive three miles to the tollhouse (bearng left at the fork just before the tollhouse).
Posted on November 25th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
You might think climbing the forty-six High Peaks is no big deal. After all, more than 6,200 hikers have done it.
But I’ve got news for you: those peaks are as big as they were when Bob and George Marshall and their guide, Herb Clark, climbed them. The Marshall brothers and Clark completed the first round of the forty-six in 1925, inaugurating an Adirondack tradition.
What’s more, no matter how many people preceded you, when you climb the High Peaks for the first time, you see the mountains fresh, just as the Marshalls and Clark did.
I was reminded of this when Seth Lang, a Crown Point photographer, sent me images of his recent hike up Mount Haystack with his brother, Kyle, and Thomas Tubbs. Seth, who is twenty-seven, and Kyle, who is thirty, were finishing their forty-six. They had climbed their first High Peak, Cascade Mountain, in 1994 but didn’t start seriously pursuing all the peaks until 2004.
“My personal feeling was one of pride and accomplishment,” Seth e-mailed me after his round. “Not only do I feel a deeper connection with nature, but also with my family back home. I feel that I am far better at solving problems now. I would argue that climbing the forty-six has as much to do with mental fortitude as anything else—maybe more.”
Why did he finish on Haystack?
“I was told by a very wise man that it had the best view,” Seth said.
He didn’t reveal the identity of the wise man, but it’s interesting to note that Bob Marshall also prized Haystack’s view as the best in the High Peaks.
“It’s a great thing these days to leave civilization for a while and return to nature,” Marshall once wrote with this view in mind. “From Haystack you can look over thousands and thousands of acres, unblemished by the works of man, perfect as made by nature.”
That holds true today just as it did in 1925.
Incidentally, you can see more of Seth Lang’s excellent photography on his website.
Posted on November 24th, 2009 Add a comment >>
Cross-country skiers who live in or near Saranac Lake don’t have to travel far in pursuit of their pastime: Dewey Mountain, a small peak on the outskirts of the village, has ten kilometers of trails.
Dewey’s lower trails are groomed by a snowmobile pulling a roller, but the trails on the upper part of the mountain are left natural, providing a taste of the backcountry experience. Dewey also has separate snowshoe trails.
Locals ski at Dewey whenever they have a little time to kill—before work, after work, even after dinner (some trails are open at night). I like to ski Dewey during my lunch hour. It takes me thirty minutes or so to get up to the summit, which offers a view through the trees of the surrounding lakes and peaks. The ride back down takes only ten minutes or so.
Dewey also draws tourists looking for a less-expensive alternative to the state-run trails at Mount Van Hoevenberg. A day pass at Dewey costs just $5. Last winter, a day pass at Van Ho cost $18.
“We get a lot of people from outside the area,” said Steve Doxzon, owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails, which runs Dewey for the town Harrietstown. Last season, Dewey saw more than two thousand skier-days.
Doxzon said Dewey needs eight to ten inches of snow for the lower trails to open and a foot to eighteen inches for the ungroomed trails.
There’s no snow here yet, but Adirondack Lakes and Trails has been busy getting Dewey ready for winter, improving drainage, removing large rocks, and, last weekend, replacing a rotten bridge. Steve Langdon, an experienced trail builder, oversaw the bridge construction. Several other volunteers showed up to do the grunt work. The community spirit is part of what Dewey is all about.
Posted on November 20th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Local officials in the Adirondack Park have long complained about the amount of land owned by the state in the Park. The state constitution decrees that this land, the Forest Preserve, “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” In other words, no development.
The critics see this as bad for the region’s economy. Environmentalists, however, argue that the Preserve attracts tourists and boosts the economy. This debate shows no signs of letting up.
During the Pataki administration, the state started saving vast tracts of timberlands not by acquiring them for the Preserve, but by purchasing conservation easements. Such easements prohibit development but allow logging and usually permit at least some public recreation.
As a result, the local officials have added a new phrase to their vocabulary: “owns or controls.” For example, Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, recently wrote an op-ed piece asserting that the state “owns or controls” 75 percent of the land in the Park.Keith McKeever, the spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, sent out a lengthy rebuttal, calling Monroe’s figure “grossly inaccurate.” But McKeever’s figures can be questioned, too. He says the Forest Preserve encompasses 2.5 million acres and 43 percent of the Park. But those figures don’t include water, much of which lies within the Forest Preserve.
So just how much land does the state own and how much does it control?
First we need to correct the oft-heard claim that the Park comprises 6 million acres of private and public land. Actually, it’s 5,821,257 acres, according to the APA website. If you’re rounding, make it 5.8 million acres.
David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the Forest Preserve totals 2,732,975 acres. This works out to 47 percent of the Park (up 5 percent since 1973).
In addition, the state holds conservation easements on 664,443 acres, according to Winchell. This works out to 11 percent of the Park.
Ergo, the state “owns or controls” about 3,397,418 acres, or 58 percent of the Park. This will rise to 61 percent if and when the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the state complete deals in the works to save the former Finch, Pruyn lands and Follensby Pond.
All this assumes, of course, that DEC’s figures (and my math) are accurate.
Posted on November 19th, 2009 3 comments Add a comment >>
Trail running is a popular sport out west but not so much in the Adirondacks. I run on trails fairly often and rarely encounter another runner, so I was bit surprised to see a fellow jogger on a trail near Moss Lake last weekend.
But in retrospect, I am not that surprised: The 2.5-mile loop around Moss Lake is nearly ideal for running. Most of the route follows an old woods road that’s used for cross-country skiing in winter. The run can be extended by taking a side trail to Bubb and Sis lakes—for a total of 4.7 miles.
Moss Lake is on the road from Eagle Bay to Big Moose in the western Adirondacks. It once was the site of a Girl Scouts camp. In the 1970s, after the state bought the camp, Mohawk Indians took over the property and declared it to be an independent nation. They occupied the site for a few years before a legal settlement was reached. A sign at the trailhead relates this history.
If you’re unsure whether you’ll want to extend your outing to Bubb and Sis lakes, run the loop counterclockwise. That way, you won’t reach the side trail until late in the loop, and you can better judge if you’ll have the time and energy for the detour. The following description assumes a counterclockwise direction.
From the trail register, the trail heads slightly downhill and turns left, soon passing a side trail that leads to a deck overlooking Moss Lake. After a small uphill, the trail parallels the northern shore. This section is somewhat rocky, but not as much as typical hiking trails.
After passing a boulder field on the right, the trail descends to cross a small stream. At 1.3 miles, you come to a large bridge over the outlet, with a view of the lake’s south bay.
At 1.8 miles, you reach the junction with the trail to Bubb and Sis lakes. Turn right if you want to take the detour. You’ll reach Bubb Lake in 0.6 miles and Sis Lake in 1.3 miles. If you continue another 0.15 miles, you come to a path on the right that leads through a hemlock stand to the shore with a good view of Sis. This is a good turnaround spot, though you could continue (on rougher trail) for another 0.9 miles to a trailhead on Route 28.
Once back at the junction, turn right to continue the loop. You’ve got only 0.7 miles to get back to your starting point. The trail descends to another large bridge, this one over the inlet, and then ascends to an unmarked junction. Bear left here. After another small down and up, you’ll pass through a clearing with some scientific apparatus and then arrive back at the trail register.
For a good view of Moss Lake, walk down the short side trail from the register to a beach on the eastern shore. Note the osprey nest on the dead tree on the lake’s island.
Directions: From NY 28 in Eagle Bay, turn north onto Big Moose Road and drive 2.2 miles to the Moss Lake parking lot on the left.
Posted on November 18th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Don’t expect the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reach a quick decision on the Sierra Club’s request to force landowners to remove a steel cable that stretches across Shingle Shanty Brook.
In a recent letter to the club, DEC Regional Director Betsy Lowe says the department plans to provide “a comprehensive response” to the request. “As you can imagine, this will take some time given the careful consideration required by the Department’s technical and legal staff, possible coordination with the State Office of the Attorney General, and the need to balance a variety of demands with limited resources,” she wrote on November 4.
The Sierra Club contends that the public has a common-law right to paddle through a corner of a large tract of private land owned by the Friends of Thayer Lake, which is affiliated with the Brandreth Park Association. The association owns the recreational rights to the land and has posted no-trespassing signs to deter paddlers from using the waterways in question.
The club’s request was sparked in part by an article that appeared in the July/August issue of the Adirondack Explorer. In it, I described my two-day trip from Little Tupper Lake to Lake Lila. At one stage, I paddled on three connected waterways owned by the Friends of Thayer Lake: Mud Pond, the pond’s outlet, and a stretch of Shingle Shanty Brook. This enabled me to avoid a mile-long portage.
The Brandreth Park Association contends that the public doesn’t have the right to paddle these waterways. Since my article appeared, the owners have strung a rope across Mud Pond, put up additional no-trespassing signs, and installed two motion-sensitive cameras.
The Sierra Club contends that the chain, rope, and signs are an illegal blockage of a public canoe route.
Lowe’s letter was addressed to Roger Gray and John Nemjo, the co-chairmen of the club’s Adirondack Committee, and Charles Morrison, who is heading the committee’s public-navigation-rights project.
Click here for an earlier post that contains links to letters to DEC from the Sierra Club and Brandreth Park Association.
Click the link below for a PDF of Betsy Lowe’s reply to the club.
Posted on November 18th, 2009 Add a comment >>
Jack Drury, a wilderness-skills educator from Saranac Lake, posted a link on Facebook to a fascinating account of a man and his elderly mother who became benighted while descending Round Mountain in Keene Valley. He encourages all hikers to read it and learn from it. Even if you’re on a day hike, you should carry the ten essentials. Things could have turned out worse for this pair.
Posted on November 17th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
You haven’t heard the last of Lows Lake controversy—at least not from me.
Unfortunately, I missed the discussion that preceded last week’s vote by the Adirondack Park Agency on the proposed classification of the lake. (The APA changed its schedule at the last minute, so I arrived after the vote).
As you may recall from my earlier post, the agency commissioners voted 7-4 to reverse a decision in September to classify the lake as Wilderness or Primitive. The reason the classification proposal failed last week is that the three designees representing state agencies—namely, the departments of environmental conservation, economic development, and state—changed their votes.
Since the Department of Environmental Conservation had been one of the authors of the proposal—and it’s the agency responsible for protecting the Park’s natural resources—I was most curious about its change of heart.
After Friday’s meeting, I called DEC’s regional office for an explanation and was referred to the department’s public-relations staff in Albany. I was told by a spokeswoman in Albany that the department would not comment beyond what DEC’s representative, Betsy Lowe, said at the meeting.
Today I got a chance to listen to Lowe’s explanation as the APA has posted a webcast of the meeting.
But first a little background. The proposal would have designated the eastern third of the lake Primitive and the rest Wilderness. Both classifications prohibit the use of motors. The proposal also called for classifying or reclassifying much of the land around Lows, again either Wilderness or Primitive.
The Local Government Review Board, which monitors the APA, had opposed attaching any land classification to Lows Lake. Most of the land around Lows is in the public Forest Preserve, but there are private holdings along the shore as well. The board argued that classifying Lows would set a precedent that would give the APA jurisdiction over other lakes with private land. The board did not object to classifying the state lands abutting the lake.
At Friday’s meeting, William Thomas, a former Johnsburg supervisor, introduced an amendment to remove the lake classification from the proposal.
APA Chairman Curt Stiles told me later that he had not known that Thomas planned to introduce this amendment. In contrast, it seems likely that Lowe did know that the amendment was coming, because she supported it without hesitation—notwithstanding that it contradicted DEC’s earlier position.
Her first argument in favor of the amendment was that DEC would have a tougher time managing the lake if it were classified Wilderness or Primitive. “The staff would not be able to use small boats to do the administrative work they need to do to take care of the campsites,” she said.
Think about this. DEC has prohibited the public from using motorboats on Lows Lake and will ban floatplanes from the lake after 2011. But it wants its staff to continue to use motorboats on what is supposed to be a wilderness canoe route.
Stiles seized on this point during the APA meeting. “The notion of classifying the water where the underlying bed is owned by the state is appropriate,” he said, “notwithstanding the hardship it may intrude on DEC personnel in terms of having to row instead of taking a motorboat. But when you classify Wilderness, that’s part of the deal, so I don’t consider that to be a legitimate objection.” Nor was this ob jection raised in the many months leading up to Friday’s vote.
In an interview today, Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), was a bit harsher in his criticism. “To throw the whole concept of a wilderness canoe route in jeopardy because DEC wants to use motorboats is a real shock,” he said.
Lowe, who is DEC’s regional director, gave another reason for changing her vote: The community was not comfortable with classifying the lake. “It sounds like there’s a concern that the classification of the bed is somehow precedent-setting,” she said.
Woodworth said he has little doubt that the state-agency designees discussed their move before the meeting and intentionally left Stiles out of the loop. “I think it was an organized effort by the three state agencies to sandbag Curt Stiles,” he said. He added: “As far as the three state agencies that flipped their vote, I think they did so in concert, and I think they did so with the blessing of the governor’s office.”
Lowe’s office referred all questions to Albany. I left a bunch of questions with DEC’s spokesman in Albany but have yet to hear back. I’ll give an update if I do.
Some people wonder what it matters if the lake is classified or not. After all, DEC has already adopted regulations to ban powerboats and planes. Woodworth, however, said regulations can be changed without much trouble. “If the water were classified as Wilderness [or Primitive] it would be much harder for any subsequent political administration to reverse the decision to phase out motorboats and floatplanes,” he said.
Since Lows Lake is part of the Forest Preserve, Woodworth contends that the APA is obligated to give it some kind of land classification. He said DEC’s vote on Friday was a betrayal of previous commitments to support classifying the lake. Asked if ADK will sue the APA, he replied, “I think it’s likely at this point. I’m not saying we’re definitely going to do it.”
Incidentally, the APA voted 6-4 back in September to classify the lake. However, the vote of the designee from the Department of Economic Development (DED) was later deemed invalid because he had already left the department for another state job. Since the proposal required six votes to pass, the APA took up the matter again this month.
Commissioner Cecil Wray, who was absent in September due to illness, voted for the measure last week and noted that if he had been present at the first meeting, the proposal would have mustered six votes even without the DED designee’s support. “I’m feeling very apologetic, because I’m the cause of all these problems,” he said. “I apologize that I was not here in September.”
Posted on November 16th, 2009 13 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency is poised to classify Lyon Mountain as Wild Forest—a decision that would run into opposition from the Adirondack Council, one of the Park’s leading environmental organizations.
Brian Houseal, the council’s executive director, said he would like to see the Lyon Mountain tract classified as Primitive, with an eye toward eventually classifying it as Wilderness, the strictest of the APA’s nine state-land zoning categories.
“There’s no Wilderness now in that sector of the Park,” Houseal said after the APA’s meeting last week.
Located in the northeastern Adirondacks, west of Plattsburgh, 3,830-foot Lyon is one of the Park’s tallest mountains outside the High Peaks region. The state acquired it from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy late last year.
On Friday, the APA voted to send to public hearing a proposal to classify 91 parcels of Forest Preserve scattered throughout the Park, totaling 31,780 acres. Most of the parcels are small, encompassing less than a hundred acres. At 17,190 acres, the Lyon parcel is by far the largest.
Houseal pointed out that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan permits parcels greater than ten thousand acres to be classified as Wilderness.
Lyon Mountain has nonconforming facilities, including a fire tower and an access road, that make it ineligible for Wilderness designation now. The land also contains ruins of old ski lifts and evidence of former ski trails and logging roads.
The APA staff cited the “extent of established facilities” on the land as one reason for designating it Wild Forest, a less-strict classification that would permit the fire tower and the road to remain.
Houseal, however, argued that the parcel could be classified as Primitive and managed as Wilderness until the nonconforming facilities are removed. “It’d be a Wilderness-in-waiting,” he remarked.
The APA expects to hold public hearings on the classification proposals early next year. They could be modified, based on comments received.
Also included in the land-classification package is a 6,132-acre parcel near Tahawus acquired from the Open Space Institute in January 2009. The APA staff recommends that this be added to the High Peaks Wilderness.
The institute retains the right to generate electricity from the dam at Henderson Lake. The power would be used by the nearby Masten House, which the institute is leasing to the state College of Environmental Science and Forestry. To accommodate the institute, the APA staff recommends that the dam and the short road leading from the dam to the Upper Works parking lot at Tahawus be classified as Primitive rather than Wilderness.
Below is a map of the Lyon Mountain tract. Click here to view other maps and documents related to the 2009 State Land Classification Proposals.
Posted on November 13th, 2009 Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency voted 10-1 Friday to approve snowmobile-trail guidelines despite objections by environmental groups that they violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
The executive directors of the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, and Protect the Adirondacks say the guidelines would permit trails that fail to meet the master plan’s mandate that snowmobile trails have “essentially the same character as a foot trail.” They also say the guidelines would unlawfully permit the use of grooming machines on the Forest Preserve.
On Thursday, all three said they would consider suing the APA if the guidelines were approved. After Friday’s vote, Brian Houseal of the Adirondack Council said his preference would be to work with the APA to amend the State Land Master Plan after the fact.
Houseal and his two colleagues said they would not object to the guidelines if the master plan were amended.
After the meeting, APA Chairman Curt Stiles said he was not bothered by the prospect of court action. “I don’t worry about lawsuits,” he said. “If we made a flawed decision, then we should be challenged. Everything the Park Agency decides is potentially subject to a challenge by somebody.”
Commissioner Dick Booth, the lone dissenter, urged the board not to adopt the guidelines without amending the master plan.