Posted on November 16th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
The state Department of Environmental Conservation does not plan to rebuild the dam at Duck Hole, an iconic pond deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.
The wooden dam was breached in the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in late August, draining about two-thirds of the impoundment.
Even before Irene, fans of Duck Hole had been urging DEC to repair the old dam. In fact, the Explorer ran a debate on the question in its September/October issue, which was on the newsstand when the storm hit. Nestled among high mountains, Duck Hole is a favorite camping spot on the Northville-Placid Trail.
In the Explorer debate, Tom Wemett, chairman of the Northville-Placid chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, extolled Duck Hole as one of the most scenic water bodies in the High Peaks Wilderness. “Whether hiking on the Northville-Placid Trail or paddling and portaging from Henderson Lake (via Preston Ponds), those who arrive at Duck Hole are in awe of the stunning vistas and quiet solitude,” he wrote.
After Irene, Wemett argued for the dam’s reconstruction. But DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said today that the department has no plans to repair the dam.
“At this time, DEC does not anticipate the repair or replacement of the Duck Hole dam in the High Peaks Wilderness Area,” she told the Explorer in an e-mail. “By leaving it as is, the affected backcountry in this area can return to a more natural state. This is in keeping with DEC’s responsibilities for care, custody and control of Forest Preserve lands under the state constitution.”
The department’s guidelines for dams in the Forest Preserve favor removing dams in Wilderness Areas “when they become unsafe or are otherwise in need of replacement, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation.” Nonetheless, such dams may be rehabilitated to preserve fish and wildlife habitat, protect scenic vistas, or maintain a waterway’s navigability, among other purposes.
Spokesmen for the environmental groups Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild said they opposed rebuilding the dam.
“It’s deep in the wilderness,” remarked David Gibson of Adirondack Wild. “It’s just as much a wilderness experience after Irene as it was before Irene.”
I did the paddle/portage trip to Duck Hole this past spring and wrote about the adventure for the July/August issue of the Explorer. A few days after Irene, I returned to Duck Hole on foot and took the photos shown here of the broken dam and the mudflat.
Adirondack guide Joe Hackett did the paddle/portage trip a few weeks after Irene and found enough water remained to paddle to the lean-tos near the dam. “Duck Hole is down, but it’s not out,” he told the Explorer after his trip.
Duck Hole, the source of the Cold River, is fed by at least three streams, including the outlet of Lower Preston Pond. Over the next several years, the mudflats should be overtaken by vegetation and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife–not to mention improve the view.
Posted on September 12th, 2011 9 comments Add a comment >>
By coincidence, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam should be repaired. Some might argue that since the dam has been breached by the floods of Hurricane Irene, the question has been settled, but that’s not the case.
Tom Wemett, who wrote in favor of fixing the dam, is now mounting a campaign to have it rebuilt. “Pretty much anybody who paddles or hikes to Duck Hole experiences the same thing: it’s just a magical place,” Wemett told me after Irene.
Bill Ingersoll, the author of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, opposed Wemett in the Explorer debate and hasn’t changed his mind.
You can read both sides by clicking the link below.
Incidentally, Adirondack guide Joe Hackett reports that Duck Hole still has enough water to paddle. Click here to read my Adirondack Almanack post based on my interview with Joe.
Posted on September 1st, 2011 18 comments Add a comment >>
This spring, I paddled Duck Hole, a wilderness pond surrounded by high mountains. Getting there was not easy—the trip entailed four carries totaling about two miles—but it was worth it. I wrote about my adventure for the July/August issue of the Explorer in an article titled “Portage to Paradise.”
Today that trip is no longer possible. And Duck Hole is no longer a paradise—unless you’re a mosquito.
Yesterday I returned to Duck Hole on foot to see firsthand what’s left of this beloved pond since its dam breached during Tropical Storm Irene.
The accompanying photos tell the story: Duck Hole is mostly muck, dotted with slime-covered stumps from the days before the dam. The streams that fed the pond continue to flow through the muddy plain. As far as I know, these are the first photos taken at Duck Hole since the dam’s breach. The state took aerial photos on Monday.
The two lean-tos at Duck Hole have long been favorite destinations of hikers on the Northville-Placid Trail. Both were undamaged by the storm, but their views are much impaired.
From the lean-to on the west shore, near the dam, hikers looked across the water toward an evergreen-studded island and, on the far side of the pond, a foaming waterfall, the outlet of Lower Preston Pond dropping to Duck Hole.
The island and the waterfall are still there, but instead of a pond, hikers will see a stream winding through mud.
In time, the view should improve as wetland plants colonize the banks of the stream. Tom Kalinowski wrote a nice piece for Adirondack Almanack discussing how nature will alter the Duck Hole landscape.
Of course, this assumes that the state will not reconstruct the dam. Coincidentally, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam—which had been deteriorating for years—should be repaired. Although the dam has been breached, the basic questions are the same. Should Duck Hole be preserved for the aesthetic pleasure of hikers and paddlers? Does a dam belong in a Wilderness Area? Can the state afford to fix it?
Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, believes most hikers would like to see the dam rebuilt. The state Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t decided what to do and probably won’t until Irene is well behind us.
The floodwaters of Irene gouged out on the right bank next to the dam. The timber crib dam was built in the 1930s to float logs down the Cold River. While walking along the exposed mud shoreline of Duck Hole, I saw pick axes, a log boom, and other artifacts that had been underwater for years.
Incidentally, I reached Duck Hole by hiking seven miles from the Upper Works trailhead. The road to the trailhead is open, but DEC had posted signs indicating that all trails were closed. Nevertheless, I have been assured by DEC spokesman David Winchell that the public is allowed to hike to Duck Hole from Upper Works.
DEC has closed trails in the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, but Duck Hole is in the western High Peaks. DEC also has closed trails in the Giant Mountain Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness.
I encountered some blowdown on my hike, but I was able to walk around or step over it with little difficulty. That seems to be par for the course in most of the Adirondacks. Winchell said the central and western Adirondacks received little damage from Irene. Even the McKenzie Pond Wilderness, located near Lake Placid, is OK for hiking, he said.
DEC is regularly updating trail conditions on its website. Click here to read the updates.