A Day in the Woods with the ADK

Sandy and Dick on the two-person saw.

July 26, 2020

What an energetic, healthy and fun crew of trail workers are the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) members from Central New York State. On this day, I had the pleasure of joining five of them for a work party on the North Country Trail (NCT). Members of the Onondaga (Syracuse) and Iroquois (Utica) Chapters of the ADK met up in Speculator for a volunteer effort to clear the Kunjamuk Trail, a segment of NCT that leads into the Siamese Ponds Wilderness of the Adirondack Preserve. Named after the adjacent Kunjamuk River, the trail is a single track footpath into the wilderness. A little research revealed that much of this trail follows the Old Kunjamuk Road that was the main route through the Kunjamuk Valley before paving of Route 30 in 1947.

We accessed this trail by way of the Cisco Brook Trail trailhead at the end of Elm Lake Road, 7 miles north of Speculator. Our job for the day was to clear the many blowdowns and debris from the long winter and spring months. Leading the crew was the venerable retired science teacher and North Country Trail maven, Mary Coffin. Maybe you read a previous blog post about my discovery of the North Country Trail in Pennsylvania last summer while on tour, and meeting trail caretaker, and NCTA Clarion County Chapter President, Dave Galbreath. What a surprise to learn that it now connects through Vermont, now my home state, to the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail. Determined to learn more about the trail through my native State of New York, I had the pleasure to meet Mary on a group hike earlier and decided to join her for this adventure. She is now my self-adopted mentor.

Mary split the party of six into two groups of three men and women and we set off. The advanced group was instructed to leave the small stuff and move ahead with the two-man saw. Being in the Adirondack Preserve, only hand tools could be used. I had my trusty loppers and an 18-inch crosscut saw. As we traversed the relatively flat trail, Mary stopped frequently to point out the marvelous towering White Pine trees. Luckily none of those giants had fallen on the trail. At frequent locations, obstacles were removed and the trail tread was cleared of debris as we advanced into the wilderness. Like hundreds of times before while working on trails in Vermont, this ad-hoc crew worked together like a well-oiled machine. Every move counts as you handle the biting saws and the tenuous overhead branches. I especially enjoyed observing the magic of the two-man saw as it made quick work of the big stuff. Sandy and Dick had particularly good rhythm with it. Paul was the engineer employing the right lever and fulcrum, made on site, to pry loose the occasionally pinched saw. Mike toiled with the rest of us including toting and using his 35mm SLR camera. I didn’t see if it was digital or film.

Mary Coffin, North Country Trail Crew Chief.

I’m not sure but I think I might have finally become accustomed to the biting insects of the Dacks. I know that I pulled up the hood of my light weight layer often to keep them off my ears and neck. Nobody’s bug dope seemed to repel the persistent bastards. After we cleared one more blowdown, several blowdowns later, we stopped for lunch. I was very thankful for this respite and the nourishment. Keeping up with the energy of this group was no easy task. Did I mention that I was the youngest at 65? Mary has been working with the ADK and the North Country Trail since 1981, approaching a 40-year milestone. She is an incredible dynamo and great model for us all. It has been an honor and privilege to talk and learn about her efforts with trail development and the myriad of land managers, regulations, and permitting challenges for building out the NCT. We share a common avocation.

After lunch, we proceeded further into the forest preserve until we reached a stream crossing. Since the crew had given a great measure of effort and it was getting late, we started our way back. Thinking that we cleared roughly three miles of trail, I realized what a drop in the bucket that is compared to the entire 4700 miles of NCT between North Dakota and Vermont. The North Country Trail Association has over 30 chapters and 130 affiliate non-profits such as the ADK, and government organizations who organize and maintain roughly 3,700 miles of off-road trails.

The ADK members travel long distances (200-250 miles round trip) from Central NYS to the Adirondacks, so when we arrived back at the trailhead, we did not linger. We did have enough time to revel in our efforts and enjoyed some shared snacks and beverages. Back at Speculator, five went west and I went east back home to Vermont. This route I have traveled many times in the 25 years since I have lived in the Mad River Valley. A favorite stopping place to get out of the car is the Crown Point, Champlain Bridge. What a nice recreation facility to be able to walk up and over this majestic vertical crest that offers some fine views of the Adirondacks in New York and the Green Mountains in Vermont. This evening was no exception there being one fine sunset as I reached the summit. I lingered to enjoy the post sunset glory of the clouds lighting up and the constant cool breeze coming off the lake, contemplating my next visit.

I look forward to my continuing adventures on the NCT in NYS this summer. I will keep you posted.

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