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Lost and found in the woods and streams

February 3, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist , Lake Placid News

In the process of searching for an appropriate topic for this week's column, an obvious subject came to mind. I immediately wrote it down before I forgot what it was. Of course, it was an ideal notion, considering my hapless luck during the recent hunting season.

Over the course of a long career conducted primarily in the woods and on the waters of the Adirondack region, I've come across quite a number of "lost" items. To be honest, I admit that I was responsible for misplacing a fair share of them.

In fact, I could hardly depart hunting camp this season without dropping at least one item, typically a hat, glove or something similar that I should have zipped in a pack rather than stuffed in my pocket.

Although I deposited such items as regularly as breadcrumbs in a fairy tale, I was fortunate to travel with a group of hunters that proved to be much more observant than me.

Despite a proclivity to "leave it all behind," nothing essential was actually lost, although a few items still remain misplaced. I'll readily admit I took a fair share of well-earned ribbing from the crew.

But when all is said and done, I still maintain that I've found far more than I've lost.

Over the years, I've discovered several knives, a few packs, a couple of abandoned tents and a wide assortment of clothing items in the woods. I've always attempted to find the proper owners, often by leaving a note at the trailhead register or leaving word with a local forest ranger.

I've managed to return at least three cameras and numerous fishing poles. It is surprising how often paddlers forget to load all their gear after crossing a carry, including their paddles.

Equally so, are the numerous items that I've recovered along many of the region's rivers and streams. To be fair, I've deposited a few of my own. I've also broken more rods on the road than on the stream. Streamside anglers take note: Never place a rod on top of your car. Always leave an expensive flyrod on the hood, since it is so much easier to watch it blow off as you drive down the road.

Despite the vast wilderness areas encapsulated within the Adirondack Park, it is nearly impossible to escape evidence of the hand of man - whether it be a rusted old trap, a pile of tin cans or a deflated mylar party balloon dangling from a tree branch.

During the hunting season, after trees have been stripped bare of their foliage, the scraps, wraps and assorted crap of mankind becomes quite evident. Our hunting territory, located downwind of Lake Placid, appears to be the burial grounds for nearly every balloon launched from the village, and we find a half dozen or so every year.

In the course of off-trail travel, I've also stumbled upon many old abandoned camps, complete with rusted axes, crosscut saws and the usual collection of tin cans, barrels and tarpaper. A most common location is a "slant rock camp," such as the one near Curtis Pond off Cranberry Lake, where there remains a usable woodstove.

Although I've discovered a few lingering tents, most of them appeared to have been out of use for several years. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will quickly rot nylon through the process of ultraviolet degradation.

There is no escaping evidence of the hand of man, especially along the rivers or on the mountains. Most Adirondack peaks, even the minor ones, bear evidence of transit sites, with rusted bolts still exposed on the mountain tops. On many peaks, including Cascade and Giant, there is evidence of etchings on the summit rocks, often scribed by the firefighters who waged battle around the turn of the century.

Elsewhere, there is ample evidence of previous Adirondack travelers, whether at the base of a waterfall or along the lake shore. Two such relics that immediately come to mind are the massive Reuben Wood Monument located near Sucker Brook on the east shore of Cranberry Lake and a rustic, hand-carved plaque nailed to a tree to commemorate the campsite that Fred Rice once shared with Martha Ruben along the Saranacs.

Memorials are historic, the rest is just grafitti. Like the moronic scribblings of the idiot who "tagged" the underside of the state Route 3 bridge, near the First Pond state boat launch.

But what always intrigues me is the stuff that floats downriver. As a former bottle collector, riverbanks always seemed to offer a treasure trove. In the Appalachian tradition, Adirondackers often used local waterways to dispose of trash. Dump it over the bank and let the high waters of the spring floods wash it all away.

This common practice of disposal has left many riverbeds lined with glass, pottery and bits of Blue Willow China. In recent years, as zebra mussels have vastly improved the water clarity on Lake Champlain, divers have discovered a treasure trove of old glasswear that was regularly dumped overboard at steamboat landings on both sides of the Big Lake.

I've found similar archeological opportunities on many riverbends, where spring flotsam is often filtered out of the flow and deposited among the small saplings and unfurling ferns.

While traveling the banks of the lower Raquette River, I've uncovered numerous tools from the logging days, including a pike pole, stamp hammers and hobnailed boots, along with an untold quantity of whiskey bottles, fishing rods and the obvious blaze-orange PFDs.

Last year, following the spring floods, I could have collected enough canoe paddles to outfit an entire floatilla from below a single falls near Sevey Corners.

The same holds true in the woods, especially where there remains evidence of an old foundation, and even near old campsites.

Prior to the advent of state Department of Environmental Conservation's current, "If you carry it in, carry it out" campaign, the camper's motto was, "If you carry it in, bury it."

It is still possible to conduct an archeological survey with just the heel of a boot in places such as Duck Hole, Shattuck Clearing or any of the other former interior outposts. We often forget that prior to 1972, most of these locations were still accessible via motor vehicles.

Noah John Rondeau, the fabled mayor of Cold River City, was also a hoarder. Although immortalized as the last great Adirondack hermit, in his day Rondeau was often disparaged as a Tin Can hermit. Noah did not subsist solely on fish and game. In fact, a fair share of his provisions arrived in tin cans. The steep riverbank below his camp remains littered to this day with the rusted remains of his meals.

Although current DEC regulations prohibit the storage of personal property on state lands for more than 24 hours, I expect there are numerous caches that have long since been abandoned by the original owners.

Possibly in future years, archeologists will uncover a few of them to study how a strange type of character once existed in a land called the Adirondacks.



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