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Recreation, history on the south slopes

July 21, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Last weekend, I traveled to the south side of the High Peaks to visit the hamlet of Newcomb. It is a friendly little community with a proud history and a wealth of outdoor options that range from biking to hiking, boating to paddling and more.

There's even a historic Great Camp open to the public for those willing to hike, bike or ride a horse drawn wagon over the 5-mile access road. Despite the rather remote location, there always seems to be something going on, and my visit included offering a presentation on backcountry angling at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, known as the "ache."

Although the AIC was initially established by the Adirondack Park Agency to carry out an interpretive mission similar to the VIC in Paul Smiths, there has been a distinct difference in the focus of programs since the facility management was transferred to the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry, at the Huntington Wildlife Forest.

Article Photos

A loon minds the nest on Henderson Lake near Tahawus, with the cliffs of Wallface Mountain looming above Indian Pass in the background. The annual Adirondack Loon Census is scheduled for Saturday, July 21.
Photo by Joe Hackett

While the focus of the AIC remains educationally based, the target audience is primarily year round and seasonal Adirondack residents rather than visitors. It was certainly a wise decision since the local audience is vested in the success of the facility.

The locals consider it their own, rather than another attraction for tourists passing through, which is a good thing since there really aren't a lot of tourists passing through, unless they're on the way to Long Lake.

Newcomb is not Lake Placid, even though the scenery is quite similar, with soaring peaks, deep forests, sparkling lakes and flowing waters. The major difference in the south slope region is the pace, which is never a race.

There are no outlet stores in town, which partly explains the pace, and visitors come for the natural surroundings, the grand history and the friendly residents. Although it is only 25 miles west of Exit 29 off the Adirondack Northway, the Newcomb region is a world unto itself.

If you ever travel down that way, it's notable. There is Elk Lake and Elk Lake Lodge, a historic log lodge surrounded by a private 12,000-acre preserve. It remains one of the best kept secrets in the Park. The lodge also offers meals to the public, with reservations required. The setting is breathtaking. Elk Lake also offers southern trailheads for accessing the Dix Range and the surrounding High Peaks Wilderness Area.

Located along the same Blue Ridge Road is the Blue Ridge Falls and campsite, which features a stunning cataract of smooth rocks, gentle pools and a lonely beauty that rivals any of the northern waters.

Not to be overlooked nearby is the Adirondack Buffalo Company, a bison farm and Gift Shop offering bison steaks, home-baked goods and fresh vegetables. A bit further along state Route 28N/30 is the historic Tahawus region, which includes a historic blast furnace, structures, mines and numerous trailheads that lead into the High Peaks Wilderness. There is even a water-based trailhead located on Henderson Lake, which provides paddlers access to Duck Hole and the Cold River via the Preston Ponds.

Henderson and the Prestons were locked up in private hands for over a century, until the Open Space Institute purchased the tract about a decade ago. It remains a desolate and lightly trafficked area that retains a truly wild character despite the ease of access.


Troubles in paradise

Following the endless snowpack of 2010, and the historic 500-year floods of 2011, the summer of 2012 has delivered both record high temperatures and low rainfall. Many local rivers and streams have already been reduced to a trickle, and drought conditions have sparked several forest fires, including one located nearly on the summit of a major High Peak in Keene Valley.

I fought my first forest fire while working as a laborer on a DEC trail crew in the early 1970s. At the time, I was just a teenager and thought fighting a forest fire was a big deal. And with wages of $1.75 an hour, plus meals, it was pretty heady stuff for a kid.

However, after carrying a fully loaded Indian Tank on a direct route to the summit of Raven Mountain near Elizabethtown, the paycheck and the sandwiches lost a bit of luster. Of course, as rookies on the crew, we were assigned to the "mop up" detail.

Mopper-uppers spent their time far from the front line of the blaze. It wasn't really the blaze of glory I had imagined when I signed up. In fact, it was grunt work that required spending a lot of time checking the charred forest duff for hot embers.

I spent my days crawling through the burned ruins checking for hotspots with bare hands. Ash and soot was in my face, hair and lungs. My hands were blistered from the embers I discovered and the polished rake handles I handled.

After a week of mopping up the hot, sooty mess, the glory of fighting forest fires was gone. I transferred to a position as a lifeguard and made my own sandwiches. The work wasn't exciting, but the scenery was better.

However, the experience made me especially careful with fire in forests. Recently, after learning that a forest fire was burning less than a mile up the railroad tracks from my home in Ray Brook, I wished others were similarly careful.


Exotic invaders

It has been estimated there are more than 180 invasive species currently infesting New York waters, including zebra mussels, alewives, sea lamprey, spiny water fleas, round gobi, eurasian milfoil, didymium and viral hemorrhagic septicemia. A majority of these foreign invaders found their way into New York waters following the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, and the invasion continues.

The latest bad news on the invasive species front includes the discovery of spiny water fleas in a feeder canal that drains into the Champlain Canal. The Champlain Canal offers a direct conduit into the Big Lake, where the presence of spiny water fleas would have a negative impact on a sport fishery responsible for an economic impact estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

Nearly as disturbing was a recent discovery of Asian carp DNA in Lake Erie. Although efforts continue to limit the spread of Asian carp, it is believed the species may already have established a presence in the Great Lakes. DNA was found in a water sample taken from Lake Erie more than two years ago, although there has yet to be any physical evidence of the carp existing in any of the Great Lakes. However, it is generally accepted that it is just a matter of time.



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