It appears we have already reached the point in the season when the annual January thaw sweeps through the region. Traditionally, the Adirondack region can expect a package of warming temperatures, heavy rain or sleet and high winds that transforms the landscape from white to drab brown, and even some green grass are seen again.
The season's meager snowpack has made for thick ice, but it has provided a very light cover for backcountry skiers or snowshoers.
Although recent storms have deposited a few inches of powder, the thaw has reduced the frozen base. Skiers and snowshoers probably won't have much to work with until we receive another significant snowfall.
While January thaws have always been a common occurrence in the Adirondacks, the frequency and severity of the thaws appears to be getting worse every year. It is impossible to deny this fact.
Indeed, the consistency of the increasingly warming pattern illustrates the seriousness of the situation. If we had experienced warmer than usual weather for only a couple of years, it could be written off as a fluke of circumstance. But the fact remains that a dozen of the hottest years on record have occurred in just the past 15 years.
Climate change is not a cold, hard fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. It presents a huge threat to the economies of northern states that have traditionally relied on winter sports for tourism opportunities.
E. B. White, (1899-1985) was an American writer and essayist who lived through a period of the greatest transformation in American technology. He was also the author of a series of children's books.
White was remarkably prophetic when he wrote, "I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."
Fortunately, it appears a steadily increasing number of local youngsters have been tasting nature's sweetness in recent months.
While the Saranac Lake 6ers campaign has certainly been well-received by the ultra-enthusiasts, it appears the majority of aspiring 6ers I've run into on the "lower peaks" in recent months have been composed of family groups with young hikers.
Although the challenge of tackling the lower 6ers may not breed an entire new generation of 46ers, the initiative has certainly provided many local youngsters with an easily accessible and truly achievable outdoor challenge.
The climbing concept could easily be duplicated elsewhere in the Adirondacks or even in the Catskills. A similar campaign could be developed almost anywhere there are public lands nearby with achievable destinations, whether they include mountain summits, a lonely pond or waterfall or a scenic vista.
Kids shouldn't really require a reason to go outside, but increasingly the allure of electronic entertainment keeps them indoors because "that's where the electrical outlets are."
In Delaware, a new task force is currently in the process of developing a statewide plan to increase opportunities for children to engage in nature - in school, at home and on public lands. It offers a model program that could easily be adopted by other states.
The task force includes representatives from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Department of Education, Health and Prevention Services, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Delaware Nature Society and numerous other state and federal agencies, as well as community partners.
No other coordinated effort currently exists to help battle Nature Deficit Disorder in Delaware, which is striving to become a leader in environmental literacy and to help children reconnect with nature. The initiative is intended to lay a path back to nature for future generations.
The state of recreation
Although the Empire State Building remains the most well-known, iconic image of New York, the state also encompasses the largest expanse of wilderness lands east of the Mississippi River. In fact, New York ranks among the top 10 percent of states with available public lands.
Fortunately, the woods, waters, lakes and hills are regularly utilized by a wide variety of recreationists. Here is a breakdown of New York recreational user groups:
- 29 percent - bicycling
- 23 percent - wildlife viewing
- 22 percent - hiking
- 19 percent - camping
- 12 percent - paddling
- 8 percent - fishing
- 8 percent - snow sports
- 4 percent - hunting
The total number of sportsmen - men and women who hunt or fish - is 38 million today, which accounts for nearly one in five Americans.
More than half of all anglers have attended college, including the 25 percent who are females.
Forty-five percent of anglers come from cities of one million or more people, which accounts for a lot of New Yorkers, with nearly half of them being between 35 and 54 years of age.
Outdoor travel and recreation during the winter season presents many challenges and even greater rewards. It is a season that provides unique means of access, ranging from skis and snowshoes to snowmobiles and dogsled teams.
While there still remain numerous open water opportunities for anglers, the majority of winter anglers do it "on the ice."
Ice fishing opportunities abound across the North Country, where the traditional ice shanties are still constructed out of wood, which is an important consideration as you will see later in this article.
There are a few basic rules for enjoying ice fishing. Similar to most other outdoor pursuits there are some common do's and don'ts.
The most important is simply to be considerate of other users who wish to participate in a similarly relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Take responsibility for your own actions and be sure to bring the proper clothing and gear. Be mindful of the weather and ice conditions and take the proper safety considerations.
Strive to leave the ice in the same condition you found it whenever possible. Pick up after yourself and for others who may not be similarly inclined.
Respect other users. If someone is kind enough to divulge a secret about a favorite fishing location, keep it to yourself. There's nothing worse than returning to a favorite tranquil spot on a lake and discovering a crowd.
Don't crowd other fishermen. There is no need to set up right on the border of another fisherman's drilled holes. Keep your distance and don't encroach on their territory. If they are amenable to the idea of you moving closer, they'll let you know.
Don't use anyone else's drilled holes without their permission. Just because they may have abandoned a hole doesn't mean it's all right to take it over.
If they don't seem to be using a hole, it's simply common courtesy to ask permission even if they appear to be packing up to leave the ice.
Most ice fishermen work hard to discover where and when the fish are and how to make them bite. They might not want to share this information, but if you simply ask how the fish are biting, they're usually willing to talk about the subject. All anglers like to see fish get caught, and there are usually enough to go around.
Be sure to share information with other ice fishermen regarding any ice safety issues you have encountered especially concerning weak ice in certain spots. It may save a life.
New York fishing regulations require all tip-ups to be marked with the name and address of the operator. The operator must be present when lines - either tip-ups or hand lines - are in the water.
Ice shanties must be marked on the outside with the owner's name and address in letters at least three inches high. Shanties must be removed from all waters by March 15.
Remember, the best and most successful angler is the one having the most fun.
There are two ice fishing seasons in New York:
Nov. 15 to April 30 - For species in the General Angling Regulations for which there is no closed season or no minimum length.
Nov. 15 to March 15 - For northern pike, pickerel, tiger muskellunge and walleye.
Wood and whiskey
It is comforting to realize that most traditional ice fishing shanties are constructed primarily out of wood. It is even more enlightening to recognize the results of a recent study.
Alcoholic beverages have long been considered a staple of the ice fishing experience, even though the use of alcohol does not make you warmer. In fact, the consumption of alcoholic beverages actually constricts blood vessels, which impairs the flow of warm blood to the extremities.
However, an Oxford University study indicates that if you don't like the way your whiskey tastes, try going into another room (or another shanty). Changing the location of where you enjoy your whiskey can actually enhance the person's experience by up to 20 percent, the study found.
Researcher Charles Spence ran multi-sensory tests using Singleton Single Malt Scotch Whisky in a specially designed bar in London. The 441 study participants were given the same whiskey, but in different rooms: A grassy room with nature sounds, a room with red fruit and chiming bells and a room with wood panels and the sounds of crackling wood.
Participants found the whiskey had a sweet taste in the fruit room, while having a "woody" taste in the wood room. Overall, participants preferred drinking their whiskey in the wood room.
The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Flavour. The findings could help restaurants design environments that enhance a diner's experience. The study did not mention whether whiskey has a fishy taste when consumed in a ice shanty.
However, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether as it weakens judgment and enhances hypothermia.