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GIVING BACK: Busy on new ‘beaver deceiver’

June 15, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

KEENE VALLEY - Take a trip with Kathy Smith to the Rooster Comb trailhead, and you won't need to scale the 2,762-foot mountain for a story.

All you'll need is to stroll a few hundred yards on elevated planks over wetlands to the trail that skirts the perimeter of a beaver pond, affectionately known to locals as "Lake Winifred" or "School Pond."

There, one glimpses the distinct summit of Spread Eagle Mountain to the east, Giant Mountain a bit more to the south and the Brothers to the west. This is as close to the heart of the valley as it gets, and here resides a wild child emblematic of Keene Valley: the beaver.

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News photo — Antonio Olivero
Kathy Smith of Keene Valley stands next to a beaver’s dam at a pond next to Keene Central School and just up the trail from the Rooster Comb trailhead parking area. Smith said one beaver currently lives in the structure, though many more have lived at the pond in the past.

On a hot afternoon Monday, June 12, frogs croak at the pond as Smith recants the history of how this wetland came to be, thanks to both animals and humans.

Smith shares these tales of yesteryear because the Keene Valley community plans to install a new "beaver deceiver," as Smith describes it, at the pond's outlet. The structure will be an improved trapezoidal concoction of a solid steel frame, wiring and slideable livestock panels. Compared to previous incarnations of the beaver deceiver, this one will better facilitate water flow through the pond's outlet, preventing flooding.

The structure is needed to prevent beavers from damming the outlet, which has gotten the animals into trouble with some locals in years past. Many beaver-created blockages have flooded Keene Central School's adjacent fields, where soccer teams play and where wells give the town its water.

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The school lent funds to kickstart the project, but with education finances tight, the wildlife biologist Smith has set up an online fundraiser for the project through Adirondack Gives: The goal is to raise $2,000.

"You know, $1,600 for welded wire - that's a lot of textbooks," Smith said.

The project is also boosted by Cycle Adirondacks, the annual tour that leads more than 200 cyclists from 30-plus states through the heart of the High Peaks. This year, the cyclists will camp overnight in Keene Valley. The plan is for Smith, the cyclists and other community members such as Jen Kazmierczak and Sophie McClelland, the co-community coordinators for the Keene Valley portion of the cycling tour, to install the deceiver when the tour passes through the week of Monday Aug. 21.

Smith her husband Tom, a native of the Johns Brook Valley portion of this hamlet, and other community members now desire this more modern system, in part because it will serve as an educational component Keene students can maintain.

Previous incarnations of the beaver deceiver were made out of whatever Smith and others could salvage, such as the netting from the school's soccer backstops. This time, the community has enlisted Jeffords Steel to fabricate and weld the solid steel frame, one that accepts panels more adept to bend with the pond's currents and conditions.

The project also has a wish list of extras to "make beaver dreams come true," including a geometric dome playground for local children that simulates a beaver lodge.

There is no way for Smith to know for sure, but she said it is a near certainty that beaver dams were prevalent at this location before early 20th century settlers constructed an impoundment here. That was in 1901, and the goal was to create a small body of water where they could harvest ice to help keep dairy products fresh in the days before modern refrigeration.

In 1932, the school was constructed on adjacent land. In those three decades in between, beavers also realized that this new body of water was perfect for their own pursuit of happiness.

"(People) probably saw them everywhere," Smith said.

For years, some members of the community worried that the beavers' damming of the pond outlet flooded the surrounding area too much. This was a threat, they thought, to the school fields and the town wells mere yards from the pond.

Fast-forward to 2003, and the school once again began prepared to do what it had always done when receiving a beaver complaint: Trap any beavers found in the vicinity and remove them via a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. This time, however, students got wind of it and passed around a petition asking the school to not trap and kill the beavers.

Smith was then on the Keene school board, and she signed the petition. The school's superintendent and principal at the time, Cynthia Johnson, noticed her signature and, knowing Smith's work as an environmental consultant, she asked what to do.

"Well, we can build a beaver excluder," Smith replied.

Fourteen years later, the community now wants a better one to better the lives of the beavers, specifically the pond's sole current inhabitant as spring turns to summer.

By fall, Smith says, the beaver likely won't be by his lonesome any longer. And that's why she wants to help.

"Because beavers in fall will go into hyper-drive in preparation for the winter," Smith said with a laugh. "They start cutting and harvesting and damming and plugging pipes. That wild child really does go wild."



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