Good and Bad News for the Adirondacks

Trail crews reopen most popular hiking trails, just in time for high season
Staff Writer

On Sunday, the Adirondack Mountain Club (AMC) completed work on a small footbridge in the 6-million-acre Adirondack wilderness of Upstate New York, drawing the notice of the Associated Press, whose report ran in outlets including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. So why all the fanfare?

Well, primarily because it's the latest in ongoing efforts to repair extensive damage caused last August by Tropical Storm Irene. According to the report, "The [Department of Environmental Conservation] said damage from Irene in the eastern Adirondacks surpassed that of the blowdown of 1995, a massive complex of storms that damaged 150,000 acres of Adirondack forest. The Irene cleanup effort was also one of the largest in the region’s history, enlisting DEC rangers and other staff, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society and others."

And, also, the bridge it replaces (pictured below) was something of a symbol—an important crossing on one of the most heavily trafficked trails in all of New York, and the first real "Ah-ha" moment a hiker experiences when approaching the High Peaks region from the North. After 2.3 miles in heavy woods, the trail emerges onto the bridge, and across Marcy Dam (the name applies to both the lake and the structure that contains it) the landscape opens up to reveal rocky Mt. Colden and the steep walls of Avalanche Pass. You know you've arrived.

Marcy Dam Bridge

The bridge at Marcy Dam, before Irena tore through in August 2011. (Flickr/Mark Harris)

"One of the most important projects on our list was the Marcy Brook bridge on the Van Hoevenberg Trail," said the AMC's Neil Woodworth. "That trail is, by far, the most popular hiking trail in New York state, providing the shortest route to the top of Marcy, the state's highest peak."

Indeed, and that's why I wish it was any other bridge, really. The 7.4-mile Van Hoevenberg Trail turns into a virtual highway every summer, flooding the Adirondacks' Eastern High Peaks with 45,000 car camping day-hikers and (mostly Quebecois, it seems) backpackers. And all for the one reason Woodworth quotes: It's the shortest route to the tallest peak—5,244-foot-tall Marcy. With the trail reopened on the cusp of the peak summer hiking season, the Adirondacks are poised to be overrun once again, even as four other trails remain closed and countless more heavily damaged, necessitating detours, awkward stream crossings and, in some cases, some classic orienteering.

Marcy Dam Pond.

The view over Marcy Dam to the High Peaks. No wonder it's popular. (Flickr/Eric Johnson)

Though it's true that circumventing the wrecked bridge was as easy as rock-hopping or fording the shallow Marcy Brook or, at the worst, taking a 0.4-mile detour from South Meadow, it certainly would've been enough to deter plenty of people from making the trek in. I'm all for people getting out into the backcountry, but I was kind of looking forward to the solitude of it all. Imagine camping at the edge of a clear mountain lake and not hearing any voices but your own. Or tunneling upward through birch trees and evergreens, knowing you're the first hiker to pass this way today. Or standing atop a rocky-domed peak with nothing—and nobody—in sight but trees and more rugged peaks (and, on a clear day, shimmering Lake Champlain).

Oh wait, I know how I can get that: Climb any other peak.

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