Hikers exploring former Finch, Pruyn lands can also visit a backcountry pond and wild shoreline on the Hudson.
By Phil Brown
ALTHOUGH MOST of the Essex Chain Lakes Tract isn’t open to hikers yet, the state has opened a trail (actually, a dirt road) that you can follow to a tranquil stretch of the Cedar River, with optional side trips to the Hudson and a backcountry pond.
The round-trip to the river is 7.4 miles of easy walking. If you throw in the side trips, you can get in another mile or so.
The trailhead is at the end of Chain Lakes Road, which parallels the Indian River. Just beyond a vehicle barrier is a kiosk with a color map showing the trail and the recently acquired state lands. (The location of the parking area may change after the state writes a management plan.)
The state bought the 17,320-acre Chain Lakes Tract from the Nature Conservancy, but the bulk of the land will not open to the public until October 1, when the Gooley Club’s lease expires. After that date, the Gooley Club will still have exclusive use of one-acre parcels around its buildings near the Essex Chain.
One sector already open to hikers lies south of the Cedar River, which is why I was able to do this trip in late July. The trail crosses another recently acquired parcel—the 925-acre Indian River Tract, which is not encumbered by leases—and an older piece of Forest Preserve before reaching the Chain Lakes Tract.
The trail has not received much publicity, so I was surprised to see two other cars in the parking area when I arrived on a Friday afternoon. After signing the register, I started hoofing it up the road and soon met a middle-aged couple on their way back from visiting the vacant buildings of the Outer Gooley Club. These buildings, unlike those on the Essex Chain, are already owned by the state and may be destroyed.
In less than fifteen minutes, I came to a junction with a trail leading to the Hudson. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) cut the trail to allow paddlers traveling downriver to take out before entering the dangerous Hudson Gorge. Before the acquisition, it would have been illegal to take out here without permission.
The detour to the river is worthwhile. The trail from the road is only about a quarter-mile long, and it ends at a bend in the river where you can enjoy long views in either direction. The only sign of civilization is just that—a sign warning paddlers that this is their LAST CHANCE TO EXIT RIVER BEFORE RAPIDS.
After resuming my hike up the road, I arrived at the Outer Gooley Club a minute later. Sitting on a hill, the clubhouse offers a nice view across a meadow of the Hudson. Though still intact, the building is falling into disrepair. The barn, shed, and outhouse are in worse shape.
Steven Engelhart, executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, later told me that the clubhouse—which in the past was used as a farmhouse and a boardinghouse for loggers and sportsmen—is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. He suggested it be preserved as a historical site to teach people about the history of hunting clubs in the Adirondacks. “We’d like to see the buildings used for public education and enjoyment,” Engelhart said. (See his Viewpoint on page 41.)
The clubhouse is locked, but I spent several minutes poking around the grounds. When I continued up the road, I soon came to a junction with another road. Here and at similar junctions, DEC has placed wooden signs to keep hikers on the trail. Two miles from the register, I reached a path on the left (look for a sign on the right) that leads to Clear Pond.
Leaving the road again, I followed the trail for a half-mile to the south end of the pond, where beavers had constructed a sturdy dam across the outlet and where a Gooley Club rowboat leaned against a cedar tree. On a sunny day, you can take in views of the small peaks to the north.
Upon returning to the road, I had about 1.5 miles to go to get to the Cedar. Along the way, I passed Mud Pond, visible through the trees. I would have visited, but the pond appeared to be well guarded by bogs and wetlands.
Finally, a sign directed me off the road onto a short path leading to a grassy bank on the Cedar. It was a beautiful spot, with the motionless river reflecting the clouds and trees. Looking downriver, I could see the summit of Cedar Mountain less than two miles away.
At first I was at a loss for what to do next. I wanted to have a snack, but the bank did not offer a comfortable place to sit. Then I found an inconspicuous little path and followed it ten yards to some bedrock outcrops beside the river—a suitable spot to have a picnic, go for a swim, or contemplate the beauty all around.
Despite the attractiveness of the locale, I couldn’t help but think that many people won’t want to hike 3.7 miles on a dirt road to get here. If the state allows mountain bikes on the road, it would be a pleasant family-friendly ride to the river, with only a few gentle hills. If the state classifies the area as Wilderness, however, bikes will not be allowed. Another option is to wear trail-running shoes and jog to the river. Imagine your delight, after working up a sweat, as you plunge into the cool, still water of a wild river.
Of course next summer, if you’re so inclined, you’ll be able to swim across the Cedar and continue hiking to the Essex Chain Lakes. There are plenty of dirt roads on the other side, too.
DIRECTIONS: From the intersection of NY 28 and NY 30 in Indian Lake, drive east on NY 28 for 1.4 miles to Chain Lakes Road on the left. Turn here and drive 3.1 miles to a gate at the end of the road. If coming from the east, Chain Lakes Road will be on the right immediately after you cross Lake Abanakee.