The state Department of Environmental Conservation is starting to get assessments of storm damage in the backcountry in the High Peaks region, and the news is not good.
“Every place we’ve looked bridges are gone, trails are eroded, and there’s lots of blowdown,” said Tom Martin, the department’s regional forester.
And eroded may be an understatement. When DEC workers headed up the Van Hoevenberg Trail above Marcy Dam, Martin said, they found “a three-foot gorge where the trail used to be—it’s just gone.” The Van Hoevenberg is the most popular route up Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit.
Likewise, the trail up “Misery Mile” to Avalanche Pass has become a gully. “It’s gone,” Martin said.
DEC has just begun its inspection of the backcountry, but Martin suspects that any trail near a brook or on a steep slope has sustained similar damage. He noted that the first bridge on the Klondike Trail, which goes from South Meadow to Johns Brook Valley, was washed a half-mile downstream. “My guess is that we’ve lost the vast majority of our bridges in the interior,” he said.
He also said the rains from Hurricane Irene created “more than a dozen–and probably a lot more” new slides in the High Peaks. “It’s going to take weeks to figure out what went on in the backcountry,” he added.
The cleanup and rehabilitation work will take months. Martin expects that some trails are too damaged to be repaired and will have to be relocated. He said he didn’t know if all the bridges will be replaced.
Martin also said he didn’t know if DEC will repair the bridge over Marcy Dam or the dam at Duck Hole. “I don’t have any idea,” he said. “These are questions we haven’t thought about yet.”
Located on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, Marcy Dam is perhaps the most popular crossroads in the High Peaks Wilderness. Hikers who start at Adirondack Loj had used the bridge to cross Marcy Brook on their way to Mount Marcy and other backcountry destinations.
Martin said the rains from Irene washed out not only the bridge, but also the dam’s “flush boards,” which maintained the impoundment’s water level. As a consequence, the Marcy Dam pond has lost much of its water, exposing mudflats.
Duck Hole, the source of the Cold River, also has been largely drained. “We anticipate it’ll turn into a couple of small ponds with wetlands around them,” Martin said.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he hopes DEC will repair the Marcy Dam bridge. Meanwhile, he added, ADK is exploring the possibility of reopening another trail (closed for years) that connects Adirondak Loj to the Marcy Dam Truck Trail. The truck trail and the Van Hoevenberg Trail follow the opposite sides of Marcy Brook to the dam. (I hiked the truck trail yesterday as far as the dam and found it in fairly good shape, despite some erosion and a few washouts.)
Woodworth also said most hikers would like to see DEC rebuild the Duck Hole dam. He thinks ADK would support a reconstruction, but other projects may take a higher priority.
Following are links to our earlier coverage (with more photos) of the damage from Hurricane Irene: