Bad news for the backcountry

Erosion on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail near South Meadow Brook. Photo by Phil Brown.
Erosion on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail near South Meadow Brook. Photo by Phil Brown.

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 rains created the large slide on the right on Wright Peak. Photo by Phil Brown.
The rains created the large slide on the right on Wright Peak. Photo by Phil Brown.

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:

After Irene, where can you hike?

DEC closes High Peaks trails

Marcy Dam bridge washed away

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Dwight says

    Phil: Essex County lists Rt 73 as being closed starting from I-87 Exit 30. Is that true. Just wondering if the Chapel Pond Slabs will be accessible this weekend. Thanks for all your updates. Very helpful!

  2. Brent says

    According to 73 is closed from Rt. 9 to Rt. 9N. I think Chapel Pond is within that stretch.

    Reported By:NYSDOT: closed to traffic on NY 73 in both directions from US 9 to NY 9N due to flooding starting 4:46:00 PM, 8/28/2011 until further notice.

    Last update: 8/29/2011 4:47:29 PM

  3. Paul says

    “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”

    That is just about everything in the high peaks.

  4. Phil says

    Dwight, NY 73 is officially closed from Route 9 to 9N in Keene. Not sure how much damage there is between 9 and Chapel Pond, but that part of the road is officially closed. Will post something when I know more.

  5. Kevin says

    Phil, thanks for the thorough and timely coverage. Good reporting.

    I’ve had one inquiry already about helping with cleanup. When/if the time comes that volunteers are warranted could you do a writeup so we can tap this likely needed resource?

    [and I’m thinking DEC stuff/trailwork, not the ADK picking up the pieces of their privately owned properties]

  6. Kevin says

    Sorry, just a clarification of my last post – I mean “ADK CLUB picking up the pieces”… the DEC has a hundred times as much trail and structural stuff to worry about with nearly zero budget gap to do it with. Heck, I hope the ADK Club is gracious in helping to organize some backcountry repair operations without charging the volunteers for the priviliedge like they do members on their typical organized trail days.

  7. Kevin says

    Looks like the adk club is quit to respond to my requests or they already had good intentions in mind… according to their FB page they’re using their Trail Days in the coming weeks/months as a means to organize volunteers (free of charge, hurray) to help with the cleanup.

    Until they reopen the trail systems and/or get direction from the DEC there isn’t much else anyone can do at the moment.

  8. Todd says

    Ready to donate weekends to repair and rebuild trails-just can’t many specifics from ADK or DEC of immediate efforts. Can anyone shed some light?


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