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Thursday, September 15, 2011

DEC ponders options to replace Marcy Dam bridge

Irene floods wiped out the bridge at Marcy Dam. Photo by Phil Brown.

Irene floods wiped out the bridge at Marcy Dam. Photo by Phil Brown.

The state will either reconstruct the bridge at Marcy Dam or build a new one nearby, but the project likely won’t be done before winter, according to Tom Martin, regional forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Martin said DEC plans to have an engineer look at the dam to determine if it makes sense to replace the original bridge. The alternative would be to build a bridge across Marcy Brook upstream or downstream of the dam.

“We do intend to look at all the options, but we’ll have some kind of crossing,” Martin told the Explorer after briefing the Adirondack Park Agency on Tropical Storm Irene’s impact on the backcountry.

For hikers, one of the biggest impacts of Irene has been the loss of the wide bridge at Marcy Dam. The bridge is located about two miles up the Van Hoevenberg Trail, the most popular route to Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit.

Until a new bridge is built, DEC is rerouting hikers to a ford downstream of the dam. It requires hikers to hop across boulders to an island and then hop across more boulders to opposite shore, where they can pick up the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.

Sign for Marcy Brook crossing. Photo by Phil Brown.

Sign for Marcy Brook crossing. Photo by Phil Brown.

When I hiked to Avalanche Pass last weekend, I passed a few parties who had missed the reroute. If you’re going to Marcy Dam, look for the sign shown at the right. It’s on the left side of the trail 1.8 miles from the register at Adirondak Loj.

Martin told the APA board that the crossing should be used only if water is low. “There is no high-water crossing that we consider safe,” he said.

During times of high water, he added, hikers can park at South Meadow Road and go up the truck trail.

Likewise, this winter skiers may want to approach the High Peaks and Avalanche Lake via the truck trail. Because South Meadow Road is not plowed in winter, this will add about a mile to the trip each way. If conditions are safe, skiers may also be able to cross the pond created by Marcy Dam. Most of the water in the pond has drained since the storm, which also washed away the dam’s flashboards.

One drawback to the truck trail is that hikers and skiers cannot start at Adirondak Loj, which is owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). However, ADK is talking to DEC about reopening a link from the Loj to the truck trail: a section of the Mr. Van Ski Trail that fell into disuse years ago because its bridge over Marcy Brook is out.

If the Mr. Van bridge were replaced, it would provide a safer way to cross the brook than the rock-hop below Marcy Dam, according to Neil Woodworth, ADK’s executive director. Since the Mr. Van crossing is on ADK property, he noted, the bridge could be built without a lot of red tape, meaning it could be done by winter.

Nevertheless, Woodworth sees the Mr. Van option as a temporary solution: by this route skiers and hikers will have to travel 3.5 miles to get to Marcy Dam–1.2 miles longer than if they were to go via the Van Hoevenberg Trail.

DEC closed the eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain Wilderness, and Dix Mountain Wilderness the day after Irene. It has since reopened all three areas, but some trails remain closed.

Martin told the Explorer reports from other parts of the Park indicate that trails are in good shape. “At this point I don’t anticipate any additional closures,” he said. “I anticipate between now and Columbus Day weekend, everything will be open and in as good shape as before or better.”

He noted that crews inspecting the trails are often carrying chainsaws and nippers and clearing the trails as they go. As of yesterday, DEC had cleared about 130 miles of trails.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

6 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “He noted that crews inspecting the trails are often carrying chainsaws and nippers and clearing the trails as they go.” Can they use chainsaws in wilderness areas???

  2. Jim McCulley says:

    No, but it’s for the politically correct crowd so they do.

  3. Tim says:

    Bummer, I didn’t realize Irene knocked out this bridge. Looking forward to a solution soon.

  4. Anon says:

    What purpose does Marcy Dam currently serve?

    How much money will be spent so the public can gain access to the ADK’s Loj?

    Why not improve access to South Meadows and enlarge parking there?

  5. Paul says:

    “What purpose does Marcy Dam currently serve?”

    None, really. You could have a bridge without a dam. It used to be a good place to hang food away from the bears, but that isn’t much of an issue with the canister requirement.

  6. Robert VanHise says:

    The point is not to maintain access to the ADK Loj. The Van Hoevenberg trailhead is the most popular (heavily used)in the High Peaks, and it’s important to have a convenient trailhead that will allow most of the access/parking to be concentrated by the High Peaks Information Center. The HPIC offers necessary supplies and maps for sale, bear canister rentals, and restrooms. More importantly, ADK provides free information to hikers who might not be knowledgeable of the perils of high peaks hiking.

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