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Monday, December 7, 2009

Revisiting Crane Pond Road

The words "Adirondack Homeland" appear on a boulder at the entrance to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, a reminder of the battle over Crane Pond Road two decades ago. Photo by Phil Brown.

The words “Adirondack Homeland” appear on a boulder at the entrance to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, a reminder of the battle over Crane Pond Road two decades ago.

In the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer, we plan to publish an article by Adam Federman on the implications of the Old Mountain Road decision on the state Forest Preserve.

Federman notes that probably hundreds of old roads crisscross the Preserve. As a result of the Old Mountain Road case, observers are asking whether towns could reopen these roads to snowmobiles and/or other motor vehicles.

Any attempt to open these roads is sure to put the state Department of Environmental Conservation in the crossfire between local governments and environmental groups.

Remember Crane Pond Road? The dirt lane penetrates nearly two miles into the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, ending at Crane Pond. Since motorized use is forbidden in Wilderness Areas, DEC placed boulders across the road in 1989 to blockade it.

The closure enraged local residents and became a cause celebre. In 1990, a group of men wearing masks removed the boulders and vowed to keep the road open. Members of Earth First, a radical environmental group, later pitched tents at the start of road to keep out vehicles.

A truck parked at the Crane Pond Road, nearly two miles inside the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Photo by Phil Brown.

A truck at the Crane Pond, nearly two miles inside the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Photo by Phil Brown.

This set up a confrontation between the Earth Firsters and locals who wanted to keep the road open. Jack LaDuke, who was there as a reporter for WCAX-TV, recalls that Warrensburg Supervisor Maynard Baker was among those who approached the encampment.

“Out of the corner of my eye I saw some commotion,” LaDuke told me today. “Baker and this other fellow were going at it. It was a very short encounter. Baker threw a punch and hit the fellow, it appeared to me on the chin, and he went down.” The Earth Firsters left soon afterward.

LaDuke’s footage later aired on a 60 Minutes piece about violence against environmentalists.

I went to Crane Pond Road on a gray, chilly day a few weeks ago to take photographs for Federman’s story. There is still an American flag hanging from a tree near the boundary of the Wilderness Area. Just where the road crosses into state land I noticed a boulder with spray-painted letters. I scraped off the moss and to reveal what they said: “Adirondack Homeland.

There were no signs either indicating that this was the boundary of a Wilderness Area or forbidding motor vehicles. In fact, I wasn’t sure this was the boundary when I first drove up the road. I went as far as the trailhead for Goose Pond and hiked the rest of the way to Crane Pond. I saw three pickups parked along the road, including one at Crane Pond.

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, argues that DEC is obligated by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan to close the road. “It was closed [initially] by a legal action,” he said. “It was reopened by an act of vandalism.”

But the agency has no desire to open this can of worms.

When I asked why the road remains open, DEC spokesman Yancey Roy sent this e-mailed response: “When the controversy became public some years ago, the administration at the time decided to delay any action on the road until some future date. All subsequent administrations have continued to follow that policy.”

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.

12 Responses

  1. Sean says:

    A month or so ago I spoke with a guy who witnessed some of the Crane Pond commotion. Apparently there were some cameras placed to record so called illicit activity on the road to Crane Pond. Those lines were severed quickly.

    In the end we can see that both the road and the Pharaoh Wilderness survived.

    • Phil says:

      Has the wilderness “survived” despite the road? It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, the place didn’t looked trashed. On the other, many people would say an area you can drive into is not a wilderness. In fact, the State Land Master Plan says as much. In this case, DEC has chosen not to enforce the plan. However, the law may be unclear, given the McCulley case and the fact that the road has been in use all these years.

  2. Jim says:

    Has the area survived as a wilderness when there is a road with motorized vehicles penetrating it.

  3. William deB. Mills says:

    Very useful article. Pieces bringing us up-to-date on favorite old access routes to the wilderness are very useful. I am just sorry to hear that pickups are messing up an old road that is one of the nicest ways for skiers or snowshoers to get into great wilderness territory.

    Please, guys, you are strong enough to walk the two miles from the roadside parking lot. Let’s work together and keep the snow smooth for everyone during the all-too-short winter season.

    And I’d love to hear of more such access roads.

  4. thad chandler says:

    hi folks,

    i’ve been wilderness camping at crane pond for over 30 years and done day visits BY TRUCK at every opportunity and i have yet to see any trashing of the area. sure there is a jerk every now and then but show me where we can go and not see jerks. remember, one mans jerk is another mans president. most everyone i’ve met there and on connecting trails are respectful of others and police themselves, lets keep it that way and keep the place a secret from those jersey folks and flat landers from the city. (just kidding) i’m happy to share but really back in the 60’s we didn’t see too many feriners.

  5. norbert says:

    Being one of the “masked men” LOL that took away the stones and offered them to Mario at his doorstep in Albany, I say the roads around Albany are in the real wilderness! They didn’t like the stones there either.

  6. […] We started at the official beginning of the wilderness area and walked along an old road that is officially closed but still used by many cars. In fact, everyone else drove in further than we […]

  7. Jesse says:

    I remember going there with Camp Son Rise as a kid, we drove up in vans down the two mile road with our camping gear, food and canoes. We always cleaned up after ourselves and carried all our trash out, even picked up some that was left by other people to keep it clean and beautiful. There was no way we could have done this without driving the vans all the way with all the gear, canoes and kids. We would Canoe across the pond and camp out for a few days. It was the best times of my life!!! I am glad I got to experience it. It’s just too bad that a few bad apples wreck it for the rest of us.

  8. Maurija says:

    My entire family (parents, uncles, and cousins) have been making the 5 hour trip from Orange County NY to Crane Pond for almost 45+ years, at least once or twice a year. I can’t tell you how many memorizes we have of the “road less traveled”, the moon light on the pond, the owls at night, and the bears and racoons stories we all share. My mother was pregant with me camping in these woods. I’d like to say I’ve been coming up here since then. I remember when they they closed the road. I didn’t understand why people wanted to keep cars out of crane pond. Now that I’m in my 30’s I understand why. This place is like home to me and many other’s like me. It should be preserved and cared for. Over the passed 10 years I have noticed a few too many bad apples leaving trash around, putting dish soap in the pond, or not properly disposing of “other” waste. I was so upset at the thought of how this natural, clean, peaceful, place could be ruined by folks like this. Now I understand why the boulders were once there. Now I see how important it is to preserve this and many other areas in NY. It only takes a few bad apples to ruin a good thing. If you are not a serious wilderness camper, this isn’t the place for you. But..if you do want to camp out in the many ponds in this area, PLEASE.. PLEASE.. preserve this place for all to enjoy. There’s an old saying up in these woods.. “If you bring it in… take it out!”.

  9. It’s a road, always has been, and always should be. There is more than enough wilderness for everyone that no one will ever step foot on, but the Green Mafia wants to hog it all for themselves, pure and simple. It’s a public road, and the public will continue to use it, including me, my family and friends. The road leads to a wilderness, so just park, try to remain calm, and get out there, but if you can’t because you are too bothered, try some other wilderness areas, like Hoffman Notch, Vanderwacker, Dix, etc., and on and on and on. Even with good map and compass skills and a GPS, there are times when you know full well what it means to be in the wildness, and anybody honest enough has to admit that Crane Pond Road poses no threat to the environment or wilderness. Please, no whiners, dummies or fruitcakes.

  10. yvonne dasraj says:

    I was taken to crane pond by my brother in the 60s. I took my kids in the 70s and my daughter born in the 70s has two boys born 2003. We all camp together at Crane Pond as a family. What we take in we bring out. We leave nothing but our footprints and have many wonderful camping memories. We are planning to return to Crane Pond soon. We come from far away. We cherish the wilderness and nature and teach this to all our generations. We have gotten stuck in the mudd pit as well. I hiked to pharaoh Lake when I was eight months pregnant.Educating people is the key to conservation. Not closure.

    • Johnny says:

      People who trash the wilderness don’t want to be educated. They want to do what they feel they’re entitled to do. Most polite attempt at education will result in a middle finger pointed in your direction and a ‘why don’t you mind your own business.’

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