By Brandon Loomis
Campers heading into the High Peaks Wilderness intent on claiming a lean-to on the shores of Lake Colden this summer will arrive to a surprise.
The shelter they seek has a new location away from the lake, and a new roof that should last decades.
Last month, volunteers with Lean2Rescue dismantled the Beaver Point shelter and moved it uphill into the woods, where they reassembled it and gave it a new roof and other repairs. They had previously performed a similar operation on a nearby waterfront lean-to, moving that one across the southern end of the lake and back into the woods.
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Both former campsites will be closed to tents and returned to the forest. It’s in keeping with a state program that allows restoration of rotting lean-tos, but requires creation of at least a 100-foot waterfront setback for any that undergo major work.
“We’re trying to get people not to camp right on the shoreline,” said Kris Alberga, regional supervisor of natural resources for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Keeping a lean-to on the waterfront encourages people to congregate there and create more paths that can affect both the shoreline vegetation and the area’s natural appearance when viewed from across the water, he said.
The state amended the park’s land plan in the 1970s to require the setback, but Alberga said there’s not a sufficient budget to schedule moving all of those that remain on shorelines. Instead, the department waits until a lean-to needs major restoration – a whole new roof, say, instead of just new shingles – and calls in for help moving and fixing it.
That’s where Lean2Rescue comes in. The nonprofit group of Adirondack backcountry enthusiasts builds some new structures and restores others, such as the Beaver Point lean-to. Members’ work stretches a state budget that Alberga said couldn’t otherwise keep up with deterioration of decades-old log shelters.
“We would not be able to maintain them to the level that we are right now without the dedication of folks like these,” Alberga said. “They’ve just done incredible work for us.”
Got some favorite lean-tos, lean-to memories, opinions about lean-to placement or use? Share with editor Brandon Loomis for a magazine story about lean-tos of the Adirondacks.
The former Beaver Point site featured a dramatic view up the lake and the rocky slopes rising along and beyond it. Doug Arnold, a Lean2Rescue volunteer, acknowledged during the Beaver Point relocation that some people grouse about losing such campsite views, but said others thank the group for protecting waterfronts. Through it all, the volunteers have ignored any politics, Arnold said, and “prided ourselves on working in the woods.”
“We’re here to be directed by the New York State DEC,” he said. “If they ask us to move a lean-to from the side of a lake up there,” he said, pointing to the wooded hillside where his crew was hoisting logs with pulleys, “they have a reason and we don’t question it.”
Fourteen men from around the state worked to haul and hoist the the shelter to its new hillside, piece by piece, and put it all back together in the same day. Many of them work on several lean-tos a year, responding to both a wilderness calling and a camaraderie that they’ve built over a dozen years of operation. Arnold called them “special people” who need no prodding to spend their weekends hiking miles into the backcountry to help.
“We don’t advertise. We don’t beg people to come,” he said. “They’re here because they want to be. You couldn’t pay them to do what they’re doing. They wouldn’t want to be paid.”
The organization has published an online website that maps precise lean-to locations throughout the park, including those that are newly relocated. It also shows the former locations of lean-tos that the state removed altogether from the High Peaks, largely to protect alpine vegetation at higher elevations.
Volunteer Tom Hart said the group is committed to “giving back” to a park that has given its members decades of enjoyment. He hopes the Lean2Rescue story, featured on the the website, will lead others into the woods to improve everyone’s outdoor experiences in the Adirondacks. “We hope that other people get inspired,” he said, “not just with lean-tos, but trail work. There’s so much volunteerism out there. There’s so much good you can do.”
Whatever the location, Lean2Rescue and DEC officials both say they are dedicated to preserving the unique and historic experience of camping in a three-sided shelter in the Adirondacks. Some of the original shelters were placed directly on the ground, contributing to rot, and need new logs and rock perches. Others need new roofs. Restoring them can give them 50 more years of life.
Beaver Point was the 100th “rescue” since 2004.