By Phil Brown
Perusing the interim recreation plan for the Sable Highlands, I especially was keen on finding new opportunities for mountain biking and hiking. Imagine my delight on learning that the plan, released in 2009, called for a bike trail around a small unnamed peak, with a foot trail to a lookout. I decided to check it out in late April.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan also called for a parking area at the start of the 6.5-mile bike loop, but having earlier explored the easement lands by car, I knew it had not been created. Instead, I parked at Fishhole Pond and pedaled 2.1 miles along a well-maintained logging road (the D&H Road) to the start of the bike loop.
In 2008, New York State paid $10.8 million for conservation easements on 84,000 acres of commercial forest known as the Sable Highlands in the northern Adirondacks. The deal lets logging continue, but it also allows public recreation in 14 “public use areas,” totaling 21,100 acres, and on “linear recreation corridors” connecting them. The state so far has failed to implement much of its plan. This spring, the Adirondack Explorer spent many days exploring the Sable Highlands on foot, by car, and on a mountain bike. This is the second in a series of articles meant to open a window on a land partly owned by the public but rarely seen. Read the first story in the series, on Norton Peak.
This part of the loop—the western leg—is in the Plumadore-Inman Public Use Area, one of 14 PUAs in the Sable Highlands that are open for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, and hunting. At 3,919 acres, Plumadore-Inman is the third-largest PUA.
Leaving the D&H Road, I pedaled up a grassy logging road. You wouldn’t want to drive the family sedan on it, but the road was fine for mountain biking, despite occasional blowdown. Had the loop continued like this, I would have been happy.
Unfortunately, the road ended in a clearing after 1.9 miles. Beyond lay a muddy, thorny skidder track unsuitable for biking. Disappointed, I turned around, but not before identifying some of the peaks visible from the clearing, including Peak Mountain and the Plumadore Range.
After returning to the D&H Road, I biked to the eastern leg of the bike loop: a dirt-and-gravel road that passes through land leased to the private Plumadore Club. Although this land generally is off limits to the public, the road has been designated a “linear recreation corridor” (LRC) and so is open for biking and hiking.
When I arrived at the road, I found it gated and posted. There was no sign identifying the road or affirming the public’s right to use it—an all-too-common problem in the Sable Highlands. Having studied the recreation plan, I felt sure this was the LRC in question. I biked up the road three miles to its end in a large clearing. On the way I passed a wetland that afforded a spectacular view of the Plumadore Range.
Several skidder tracks radiated from the clearing. My guess is one of them leads to the clearing I had visited on the other leg of the loop. Indeed, when I uploaded my route data at home that night, I saw that the two clearings are quite close. DEC just needs to clear a connecting trail to complete the bike loop.
Later in the spring, I retraced part of my trip with Mike Lynch, a writer and photographer for the Explorer. Again starting at Fishhole Pond, we biked the western leg of the loop and took photos. On the way back, we bushwhacked to the lookout mentioned in DEC’s recreation plan.
Rightly or wrongly, we chose to follow skidder tracks during the ascent. They were choked with thorns and not too pleasant, but the views from the open ledges were worth the trouble. Before us was a limitless sea of peaks. Several lay within the easement lands, including Norton Peak, the Elbow Range and Catamount. To the south were the Loon Lake Mountains. Farther away were Whiteface Mountain, Mount Marcy, and others of the High Peaks.
Judging by the plan’s maps, DEC’s hiking trail would be less than a mile and ascend about 700 feet—easy enough to combine with a 6.5-mile mountain-bike ride. It’s the kind of moderate adventure that could attract more visitors to the easement lands, and that, after all, is the goal of the recreation plan. Alas, we’ve waited 11 years already, and there’s no word on when DEC will get these trails built.
DIRECTIONS: From NY 3, turn north on Franklin County 26 toward Loon Lake and go 6.2 miles to a dirt road marked by a DEC sign for Fishhole Pond. Turn right and drive a short distance to a junction. Turn left and continue to a parking area at Fishhole Pond. From the parking area, continue by bike up the D&H Road. At 2.1 miles, just after crossing Plumadore Brook, turn left onto a grassy logging road. This is the western leg of the bike loop.