Story and photos by Mike Lynch
In early August, reporter Zach Matson and I trekked to Duck Hole in the western High Peaks.
We were doing field research for reporting work Zach is involved with about dams in the Adirondacks. He’s seen his fair share of frontcountry dams, but wanted to see one in a wilderness setting and the impacts on the environment after it is gone.
Duck Hole is located in the western High Peaks and is about a 7-mile hike from the Upper Works trailhead in Newcomb.
The old wooden dam blew out during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and since then some major ecological changes have occurred in the area. Generally, the pond has been replaced by small mountain streams. Terrestrial vegetation – including spruce, cedar, and leatherleaf – has replaced aquatic plants, and the landscape is green instead of reflecting the sky.
Before the dam failed, it held back the Cold River and created a 61-acre pond, with views of MacNaughton, Santanoni, and Seymour mountains. The water body attracted hardcore paddlers with lightweight boats (like former Explorer Editor Phil Brown) and anglers in search of brook trout.
People got their boats there by paddling across Henderson, carrying to Preston Ponds, before eventually reaching Duck Hole. The trip was considered arduous but worthwhile due to the remoteness and scenic qualities of the pond.
Hikers, too, have always visited the area. Four trails meet at an intersection less than a football field’s length from the dam. Those trails are Henderson Lake Trail, Ward Brook Trail, Bradley Pond Trail and the Northville-Lake Placid Trail.
The trail journal in the lean-to just upstream from the dam contains entries from people seeking out High Peaks in the Seward Range or pass through through as they trekked on the Northville-Placid Trail.
The High Peaks Wilderness management plan notes that the rock-and-wood crib dam had been in disrepair when the state Department of Environmental Conservation inspected it in 1995. So was another nearby one on the other side of Duck Hole. After Irene, DEC decided against repairing both Duck Hole dam and Marcy Dam, which is located in the more popular eastern High Peaks.
Now, the Duck Hole structure, originally built in 1915, is just an old relic for hikers to check out as they pass through the area.
Without the pond, there are at least two streams meandering through the valley. One is Moose Creek and another comes from the outlet of Lower Preston Pond to the defunct dam.
We weren’t the only ones interested in visiting Duck Hole. Guide Matt Burnett was leading Northern Forest Explorers, a group of teenagers, on a five-day trip from Upper Works to Long Lake. Their first night they slept in a lean-to along Moose Creek, before heading down the Northville-Placid Trail.