ADK trail master turns backcountry work into wilderness fun for himself and crews
By Tracy Ormsbee
Go ahead, tell Sam Eddy something can’t be done—hardening 800 feet of trail in one day; taking apart a bridge, moving and rebuilding it in one day; hiking from Wanakena to Wolf Pond after dark—and the challenge is on. Just about every story Eddy tells begins with someone saying the task he’s proposing is impossible. He thrives on proving it isn’t.
“There’s always adventure in most everything I do,” says Eddy, who is the head trail master for the Adirondack 46ers.
Tell him you’re going to write about him and he’ll plan a 12-mile hike, river crossing and bushwhack included, to Sand Lake and Wolf Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness area. The adventure will involve the promise of seeing the remains of a plane crash. At lunch he’ll produce a package of hot dogs from his pack, build a fire and roast them for you, then share apples from his uncle’s tree. He’ll dig up some light beers from the ground and pass them around.
It’s a long walk using the trail from Wanakena to his adopted lean-tos on Sand Lake and Wolf Pond, so he proposes a short cut from the Grassy Pond trail that follows an old logging road and marked trail—until it doesn’t anymore. From there Eddy is the one who knows the way between the lake and the pond. He knows where there’s a canoe to take us across Wolf Pond to the plane wreckage.
And at the end of our long day in the woods, Eddy still has the stamina to pick up “trash” left behind—a tarp and chair—add it to his pack and carry it out.
To Eddy, it’s just another weekend in the woods he has come to know fully since the early ’80s, first as a hunter, then as a hiker and now as a trail and lean-to builder and adopter of nine lean-tos in this tract. He has been a trail master for 17 years.
We pull up to the Grassy Pond trailhead in his cherry-red Ford truck on a Saturday morning. He opens the back, revealing a homemade bed where he sleeps when necessary. Under the bed are the tools he uses for his work in the woods—shovels, straps for carrying logs, a “diaper” for carrying rocks, battery-operated tools. Eddy says he could “almost build a house with the tools back there.”
Most every weekend from May through September he’s out hardening and maintaining trails, rebuilding lean-tos and bridges, supervising—and entertaining—crews of sometimes 30 people. As trail master, he leads groups of volunteers, who put in hundreds and thousands of hours of work on projects the Department of Environmental Conservation could never accomplish on its own.
Trail building and maintenance is long, punishing work. It requires carrying in supplies for the work over miles and sleeping near the job. So Eddy works to make the outings fun. He’s rewarded with crews that continue to grow in size. Volunteers come from all over: Rochester, Virginia, Quebec.
“When I set up my schedule I try to put adventure into it to keep people coming back,” he says.
After his next two outings, Eddy will have logged 2,200 hours in trail work. The more you put into something, he says, the more you get out of it.
“People don’t realize how far-reaching his impact has been,” says Sherman Craig, past chair of the Adirondack Park Agency board, and a friend. “The park does not have enough paid staff to deal in any way with the maintenance of 6 million acres.”
Craig first met Eddy when the two were part of a committee working to bring more attention to the Five Ponds Wilderness, out of which came the Cranberry 50, a 50-mile loop hike. They’ve stayed in touch and often Sherman shows up with his pontoon boat—and a couple beers—to help Eddy carry 50 to 100 pounds of junk he has found in the woods.
To be an Adirondack 46er, you have to have hiked all of the 46 Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet, though you can volunteer for trail work even if you haven’t hiked any. Eddy has hiked them all — in winter and summer seasons– once climbing 30 of them in the same year. He has done 30 solo climbs in the winter. He went on to add 67 peaks over 4,000 feet in New England, completing the Northeast 111.
He has made six different trips to the Grand Canyon and carried venison tenderloin, potatoes, carrots, dessert and cocktails to make a meal for his group.
He once showed up for his friend’s wedding in Albany in his hiking clothes, coming straight from the woods.
Eddy lives in the Town of Champion, between Watertown and Croghan, and works for the highway department there. He has an eye for grade, which helps him determine where trails need hardening or better drainage.
One of the things he loves most about the work is meeting people who care. And he gets to hang out with people from the DEC—and go to places in the park most people don’t, he says.
And there’s always the challenge.
“I built that bridge at Slide Brook,” he says. “I tore that thing apart, carried it across and put that baby back together.”
Fantastic article! I ran into Sam while hiking the Cranberry 50 earlier in September. I had the awesome idea to hike from Olmstead Pond to Sand Lake, made it as far as Big Shallow. Still motivated to visit Sand Lake, maybe next year! Thank you Sam for all that you do for the trails!!
William Lundy says
Good morning, Thank you for this article featuring one of the hardest-working people I know. May I note one clarification, though: although most stewardship projects run by the 46ers have membership as a requirement, the one exception is trail work. Anyone (18 or older) can join a trail work session: being a 46er is not a requirement for this particular activity. So, anyone interested to join Sam and the other 46er trail workers can go to the 46ers website (http://www.adk46er.org/) and sign up for the trail crew on line. Thanks for this.
Bill Lundy, 46R#3310, Recording Secretary
John Sasso says
Great article on our trail master, Sam! One correction to the article, though. The statement,
“To volunteer with the Adirondack 46ers, you have to have hiked all of the 46 Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet”
is incorrect. You can be a 46er or an aspirant to volunteer. We have had a number of the latter in our trail crew. See:
To volunteer as a trailhead steward in the Trailhead Steward Program (also conducted by the 46ers), you do need to be a 46er.
Tracy Ormsbee says
Thank you. Fixed!
John W Blaser says
I adopted the Shallows, Wolf and Sand back in the 80s, but had to give them up because of family and job obligations. It’s nice to know how well the leantos in the Five Ponds Wilderness are cared for.
Rob Abromavage says
It is clear from the article how Sam got his trail-name… “Sammy the Bull.” A plea from his Grand Canyon hiking buddies… Free him so he can go on more of our trips. All trail work and no Canyon trips could lead to Sam becoming a dull boy!
William Ott says
Love your article Tracy,
I assume the plane wreck is the F-106 by Wolf Pond, where somebody vandalized the tail piece (tail number 078) soon after I noted how to find it in the Wolf Pond shelter log. The other wreck I know about in the area is Wilbur Weyland’s Piper Cub (or Taylorcraft) where he crashed and died in 1954, not to be found until 1979. That one is harder to find as nothing is above ground any more.
Marty Hogan says
This is an amazing story thank you so much. I have not hiked the 1 mile between rock lake outlet and the leanto at Sand Lake. I’ve tried three times but hiked the entire length from Croghan Road to Wanakena in other hikes It’s great to see this being taken care of with such kindness.