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.” ν