By TIM ROWLAND
A signature ethos of the Adirondack Park is to let the vegetation grow wild and free without fear of being laid low by saws or loppers. But where some scenic views along Adirondack highways are concerned, state agents are hoping to make an exception.
There are at least 37 scenic pull-offs in the park, but some of these grand views have been compromised by vegetation, a point illustrated by a presentation to the Adirondack Park Agency last week as the board considered final passage of a travel corridor management plan.
“I think we need to give (the Department of Transportation) some guidance and say, you need to maintain the vistas, and the Adirondack Park Agency is supportive of maintaining the vistas,” said APA Board Member Art Lussi.
Lussi’s comments came after seeing a slide of an overview of Seventh Lake east of Inlet on Route 28 taken from a 1930s postcard juxtaposed with a photo showing the same view today. Eighty or so years ago, motorists had a broad, spectacular view of the lake, but today that view is seen through a veil of trees and shrubs.
That may be changing. The APA gave final approval at its May meeting to the Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan, as well as the Hammond Pond Wild Forest Unit Management Plan. Both documents will significantly affect how innumerable travelers view the park well into the future. The first offers policies governing the Adirondacks’ road and rail systems, while the second is a blueprint for wild forests that will play host to a new segment of a national scenic trail that’s currently under development.
The travel plan affects not just state highways, but what people can see from those roads. It influences everything from the color of the road signs (the familiar Adirondack yellow-on-brown), to hiker parking, to control of invasive species, to the size and style of culverts — which ideally would be ample enough to allow animals to pass underneath.
The plan also drew attention last year when it was drawn so as to remove a technical obstacle to a controversial rail-trail proposal west of Lake Placid.
The Adirondacks has a goodly share of hikers, climbers and paddlers, but highway planners have noted the majority of tourists form their impression of the Adirondacks by what they see from their car windows. Overgrown pullouts don’t always show the Adirondacks to their best advantage.
Deputy Planning Director Rick Weber said that brushing out the overlooks does not appear to run afoul of any state law governing the park. But if not prohibited, neither has it been greatly encouraged.
Lussi asked that the encouragement be forthcoming. “We said we were going to do this with a memorandum of understanding in 2009, but I feel like we don’t specifically say (in the plan) you have permission to cut the trees along the Seventh Lake vista,” Lussi said.
Weber said he expects the plan will examine all the vistas individually and eventually offer that guidance. “Yes it’s taken 10 years to get here, but it is moving along,” he said.
The Hammond Pond management plan, meanwhile, is noteworthy for a number of new trail proposals, including a link that will take hikers on the North Country National Scenic Trail across the Hammond Pond Wild Forest to the Champlain Bridge at Crown Point and into Vermont, where it will connect with the Appalachian Trail.
It also lays out a number of horse and foot trails at Frontier Town in North Hudson, which is a signature state project that tries to redirect hikers from the overused Keene Valley to the south side of the High Peaks and little-used forests in areas such as Hammond Pond.
The 45,600-acre Hammond Pond Wild Forest stretches from Keene south to Ticonderoga, mostly between the Northway and Lake Champlain. It includes the popular venues of Baxter Mountain and Split Rock Falls, and calls for heavily damaged trails at both sites to be repaired.
Day hikers have run roughshod over Split Rock Falls in particular, eroding soil that has accumulated in fractures in the anorthosite rock, which APA planner Walt Linck said was formed 15 miles beneath the earth’s surface 1.1 billion years ago. “It’s a stunning site, a lot to look at and think about,” said Linck. “We aren’t going to stop the public use, and we don’t want to, but something has to be done.”