Algonquin to Adirondacks wildlife corridor gains traction, recognition
By Mike Lynch
On Aug. 12, just days after floods washed aways roads, bridges, and dams in the central Adirondacks, Quebec writer Jamieson Findlay poured over a map spread out on a picnic table at a state campground in Newcomb. Bill Brown, a retired scientist, gave navigation advice, while Bill Barkley, Findlay’s childhood friend and hiking partner, listened intently nearby.
Findlay would make a month-long trek from the Adirondack Park to Algonquin Park following the Pilgrimage for Nature Trail, which had been created to bring awareness of the wildlife corridor between the two parks.
“It’s going to rejuvenate me and recharge my batteries,” Findlay, 64, said upon setting out on the journey.
The nonprofit Algonquin to Adirondacks Collaborative (A2A) touts the area as “one of the last large-scale, intact forest and wetland linkages left in Eastern North America.”
Advocates say safe wildlife corridors are needed to allow animals to move across the landscape between protected habitats so populations don’t get genetically isolated and so they can move through places where they have traditionally lived. Climate change is also making it necessary for plants and animals to move north to cooler climes.
On its own and through work with partners, A2A fosters safe routes within the region to help animals move safely across a landscape that is fragmented by development and roads, where many creatures are killed by vehicles.
Findlay and Barkley, who joined him for two stretches, started their trip with a small group including Barkley’s son, Denzil, and rewilding advocate John Davis, who had previously completed the New York portion of the trek as part of a team that traversed the entire corridor.
When the groups split after a mile or so, Findlay and Barkley headed down the Great Camp Santanoni carriage road, their packs loaded with gear.
A small toy moose dangled from Findlay’s bag, a tribute to Alice the Moose, a collared animal released in 2000 in Newcomb. Alice had meandered north about 350 miles to Algonquin Park, where she died of unknown causes in 2001.
The 700-pound cow inspired the creation of the A2A that formed in 2002 to protect and enhance the wildlife corridor between the two parks, and the nature trail that Findlay planned to follow through a new app. The developing route is a collection of trails considered day trips or short outings.
New York support
The Algonquin to Adirondacks Wildlife Collaborative has been recognized in Canada for about two decades. But in recent years, it’s gained momentum in New York, receiving official status in the U.S. and attracting supporters including Brown, a retired scientist from the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Adirondack Land Trust, and Davis.
The new energy has led to a mapping initiative launched this summer to better understand the landscape and where opportunities exist for wildlife paths, among other things. A road ecology study is taking place just south of the St. Lawrence River.
“When I was (collaborative executive director), the idea of getting more going on the American side and some more energy over there was something that I was really looking for and hoping would happen,” said Canadian David Miller, an A2A leader turned board member. “And it’s happening in spades now.”
The momentum has come as wildlife corridors have become more mainstream, in part because climate change research has shown that animals and plants will be moving across the landscape as the planet warms.
“The concept of ecological corridors has always been around with landscape ecology,” Miller said. “But, in terms of the public consciousness and government interest, I think you’ve seen, over the last decade or so, substantially more interest.”
Spreading the word
After traveling through the corridor, Findlay said he found little knowledge of A2A outside of scientists, land trusts officials and those involved with work related to the corridor.
“Generally I would say no one knew about it,” Findlay said.
To get the word out, Findlay and Barkley handed out pocket-sized cards about the A2A and gave presentations at schools and parks along the journey.
They also got a better understanding of the corridor’s varied terrain such as the wilderness of the Adirondack Park.
“There were lots of streams to ford, and lots of mud,” Jamieson said. “And so, the trails were beautiful. Campsites were wonderful. But it was slow going.”
Along the way, he passed private farmlands, small communities and just a few public trails and campsites outside of the parks. That meant spending a lot of time pounding the pavement.
“We saw more dead animals than live ones because we were walking so many roads,” Findlay said.
In New York, Barkley took photos of snakes, turtles, deer, porcupines and frogs killed by vehicles.
Don’t miss out
This article first appeared in a recent issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
Subscribe today to get 7 issues a year delivered to your mailbox and/or inbox!
Safe passage for wildlife
Roadkill is a topic of big concern for A2A. For the past decade Canadian researchers have been tallying mortalities, particularly on Ontario Highway 401, a four-lane road just north of the St. Lawrence River.
Cameron Smith, a retired Toronto Globe and Mail journalist who heads A2A Collaborative’s road ecology committee, said a recent report shows the need for three overpasses in Ontario; culverts, bridges and underpasses should also be retrofitted.
The St. Lawrence River area is a challenging point in the corridor for animals. The land just north and south of the waterway is more developed than other sections of the A2A.
Plus, the river, which can be up to several miles wide, hasn’t been freezing as in the past cold seasons. Animals must swim across more often.
“The only place they can now cross with reasonable safety is over the Thousand Islands,” Smith said. “And then they run bang into highway 401, which kills 3,000 animals a year.”
Historically animals have crossed the river successfully. Smith pointed to a Trent University study that showed fishers reemerging in southern Ontario in the 1990s after having been wiped out by trappers. Genetic tests found that many came from the Adirondacks and northern New York.
Studying the issue
South of the river, SUNY Potsdam Assistant Professor Kate Cleary is studying Route 12 near Chippewa Bay and Alexandria Bay and Route 37 between Hammond and Redwood. Cleary and Clarkson University graduate students biked those sections weekly this past summer to log roadkill.
Researchers have documented numerous amphibians crossing the road from the abundant wetlands, especially frogs and turtles. The state Department of Transportation, also a participant in the study, has been recording animal carcasses found in routine road clean-ups.
That would potentially include road fencing to funnel wildlife to safer passage.
The Thousand Islands Land Trust owns the Crooked Creek Preserve along both sides of Route 12 and is one of the supporters of the study. They have documented bobcats, fishers and other animals moving through culverts.
“The reality is the healthier and more contiguous the A-to-A corridor is, the stronger, the more viable the Adirondack Park is going to be,” said Thousand Island Land Trust Director Jake Tibbles. “This is a major wildlife corridor for all sorts of wildlife and bird species migrating between the two great parks.”
Finishing the trek
Findlay arrived in Algonquin Park with Barkley and a photographer on Sept. 16.
For Findlay, the trip deviated from the original plan. Barkley would wind up leaving the trek after the New York section, having to tend to his apple orchard in Ontario.
Jamieson, who had originally planned on only hiking, found that biking better suited some of the country roads and rail trails he encountered. In St. Lawrence County, Jamieson and Barkley even hitched a ride on an Amish wagon.
“I found it really hard, walking on pavement and looking ahead to just pavement,” Jamieson said.
Crossing the St. Lawrence River was scenic but nerve-racking. Findlay had originally hoped to swim it but found that unrealistic. So, Barkley and Findlay trudged over pedestrian walkways and tall bridges at the Thousand Islands as 18-wheel trucks sped past.
Findlay made it to his destination just a few days later than his goal, recalling the deep woods experiences in places like the Adirondacks’ Five Ponds Wilderness and hoping his trek highlighted the importance of wildlife corridors like the A2A.
“When people are driving, they’re going to hit animals,” he said. “And the way to reduce that is to have safe travel routes for animals.”
Top Photo: The Crooked Creek Preserve is located north and south of Route 12 alongside of the St. Lawrence River in northern New York. Photo courtesy of Thousand Islands Land Trust