By Phil Brown
The Barnes Pond Public Use Area is an exception in the Sable Highlands: here the state Department of Environmental Conservation has done most of what it promised to do in its 2009 recreation plan for the conservation-easement lands.
The major recreational feature is a logging road that penetrates the interior of the 3,716-acre parcel—an isolated easement tract lying off True Brook Road in the town of Saranac.
I first explored the Barnes Pond PUA on my mountain bike in late April, and I returned in early August with my sidekick Carol. On neither trip did I see anyone else. Judging from the register, nearly all of the visitors are locals who hike, bike or ski on the tract.
In 2008, New York State paid $10.8 million for conservation easements on 84,000 acres of commercial forest known as the Sable Highlands in the northern Adirondacks. The deal lets logging continue, but it also allows public recreation in 14 “public use areas,” totaling 21,100 acres, and on “linear recreation corridors” connecting them. The state so far has failed to implement much of its plan. This spring, the Adirondack Explorer spent many days exploring the Sable Highlands on foot, by car, and on a mountain bike. This is one in a series of articles meant to open a window on a land partly owned by the public but rarely seen.
The logging road is usually gated, but DEC does allow disabled people with a special permit to drive to handicapped-accessible campsites, each of which is outfitted with a picnic table, outhouse and steel fire pit. There are six of these campsites along the road. DEC also opens the gate during big-game season to allow the general public to drive on the road and use the campsites.
Following a morning of rain, Carol and I were looking for a short afternoon outing and opted to bike the logging road. We pedaled four miles to a clearing where the quality of the road deteriorated. The round trip, which is moderately difficult, can be done in an hour or so.
After going around the gate, we hopped on our bikes and soon began a long, gradual climb. At 0.85 miles, we reached the second campsite, which boasts an extraordinary view of Averill Peak and Lyon Mountain to the north, both of which top 3,800 feet. Wildflowers in the clearing near the campsite added to the picturesque scene.
The road continued to climb. As I powered uphill, a brown rabbit bounded straight toward my bike until it finally saw me, turned tail and darted into the woods. We reached our high point at 1.5 miles, after climbing 380 feet, and then enjoyed a half-mile downhill ride to a beaver meadow. The road adjacent to the soggy meadow had been flooded in April, but it was dry now.
Beyond here, we went over a few small hills before reaching a grassy clearing. On my April trip, I went a little farther, but Carol and I decided to turn back here as it was getting near dinnertime. The return ride went fast. The highlight was coasting back to the car from the height of land.
DEC’s interim recreation plan, released in 2009, proposed 10 campsites in the Barnes Pond Public Use Area. Although only six have been built, that’s more than exist anywhere else in the Sable Highlands. Indeed, there are only three other campsites in the 13 other Public Use Areas. The plan had called for a total of 56 campsites throughout the Sable Highlands.
The recreation plan also proposed an angler’s trail to True Brook in the Barnes Pond PUA. That has not been built. DEC has no timetable for its completion.
It should be noted that Carol and I did not see Barnes Pond on our bike ride. However, several visitors to the tract listed the pond as a destination. There is not an official hiking trail to the pond, so I am not sure how they got there. On my next visit to tract, though, the pond will be my destination as well.