By BEN WESTCOTT
The 2.5-mile hike up Blueberry Mountain in Keene is a rugged and challenging climb that rewards outdoor enthusiasts with plenty of scenic vistas.
At the Marcy Field parking lot, hikers start along a town trail that runs about a quarter of a mile to the Blueberry Mountain trailhead. The trail then opens with a section of private land about three quarters of a mile in length, until it ultimately becomes state land as part of the High Peaks Wilderness on its way to the summit of Blueberry, Porter and Cascade Mountains.
The stretch of trail near Blueberry Mountain’s summit is quite steep, with sizeable lengths of bare rock face underfoot.
The Blueberry Mountain Trail offers an alternative route to Porter and Cascade for people looking to avoid crowds on the main trail to these popular High Peaks, which begins alongside Route 73 outside Lake Placid. Hikers who choose to take the Blueberry Mountain Trail to Porter and Cascade can find ample parking opportunities at the Marcy Field lot rather than joining the long lines of parked cars on both sides of Route 73 that have become a familiar sight to locals and visitors alike.
This is a less-traveled route in the High Peaks that Keene is seeking state funding to help build up.
On a Tuesday morning hike to the top of Blueberry Mountain that spilled into the early afternoon, I encountered only two pairs of hikers.
“I was really surprised there were not more people on this trail, because I remember it being a really solid hike,” said Katrina Steinley, a Pittsburgh resident who also owns a house in Jay. Steinley hiked the Blueberry Mountain trail multiple times more than a decade ago.
Steinley and Peter Kelmartin, also a Pittsburgh resident, had initially planned to hike Big Slide. But, after finding out that the Garden parking lot was closed, they pulled out a map and looked for other hikes in the area. (The Garden reopens Friday.) They found the hike up Blueberry Mountain to be a convenient option because they were already at Marcy Field. The pair planned to continue on the trail to Porter and Cascade.
Alex Southidara and Catherine Gauvin, of Montreal, also hiked up Blueberry Mountain with Porter Mountain as their final destination.
“We looked online and we were looking for a difficulty level that wasn’t too easy or too hard, and not too long, because we don’t want to be stranded here at night,” said Southidara.
The trail up Blueberry Mountain is easy to follow and well marked. Hikers will frequently encounter yellow “Foot Trail” signs put up by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. There are a few fallen trees on the trail, but nothing too prohibitive.
Southidara described the path as “wild, but at the same time you can see the trail. I can see different markings.”
Commenting on the quarter-mile town trail that leads from Marcy Field to the Blueberry Mountain trailhead, Keene town supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said, “It’s muddy in there. The trail isn’t ready to sustain a lot of use.” Wilson hopes to improve these trail conditions. “I would like to work with the DEC and town to come up with a strategy for improving the town trail so it can sustain more traffic and is more attractive to hike,” he said.
Wilson has already taken tangible steps in an effort to improve the town trail. He has orchestrated the Town of Keene’s application for a Smart Growth Grant from the DEC of $100,000.
According to Wilson, Smart Growth Grants fund “grass-roots economic development projects that pertain to our ecotourism economy or the wilderness region.”
“It’s an excellent program they run,” Wilson said.
This instance marks the first time the Town of Keene has applied for a Smart Growth Grant, Wilson said.
The bulk of the grant money would go toward providing front-country stewards at Marcy Field, Wilson said. A front country-steward program was already in place this summer at Marcy Field, funded from the town’s budget. Stewards helped hikers figure out their routes and ensured they were prepared for whatever hike they decided to undertake. They also preached Leave No Trace principles to ensure the safety of hikers and the conservation and proper use of natural resources.
“People really appreciate having a trained professional there that they can talk to,” Wilson said of the front country steward program.
Wilson would like to see this program continued with financial aid from the DEC.
If the Town of Keene is awarded the grant, much of the money not being used for front-country stewards would go toward trail improvements, Wilson said.
He expects DEC will make announcements on Smart Growth Grant recipients sometime in October.