Despite bike designation, Moose River Plains truck trail is a bust
By Phil Brown
I had hoped it would be one of the finest mountain-bike rides in the Adirondack Park, a 27-mile loop combining deep-woods trails and dirt roads in the Moose River Plains.
It turned out to be a miserable experience.
I can tolerate occasional blowdown, but in one two-mile stretch of the old Otter Brook Truck Trail, I encountered at least 30 fallen trees. I rarely was able to ride more than a tenth of a mile without dismounting. After six miles, I gave up and turned around.
It’s hard to believe that the state Department of Environmental Conservation once made a major change in a unit management plan for the sake of this bike route. Indeed, it’s hard to believe this is a bike route at all. If not for a few bicycle trail markers, you’d never guess.
The truck trail runs along the northern border of the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area. Years ago, DEC had planned to add the trail and about 12,000 acres to the north to the Wilderness Area, where biking is prohibited. The department later changed its mind and decided in 2010 to keep the trail open to bikes–with the backing of local officials and despite the opposition of environmental advocates.
The 12,258 acres north of the truck trail became the Little Moose Wilderness. The trail itself, however, retained its less-restrictive Wild Forest classification. Thus, the trail is a ribbon of Wild Forest separating two Wilderness Areas.
The truck trail is only 6.6 miles long, but it connects to another little-used trail, the Wilson Ridge Trail (a former woods road). By combining these two trails, you can, in theory, bike 15 miles through the woods and return to your starting point via 12 miles of scenic dirt roads.
On Memorial Day weekend, I put that theory to the test. I started at a bridge over Otter Brook and headed up the truck trail. Shortly, I came to a register. Perusing the entries, which dated back to 2021, I inferred that the trail gets little use from hikers or bikers. Most of the people who had signed in were hunters or anglers.
Beyond the register, an uphill section of the trail was washed out, making biking difficult. After the washout, I got back on my bike but soon started encountering blowdown. Other difficulties included washed-out culverts, stretches of deep mud, unbridged creek crossings, and encroaching brush. Four miles in, I met a father and daughter hiking from the opposite direction who were astounded that I was on a bike. “In two miles, it gets really overgrown,” the man told me.
Worse than this? I pushed on for another few miles, as far as a former logging site where artifacts lie rusting in the woods. Given my slow progress and the hiker’s warning, I decided to turn back. I never made it to the Wilson Ridge Trail.
What’s especially disappointing is that the Moose River Plains loop could be a fantastic trip. DEC has done much to encourage mountain biking in the Adirondacks, but most of the bike routes in the Forest Preserve are “nested” trails–networks concentrated in relatively small areas near hamlets. The Moose River Plains route promised a different experience: a lengthy ride through remote woods.
DEC says its staff and volunteers have done some maintenance on both trails in recent years and plan to do more this year. The department also plans to install bridges at some stream crossings.
I hope mountain bikers in the future will have a better experience than I had, but I do wonder if the department has the resources to maintain a 15-mile bike route in a remote area. If they can pull it off, this could become a destination ride. If not, it calls into question the department’s decision to split off the Little Moose Wilderness from the West Canada Lake Wilderness.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, recreation news, wildlife stories and more on Thursdays
Tom Paine says
How many trees per mile will needed to be removed? We don’t want to break the law.
Todd Eastman says
Reading skills may reveal that “blowdown” was the issue…
Tom Paine says
According to the environmental lobby and the ruling it is still a tree. No matter what stage of growth it is in.
If this road was open as a snowmobile trail, it would be clear. No good reason why it isn’t except pressure by environmentalists. Snowmobilers generally maintain their own trails, even on state land by agreement with the DEC. No reason other groups can’t do the same.
Steve B. says
Not true. Its clearly a lack of maintenance is all. All the mt. bike trails here on Long Island are on state, county or town lands, yet the only maintenance is done by the volunteers of the local mt. bike club -CLIMB. Seems thats whats needed here, a local club to help the state keep these trails viable.
Tarrence Lasher says
I had a similar problem in the Wilcox Lake wildforest last week. The Arrow trail designated snowmobile / bike was so overgrown it could not be followed.
The DEC used to have trail crews that worked in the spring-fall seasons to maintain the trails.
Time to spend some money for them again.
The state just keeps on acquiring more and more land and neglecting to maintain its trails for the public use of the lands that the public is paying for.
Tom Wemett says
Hikers help maintain the Northville Placid Trail, how about bikers helping to maintain this trail. If it has such awesome potential I don’t see how some serious stewardship outings by bicycling clubs and groups wouldn’t help here. How about local biking clubs/organizations setting up a stewardship program similar to ADK’s trail stewardship program whereby people sign up to maintain sections of the trail and visit it twice a year to maintain it. Chainsaws can be used twice a year to clear major blow down. Schedule such a stewardship outing for the fall when chainsaws can be used and find several trained sawyers to join it. I thru-hiked the NPTrail in 2006 and was disappointed with the condition of the trail. I joined the ADK Trails Committee to bring attention and actual trail crew effort to the trail. With my partner, Genny Morley, we founded the Northville Placid Trail Chapter of ADK to further the effort to maintain the NPTrail. The Chapter, even today, continues to help maintain the trail and to report on areas of concern and need. DEC does not have the manpower to maintain this trail. Other trails take priority. Your article is a good start. Time to reach out to biking clubs/organizations to step up and make some serious plans to open this trail up and to properly maintain it in the future.
A trip in the opposite direction (towards Squaw Lake) would indicate this has little to do with the “environmentalists” and more to do with the DEC not expending resources (and not talking about the front line people – Rangers/Conservation Officers). Prior to the culvert washing out in 2020 (IIRC), Indian Lake road had turned into a ****show, where only jacked up 4 by 4’s would possibly make it over the big hill the mile or so before the Squaw parking lot boulders. I recognize Phil was talking about the bike trail specifically; just noting everything past Otter Brook seems to have turned into a giant afterthought for anyone not using legs to get there. And again presuming these are Albany based decisions.
Alan G West says
I am very disappointed with the lack of maintainence by DEC. I’m pretty sure that when Gary Lee was the forest ranger he would not have allowed this to happen.
Peter Bauer says
Making the Otter Brook Trail into a mountainbike trail was always a poor decision. This failure of public policy has become the norm at the APA and DEC. That trail should be reclassified as a hiking trail as a northern route into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. That whole section should be Wilderness.
Sounds like it wouldn’t make a good hiking trail either. Needs some chainsaw afternoons.
Sue Capone says
This trail is a very frustrating example of poor management. It was and could be a really appropriate bike trail. I have ridden, driven the entire trail many times over the years to expedite access to Lost pd for water sampling. I was very glad the DEC made the decision to keep it in the Wild Forest. But this trail and many others are in danger if the DEC continues to put its resources in acquisition rather than upkeep.
Chris Rohner says
Honestly it seems like a very simple problem to solve. A truck, a few guys/gals, a few chainsaws and tools and some time. Done. Some problems are tough. This isn’t one of them.
You just can’t please some people. First they want a portage free canoe route. When they don’t get that, they want a tree free bike route. It’s a hard life.
Plow boy says
Is a fallen tree still a tree?
If so, no cutting is the “Protect Rule”