By Tim Rowland
Rattlesnake Mountain in Willsboro might be the most popular trail in the Champlain Valley, so much so that its trailhead had to be roped off during Covid to keep people from congregating there.
Its first lookout is not of the lake, it is back to the southwest, where a pond glistens prominently, nestled amidst the low hills. This is Long Pond, and for years Champlain Area Trails and the Long Pond Conservancy have been working on a trail along its western shoreline.
In trail building, sometimes the political work is harder than the sawing and digging, so satisfying all existing constituencies in this somewhat populated area has taken time. On Saturday, though, the trail finally has its grand opening, and all the cliches about being worth the wait apply.
Long Pond is indeed long. I think it looks like a cowboy wearing a Stetson; more filthy minded individuals say it looks like something else, but I’m not going to get into that, since they’re the ones who have to look at themselves in the mirror every day and decide if that’s the type of person they really want to be.
We got a sneak preview of the trail with CATS Executive Director Chris Maron a week before the official opening, on a day where wildfires had given skies a milky, corpse-like pallor. (Click here for information about the opening day hike on Saturday, July 8.) The trailhead is reached by turning off Route 22 on Carver Road, five miles north of Willsboro or three miles south of the Northway’s Willsboro exit. If you’re coming from the north, the blind, hooked turn onto Carver presents a situation where you can take comfort assuming that on the very rare chance that someone is egressing from the dirt road while you’re ingressing, they will see you in time and have time to stop, probably.
The parking lot is not quite a mile up Carver, on the right and is identifiable by a small lot with a kiosk. The trail is easy hiking — total elevation gain is only about 150 feet over 4.5 miles — and has a couple of loops making it not strictly an out-and-back.
Maron said the Long Pond Conservancy was formed in partnership with CATS to ensure the western lakeshore remained undeveloped. According to the conservancy, Long Pond was originally called Rattlesnake Pond, and the mountain took its name from the pond, which at one time was populated with water snakes mistaken for rattlers.
As we walked along the even trail on an old logging road we passed a “drowned forest” where a beaver impoundment had swamped a small valley of trees. It is now rich in life, as we were serenaded by sparrows, bullfrogs, thrush and of course red-eyed vireo, the Abba (c. 1978) of the bird world. Nothing against the red-eyed vireo, or Abba for that matter, but after the ten thousandth time you heard “Dancing Queen” come on the radio you were ready for a little variety, even if it meant disco.
At eight-tenths of a mile, the trail crosses Carver road and enters a tract that has been rather heavily logged, but has regenerated in great stands of ostrich ferns and is not at all unattractive.
The trail reaches the pond at 1.3 miles and then skirts the shoreline for more than half a mile with attractive views all along the way, including a good perspective of the cliffs on Rattlesnake. There is a cached rowboat too that looks pretty ship-shape, although you will have to bring your own oars.
At the end of the shoreline reach there is a wooded loop for those wanting to add to their hike, and another loop on the return that deviates from the trail you came in on and is worth it for the interesting stone walls and corrals serving as a reminder that this forest was once farmland.
Overall, the trail is easy, scenic and accesses a wide variety of interesting habitats. It took us about two hours to complete, with plenty of gawking and lollygagging factored in. And best of all, no rattlesnakes.