By Tim Rowland
Before there were motorhomes and dump stations and Solo stoves, there was the Sharp Bridge Campground, a spartan facility with few comforts of home, built in a time when, for campers, getting away from the comforts of home was rather the point.
It began life in 1920 as a single, roadside campsite on Rt. 9 in the town of North Hudson when both the automobile and the Adirondack Park were in their relative infancy. As traffic increased, the state added spaces, but not much else — drinking water from a nearby spring was a nice touch, and the campground got bathrooms and eventually showers. But it has none of the whiz-bang camp tech of the recently opened Frontier Town Campground just down the road.
Sharp Bridge is slated for a much-needed freshening by the state, which will hopefully boost flagging attendance and campers’ opinion of the site which, according to surveys, indicate that rustic charm has its limits.
Somewhat hidden within the campground is the East Mill Flow Trail, which offers a delightful stroll along the Schroon River, and then through some granddaddy white pines, forested wetland pools and the scenic flow itself. It’s good exercise without being strenuous, with about a 500 foot elevation gain over 2.7 miles, one way.
When the campground is open, hikers are charged a day-use fee to use the trail. Over the past five years, an average of 11 people did so. Not per day, not per month — per year. Naturally the trail gets more use than that. Campers are free to hike it, and numbers during the off-season are not recorded. Since the trail can be accessed without going past the caretakers’ cottage, I don’t know how many hikers even know they are supposed to pay. Or pretend they don’t.
Sharp Bridge, which the state describes as a “quiet facility” is quite easy to get to, three miles off the Northway Exit 30.
But while most travelers will go west toward Keene Valley, Sharp Bridge is east of the Interstate.
The trailhead/campground is marked by a DEC sign on Rt. 9. The full trail is a traverse, passing not just the flow, but two ponds before coming out on Ensign Pond Road in just over five miles.
To access the trail, follow the road down to the pavilion and keep hugging the river. The road will turn into a trail over what used to be a road, and it follows the Schroon for a half mile, past some old industrial sites, including a stone dam breached long ago.
If you notice a herd path to the left, it goes to a cliff used by rock climbers on occasion. If you have all day, it’s a neat feature to explore, and from the top of the cliff and thereabouts there are some limited views of the Schroon Valley.
After leaving the river, the trail begins a long, relatively tame ascent up an ancient old road, which tops out in a series of hemlock-shaded pools, a continuation of a long, soggy valley that culminates at the flow.
As an aside, I’ve noticed my GPS app — which always gave me credit for hiking a greater distance than I did, is now spot on. It got some kind of engineering tweak, I suppose. That’s good, but also a bit unsettling that a navigation app is subject to the correct or incorrect whims of the mother ship. I’d hate for anyone to die of a software update.
The East Mill Flow is quite charming, and can be explored more by crossing the outlet over a log bridge and continuing along the east shore. In modern terms a flow has come to mean a grassy watercourse resembling a poor man’s pond. Or a rich man’s marsh. Logging histories refer to the “flow” as dammed-up water that, when released all at once, sent the winter’s harvest churning downstream to the mills.
In some cases nature reclaims these flows, but others remain in kind of an aquatic limbo, either because the dam wasn’t entirely breached, or else the beavers said thank you very much, and commandeered old infrastructure.
Whatever, flows make for beautiful habitat and a worthy destination for a hike. Two seasonal notes, the Schroon is stocked with trout, and numerous angler trails access the shoreline form the main trail. And in winter, it’s a good spot for skiing and snowshoeing. And quite often you will have the trail all to yourself. Nice to know you don’t have to go with the flow to get to the flow.