By Tom French
Everton Falls, 7 miles east of St. Regis Falls, could be considered a recreational oasis of the northern Adirondacks, with paddling, hiking, biking, fishing and even bushwhacking on an old railroad bed if one wants. With its proximity to Debar Mountain and the Santa Clara Tract, opportunities exist for several days of exploration. An Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation proposal at the Debar Pond Lodge, 12 miles to the east, would add over 50 additional miles of new trails (40 for mountain bike use), providing a major alternative for the crowds of the High Peaks.
The Everton Falls Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property, is seven miles east of St. Regis Falls. Turn onto County Route 14 across the street from the old high school. The street sign says Duane Street though by the time you reach the preserve it’s known as the Red Tavern Road. You can also access the preserve from Route 30 near Duane Center.
With roots that reach back to the 1830s when it was along the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike and the site of a tavern and inn for teamsters, Everton Falls eventually “logged itself out of existence,” as the Nature Conservancy says on its website for the area. Little evidence of the community remains today. By the mid-1880s, two sawmills had been built near the falls and a cooperage was nearby. It thrived through the 1890s and included the Everton Railroad, a spur off the New York and Ottawa out of St. Regis Falls that followed much of what is now the Red Tavern Road to Everton Falls before veering off to an easier grade closer to the East Branch of the St. Regis River for another 3 miles. It terminated at three different locations along Mile Brook and the Deer River. Signs of the railroad bed can be found, but it is difficult. Building foundations exist along the gravel Everton Road, the original turnpike and part of the New York State Snowmobile Trail Network.
In 1974, the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy (established in 1971) acquired 530 acres and 1.7 miles of the river to protect the waters, marshes, and shoreline. At the time of the purchase, the entire East Branch was in private hands. The Nature Conservancy’s property, which includes Everton Falls and a series of drops and rapids below that, became the only protected shoreline on this jewel of a river. New York State has since acquired an 18-mile corridor from its confluence with the Middle Branch near St. Regis Falls to private lands below Meacham Lake and created what could be one of the most pristine wild rivers in the Adirondacks.
Access from Meacham Lake is difficult, perhaps impossible. The access at Everton Falls splits the public corridor almost in half with mostly flat water and easy paddling upstream. A description can be found in the July/August 2019 issue of Adirondack Explorer. The DEC launch is directly across from the parking area with nice cribbing for entering and exiting your boat.
Most of the Conservancy property is across the river from the parking area, but they maintain a short, 0.7-mile loop trail. My daughter and I checked it out on an early April morning when snow was still on the ground, part of our 2020 COVID relief regimen. She was working on a school project that required collecting objects she could press.
The entrance to the trail is clearly indicated by a marker on a post near the eastern corner of the parking lot next to the road. The path parallels the road and climbs 20 feet over 100 yards before turning sharply to the left, where the loop begins.
The trail was easy to follow except at a northeast corner. We were hiking in a counterclockwise direction. After a long, straight section through a beautiful forest meadow with the sun speckling the ground, the trail took a sharp left. Unfortunately, we walked straight past the turn and spotted a marker on a tree. Though different than the trail markers, it was of similar size and had Nature Conversancy identification. After bushwhacking around and finding several of these (along with yellow New York State Forest Preserve signs), I realized they were boundary markers. We found our way back to where we’d left the path and discovered our mistake.
We knew we were nearing the road when we heard the river again. The trail turned sharply at the top of a steep ledge with the road below, then swung back into the woods. Soon, we reached the end of the loop.
The falls are nearby, just west of the parking lot across from the junction with the Everton Road, an idyllic place for kids to scramble on the rocks, to picnic, or dangle one’s feet.
Mountain bikers can explore the Everton Road, a remnant of the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike, which still has the rustic feel of an old frontier woods trail. We spotted foundations along the first mile from the falls. After 2 miles, the road rejoins the Red Tavern Road making a nice 4-mile loop, half of which is paved. That paved section is along the route of the old railroad, so it’s level and provides several excellent views of fast and flat water below Everton Falls.
The 9-mile section of the river to where the East Branch enters the Middle requires scouting due to several difficult rapids — whitewater up to Class V, large hydraulics, carries around falls, and a winding gorge with steep banks. Access is from the same launch at the Nature Conservancy parking lot with a carry around Everton Falls on the opposite bank just downriver from the launch.
Finally, the railbed of the Everton Railroad offers an opportunity for exploration. Unfortunately, a private holding prevents following the railbed from the Nature Conservancy property, but it can easily be found at an unofficial access to the river at the old Red Tavern Club Landing. Drive east 1.5 miles along the Red Tavern Road to a gate where the road turns north. Beyond the gate, a quarter-mile trail leads to the river. Just above where the marsh turns to hillside, you will find the flat grade of the railroad bed.
It would make for an interesting bushwhack to follow the railroad north to where it crosses the Red Tavern Road at Mile Brook — all open to the public as part of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest and public easement as long as reasonable distances from any hunting camps are respected (they have a 1-acre exclusive-use area that the public cannot enter). I spotted a bear while scouting property lines. The railroad bed continues as a dirt road past a gate after it crosses the Red Tavern Road and heads toward the Deer River. I snowshoed that section into the Deer River Primitive Area, blazing a path through a couple feet of snow where no one had been all winter, found the railroad fork that crosses Mile Brook, and enjoyed the serenity of the frozen wetlands.
I plan to revisit the area this summer to explore the terminuses of the railroad and recon possible paddles on Mile Brook and the Deer River. Signs of history may be found — traces of a lumber camp, an occasional tie or spike. For armchair historians, vestiges of the railroad can be spotted using Google Earth.