By Phil Brown
One of the biggest easement tracts in the Sable Highlands open for recreation is the Figure 8 Public Use Area, situated in the hills west of Lower Chateaugay Lake.
Earlier this year, I biked through this tract on a good logging road and continued on a very messy woods road to the Rocky Brook Public Use Area, another of the Sable Highlands tracts. Alas, I was thwarted in my desire to visit a third tract, the Lilypad Public Use Area.
At 3,939 acres, Figure 8 is the second-largest of the 14 public use areas in the Sable Highlands. Though owned by a timber company, the tracts are open to the public for recreation, including biking, hiking, fishing and hunting.
Judging by the register at the parking area, most of the Figure 8 visitors are hunters and anglers. One guy said he wanted to photograph moose. No indication whether he succeeded.
Figure 8’s natural features include Figure 8 Pond, Lilypad Pond, Little Trout River, several streams, Baldy Mountain, Soulia Mountain and the western end of Figure 8 Mountain.
In a 2009 interim recreation plan, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it intended to build a new road and short trails to provide access to Lilypad and Figure 8 ponds. These projects remain on the drawing board. Likewise, DEC has yet to create a footpath along the Little Trout River or campsites proposed in the plan.
The logging road traversing the Figure 8 PUA is designated Linear Recreation Corridor 1 in the recreation plan. Eventually, DEC wants to improve this road so visitors will be able to drive from Figure 8 to the Rocky Brook, Lilypad and Sugarloaf PUAs. As I discovered, however, the road from Figure 8 to the Rocky Brook tract is in horrible shape. It will take a major investment to improve it for motor vehicles. In fact, it was so muddy that I had to push my bike most of the way (this was in spring).
The good news is that the first four miles of road are in excellent shape for mountain biking. From the parking area, I pedaled uphill for about a half-mile and then coasted downhill to a bridge over a tributary of the Little Trout River. From here, the road climbed a short distance to a sharp left bend, headed south and then turned due east, reaching a clearing with nice views after four miles. En route, I crossed the river twice and gained about 450 feet in elevation.
The road, if you can call it that, continues in a degraded state in the woods beyond the clearing. I found it a mess of mud, puddles and rocks. I did manage to reach the Rocky Brook PUA eventually, but it was not fun. My advice is to turn around and enjoy the long downhill cruise you earned on your way up.
The Rocky Brook PUA lacks a parking area or any signs indicating it is open to the public. I had planned to continue to the Lilypad PUA, but given the hour, I decided against it. I coasted down a logging road to the Narrows Road and returned to my car via paved highways. I later tried to drive to Lilypad but found the logging road gated.
The Figure 8 parking area is reached by Blair Kiln Road, a town road that turns to dirt before reaching the lot. The road continues past the parking area. I’d recommend walking down this road a tenth of a mile or so to a quiet stretch of the Little Trout River. The view is worth the short detour.
Although I enjoyed biking on the Figure 8 tract, I am looking forward to taking my canoe to Lilypad and Figure 8 ponds (the two appear conjoined on the map). It’s anybody’s guess when that will be possible. DEC has not abandoned its recreation plan, but it has no timetable for when projects in the Sable Highlands will get done.
DIRECTIONS: From the intersection of NY 374 and Standish Road in Lyon Mountain, drive north on NY 374 for 5.2 miles to the Narrows Road. Turn left, go 0.2 miles, and then turn right at a T-intersection. Go 3.6 miles to an unmarked road (Turtle Lane). Turn left and go 0.3 miles to a T intersection. Turn right onto Drew Lane and go 0.7 miles to Blair Kiln Road. Turn left and go 2.3 miles to the Figure 8 parking area.