Winter recreation at the park has blossomed, thanks to volunteers maintaining miles of trails, rental center
By Tom French
Sometime back in the early ’90s, word got around that a someone was grooming cross-country track set in the woods at Higley Flow State Park in Colton. With permission from Park Supervisor Doug Reome, Ed & Judy Fuhr used their own snowmobile and a home-built drag (modeled after a Tidd Tech) to set track along Warm Brook – a summer nature trail. In short order, they added Pine Loop on the eastern side of the Park Road to create a 3-mile figure-eight.
Utilizing old woods roads from when the area was a tree plantation, additional trails were added. By the decade’s end, both the St. Lawrence and Clarkson University cross-country ski teams were using the park roads and trail network, and with the growth of skate skiing, the campground loops were groomed with wide corduroy. St. Lawrence University also assists with grooming.
Doug Reome’s successor, John Wood, was instrumental in the growth of the park as a ski center. An avid skier himself, he encouraged the Fuhrs and others to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “Friends” group, which has obtained grants and tax-deductible donations for trail additions and upgrades, grooming-grade snowmobiles, several drags, and the Higley Lodge – a year-round, multi-purpose building that serves as the new Nature Center in the summer.
Thirty years after those first tracks, Higley Flow State Park has become a premier destination of the northern Adirondacks for both classic and skate skiing, snowshoeing, and even skijoring (all dogs must be leashed within the park), with almost 12 miles of groomed trails and several miles of backcountry opportunities.
Use of the trails is free, and skis, boots, poles, and snowshoes are available to rent at the park office for a modest $7/day for ski equipment and $3/day for snowshoes.
In 2017, a flat, quarter-mile loop was created behind the lodge. It was widened and expanded into a figure eight in 2019, more than doubling its length. Known as EZ, it also provides a beginner skate lane. Solar powered lights create a wintry ambiance for when the park is open in the evenings, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays if conditions merit.
Novices wishing to step it up should move on to Overlook, which is wide enough for skate skiing too. Traversing the loop clockwise provides long, gentle downhills with only three short sections (10-15 yards) that may require skiers to herringbone.
This year, a connector was created between EZ and Toadstool allowing advanced beginners to avoid an intermediate hill and enjoy a lovely loop through a forest meadow and the old-growth red pines from the plantation days which illuminate the forest with a crimson glow when the light is right. Traveling counterclockwise will provide beginners with their first easy hill – a wide, straight grade with a lift after the dip to slow one down. The elevation is mostly gained bit-by-bit, though a 10-yard section will provide herringbone practice.
Miles of Blue
The park offers several intermediate options. New Pine is the easiest – cruise straight from the parking lot to the left of the kiosk for a gradual downhill to the old Nature Center. Return up the road, or continue across to Warm Brook. Returning to the parking lot via Old Pine is another option, though a steep herringbone is required. The entire Pine Loop is groomed for skate skiing as well.
At almost three miles, Warm Brook is one of the most popular intermediate trails at Higley. Traversing the trail clockwise offers lengthy, moderately steep downhills – one with a significant turn near the bottom. The trail is easier in the counterclockwise direction despite a general gain in elevation. Warm Brook is not suitable for skate skiing.
The camp loops also provide intermediate skiing and skating. Some loops would be considered green if not for the hill along the main road. Loops A & F offer steep terrain.
Cedar Brook is toward the right from the kiosk and provides excellent, intermediate glides. Take the first right after leaving the lodge area, enjoy one side of Toad Stool, and then the long, rolling, downhill runs.
Expert and Double Diamonds
Those interested in groomed expert trails should head to the hills of Raquette Ridge. Accessible from near F Loop or at the bottom of Cedar Brook, this three-quarter mile, figure-eight is referred to as the “Training Hills” by the collegiate ski teams for a reason. All four sides involve long, steep grades with turns which could be rated as double-diamond– experienced experts only.
The loop nearest the campground is groomed wide enough to skate. Both loops involve strenuous uphills and exhilarating downs. One section with a sharp left has tasked me for years.
Returning to the lodge via Cedar Brook provides a downhill expert run to the Beaver Pond Backcountry network or a break at one of two lean-tos in the park (the other is along Warm Brook). One person I know visits the lean-to every weekend that he can to build a fire, relax, and read a book.
The Beaver Pond Network is like three spokes in a wheel with additional access from the bottom of the Pine Loop or top of Old Pine. The network is ungroomed with significant slopes involving tight turns and negotiating narrow passages between trees.
In 2006, the Friends received a Recreational Trails Grant for the building of Wood’s Trail, named after former Park Supervisor John Wood. This backcountry trail is ungroomed with considerable challenges for skiers but also makes for a great snowshoe. Of all the trails in the Park, this two miles with several access points, is, in my view, the most Adirondackesque with switchbacks to an Adirondack-style stream, a hardwood meadow, and views into a deep ravine.
All of which makes Higley Flow a gem of the Northern Adirondacks in all seasons.
Higley Flow State Park is located at 442 Cold Brook Dr. near South Colton. Free entrance in the winter, spring, and fall and open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset with rentals available until 3 p.m. The lodge also closes at 3 p.m. except on days with evening skiing. More information regarding events and trails can be found at http://higleyfriends.org/ or by calling the park office at 315-262-2880.