By Tom French
Barbara McMartin’s Discover the… Adirondacks series has been my exploration bible since the 1980s. Although dated, McMartin died in 2005, they still serve as my go-to source for interesting tidbits and history before I embark on an adventure.
It was her description of the Tooley Pond Road that first led me to the, at the time, rough “drive with a view” in 1993 with my soon-to-be wife. The 17-mile gravel road was tough on my little Civic, but McMartin’s assertion that this section of the Grasse River boasts “some of the most magnificent waterfalls in the Park” was too much to resist. The road is now paved for most of its length, and with the addition of DEC acquisitions and easements over the last 25 years, recreational opportunities abound from hiking, biking, and canoeing to snowmobiling, four-wheeling, or just going for that “pleasant drive.”
The first road from the “lowlands” into the southern reaches of St Lawrence County, it was a gateway for large hunting and fishing expeditions. According to Town of Clifton historian Mark Friden, it took two days to travel from Canton to Cranberry Lake with a night’s stay at a local establishment around Degrasse, perhaps Basford’s, Gordon’s Log Hotel, or Col. Ingersol’s Hotel, where the stage stopped.
Another interesting historical footnote is the tract’s connection to the Montgomery Ward catalog. Montgomery Ward wanted to insure they had enough timber to make paper for their “Wish Book,” so they contracted with the St. Regis Paper Company as part of a deal when St. Regis acquired the property in the late 1920s.
From the south, the Tooley Pond Road begins on the west side of Cranberry Lake near the Oswegatchie River. The road parallels the Oswegatchie for the first two miles and provides canoe-access. I encourage travelers to check out Bob & Linda Jones’s Wooden Fish Hatchery near Cook Corners (see an AE-produced video of Bob in action here).
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In McMartin’s day, the Windfall Restaurant in Cook Corners was still a going concern. Now, the only vestige of an 1845 tornado is the building for the Windfall Club and a home named “Little Windfalls.”
Just north of Cook Corners, the road becomes gravel for three miles until the town line between Clifton and Clare. Tooley Pond appears on the left along with a small parking area, picnic table, and wheelchair-accessible hand launch. Special fishing regulations apply. We had lunch along the lake in mid-April when we climbed Tooley Mountain and were graced with the calls of a loon
My edition of the McMartin’s book is so old (1990), it states “Tooley Pond Mountain… once had a fire tower and a public trail.” Well, the fire tower is still gone.
A parking area for Tooley Mountain is on the right just past the lake. The trail begins across the road. The path gradually ascends 280 feet over .8 miles. Pay attention to the red markers as old woods roads crisscross the mountain. Views open to the southeast over the lake, especially when the leaves are down. It has been reported that insulators for the fire tower’s phone line can be found on trees along the trail, though we didn’t see any. As we neared the top, remnants of a recent spring snowstorm that had dropped several inches became a blanket and chilled the air.
A couple hundred yards from the 1780-foot top, the trail steepens significantly. Cement steps from the fire tower lead into the branches of a hemlock. Look for three survey markers and two anchors from the 47-foot Aermotor LS40 that graced the peak from 1913 until the 1970s. After being stored in a barn for decades, it was reassembled on Cathedral Rock in 2000 on the SUNY ESF Ranger School Campus at Wanakena and is one of twenty-five on the Adirondack Fire Tower Challenge. You can see the tower from Route 3.
The Tooley Mountain trail is a loop. Descend the steep section and look to the left for the slightly shorter path to the road that ends a half-mile north of the parking area.
Although a hike up Tooley Mountain may be historic, it’s the shorter Clarksboro Trail between Sinclair and Twin Falls that provides the best views. Continue north on the Tooley Pond Road. Check out the falls along the way.
Clarksboro was a village in the vicinity of Twin Falls associated with the nearby Clifton Mines – a mostly open pit operation active in the 1860s and again during WWII. Clarksboro was even a stop along the Clifton Iron Company Railroad, a spur from DeKalb Junction with wooden rails. The railroad and town faded into history shortly after a fire in 1869. Locals helped themselves to the tracks which may still be present in local homes and buildings today as joists or other structural components.
A millrace at Twin Falls is visible from the road. The Clarksboro Trail is a half-mile north on the right marked by a sign tacked to a tree. The trail has no connection to the lost village other than its proximity. The first quarter mile is along a gravel road up a hill. As the trail flattens, look to the right for the first blue marker. A few yards later you reach the base of a 100-foot vertical rock face. The DEC Grass River Complex webpage specifically mentions it as “suitable for rock climbing” and the Recreational Management Plan states that the “feature provides outstanding opportunities for individuals interested in free style and top rope styled climbing.” Use of permanent anchors is prohibited.
The trail continues along the base of the cliff to a series of impressive steps built in 2019 by the Tahawus Professional Trail Crew with help from St. Lawrence University students associated with the university’s Recreation Research Lab. The trail signs were only added last year. It wraps around the side of the hill and reaches the promontory a half-mile from the road with wide vistas to the west including a view of Twin Falls. The trail loops around the summit and features a significant erratic.
The DEC is planning for a third hiking opportunity at Sugar Mountain (1585 feet). Access will be off an old railbed between Newbridge and Newton Falls. Construction of parking areas and road work for motor vehicles could begin this year with trail work finished in 2023.