Advocates say 400-mile route from the Adirondacks to Algonquin Park would promote international wildlife corridor.
By ALAN WECHSLER
The two-year journey of a seven-hundred-pound moose named Alice has inspired plans for a long-distance trail that would connect the Adirondacks to Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park.
The Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A) Trail would combine existing hiking trails, rail trails, main roads, and back roads to create a four hundred-mile route bridging the two parks. While conceived as a hiking path, options for bicycles and even paddlers are also under consideration.
The organization behind it, Algonquin to Adirondacks Collaborative, wants the proposed A2A Trail to combine existing paths and roads to create a sort of North American version of Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago route. The A2A would take travelers through both wilderness and developed communities, while promoting the idea of a wildlife corridor—a wider swath of protected land for animals to travel.
For inspiration, backers looked to Alice.
In 1998, wildlife workers released the radio collared female moose in the Newcomb area of the Adirondacks. Researchers followed Alice’s movements across Long Lake, out of the Adirondack Park, through the Fort Drum area, and then farther north. For two years, Alice traveled on a meandering course, swimming across the St. Lawrence River, crossing Canada’s busy Highway 401, and making her way to Algonquin Park, a wilderness area known for its wolf howls and stellar paddling.
Alice’s remains were found in 2001 at the eastern end of the park; she died from unknown causes. But her journey lives on—an example, A2A backers say, of the need to provide space for wildlife to roam. The Thousand Islands area is a sort of geographic funnel, with Lake Ontario to the west and the wide expanse of the St. Lawrence River to the east, providing the one place in between where animals can pass between New York State and Ontario relatively easily.
The A2A Collaborative was formed several years after Alice’s death to focus on this wildlife issue. About two years ago, at an annual meeting, volunteers announced the A2A Trail idea as a way to raise even more awareness.
“The story of Alice the moose confirmed and validated what the biologists and ecologists have been saying for some time—that no park is an island,” said Richard Grover, a retired landscape architect and wilderness advocate from Canton who is now chairing the Collaborative’s A2A Trail Committee. “This is a unique area in North America that is critically important for the health and well-being of numerous animal species that move between these two giant parks.”
What kind of animals? Well, besides moose, there are deer, bear, and wild cats (we won’t get into the never-ending “are there cougars here” debate). Smaller animals, such as fishers, reptiles, and amphibians, also would benefit from having more room even if they don’t travel between the parks. Advocates say wildlife corridors are needed because animals often roam beyond park boundaries. Such migration enables wildlife to find mates outside their native area, ensuring a healthy gene pool. Also, wildlife may be forced to migrate long distances to escape the effects of climate change.
In Canada, public grants and private donations have paid for a trail coordinator who is currently working on the route. In the United States, a Yale graduate student from the university’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is doing her thesis on the A2A in New York, Grover said.
In the Adirondacks, the proposed route would begin where Alice was set free in 1998: on land in Newcomb owned by the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. From there, it would join the Northville-Placid trail, cross over Long Lake (Alice swam; hikers get to use the Route 30 bridge) and work its way around Cranberry Lake and Star Lake before leaving the Adirondacks along its northwestern border. The trail would eventually make its way to the Thousand Islands Bridge and Canada, along a route that is still being determined, with snowmobile trails, logging roads, and lesser town roads all being considered. About a third of the route would be in the United States; the rest in Canada.
Grover said backers have not yet reached out to New York State about the possibility of building connector trails in the Adirondacks.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said the club had heard from the organization but had not discussed a trail. The club supports any plan that sets aside land for a wildlife corridor, he said, especially since there are still wolves in Algonquin Park that could be related to the wolves that once inhabited the Adirondacks.
While the club might consider offering support to promote a trail in the corridor, Woodworth said, “there’s a lot of hurdles. There’s an awful lot of private land in that stretch.”
Could the A2A attract more outdoor enthusiasts to the Adirondacks and other parts of the North Country? Certainly the aforementioned Camino de Santiago is hugely popular. Also known as the Way of St. James, the Camino follows an early Roman trade route and religious pilgrimage from southwest France over the Pyrenees Mountains and along the northern edge of Spain to the city of Santiago del Compostela. Today, more than two hundred thousand travelers walk or bike the five-hundred-mile route each year, staying in hostels along the way.
So could such a trail have appeal here in North America? Erik Schlimmer, a guidebook writer and long-distance hiker now living in the Capital District, said combining existing routes to create a long-distance path is a growing trend in hiking circles.
“In the olden days people would build a trail from scratch, such as the Northville-Placid Trail or the Long Trail in Vermont,” said Schlimmer. “Nowadays there’s enough foot-travel infrastructure in place to create one long route … if you use your imagination you can create a corridor for foot travel relatively easily.”
Since his book A Thru Hikers Guide to America came out in 2005, he’s seen a number of long-distance trails created that rely on existing routes, such as the two-hundred-mile Sierra High Route (created as an alternative to the busy John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada of California).
He hadn’t heard of the A2A concept before being contacted by the Explorer, but he likes the idea.
“Someone who is seeking true wilderness will probably stay away from those routes,” Schlimmer said. “However, there is something to be said for hiking in wilderness, making a connection to the local community and then heading back out.”
As it stands now, the A2A consists of 192 trail miles, fifty-six miles of rail-trail, sixty miles along main roads, and 115 miles along back roads. According to the A2A website, “A2A will temporarily use backroads, crown land [what Canadians call federally owned land], and potentially private property until resources allow for new trail to be created.”
While a completed trail is years away, Grover says hikers are already primed to walk the route. There is talk of an exploratory expedition launching this fall, on a trip expected to take around three weeks.
“The overriding purpose of this is conservation,” he said. “It’s important for all of us, not just the animals.”