Formerly logged property in Moriah has a wealth of outdoor opportunities
By Tim Rowland
This summer the Northeast Wilderness Trust announced its intention to create the Moriah WIlderness Preserve, a 1,775-acre puzzle-piece that fits with other private- and state-protected lands in the Adirondack foothills that rise from the Champlain Valley.
To call these lands — which include the Hammond Pond Wild Forest and the Eddy Foundation’s Parch Pond tract — “underused” is to consider them from a purely human perspective.
For wildlife, the paucity of human activity is an obvious selling point, and among the goals of the preserve is to establish four-legged connectivity from the Green Mountains of Vermont, across a narrow, oft-frozen neck of Lake Champlain to the High Peaks.
There are no plans for hiking trails on the preserve, but it’s open to the public and has plenty of opportunity for exploration. Last week Janelle Jones, NEWT’s New York land steward, led photographer Eric Teed and I on a bushwhack to Armstrong Mountain, which weighs in at just over 2,000 feet in elevation and features some fine open glades with views of the western peaks and the southern Champlain Valley.
As bushwhacks go, it’s short and easy — a three-mile round trip with a scant 500-foot elevation gain, accessed from Silver Hill Road in the hamlet of Witherbee. Silver Hill Road takes the form of the letter C, intersecting twice with Witherbee Road. We took the northern arm of the C out of Witherbee, and just after it turned sharply to the south parked in a small lot on the right.
From the lot, a road leads to a spacious logging landing, from which more roads exit. From the landing, Armstrong is a straight shot to the southwest, its modest ridge line being obvious on the topo map.
Hunting is permitted with written permission, so we are all wearing orange, vaguely resembling the starting secondary for Syracuse University as we plunged into the thicket. Having been previously owned by a timber company, much of the preserve has been heavily logged meaning its best days are ahead of it as time does its healing work.
A logging road does lead to the ridge, which begins to rise after half a mile of flat hiking — more logging roads peel off of the main drag, so stick to the one that ambles to higher ground. These are rather fresh logging roads, having entered that awkward briar-and-marsh phase that will become more civilized as time goes by.
Janelle said the trust does light trail development on its “ambassador” properties, but preserves such as this one will be left untouched, with nature calling the shots.
As we gained elevation we stayed to the north side of the summit, which is necessary to skirt a band of cliffs. The forest here becomes quite charming, with the last of the beech’s bronze leaves drizzling down through the hemlocks on a light breeze. Avoiding the more dense spruce, we did a little fishhook around the summit before scrambling the last little bit to the top from the south.
There are three little humps on the wooded summit of roughly the same elevation, so we made a point of standing on all three just to cover our bases — no one can throw cold water on our achievement by claiming we weren’t on the true summit.
The open slabs to the south of the summit offer two distinct views. To the west were the High Peaks in all their snow-covered glory, glowing a milky blue in the hazy sunshine. From Armstrong, I believe you can make out THE Armstrong of 46er fame through the trees, and an interesting Gothics-Saddleback-Basin-Marcy quinella lined up in an orderly diagonal.
Swinging to the south really gives a sense of the unbroken forests that are protected all the way from the old Champlain Valley mining communities to the Northway and beyond. Lake Champlain appears to the southeast, along with the lower mountains of the Hammond Pond tract.
Heading back down we hewed a more southerly route through pleasantly open woods (if you’re not particularly dependent on the handrail that logging roads provide, there’s a strong argument to be made for avoiding them where possible) whose agricultural heritage was evidenced by stone walls and foundation pits. Witherbee is full of other past glories as well — Frank Witherbee’s history of the Essex County iron mining industry is maybe not the most accurate of the lot, but it’s free online so for me, that’s good enough.
This Aug. 9 was also the 50th anniversary of the capture of Adirondack serial killer Robert Garrow, who hid out in some nearby woods just north of Silver Hill Road. Garrow had eluded police for nearly two weeks after murdering three campers in the southern part of the park, but was captured after police tailed a nephew who was secreting him food.
Those memories have faded with time, and time will also be the friend of Moriah Preserve, as it recovers from logging’s scars and forevermore offers safe harbor for migrating wildlife. Meanwhile, for people who enjoy hiking off-trail, there’s lots to explore. “As a forever-wild landscape, the young forests of Moriah Wilderness Preserve will have the freedom to rewild, adapt, and evolve on their own terms,” the trust writes on its website. It’s nice to be part of the journey.