New route is more gradual; seen as model for future trail work
By Tim Rowland
Over the decades, many people’s first impression of an Adirondack hike has been Mount Jo, a tiny little peak with a great big view, located only a few steps from the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)’s Adirondak Loj.
The vista of Heart Lake against a dramatic backdrop of High Peaks is a classic Adirondack scene, which is good, reached by a classic Adirondack trail — which is not. Fifteen thousand people a year hike Mount Jo, including many newbies to the Adirondack Park. It’s also used as a classroom for ADK’s fourth grade school outreach program, said Ben Brosseau, ADK director of communications.
“The trail has been in a bad state for decades, so it had reached the point where it really was time to do something about it,” Brosseau said. “Especially for the audience we want to reach, it was not up to snuff.”
ADK has completed the first phase of a new trail project, with the rest expected by fall of 2023. Mount Jo is reached by a way of a loop, the shorter and steeper Short Trail and the slightly longer and slightly less arduous Long Trail. The Short Trail will remain as-is, and be used as an educational tool allowing hikers to see the difference between an old-style trail and one that has been built to sustain heavy traffic.
On a recent hike, Charlotte Staats, ADK Trails Manager, pointed to the original forest floor on an old section or the Long Trail, noting that the trail is now 18 inches below that level, the duff having long since eroded away to reveal the unholy trail trinity of roots, rocks and black ooze.
Staats and the ADK are out to change that, and along the way perhaps blaze a trail toward a better overall trail network in the Adirondack Park.
The contrast on an early October afternoon was vivid. Despite a weekend of heavy rain, the new trail was firm and dry. “We want the water to run off the trail as quickly as possible,” Staats said.
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She said the ADK is treating the trail like a laboratory, because “there’s not a lot of research on trails and how well they hold up over time,” she said. As such, she’s establishing precise photo points along the route that will monitor conditions and impacts over the years.
Further, trail builders must consider the users as they design their routes. The profile of Mount Jo — lots of hikers, many of them inexperienced, over a short distance — is different from a long trail to a High Peak where trails can be more narrow because hikers are generally spread out to a greater degree.
Staats said she is keeping the grade to an easy 10%, in contrast to some Adirondack trails which can be four times that steep. “There are different hiker types and different forest experiences,” she said. “The backcountry is more rugged, but here we want to introduce people to hiking so they can enjoy the trail without the risk of getting hurt.”
Opening up new trail sections also involves closing old ones, a task that can be surprisingly difficult. Brosseau said some hikers tend to follow the trackers on their trail apps to a fault, so — until the apps are updated — they try to soldier on through brushed-in sections of old trail rather than follow the new version, no matter how well-marked.
But education is all part of the process, and ADK wants to teach hikers about the trails they are on as they hike, and the reasons why they go where they go and why they are built the way they are built.
Brosseau said Mount Jo’s Long Trail, built by a combination of professional and volunteer trail builders and paid for by donors and a $50,000 grant from the Town of North Elba’s Local Enhancement & Advancement Fund, could be a model for revamping many Adirondack trails that are in serious need.
Funding and labor will be issues. Brosseau said there are 2,000 miles of hiking trails in the park, but only nine organized trail builders with a total of about 100 workers. But Mount Jo will show what’s possible. “This is very feasible for other parts of the High Peaks,” he said. “We’re treating this as an opportunity to show what can be done.”
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