Hamilton County, town awarded APA approval for wetlands bridges
By Gwendolyn Craig
Private sweeping views of Owls Head Mountain in Long Lake, and the glistening waters of Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake may be open to the public next year. Community partners are working to open a trail up Buck Mountain in Hamilton County, where an early 1900s-era fire tower is undergoing restoration.
A parking lot on Sabattis Road and a trail up the steepest part of the mountain have been built, and the fire tower is nearly finished. The Adirondack Park Agency issued the missing piece on Nov. 1– approval for four bridges involving wetlands and a subdivision.
Once opened, the trail would be added to the Hamilton County Fire Tower Challenge, which currently includes five hikes — Owls Head, Blue Mountain, Wakely Mountain, Snowy Mountain and Pillsbury Mountain. Local officials say it would also be another family-friendly climb at a little over 2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 500 feet.
“It’s pretty outstanding,” said Alexandra Roalsvig, director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for Long Lake. She called it a “gateway to the Whitney Wilderness,” 19,500 acres of state forest preserve. In the distance are views of the Seward and Santanoni range, Roalsvig said.
The approximately 60-foot fire tower was built around 1933 to scout for forest fires in an area still dominated by timberlands for the region’s paper companies, according to the Forest Fire Lookout Association’s New York State Chapter. Laurie Rankin, director of the chapter, said it had been built on Whitney Properties’ land, but the fire tower is now owned by Cedar Heights Timber. There are footings to a second fire tower on the summit, Rankin said, but because it was on private land there is not as much information to learn about what was there.
Hamilton County signed a 10-year lease with the timber company to build the trail and open it to the public. Records show the lease cost Hamilton County $10 annually starting Jan. 1, 2022, and Long Lake Supervisor Clay Arsenault said it can be renewed.
Long Lake’s comprehensive plan, adopted in January 2021, highlights the need for improved and maintained recreational opportunities. Arsenault said the project supported the town’s goals of providing healthy living and outdoor recreation.
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The town also received $14,000 in grants for construction materials and interpretive signs from the Adirondack Foundation’s Generous Acts Fund and the Adirondack Community Recreation Alliance, according to the APA application materials.
The county entered into an agreement with the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) to design and build a steep section of trail for a maximum of $10,500, records show. Charlotte Staats, ADK trails manager, said her team and the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District have built the trail to the summit. Work began last year. They built rock staircases and wooden ladders up the steepest slopes. The materials and equipment were installed by hand, something that amazed Roalsvig and Arsenault. Rankin and her organization have assisted others with the fire tower work and hope to finish up next spring.
“It’s unlike something I’ve hiked before,” Arsenault said. “(It has) big stone staircases, big wooden staircases made out of small timber they cut down on this property to make the trail. It is unique and very cool.”
Staats said the goal was to create “a nice hike that was family-oriented, beginner-oriented.”
The trail is not yet open to the public, but Roalsvig hopes it might be next year. The town, county and timber company applied to the APA for a permit. The agency has jurisdiction due to the project’s wetlands work and subdivision by lease. It is also within one-eighth mile of the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area.
Trail builders will create one 40-foot span bridge, one 20-foot span bridge, one 10-foot bog bridge and one 20-foot bog bridge.
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Records show before APA staff issued their decision, they asked the town and county to explain why the trail could not be placed elsewhere away from the wetlands.
The municipalities responded that Cedar Heights Timber had specific requirements of where the trail could be located. There will still be logging and industrial uses on the property, the response added, and the “goal is to keep the public safe.” The municipalities said the bridges will be elevated to protect the wetlands. The municipalities also said some novice hikers don’t know that it is better to hike through mud rather than around it, which widens the trail and its impacts.
Staats said the kinds of bridges proposed generally do not have much impact on wetlands and would prohibit greater harm from hikers.