Northern Forest Canoe Trail stewards work on Adirondacks section
By Mike Lynch
Since graduating from college about a decade ago, 33-year-old Phineas Peake has spent a lot of time exploring the country and maintaining trails.
He’s worked for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Wyoming Conservation Corps, when not doing residential construction.
“Usually it doesn’t pay as well, but it’s more pleasant work,” Peake said of working in the woods.
So he figured being on the stewardship crew for the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail this summer was a good fit. The NFCT is a paddling trail that connects waterways from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine.
This summer, Peake is the field coordinator for a small crew spending 10 weeks on 15 projects. That means Peake gets to spend days working to improve water access for paddlers in scenic locations, while enjoying nights by a fire while camping in the woods.
The other crew members that he oversees are generally in their late teens or early twenties.
Rachel Hatheway, who goes to Colby College in Maine, said she normally works for a canoe-tripping camp in northern Ontario in the summers. But with the Canadian border closed, she needed to find another job.
“I was excited for the opportunity to care for the land in a way that I hadn’t gotten to before,” she said.
Saranac River work
In late June and early July, Peake, Hatheway and three crew members spent time shoring up an access site along the Saranac River, improving a campsite near Casey Road, and two more on Union Falls Pond, which is just downstream.
The access site on the Saranac River is just below Franklin Falls dam, where the river empties into Union Falls Pond, a quiet water body about a 25-minute drive northeast of the village of Saranac Lake. To reduce erosion by the river, the crew installed stone steps down to the water.
“The spot has been has used by anglers and paddlers for many years, but never has been appropriately designed; and as a result, there’s been quite a bit of erosion on the trail that is threatening to destabilize the roadbed as well as lead to sedimentation in the river,” said NFCT stewardship director Noah Pollock.
Pollock said the access site is on Brookfield Power land. The hydropower company owns the nearby dam and provided NFCT with stones and funding for the job. The nonprofit Lake Champlain Basin Program also allocated funds for the work.
“This river flows into Lake Champlain,” Pollock said. “What we do here impacts the lake.”
After finishing up the job alongside the road, the crew joined up with some volunteers to work on campsites near Bear Point on Union Falls Pond. NFCT helped develop them nearly a decade ago, but hadn’t been back since.
“Union Falls Pond is a remarkably nice water body that is underutilized, so we’re making these sites able to handle family-sized groups that might have more than one tent,” Pollock said.
Paddle trip tips
Experienced paddlers offer advice for planning overnight canoe trips.
Photo by Mike Lynch/Explorer file photo
On the road
The joint collaborative that took place between stewardship crew and volunteers at the campsites on Union Falls Pond is called a waterway work trip.
It’s one of the main ways the NFCT maintains the trail. The other is to rely on volunteers who are known as waterway stewards. These people sign up to oversee sections of trail that are usually a few miles long or so. They clean up garbage, clear trails, and do other tasks to keep the trails and access sites in good shape. Sometimes the stewards will join the waterway work trips.
The Union Falls Pond campsite project was one of seven planned work trips for this summer. After leaving New York, the crew planned to meet up with volunteers on the Clyde River in Vermont, then venture to New Hampshire and Maine later in the summer, visiting places such as the Dead River in Maine.
Adam Blachly, a Vermont native and Middlebury college student, said he was looking forward to visiting Maine and working on Long Pond, near Jackman, where the crew would be upgrading some more campsites.
“That’s a wilder part of New England that I haven’t visited, so that will be exciting to get out there,” he said. “We’ll see some moose hopefully. (We’ll) be in some gorgeous country.”