By Tim Rowland
Split Rock Mountain on Lake Champlain in the Town of Essex is well-known for its rattlesnakes. But not this many rattlesnakes.
“It’s been a little unnerving this year,” said Chris DePinto, who said there have been 11 sightings near his home on Albee Lane, a short spur that runs along Whallons Bay.
A landscaper and town board member, DePinto said he’s no stranger to rattlers, but in his five years on the road he’s never seen it like this.
The pestilence comes on top of an unprecedented outbreak of gypsy moths, which have largely denuded local mountains and forced picnickers indoors to avoid a caterpillar rain. And two years before this, it was ticks.
Split Rock Mountain offers some of the best four-season hiking on the Adirondack Coast. There are some great views to all points of the compass, sheer cliffs, attractive stands of hemlock and Split Rock Mountain’s distinctive namesake, a small, offshore outcropping that once marked the line between Algonquin and Iroquois and later, French and British — a boundary that none of the four paid any particular attention to.
Split Rock is the eastern terminus of the Split Rock Wildway, a forested corridor that connects Lake Champlain with the High Peaks, offering protected passage to animals venturing on their traditional migratory routes. There are 12 miles of hiking trails passing by descriptively named landmarks that include Grog Bay, Ore Bed Point and, cue the ominous music, Snake Den Harbor.
Still, as is the case with much wildlife, most hikers come and go without encountering a rattler. But it’s possible climate change could have something to say about that.
“We could probably go up there on any warm day and find one,” said Bill Amadon, trail steward for Champlain Area Trails in Westport. “June is about the time they really start to show up.”
Rattlesnakes are uncommon in the Adirondacks — and designated a “threatened” species — and mainly are found in the lakeside rock formations. “They don’t go much further west,” Amadon said. But stretched out, “they can take up a full travel lane on a road.” Their warning call is less of a rattle than a buzz, and they appear as mostly black, but thicker than a blacksnake with a wider head and of course those signature buttons on the tail.
Bounties were once offered on timber rattlers, and their dens dynamited, Amadon said. Today the snakes are protected; there are two known dens, but their location is kept under wraps since humans can’t always be trusted. Timber rattlesnakes can also be found around Lake George and other parts of Warren County, such as this one that surprised visitors last summer.
DePinto said long-time residents have commented on the unusual number of sightings, with a wide range of theories as to why. Some believe climate change has made it more hospitable for the reptiles, while the herds of hooved farm animals that would kill them are gone.
The snakes have also been a social media sensation. DePinto and his wife, Lexi Noble DePinto, were having breakfast early one morning when they saw a shape moving through the water 150 feet off shore. “Somehow I picked up on the serpentine shape and I said, ‘I think that’s a snake,’” he said.
Thanks to Facebook video, it became the most famous Adirondack snake with over 350 shares and 10,000 views as of Thursday morning. But a rattler dropping by for breakfast is a little more intense than a gypsy-moth caterpillar dropping onto your cupcake, and residents — particularly those with dogs — are having the reptiles escorted back toward their rocky homes. “A friend here is permitted and has the tools to move them,” DePinto said. “Moving them sure gets the heart rate going.”
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