On a mission, and scouting out outings, in the Bog River Flow
By Tom French
Whenever Doug and I try to find some historic artifact in the middle of the Adirondacks, Doug points out that our batting average is not good. Our trek along the lower reaches of the Bog River was no different.
History is a key factor for me when choosing places to explore, but Doug picked this trail. When I asked why, he said, “because it’s here.” I know history is everywhere, and I wasn’t disappointed, though I do wish I’d done some research before hiking.
We dropped a car off at the Winding Falls, formerly Twin Mountain, Trailhead on Route 421 (a little less than three miles from Route 30), then drove down, literally, to a trailhead within sight of Route 30. Tim Lennon, another usual suspect, pointed out that we would be walking the wrong way – uphill.
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Marked on old topo maps, and labeled as an “Adirondack Park Preserve” Road on Google Maps, the first leg of this roughly 6 mile “loop” quickly crosses a cement bridge known locally as the Goodman Bridge (after Charles Goodman, grandfather of murdered Civil Rights worker Andrew Goodman). The Goodmans owned a camp near Bog River Falls. Charles’s construction company helped build the New York City Subway, the George Washington Bridge, and Lincoln Tunnel. He built this Adirondack bridge to provide easier access to his land. Doug recalled tossing trout off the bridge when he worked for the Adirondack Fish Hatchery at Lake Clear.
From Goodman Bridge, the rough woods road narrows and is marked with blue ski disks. Littered with several blowdowns, it gently climbs then descends to the Bog River at about 1¼ miles. The river reveals itself through the trees as a small gorge. The trail turns right and gradually descends toward the river’s edge and the Bog River Rapids – a three-quarter mile section of whitewater. Carry markers appear as well, though Doug knows people who have run the entire river from Low’s Lower Dam.
More clues to the path’s past emerged when we discovered the first of many maroon, tin-can lids painted with “Bog River Ski Trail” – homemade signs that appeared in the late 80s or early 90s. The trails were “adopted” by the DEC in an amendment to the Unit Management Plan (UMP) in 2014. A Volunteer Stewardship Agreement was signed between the DEC and a local group that cleared the trails. The DEC disks were put up in 2018.
Eventually we made our way above the fast water. At this point, the trail becomes a roller coaster of steep hills and dips. Doug confessed he’s explored the trail before on skis with his wife – a failed attempt to complete a loop. After blazing trail through three to four feet of snow and then reaching the rollers, they turned around.
We all agreed that skiing would be filled with dodgy hills, tight turns, and difficult herringbones – and this is before we hiked over the shoulder of Twin Mountain between Winding Falls and the car we’d stashed on Route 421.
Doug revealed a little history of Winding Falls, known locally as Pa’s Falls because “some old timer” had a hunting camp. We found several possible sites – an old stove in the distance, a frying pan on a tree.
Eventually we reached the falls and an old, decrepit, steel-beam bridge repurposed with planks and 4x4s. As we ate lunch, I marveled at the idea of someone negotiating this drop in a kayak.
The DEC map shows a dot for Split Rock, also known as Ma’s Falls, but no trail. As we left the falls, now on a red trail, I looked for any sign of a herd path. We found it within a couple hundred yards at a clearing to the left with blue flagging. After several bushwhacks through young stands of spruce and fir, over a large culvert, and a sharp left when the flagging changed to orange, the falls appeared. Jamieson puts the drop at six feet. The herd-path carry is rough – something I can relate to (see here, here, and here).
We returned to the trail which begins to climb. Labeled as a bike trail as well as ski, it’s for experts, regardless. Doug identified places where he could bail on telemarks. I imagined my bike cartwheeling over rocks, stumps, and streams.
After reaching a height of land, the trail crosses a significant beaver area with terraces of ponds behind several dams. Horseshoe Lake glimmers in the distance. A half mile later and less than four hours after starting, we reached the car. The chilly late-October day had begun under partly cloudy skies, but we finished in a flurry of flakes.
Once home, I decided to research Pa and the history behind the lid disks, and that’s when I happened upon William Hill’s blog with pictures of three memorial stones at the falls. I knew I had to go back.
Doug and I returned the following week, this time via a lollypop loop exploring the Round Lake Outlet Trail and south side of the Bog River. Turning left just before the Goodman Bridge, the yellow trail travels gradually uphill as it narrows from an old road to footpath. At about a half mile, it turns sharply right onto a woods road. Route 30 is visible to the left, perhaps the starting point described by Phil Brown in 2011.
This section, which may have been part of a military turnpike between Lake George and Russell, ascends along the side of 2,040 foot rise to the south. Goodman Mountain peeks through leafless trees with the Bog River Valley below. Shortly later, the confluence of the Bog and Round Lake Outlet appears.
The next half mile parallels the outlet with occasional views of fast water. When the trail hit an unmarked T, we turned right across the bridge.
This next leg is not marked, though it is indicated as a trail on the DEC map and is an easy-to-follow, wide, woods road. It gradually gains 250 feet in the first mile and passes a clearing where the “Bog River Hilton” used to be located, though nothing remains of the old hunting camp. The trail then gently descends for the second mile to the bridge at Winding Falls.
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Using information from Hill (see his recent The Place I Live Commentary), we easily found the location of the monuments, though two have disappeared. We also discovered the most impressive portion of the falls that we’d missed the first time. If you’re traveling up the river along the Bog River Trail, when you reach the top of the falls and the trail turns sharply right, look left – you’ll see the herd path to an outcrop along the brink of a dramatic, and winding, flume.
Later attempts to uncover the true identity of Pa were unsuccessful, though several possibilities were mentioned, including “Mookie and his father.” According to locals, the stones appeared sometime in the ’80s or ’90s. No one knows what happened to the missing two, though many have suspicions. The DEC had no information either.
I also learned from John Quinn, one of the forces behind the amended UMP that created the trail up Goodman Mountain and added the Bog River Network, that even more memorials can be found near the Round Lake Outlet Bridge, testimonials to people with histories in the area. Near the former location of Half-Assed Camp, two engraved rocks for “Doc” Vaughn and his wife Kay are nestled under a large boulder. A wooden sign for Bob and Joyce Meisner hangs on the trunk of a tree. Even though John sent me pictures, it looks like I’m going back again so I can find them myself and improve my batting average to above 200.
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