By Mike Lynch
As the waves washed ashore, oval-shaped chunks of ice shifted on the water’s surface. The shapes resembled fish scales, and the slow movement had a serpent-like quality.
On this crisp March day, the chilled water of Lake Champlain had a beautiful but ominous character.
Spring conditions can be like that in the Adirondack Park.
On this day, I was exploring Split Rock Wild Forest with fellow reporter Zach Matson, who was working on a story about a major transmission line that would bring power from Canada to downstate. The line is proposed to run down the center of the lake’s bottom.
Located on the western edge of Lake Champlain and the eastern edge of the Adirondack Park, the wild forest encompasses 3,700 acres and provides the largest undeveloped shoreline on the water body.
The land is also the eastern edge of the Split Rock Wildway, a proposed wildlife corridor to the Jay Mountain Wilderness and the High Peaks region. The corridor travels west through farmlands and lands vulnerable to development.
A good place to view the corridor from above is the Wildway Overlook Trail, which is located in Essex, and traverses South Boquet Mountain. From its summit, you can see a strip of forest land across the open fields. The idea behind the wildway is that these forests would provide a natural pathway for animals as they travel between habitats.
During our hike, we took a 1.7-mile trail to Lewis Clearing Bay from the parking lot on Lake Shore Road, just north of Westport and south of Essex, to the icy shoreline.
We didn’t see many signs of wildlife other than some hair-filled scat along the trail and bird features near the shore, but we were aware that these woods are the home of eastern timber rattlesnake, the northernmost habitat for these creatures in New York.
The highlight of the trail is the view of Lake Champlain, Lewis Bay and the mountains of Vermont across the big pond. A short spur trail leads to vistas looking down on Snake Den Harbor, the shoreline and to points south.
A relatively easy hike, the trail climbs 200 feet in the first seven-tenths of a mile before dropping 450 down to the lake, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Along the way, you go through mixed forests. At times, the hemlocks and rocky outcroppings mirror the Lake George or Catskill region. There are some stream crossings, with cascades, and some mossy cliffs, some of which were covered in icicles.
One advantage of hiking this trail in the spring is that it dries out much quicker than those in higher elevations. I had tried to climb Baker Mountain in Saranac Lake a few days before this trip but decided against it because, even though the woods were clear of snow, a river of ice about six inches thick covered the trail. We had no such issues on the trail to Lewis Clearing Bay.
For a more ambitious hike, try one of the two loop trails in the wild forest. One heads north to Split Rock Mountain, the other is south of the parking lot.