By TIM ROWLAND
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation plans to consolidate the two trailheads leading to Pitchoff Mountain into one, making the popular hike to Balanced Rocks longer, but more moderate, a state forester told the Adirondack Park Agency at its September meeting.
Steve Guglielmi said Pitchoff attracts in excess of 4,300 hikers a year, but that number has been dwindling, perhaps because the steep and eroded trail discourages families from hiking it.
The new trailhead will be located at the Keene end of Cascade Lakes and traverse the face of Pitchoff to access Balanced Rocks, an interesting collection of boulders on a bare nose of Pitchoff’s western flank.
The distance from the new trailhead to Balanced Rocks Overlook would be about 1.8 miles, an increase of 0.4 miles from the existing trail. A 5.1-mile loop trail will allow hikers to use the existing trail along Pitchoff’s ridgeline and return to the parking lot. Currently, hiking the ridge requires a long walk back along Route 73 or leaving a second car at either the east or west parking lots.
The change to the Pitchoff trail is one of many incorporated into the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area Draft Unit Management Plan, which is now before the APA and open to public comment through Oct. 11. Such plans are blueprints for how state lands are to be used.
The Sentinel Range spans 24,000 rugged, mountainous acres that stand between the east and west branches of the Ausable River. It is largely undeveloped in terms of recreation, and it will stay that way, Guglielmi said, offering opportunities for bushwhackers in search of challenges or solitude. The three big mountains at the heart of the Sentinel Range—Kilburn, Sentinel and Slide —squeeze in just beneath the 4,000-foot threshold for Adirondack stardom (Kilburn misses the mark by a scant 107 feet), but are part of the Adirondack Hundred Highest, a hiking challenge that is gaining popularity.
Guglielmi said the state will monitor developing herd paths—unofficial trails—into the range, and do what it can to close them if they start causing damage to the ecology.
Aside from the Pitchoff Ridge, only two other real hiker hot spots exist in the Sentinels. The back side of Pitchoff is home to the Old Mountain Road, a corridor that dates back more than 200 years, and is now part of the Jackrabbit cross-country ski trail.
The trail faces two challenges: beavers and the courts. While the DEC maintains the road was long ago abandoned, the courts haven’t agreed. The towns of Keene and North Elba have said they have no plans to authorize motorized use other than ATVs during hunting season. Beavers, meanwhile, have flooded the trail in places with their dams. Guglielmi said the trail will be rerouted around the beaver activity, and the state will work to resolve the abandonment issue with the towns.
The state is also looking at a new, two-mile section of trail that will connect Mountain Lane with the Craig Wood Golf Course so skiers on the Jackrabbit Trail will no longer need to cross Route 73.
The Sentinel Range is also home to a popular trail to three classic Adirondack ponds: Owen, Copperas and Winch. There are two trailheads along the West Branch of the Ausable River on Route 86, one leading directly to Copperas, one leading directly to Owen. The trails ultimately connect, and a short spur leads to Winch.
The Copperas trail in particular is in bad shape, and it will be improved, Guglielmi said. Campsites will be closed or moved, with a net loss of one site, and a lean-to on the north shore of Copperas will eventually be moved further back from the shore. Meanwhile, two campsites will be opened on Bartlett Road, a seasonal dirt road on the east side of the wilderness that more or less runs between Keene with Upper Jay.
The Sentinel Range also offers several popular rock and ice climbing destinations, and trails to Barkeater Cliffs, Notch Mountain and Pitchoff Chimney Cliff will be formalized under the management plan, and bases and tops stabilized. Still undetermined is the legality of permanent climbing anchors that have been hammered into rock faces. Guglielmi said a focus group will be formed to consider how to treat climbing anchors in the Forest Preserve.
The full management plan can be viewed at apa.ny.gov, and those wishing to comment can email [email protected]. Written comments can be sent to Richard Weber; Deputy Director for Planning; NYS Adirondack Park Agency; P.O. Box 99; Ray Brook, NY 12977.