Trio of hikes offer year-round outings that are putting Tupper Lake on the map
By Tim Rowland
The forests seem quainter and cozier in the Central Adirondacks, their evergreen boughs a ready canvass for white brushstrokes of soft snow. Miles of flawless conical evergreens line rivers, wetlands, ponds and highways, in a land where there is always a hint of Christmas in the air, even in July. This is the Great White North.
Tupper Lake is the heartbeat of this territory, if heartbeat can be defined as having a grocery store. Unlike more popular destinations, it still has the gritty vibe of an authentic wilderness outpost from back in the days when timber was king and gravy for your poutine didn’t come from a can.
With the arrival of a much-ballyhooed scenic railroad and what promises to be an epic rail trail, some believe it’s a tourist town waiting to happen.
Tupper Lake residents have heard this before, of course, pinning their hopes on big plans that for various reasons never came to fruition. But now, Tupper faithful are pinning their hopes not on one big development, but a variety of improvements kickstarted by a $10 million state revitalization grant that will, in part, strengthen the community’s bones by adding housing and commercial space before the crowds arrive—the opposite approach of Adirondack towns that have tried to play catch-up after being discovered.
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Time will tell how this plays out, but in the meantime, hikers can get a “before” picture of Tupper Lake by accepting the Tupper Triad Challenge. It involves hiking a neat collection of three little mountains several miles southwest of the village.
The collective distance and elevation gain of the trails to Arab, Coney and Goodman are less than any one High Peak, which to Matt Ellis, an outdoorsman and Tupper Lake real estate agent, is an asset and representative of the type of visitor the town hopes to attract.
“For novice hikers, this is a big deal,” he said, during a snowshoe up Coney last March. “They have no aspiration to do the 46 (High Peaks), so to complete the Tupper Triad is a nice accomplishment.”
The Tupper Triad is also an excellent destination for winter hiking, both in terms of scenery and for those in search of a modest and safe winter outing without fear of ending up like the Donner Party.
Hikers on the trails throughout the past year who have been chatted up by a passing correspondent say they have become enthusiastic supporters of the triad for a variety of reasons. But most all of them mention the triad as a perfect welcoming introduction to the Central Adirondacks, which they may not have previously explored.
Wendy Wais of Brasher Falls said the challenge came on her radar when she saw Tupper Triad merchandise on sale at the Raquette River Brewing gift shop, and to keep her conscience clear, thought she ought to “hike the mountains before I bought the merch.”
With her hiking partners Mark Helmer and Sherry Brown, she was tackling Goodman on a November morning, and was impressed with the quality of the views, particularly for the effort involved.
It’s subjective, of course, but Mount Arab probably has the best views, assisted in no small part by a fire tower complete with an observer’s cabin, both beautifully restored by the Friends of Mount Arab.
According to the group, the name Arab is believed to have been a result of inaccurate translation of the French word, “érable,” meaning “maple.” During the Depression, the observer’s pay was $50 to $60 a month; perhaps as a commentary on the quality of the cabin, the state would pay an additional $12 a month to any observer who agreed to stay in it.
A one-mile investment in hiking yields fantastic views of the Raquette River Valley, assorted hills and ponds and maybe most impressive of all, a vast, unobstructed view to the western Adirondacks that gives you a hint of how big six million acres is.
Along with scenery, the Tupper region is long in history, including some of the Europeans’ original attempts to organize the wilderness. Coney Mountain (a derivative of cone) was once called Monument Mountain because on its flank in 1772 occurred perhaps the most significant Adirondack private-property outcome prior to creation of the APA.
Surveyor Archibald Campbell was laying out the northern border of the storied Totten and Crossfield purchase, a massive, arrowhead-shaped tract of more than a million acres in the heart of what would become the Adirondack Park.
Using imperfect tools and methodology, Campbell and a party of Mohawks (from whom the land was being purchased) slogged east along what would become the northern border of Hamilton County until they came to a junction with another important line from the south.
Having completed the relatively flat part of the journey, they climbed Coney and got an eyeful of Marcy, Algonquin, Seward and other massifs that stood in their path. As the story goes, Campbell asked the Mohawks if they wanted to press on and they replied something to the effect of “No, we’re good,” and everyone went home.
There is also a story that the party stopped here because it’s where they ran out of rum. Both stories, handed down by white men it’s important to remember, are suspect, but that doesn’t make them less entertaining.
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This article first appeared in a recent issue of Adirondack Explorer’s magazine.
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Whatever the reason for the work stoppage, the result was that the Totten and Crossfield purchase was off by a staggering 300,000 acres. Not even the Adirondack surveyor laureate Verplanck Colvin was able to put it right, and this incomplete survey would lead to misery in many a county clerk’s office for generations.
In 1903, the state emphatically pounded nearly 300 steel I-beams into the soil to establish the line once and for all, and the old, steep path up Coney follows them for a spell. Judging by tracks in the snow, this route is still occasionally enjoyed by hardy snowshoers.
The official climb up Coney today is short and mellow, a mile-long pirouette around the mountain’s backside and then one steeper little hop to the bald summit. The ease and brevity of the climb coupled with its 360-degree open horizon, makes it a favorite place to stargaze, said Tupper Lake paddler and hiker Ted Merrihew.
With its renowned dark skies and Adirondack Sky Center observatory north of the village, Tupper Lake is gaining traction as a stargazing destination. “People will bring cameras and tripods to Coney,” Merrihew said, catching sunsets, eclipses and, on occasion, the Northern Lights.
Along with the observatory, Tupper has a growing portfolio of attractions, including The Wild Center natural history museum, legendary paddling opportunities, a vibrant arts community and professional baseball in the summer. Ellis said plans are in the works for mountain biking between Route 30 and Tupper Lake, north of the third leg of the triad, Goodman.
Goodman Mountain was once Litchfield Mountain, named for the family that built nearby Litchfield Castle in the early 1900s, a private Adirondack manse that’s been compared, stylistically, to George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore compound in Asheville, N.C.
The mountain was renamed in honor of Andrew Goodman—whose family summered at a Tupper Lake camp—one of three young civil rights activists murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964. Just as the Totten-Crossfield line was an important Adirondack delineation, Andrew Goodman’s story was an important milepost in the battle for social justice, and a key event leading to the passage of civil rights legislation in 1965.
The trail up begins on the historic highway between Long Lake and Tupper, and even those of us who are not as spry as we used to be can luxuriate in a root- and rock-free forest experience, with the old pavement showing here and there beneath the accumulating duff.
After this gentle, one-mile climb, the trail turns left and heads through an open hardwood forest. The remaining six-tenths of a mile is an easy to moderate hike. Nearing the top, if the leaves are off the trees, Tupper Lake appears to the north, and the summit affords views back to Coney and the southern ponds and mountains beyond.
At the trailhead to Goodman is another Tupper secret: An artesian well protected by an elegant little shed built by the Goodman family and dedicated to the area’s lumberjacks.
Filling his bottles with sweet water, Tupper resident Bryan Stearns said he believes there’s enough territory for this part of the park to maintain its backcountry feel, even if it does become trendy.
Trailhead parking spills over at times of high use, but often can be found with only a car or two. According to Stearns, the paddling is excellent, and there are still remote spots for those seeking solitude, and lean-tos that are dependably unoccupied. “Tupper is a very underutilized little village,” he said.
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