New West Valley Trail in Lewis gives glimpse into past uses
By Tim Rowland
In 1945, the students of Plattsburgh State bought 662 acres of land in the Town of Lewis from the A. Masons and Sons Lumber Company, which became something of a wooded sandbox for forestry experiments, work and play. Students approved the purchase, which was funded through a $1 per semester tuition assessment.
The ground, situated among Payne, Whipple and Ferguson mountains, creates a picturesque topography that the Mohawk had named “Tiwa-ya-ee,” for “two valleys.” Students, taking their cue from the Native Americans, named the property “Twin Valleys.”
They built a lodge, cabins and 20 miles of hiking trails, and over the years have engaged in some spirited debate about how the land was to be managed.
Ken Adams, professor emeritus of ecology at SUNY Plattsburgh, said the decision was influenced by a peculiarity of the Adirondack Forest Preserve: Millions of acres of forest will grow old in perpetuity.
That’s well and good, but species also depend on young and middle age forest for habitat, and with that in mind, students agreed to scientifically manage the land with selective logging that treated the land with care, protected the riparian area along the properties many streams and opened the canopy to regeneration of a young, energetic forest.
Professional logging has come a long way, but recently logged lands can still give the impression of a forest that has gotten a bad haircut — a wooded mullet, with briars and scrub filling in the scalped patches and the sour pools that accumulate in skidder tracks.
But under the thoughtful direction of Adirondack forester Debbie Boyce, the Twin Valley woods look more cultivated than chopped. Some deep hemlock stands remain untouched, while stands of hardwood have been thinned but not obliterated, maintaining some majestic specimens, along with healthy seedlings, fern-filled fens and grassy savannas studded with shagbark hickories and hop hornbeam.
The public can now inspect the results for itself, with the opening of the West Valley Trail last month, a four-mile semi-loop developed by the college in conjunction with Champlain Area Trails.
From the hamlet of Lewis, follow the Lewis-Wadhams Road to Hurley Road on the left and follow it a half mile to the trailhead on the right. Almost immediately, you’ll be treated to some relics of an earlier agricultural age, including an ancient manure spreader (John Deere says manure spreaders are the only product it doesn’t stand behind; that always kills them on the trade-show banquet circuit) and a horse drawn moldboard plow that would have required days to work the soil on a moderate sized farm and given our ancestors something to do with their time before the advent of TikTok.
The trail is a destination in itself and, in a word, beautiful as it wanders through a broad diversity of forest.
“Some of the forest stands adjacent to the West Valley Trail received silvicultural treatment about 20 years ago,” Adams said. “These cuttings demonstrate how a ‘working forest’ could be properly managed for sustainable economic and ecological value. One of the specific goals was to create habitat for bird species that prefer young forest such as chestnut-sided warbler, cedar waxwing, white-throated sparrow, veery, black and white warbler, and rose-breasted grosbeak.”
Indeed, birdsong is a constant companion and point of interest in the hike, as it crosses a handsome stream at about half a mile and gradually gains elevation to a spur, at just under one mile, that leads to the Three Pine Ledge overlook.
The trail switchbacks beneath a massive outcropping of stone before joining an old woods road leading to the last little climb. A map affixed to a tree at the final junction depicts the entire (private) Twin Valley trail network, but is not particularly relevant to the West Valley hike.
We reached the overlook in just under an hour at 1.9 miles. For proud members of the Bone on Bone Club, the trail is soft and gentle, with only very minimal rocky patches, and quite easy on the knees.
The overlook is a truly magical spot, with lush green grass, hickory and hornbeam, with St. John’s wort and bluebells providing the color commentary at this time of year. The view extends from Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the east along the southern horizon to Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge in the west.
The return by the same route is a little shorter than opting for the loop, but barely so, and the loop is quite scenic, with stone fences, hemlock woods and a chattering stream.
But you’ll want to budget extra time at the top, which you will likely have to yourself. It’s a charming destination and, as Adams says, “It’s fun to shout “Tiwa-ya-ee” from the summit of the West Valley Trail!”
- Getting there: From the hamlet of Lewis, follow the Lewis-Wadhams Road to Hurley Road on the left and follow it a half mile to the trailhead on the right.
- Distance ~4 miles
- Elevation gain: 563 ft
- Overlook Elevation: 924 ft