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Missed opportunities at the Sable Highlands

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Missed alternatives on the Sable Highlands

West Mountain sits on the sting of the Sugarloaf Public Use Space within the Sable Highlands. Photograph by Phil Brown

Years after the state purchased entry, Sable Highlands lacks deliberate upgrades

By Phil Brown

After using my mountain bike just a few miles up the D&H Street, I turned off onto an previous logging street and pedaled just a few extra miles to a big clearing with scenic views of the Loon Lake Mountains and Plumadore Vary. Past the clearing, the street was a large number of logging particles, mud, blowdown and thorns—not bikeable.

It was not what I anticipated.

In 2009, the state Division of Environmental Conservation launched an interim recreation plan for the Sable Highlands that referred to as for connecting this logging street with one other to create a 6.5-mile mountain bike path that will circle a small unnamed peak. The plan additionally promised a climbing path to a lookout on the height. That path doesn’t but exist.

On the time, DEC acquired hosannas for the plan, essentially the most complicated and impressive of its sort for conservation-easement lands within the Adirondack Park. The division proposed creating quite a lot of climbing and biking trails, parking areas, canoe put-ins, campsites and different facilities.

“It’s a brand new experiment,” Neil Woodworth, then the chief director of the Adirondack Mountain Membership, had informed the Explorer. “We by no means had a recreation plan for such a big unit of easement lands earlier than. This can be an excellent check.”

Greater than a decade later, many of the work has but to be finished.

Peter Bauer, govt director of Shield the Adirondacks, will not be stunned, noting that DEC is also years behind in writing and implementing administration plans for state-owned forest protect tracts. “Recreation administration on conservation easement lands has at all times been given brief shrift,” he mentioned.

In an e-mail to the Explorer, a DEC spokesman mentioned the division “appears ahead to persevering with to enhance upon the leisure alternatives.” In earlier emails, the division provided no timeline for when initiatives can be undertaken or when a remaining recreation plan can be launched.

The Sable Highlands is the identify given timberlands within the northern Adirondacks previously owned by Domtar Industries, a Canadian paper firm. In 2004, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy brokered a deal by which Domtar bought all of its 104,000 acres within the park—about 84,000 acres to Chateaugay Woodlands, a subsidiary of Lyme Timber, and 20,000 acres to the conservancy. 

On overview of the Sable Highlands easement. Illustration by Nancy Bernstein.

In late 2008, the state purchased the conservancy’s 20,000 acres, together with 3,820-foot Lyon Mountain, for $9.8 million. Most of those lands have been added to the forest protect. Two months later, the state paid $10.8 million for conservation easements on 84,000 acres. The settlement allowed Lyme to proceed logging, in accordance with the requirements of sustainable forestry, but it surely additionally opened up a lot of the land to public recreation. Though Lyme has since bought Chateaugay Woodlands to the Forestland Group, the settlement stays in drive.

The interim recreation plan pertains solely to the easement lands. It designates 14 tracts, totaling 28,100 acres, as public use areas.” On these, the general public is allowed to recreate anyplace. Permissible actions embody climbing, biking, canoeing, searching, fishing and cross-country snowboarding. The majority of the remaining easement lands are leased to searching golf equipment and are typically off limits to the general public. The plan additionally designates “linear recreation corridors” (LRCs) that permit the general public to cross leased tracts. In some instances, these corridors are mandatory to succeed in or journey between designated public use areas. 

This spring and summer time, within the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent 18 days exploring the Sable Highlands in my automotive, on my bike and on foot. Given the area’s remoteness and relative obscurity, I figured it will be the best place to get some train whereas training social distancing. Certainly, I noticed few or no individuals on most of my outings.

At first, my goal was merely to recreate, however after just a few visits that resulted in disappointment, I got down to doc what DEC has and has not finished within the Sable Highlands. As a part of my investigation, I attempted to go to each public use space and linear recreation hall, racking up about 175 miles on a mountain bike, my major methodology of exploring the inside. In my travels, I recognized three main issues: a scarcity of parking areas, insufficient signage and a scarcity of trails and different facilities.


All the Sable Highlands lies north of State Route 3. Quite a few small communities exist on the fringes: Loon Lake, Porcaville, Owls Head, Brainardsville, Lyon Mountain, Standish, Clayburg. In case you have been to attract a line on a map connecting these settlements, you’d seize the lion’s share of the easement lands—one giant contiguous tract, albeit irregularly formed. Ten of the general public use areas are scattered about this principal tract. The opposite 4 are on remoted parcels exterior the primary tract.

Given this complexity, DEC proposed establishing 23 parking areas to facilitate public entry. Up to now, the division has constructed solely 9—seven on the margins of the primary tract, two on remoted tracts. Since you aren’t allowed to park simply anyplace on the easement lands, one result’s that it’s harder to entry the inside of the primary tract. 

Take, for instance, my trip on the proposed mountain-bike loop, which lies within the Plumadore-Inman Public Use Space. DEC has but to construct a parking space on the D&H Street in the beginning of the loop. Consequently, I started biking on the nearest official parking space, at Fishhole Pond, which added greater than 4 miles to the spherical journey. 

The Sugarloaf Public Use Space—the biggest (at 5,460 acres) of the 14—will be accessed from the south through both of two linear recreation corridors off Piney Ridge Street, one of many principal logging roads penetrating the easement lands. Once more, parking will not be but out there, so guests face a hike or bike trip of a number of miles simply to succeed in this area.

Different tracts missing official parking areas embody the Barnes Brook, Cobble Hill, Bradley Pond, Rocky Brook and Lilypad public use areas. DEC additionally deliberate to enhance a well-liked climbing path up Owls Head Mountain and set up a parking space on the trailhead. Neither has been finished. Customers proceed to park on the shoulder of native roads or in a power-line hall.


Within the DEC plan, the linear recreation corridors are numbered one by way of 12. Most are logging roads that allow guests to journey by way of leased lands, whether or not by automotive, bike or foot. (Some are additionally utilized by all-terrain automobiles and snowmobiles.) In my quest to seek out all the corridors, I found that many lack figuring out indicators.

At some point I set out for LRC 11, one of many logging roads resulting in the Sugarloaf Public Use Space. After pedaling practically 6 miles from Fishhole Pond, I got here to what I took to be the fitting street, but it surely was gated and posted by the Misplaced Pond Hunt Membership. There was no signal indicating the general public had a proper to journey the street. Likewise, the beginning of LRC 10—a part of the proposed bike loop—was gated and posted by the Plumadore Membership, once more with no indication of a public proper of approach. In each instances, I made up my mind from GPS information that I used to be in the fitting spot. I anticipate many guests could be deterred from utilizing the roads.

One other day I biked up LRC 8, often known as Liberty Street. This time I noticed a small brown-and-yellow signal—DEC’s signature colours—that learn “Liberty Street (LRC #8)” nailed to a birch tree. Proper above it was one other signal: “No Trespassing/Non-public Logging Street.” This gave me pause, however I continued. Just a few miles up the street I encountered a hunting-club lessee who questioned my proper to be there. I informed him concerning the DEC plan, however he appeared skeptical. We parted on pleasant phrases.

Uncommon are indicators that spell out what you’ll be able to or can’t do on a linear recreation hall. One is on the east finish of the D&H Street (LRC 9), which lists climbing, mountain biking and motor automobiles as permissible makes use of. Subsequent to it, nonetheless, is one other of the “No Trespassing/Non-public Logging Street” indicators. 

Lastly, the boundaries of the general public use areas should not marked. Once I biked up LRC 11 to the Sugarloaf Public Use Space, for instance, I couldn’t make sure after I left the leased land, the place entry is proscribed to the street, and after I entered the general public space the place guests are free to roam.

Phil Brown rides the Tender Street, the place a motorcycle route was by no means developed. Photograph by Mike Lynch

Trails and facilities

The recreation plan proposed plenty of trails for hikers and anglers, however few have been constructed. Essentially the most formidable could be a path to 2,870-foot Norton Peak and persevering with to close by Haystack Mountain and Wolf Pond Mountain. As a result of Norton lies throughout the Chilly Brook Public Use Space, hikers are allowed to bushwhack to the summit regardless of the absence of a path. The opposite two mountains are exterior the general public use space. Due to this fact, hikers can not proceed to these summits till a path is constructed (it is going to be LRC 6).

Bauer mentioned a path to the three summits may divert some visitors from the crowded Excessive Peaks—which is a aim of DEC. “That will be an excellent path exterior the Excessive Peaks,” he mentioned. “It’s a chance that has not been seized upon by the state.”

One other path would lead from the Owls Head Public Use Space to Ingraham West, one of many smaller public zones. With out it, guests don’t have any authorized entry to Ingraham West. Different routes nonetheless on the drafting board embody an angler’s footpath alongside the North Department of the Saranac River and trails to True Brook, Little Trout River, Determine 8 Pond, Lilypad Pond, Ragged Lake Outlet and the Salmon River. 

I got here throughout simply two brief climbing trails created by DEC, each of which observe previous woods roads. One results in Plumadore Brook, the opposite to a handicapped-accessible campsite and fishing platform on the North Department of the Saranac.

The recreation plan referred to as for the event of 56 campsites within the Sable Highlands, however up to now solely 9 have been created. Six of these are alongside a logging street within the Barnes Pond Public Use Space. These campsites embody picnic tables, metal hearth pits, and wheelchair-accessible outhouses. DEC additionally has constructed fishing platforms on Grass Pond and Fishhole Pond.

If DEC has not finished extra within the Sable Highlands, that’s largely on account of a scarcity of workers and cash, in keeping with Cathy Pedler, director of advocacy for the Adirondack Mountain Membership. “The shortage of assist for our environmental planning and administration businesses outcomes not solely within the failure to implement plans for leisure entry, but additionally makes it tough for the state to guard the useful resource,” she mentioned in an e-mail.

Given the pandemic’s blow to the financial system, the state’s fiscal image has worsened this yr. DEC spokesman David Winchell mentioned the division nonetheless plans to construct infrastructure and improve public entry in accordance with the plan, however the precedence can be to keep up amenities constructed because the plan’s adoption. Reacting to the Explorer’s inquiries, he mentioned DEC could enhance signage and replace the details about the Sable Highlands on the division web site.

After my aborted trip on the mountain-bike loop, I returned to the realm with Mike Lynch, the Explorer’s multimedia reporter. Mike took photographs alongside the bike route, after which we hiked to the lookout talked about within the DEC plan. We navigated a maze of logging tracks overgrown with nasty thorns earlier than reaching open woods. As bushwhacks go, it wasn’t horrible, and the gorgeous view of the Sable Highlands and of innumerable peaks past definitely was definitely worth the effort. Sometime, maybe, this bike-hike outing will draw extra individuals to this underutilized land. However we’re not there but. Let’s hope we don’t have to attend one other 11 years.


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