DEC examines Sentinel Range Wilderness
LAKE PLACID — The state Department of Environmental Conservation released its proposed unit management plan for about 23,000 acres of land in Jay, Wilmington and North Elba this week, and is seeking public input on the UMP until late December.
The Sentinel Range Wilderness area outside of Lake Placid offers hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, climbing and hunting opportunities. The wilderness area is hemmed in by state routes 73, 86 and 9N and includes popular attractions such as Pitchoff Mountain and Owen, Copperas and Winch ponds.
The DEC is calling for almost half of the land to be maintained as trail-free, offering hunters more than 10,000 acres where other recreationists should be few and far between. In addition, the state is calling for expanded and relocated parking, and has plans for the Jackrabbit Trail and a couple of rock climbing areas.
The DEC plans a reroute and change in parking for Pitchoff Mountain, located on state Route 73 near Cascade Mountain.
Although the state includes five proposals for what to do with the Pitchoff Mountain trail, its preferred plan is Alternative 2, which would reroute both ends of the trail, adding about a half-mile total.
From Pitchoff West, near Cascade, the trail would bypass the steepest, rockiest section of the trail on the way to Balanced Rocks overlook, but would rejoin the existing trail just shy of the outcrop that Balanced Rocks is situated on. This part of the reroute is not expected to add any additional length to the trail.
On the other end of the mountain, at Pitchoff East, the trail would be extended to a larger parking area. The current trailhead can only accommodate three cars, but less than three-quarters of a mile up the road there is a state Department of Transportation pull off large enough for 10 cars. The trailhead would be moved to this larger parking area, which would add about a half-mile to the length of the end-to-end trail.
The Jackrabbit Ski Trail, which crosses both public and private lands between Keene and Paul Smiths, would be rerouted off of Mountain Lane in North Elba for a half-mile, and parts of the trail will be moved to bypass some perpetually flooded areas.
The popular hike to Copperas Pond, located between Lake Placid and Wilmington along state Route 86, will be rerouted to avoid seriously eroded areas. The DEC also wants to build ski trails at Scotts Cobble, outside of Lake Placid on state Route 73, including possibly connecting the new trails to the North Elba-owned Craig Wood Golf Course.
The DEC says in the plan that any new trails “will be designed and constructed to accommodate and enhance ski use” where practical, adding that some spots on existing trails could be upgraded to meet ski trail guidelines.
The DEC also plans to build a trail from Bartlett Road to the East Branch of the AuSable River and formalize a couple of herd paths that go to Notch Mountain and Barkeater Cliffs, both of which are climbing locations.
Cascade and Porter mountains, two of the most popular hikes in the Adirondack Park, share a number of parking areas along state Route 73 with Pitchoff West. These parking areas can handle quite a few vehicles, but more often than not cars and hikers spill out onto the shoulder of the busy road.
The DEC, DOT and state police joined forces over the Columbus Day weekend to close the parking areas and direct hikers to the nearby Mount Van Hoevenberg Intensive Use Area, which is administered by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
In the High Peaks UMP, which governs Cascade and Porter mountains, the DEC says “One option is to enter into an agreement with ORDA and construct a 50 vehicle parking lot in the intensive use area to serve both the Cascade and Pitchoff trail heads.
“Illegal parking and heavy pedestrian use along this section is a concern. The proposal includes provisions for safe off-road parking and a minor relocation of the Cascade trail.”
The DEC is also proposing a five car parking area at Scotts Cobble, and more parking for Jackrabbit trail users on Mountain Lane in North Elba. The extra five parking spots at Mountain Lane would be in addition to an 11-car parking area within the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest at about the same location.
There is not a lot of established camping within the Sentinel Range Wilderness, however the public is allowed to camp as long as the site is 150 feet from a trail, road or shoreline.
However, there are a few campsites at Copperas Pond that will be closed, including the lean-to.
The two primitive campsites at Copperas will be closed and restored to a natural condition, while a new site will be built according to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan guidelines. The DEC will also close the campsite at Holcomb Pond, saying the site is in a bad location and “This area does not receive enough use to warrant the construction of a new campsite.”
The DEC also says in the UMP that the lean-to at Copperas Pond will be neglected until such time that it needs to be removed. At that point, the department will move it to an APSLMP-compliant location.
“This lean-to does not meet APSLMP guidelines that require a set-back distance of 100 feet from the pond,” the DEC writes. “Therefore, no structural maintenance of the lean-to will be carried out. When the lean-to is in need of significant repair, it will be relocated to a site that is compliant with the APSLMP.”
Two herd paths to climbing spots will be formalized under this UMP, meaning that the informal trails to Barkeater Cliffs and Notch Mountain will be marked and maintained by the DEC going forward.
The DEC also calls for a temporary moratorium on the placement or replacement of fixed climbing equipment such as bolts or pitons in the area. The state will also assess climbing areas and routes for potential impact on rare or protected species, saying that “Potential actions could include providing interpretive information or closing problem routes [seasonally or permanently].
“Any action should be done in collaboration with the rock climbing community.”
The department will take public comments on the plan until Dec. 22 this year, and a public meeting will be held at DEC headquarters in Ray Brook on Thursday, Dec. 7. Public comments can be sent to Steve Guglielmi, Forester, DEC, PO Box 296/ 1115 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or emailed to R5.UMP@dec.ny.gov.
To read the plan in full, go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22589.html.