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Autumn moves to the fast lane

October 10, 2009
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise outdoors columnist

Snowflakes have already appeared and disappeared from mountainsides that once blazed with color. Whiteface Mountain donned winter's white cap for several days last week.

But peak foliage has passed in the upper elevations and slowly the mellow yellows have begun creeping down from the summits to dominate the woodland scene.

The foliage season is rapidly moving into its "golden age," when the dominant colors will be mostly yellows, gold and muted oranges. The beeches, birches and poplars will retain their leafy cover for s few more weeks until the leaves are shed due to high winds, rain or snow.

In the valleys, however, fall foliage has yet to peak. It is still brilliant, and the vibrant mix of red and green, orange and yellow is glaringly obvious. The variety of colors stretching from the valley floor to the mountain summits is striking.


Tourist season ending

The upcoming Columbus Day weekend will signal the last throes of the long, tourism season in the Adirondacks. While tourists will certainly remain apparent over the next few months, the region won't see a comparable influx of visitors to the region until the Christmas/New Year Holiday season.

By all accounts, the past season was one of the slowest tourist seasons in recent memory. Most hotels report dismal numbers and many area guides have seen business tail off by nearly 30 percent.

While a dismal economy is certainly responsible for a good share of the downturn in travelers, the wet weather of the spring and early summer didn't help matters any. Twenty-one consecutive days with rain is not considered the best weather for attracting tourists.

When people finally took a vacation, it was often a last-minute decision. Although reservations were down, people still came to town, yet, they often kept to the essentials for a no-frills respite, packing a lunch and having a barbecue dinner at the condo instead of going out to a restaurant.

Across the region, the downturn in tourism has affected everyone from the hotels, restaurants and attractions to the guides, rentals and local shops. With forecasters predicting the continuation of colder and wetter weather conditions this autumn, it is unlikely that the area will be able to recoup this summer's losses.


Hunting season begins

Traditionally, the next major influx of visitors to the region will be hunters traveling north to hunting camp for the annual big-game season. The economic impact of this particular user group has diminished considerably over the years.

As daylight hours become fewer and the air grows crisper, whitetail deer will increasingly begin to invade a sportman's dreams. Many of the "what ifs" and "if onlys" of previous seasons will be played and replayed as hunters toss and turn in their sleep in anticipation of opening day.

Maps will be unfolded, diaries checked and arrangements made for the beginning of a new year of chasing whitetails.

Although the archery season has already begun, the opening of muzzleloading season on Oct. 17 will signal the beginning of the deer season for many hunters. When the regular season opens on Oct. 24, the woods will be in a far different condition than they are currently.

By that time, most of the hardwoods in the upper elevations will have lost a majority of their leaves and the forest floor will be crunchy.

Frost will have settled in and snow will be evident on the mountain peaks. Deer, which will have already been hounded for three weeks, will grow more wary by the day. The really old bucks will begin to travel primarily at night, moving safely under the cover of darkness.

While many of the private hunting camps and clubs still attract a number of regular guests, the number of tent or trailer camps has been on a steady downward spiral for years.

Historically, a large number of hunting camps have been set up along Route 3. Last season, you could count the number of hunting camps set up along Route 3 from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake on one hand.

It is evident that the number of enthusiasts participating in consumptive pursuits has declined significantly in the Park. While this may signal a downturn in visiting hunters, it may also indicate that the quality of hunting opportunities downstate far exceeds what the Adirondacks now have to offer.

It is difficult for hunters in the Park to compare with the success rates enjoyed by deer hunters in areas downstate. However, despite the differences in deer population, there is no way to replicate the experience of hunting deer in the "big woods" of the Adirondacks.

The combined history, legends and lore of hunting in the Park provides hunters with an experience that transcends success rates. For some hunters, success is a measure of the journey, not the physical weight of the take. These are the hunters that return to the region every year, despite the better odds downstate.


The fishing report

Reports from the rivers and ponds continue to come in and all indications point to a recent upswing in angler success. Last week's rains and lowering temperatures, including the first heavy frost of the season, have brought most river and pond water conditions to nearly ideal levels.

In addition, the cooler, overcast days have prompted continued blue wing olive hatches, which have kept the fish active on the rivers.

A few sporadic flying ant hatches have mixed with evening spinner falls, isonychias and some lingering tricos. Fly fishermen should try Gray Wulffs and Slate Gray Drakes in the pocket waters and go subsurface with Zug Bugs, Pheasant Tail nymphs and a variety of streamers from muddlers minnows to Mickey Finns.

Several local patterns developed by the late Fran Betters always seem to be effective in the fall. Fran once revealed, "You can fish the river very effectively with only three flies at this time of year, the Blue Winged Olive parachute, the Olive Haystack and the Ausable Wulff; of course a streamer like the rusty orange mini-muddler would be helpful if you didn't want to fish dry."

For those looking to fish the ponds, the St. Regis area is now heating up with some fine fall fishing. Numerous remote, hike-in waters should be turning on as well, as water temperatures drop and fresh flow from the recent rains brings an abundance of feed.

Brook trout are now staging up for the spawn and can be found on the edges of most shallow bays, especially those littered with downed trees.

On the Massaweepie Boy Scout Reservation, northwest of Tupper Lake, both Boot Tree Pond and Deer Pond have started to produce recently.

I would expect others such as Black, Barnum and Mountain ponds in the Paul Smiths area, Sunrise, Horseshoe, Echo and Follensby Ponds in the Fish Creek area, and Connery, Long and Copperas in the Lake Placid region will all soon turn on before the end of the trout season arrives on Oct. 15.


Kaleidoscopic roads of the Adirondacks

Although hiking, biking, paddling and climbing offer many travelers an opportunity to enjoy a fall foliage experience, surveys have revealed that the most popular foliage pursuit remains motorized tours.

Tours by bus, van, car or motorcycle bring more visitors into the Park during the fall season than any other pursuit. According to the Outdoor Recreation Coalition, motor tours take the top rank in participation of all outdoor activities. This is a fact that becomes obvious to most Adirondackers who are forced to contend with slow-moving busses of sightseers every fall.

I particularly enjoy driving along what I've termed "kaleidoscopic roads." These are those narrow, winding, sometimes dirt, back roads that typically receive very little traffic, especially from large trucks.

These are the roads that have a canopy that completely spans the road. In effect, the trees form a tunnel of foliage.

Driving such roads as the morning sun dapples through a brilliant foliage canopy provides a traveler with the perspective of driving through the tube of a kaleidoscope, where every twist and turn reveals a new combination of color and vibrancy.

Listed below are 10 favorite kaleidoscopic roads:

1. Blue Mountain Rd from Paul Smiths via Keese Mill Rd to Santa Clara

2. Old Route 99 from Loon Lake to Duane

3. Conifer/Mt. Arab Rd in Piercefield off Route 3

4. Floodwood Rd off Route 30 near Saranac Inn, which dead ends at Township 19 gate

5. Heart Lake Rd off Route 73 in North Elba which leads to Adirondac Loj

6. Forest Home Road in Saranac Lake which connects with Route 30 in Saranac Inn

7. Steele Woods Rd off Route 9 north of Elizabethtown or Hurricane Road off Rt. 9N West

8. Elk Lake Lodge Road in North Hudson off the Blue Ridge Road

9. Lacy Road in Keene which connects Alstead Hill Road to the Stevenson Road in Jay

10. The Glen Road in Jay which connects over Jay Mountain to Lewis: 4WD advised

11. Route 421, off Route 3 south of Tupper Lake which leads to Horseshoe Lake

12. Coreys Road off Route 3 west of Saranac Lake which leads to Blueberry Parking lot



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