AuSABLE FORKS - Preserving a trail to the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain and access for people with limited mobility were the two big concerns at a public hearing on the draft unit management plan for the Taylor Pond Wild Forest.
About 30 people gathered at the Town of Jay Community Center in AuSable Forks Thursday night for the public hearing, which was hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Taylor Pond Wild Forest totals more than 76,000 acres of Forest Preserve, state forest, wildlife management and conservation easement lands in Franklin, Essex and Clinton counties. The DEC's plan affects land in several local towns, including Jay, St. Armand and Franklin.
Members of the public listen to a presentation about the draft unit management plan for the Taylor Pond Wild Forest during a public hearing at the Town of Jay Community Center in AuSable Forks Thursday night.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Unit management plans are required by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan for each unit of state land in the Park. They must be completed before construction of new recreational facilities like trails, lean-tos and parking areas.
DEC Natural Resources Supervisor Tom Martin said the fisheries, wildlife and law enforcement staff all provide input on unit management plans. They look at natural and physical resources, apply laws and policies and obtain public input, he said.
Most of the public comment Thursday night reflected positively on the plan. Several speakers said they're glad DEC will engage in a five-year study of the ranger trail to the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine, and they urged the department to improve the trail and keep it open.
Ann Bailey said five years goes fast, and she hopes friends groups and DEC can work together to make the trail better.
"I think that no matter what happens, hikers and rock climbers will use the face, and it's to their benefit to create a safe trail on that route," she said.
The ranger trail is about 1 mile long and starts at a former campground at the base of the mountain. Martin said the trail is steep and has a lot of erosion.
Now, hikers can also use what Martin called the "observer's trail," which is about 2 miles long and is a more gentle ascent and easier to maintain. It was reopened by DEC after the Nature Conservancy purchased a piece of intervening private property.
"So one of the things we thought about was, do we need two trails?" Martin said. "And if not, which one would be the easiest one to maintain - the best one to have? And so that's really what started the conversation about maybe not continuing to maintain the ranger trail in the future."
But people like David and Asa Thomas-Train, a father and son from Keene Valley, said the ranger trail is immensely popular. Asa, a farmer who plans to move to Keeseville near Poke-O-Moonshine, said that community could reap benefits from having both trails open.
"Towns like Keene Valley and Lake Placid have been able to cash in on the hiker traffic in these mountains," he said. "Keeseville has not. A lot of the towns down in the Champlain Valley have not, but there's enormous potential to do so. Poke-O-Moonshine is not only beautiful on its own - that trail can be beautiful."
David said friends groups and volunteers would be happy to help DEC fix and maintain the trail.
"And we've worked on both the trails since 1998," he said. "We really believe in the variety of hiking experience and spreading the use out. And ultimately, we'd like to see a connector trail between the base of one trail and the base of the other trail so that you have a large loop."
Martin said DEC will keep tabs on the trail and its condition over the five-year life of the unit management plan.
The other big topic was equitable access to the Taylor Pond Complex. Bob Brown of Saranac Lake spoke on behalf of the New York State Conservation Council and said he was pleased to see the plan didn't include any wilderness areas. He said his group would like to see the roads in the complex remain open for public access.
The draft plan proposes a restrictive barrier of rocks for a small boat launch on Franklin Falls Pond. Because the pond is less than 1,000 acres in size, trailers can't be backed into the water. Brown and Mark Holt told DEC they're worried the barrier would block access for people with limited mobility and could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Brown applauded the plan for including new snowmobile trails, but asked that all-terrain-vehicle activities be endorsed be DEC.
"The conservation department endorses hunting, trapping, fishing and nature-going, and yet we hear an awful lot about hiking, which is great, and we hear a little bit more about snowmobiles," he said. "But access in terms of some of these other areas for hunters and fishermen seem to be lacking."
DEC Senior Forester Dan Levy explained the draft plan prior to the public hearing. In its current form, it would:
Designate the Catamount Mountain trail and develop a trailhead parking area.
Build a new snowmobile trail between Forestdale Road and existing trails near Taylor Pond, connecting all of them to planned trails in the Wilmington Wild Forest.
Build a new parking area for the new Observer's Trail near the fire tower on Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain.
Build three lean-tos for people with limited mobility near the shores of Taylor Pond, Military Pond and Mud Pond.
Provide for group camping opportunities along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail on the shores of Franklin Falls and Union Falls ponds.
Bring primitive campsites on Franklin Falls and Union Falls ponds into compliance with Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
Martin said DEC will consider public comments and revise the plan where appropriate. He said the department will respond to all comments. Written comments will be accepted until June 22.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.