Hand of man is evident everywhere

Hidden in a local swamp this old water pump station is slowly rusting away. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

It is easy to forget that the lands surrounding many Adirondack communities were nearly denuded a century ago. While it’s no longer as apparent as it once was, there’s plenty of evidence of man’s thumbprint all over the Park.

Open fields are one of the most evident signatures of man. It’s been said that, maintaining “an open field is the most difficult task.”

The grand vista of the High Peaks on the outskirts of Lake Placid was once a vast virgin forest before settlers came to town. Many other forests have suffered a similar plight, whether as a result of fire or the lumberman’s ax.

In the course of my regular, random rambles, I’ve traveled from the mountain peaks to the valleys and to the depths of many lakes, ponds and rivers. The hand of man can be found at all different levels. There are fire towers that crown the mountaintops and old telephone lines that connected fire observers to headquarters before they were replaced by radios.

Although the old phone lines have been removed, many of the glass insulators remain along the old roads and rails. Often, telephone wires were strung on the soaring white pines, which is still evident along many sections of the old Adirondack Railroad.

In other locations, the hand of man is not so readily apparent, something I realized one afternoon while waiting for my friends at the Scarface Mountain trailhead.

Although most hikers are oblivious to an extensive network of cement sidewalks located just a short distance from the trailhead, they are quite easy to locate. They are a bit wider than the hiking trail because they were intended to accommodate wheelchair traffic, rather than pedestrians. The network of sidewalks can be found on both sides of the old Ray Brook Road.

Less than a half-mile east of the former state hospital (currently known as Adirondack Correctional Facility) is further evidence of the old Ray Brook “San.” The site is now surrounded by cattails, railroad tracks and a large marsh. Although the marsh is full of birds, frogs and turtles, it continues to offer evidence of the former cure community that was just a short walk down the tracks.

Buried in the old swamp are bed pans and lunch trays, furniture, beds and much more. Two hundred or 300 years down the line, the location may actually be considered a state historic site.

A mile to the east, just off the tracks, is further evidence of man’s presence. It’s hidden in a swamp, where I stumbled upon it while fishing one day.

The structure provided water to the old sanatorium. However, it is now a crumbling pad of brick and mortar, with the weathered remains of the cabin slowly rotting away. It would require heavy machinery and some ingenuity to wrangle the old pump out of the swamp.

On the other side of the brook, there’s old barbed-wire fencing that once corralled cattle, goats and sheep on the edges of a cedar swamp.

Looming over the scene is the east arm of Scarface Mountain, where a small hillside reservoir continues to provide a backup water supply.

Despite hard evidence of “the hand of man,” which includes more than 100 miles of rails and rivers that were harnessed for power, the local woods and waters have largely recovered. It now takes a trained eye to recognize the old scars.

Most of the old mills and dams have been removed from our local rivers in recent years, where native species, such as landlocked salmon have been restored.

As the woods and waters continue to erase the evidence of man’s intrusions, the old sidewalks will continue to disappear under the pine needles. So too, will the foundation of an old barn that’s located another mile down the trail.

Despite efforts to restore the land to a primitive state, the hand of man is evident in the vast vistas and farm fields and the orderly symmetry of pine plantations.

While very few are likely to notice such natural incongruities, it’s evident that man will be responsible for maintaining the wild character of the land.

The fishing report

Boaters, paddlers and anglers beware. If you plan to be on the water this weekend, be sure to tie one on. Waterproof yourself. Wear a PFD at all times.

Just like a seat belt, it is now the law. Click it or ticket.

As the ponds and lakes continue to shed their cover of ice, be aware of wet, muddy conditions on the carries. Don’t trust the ice at this time of year.

Even though evening temperatures have been below freezing, the recent spell of warm sunny days has already opened up many of the smaller ponds.

While it will be a while before the rivers and streams begin to warm up, the lakes and ponds will likely be productive, especially in and around structures on the eastern shores, where the prevailing winds will push the warmer warm surface waters.

Present offerings slowly, in the lower end of the water column. Warm water is more dense than cold water and, as a result, there will be more activity from fish, insects, leeches and bait fish in deeper water.

Although trolling a Lake Clear Wabbler and worm rig is still the gold standard on most Adirondack ponds, I’ve had good success during the early season using a variety of jigs, flies, lures and lies.

I prefer to mix it up a bit, and try something different. The older, larger fish that are still around have probably seen as many Wabblers as the anglers have seen beer cans.

While the spotted salamanders won’t move off to the ponds until after the first heavy rains, there are still plenty of nymphs, bait fish and leeches for the trout to feed on.

Slow and steady is key, and avoid jostling or banging about in the boat.

Although I usually use a guidebook, I actually prefer a SportsPal or Radisson during the early season. The foam lining not only provides insulation from the cold floor, it also muffles the common commotion that occurs when ever a big fish comes to the boat.

I have discovered that flyfishermen (and women) tend to have a better command of their line than spin casters. I suppose it is due to the fact that flylines are designed to float or sink. Some lines are actually weighted, with a fast sinking line or simply a sinking tip of the line.

The difference is the fact that fly anglers have a direct connection to the fish. When a fish hits a streamer fly, the angler simply sets the hook with an immediate flick of the wrist.

Despite the best tackle, tactics and tag-a-longs, it is important to remember fish have caught far more anglers than anglers have caught fish. 


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