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Winter, mowing lawns and heritage trout

November 1, 2008
Joe Hackett, outdoors columnist

The heavy rains and high winds which blew through the region last weekend served to knock most of the remaining foliage from the forest canopy. The woods were in the mellow yellow stage, with birch and poplar trees being the predominant holdouts, which offered a sharp contrast to the thick evergreen backdrop.

In the upper elevations, only the bare skeletons of trees remain to provide an eerie woodland backdrop, just in time for Halloween.

The forests are now darker and quieter, as the rains took much of the crunch from the leafy carpet. With a storm in the forecast, deer hunters are anticipating a productive weekend with the potential for a fresh tracking snow.

As daylight hours continue to diminish, outdoor travelers should take the necessary precautions in their journeys. The long hunt to the far side of the mountain, which was easily accomplished a mere two weeks ago, may end up being an unexpected walk in the dark today.

As the season progresses, a headlamp would be a safe bet to toss in the pack, in addition to warm clothes and a thermos full of hot drinks.

To mow or not to mow

As summer finally turned to fall, there was something amiss in Ray Brook. In the center of the hamlet, the state office buildings somehow lost their usual luster.

Although the state police headquarters lawn was neatly mowed and manicured as always, there was a wild field covering the former lawn at the nearby state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Adirondack Park Agency headquarters.

After viewing this scene daily for over a month, I finally called both the DEC and APA and asked for an explanation.

I had wondered if the drastic budget cuts on the state level had resulted in a lack of manpower? Was the usual maintenance staff on vacation?

I reached both APA spokesman Keith McKeever and his cohort at the DEC, Dave Winchell.

The consensus was that both agencies had decided that if they were going to talk the talk, they should not mow the walk.

As McKeever explained, "Both agencies have made a decision not to mow the lawns any longer. We're going to mow it before winter and mulch it in, along with some basic cutting along the road and around our signs, but our intent is to promote wildlife habitat with a less manicured lawn."

"We believe that with less maintenance there will be fewer emissions and greater energy savings," he continued, "And the APA will be working with Paul Smiths College to create enhanced wildlife habitat.

"It's been nice to look out the window and see seven or eight wild turkeys feeding in the grass each morning, chasing grasshoppers and such."

Maybe the decision by the two agencies will start a trend. And maybe the state troopers will follow suit. We'll have to wait and see, since for the next six months the lawns will look exactly the same, covered in white.

Roosevelt: From

Newcomb to Paul Smiths

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. As a youth, he spent several summers in Paul Smiths, and as an adult, he was a guest of the Tahawus Club near Newcomb, where he was staying when President McKinley was shot.

The APA's Visitor Interpretive Centers, which are located in these respective communities, regularly pay homage to the renowned conservationist, hosting annual events centered around Roosevelt's travels and studies.

Recently, as a component of its celebration of Theodore Roosevelt's 150th birthday, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership launched, a web site intended to give visitors a daily dose of conservation inspiration.

For the next 150 days, the site will include two new daily features. "This Day in Conservation History" will highlight significant events that make up our unique American conservation heritage. "T.R.ivia," the second daily feature will celebrate the lesser-known aspects of the life of a man who did more to expand our conservation heritage than any other.

"Theodore Roosevelt's contribution to each and every American is a birthright of public lands unmatched anywhere else in this world," said TRCP spokeswoman Britta Blodgett. "This site,, will shine light on his life and legacy in a way that's never been done before."

Additionally, Field & Stream magazine is joining T.R.'s 150th birthday celebration by publishing a special photo gallery and essay, along with a quiz that allows visitors to test their T.R. IQ, at

Collecting eggs

"A fine day in the Adirondacks," proclaimed Rich Preall as I stepped out of the truck. It was a cold and miserable morning on Mountain Pond north of Paul Smiths. It was alternately spitting snow or blowing rain on the assembled crew. A team of DEC fisheries biologists and hatchery technicians were hard at work along the shoreline. They were working quickly to harvest the next generation of a heritage strain of Adirondack brook trout.

"We've been taking eggs here for over twenty years," revealed Preall, a Fisheries Biologist with DEC's Region 5, "We're hoping to get 15,000 eggs before we're done. With that number of eggs, we can probably stock around 10,000 fish."

As we spoke, technicians huddled around a holding tank in the background, sorting through the fish which had just been retrieved from a trap net placed offshore.

Windfall Pond strain of brook trout, targets of the trapping process, are carefully weighed and measured after being stripped of their eggs. Junk fish, such as bullheads, chubbs and silver shiners, which also crowd the traps are sorted out and disposed of.

"Most of the fish we're finding are clipped fins, which means that they were stocked fish," Preall said. "I'd guess we have only about a 10-15 percent wild fish population. You can see that the wild fish are shorter and fatter."

DEC utilizes Mountain Pond as a brood stock water for the Windfall Pond strain. It is a special brook trout water, with regulations restricted to the use of artificial lures only for catch and release angling. Regulations also permit an extended season that allows anglers to wet a line until Nov. 30, a full month-and-a half beyond the close of the state's regular trout season.

"Last year, we got 15,00 eggs and 14,500 survived," Preall said. "This year, we were hoping for thirty pairs but we're catching a lot more females than males. Usually, it's just the opposite."

The large catch nets are set in two locations on the pond. The traps have long wings which funnel the fish into a holding pen. Technicians tend to the traps in a boat and bring the catch in to be sorted.

Neil McCarthy of the DEC's Chateaugay Hatchery oversees the operation.

"There's a ripe one right on top," he advised the crew. Promptly, they pluck a fat female brook trout from the bin and strip her of eggs by massaging the hen's belly.

Almost immediately, a thin line of orange eggs squirts into a small porcelain bowl.

"We're reusing the males because we haven't been able to catch enough," said McCarthy as another technician squeezes sperm from a male brookie into the bowl of eggs.

"That male will have a lot of protogy. He's covered a lot of eggs," Preall said.

The small bowl of eggs and sperm is quickly filled with pond water and shaken, not stirred. The fertilized eggs are then stored for transfer to the hatchery, where they will be incubated.

The process will take several hours of work out in the cold, windy conditions. This is just a small part of the effort DEC puts into its program to restore heritage strain of brook trout to their home waters. Wild strains of brook trout still inhabit waters such as Windfall Pond, Little Tupper Lake, Honnendaga Lake, Nate Pond, Horn Lake and several other Adirondack lakes.

Heritage strain trout are remnants of populations that have survived the Adirondack environment since the ice age. Offspring of these native fish have been restocked in many of the Park's remote waters with the intention of breeding a hardier, more adaptable trout.

They are much more tolerant than domestically reared brook trout of the harsh weather conditions and ever-changing water chemistry of the region.

Through pond reclamation, a process which eradicates all fish species, the DEC cleans trash fish from a pond before introducing the heritage strain.

Such efforts have been instrumental in saving the Park's native fish populations. In the Saranac Lake Wild Forest, only about 3 percent of the original brook trout waters still hold brook trout.

Even this small percentage would not exist without DEC's dedicated fisheries staff.



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