The northern zone big game hunting season, which ends Sunday, will constitute another full hunting season that provided less than a full week of consistent snow cover on the ground.
It was not unexpected. For nearly a half-dozen years in a row, the big game season has remained nearly snowless. The period of late autumn and early winter typically presents a quandary for outdoor enthusiasts. The hunting season is winding down as the weather turns wet, snotty and cold, with just a tease of snow in the upper elevations.
While skim ice has already begun to form around the edges of most ponds, current prospects for finding safe ice on the larger lakes rank somewhere between slim and none. Although New York fishing regulations permit the use of tip-ups starting Nov. 15, very few anglers have had an opportunity to auger an Adirondack lake ice prior to New Years Eve in many years. Unfortunately, the ice simply hasn't set up that early.
As the hardwater crew awaits solid ice, those who get their kicks from snowshoes and skinny skis continue to dream of deep powder conditions as they search for a bare minimum of snow to cover the maximum amount of trail. Local golf courses typically offer some of the earliest nordic opportunities, followed soon after by old logging roads and fire truck trails.
To date, enthusiasts have been enjoying adequate ski conditions along the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. However, additional snow will be needed before other "early ski" opportunities are available at locations such as the Fish Pond fire truck road, the Paul Smiths VIC Center trails, the Newcomb Lake road, Hays Brook horse trails or the Marcy Dam fire truck road.
The lack of colder weather has also hampered the development of ice slabs suitable for climbers in the Cascades and elsewhere. Although a few climbers have already been out, the ice has been sketchy and scary, with a mix of rock and ice.
Severe weather events
Although outdoor activities have traditionally been somewhat limited during the post-autumn, pre-winter timeframe, the likelihood of foul weather is usually to be expected.
It is often a period of instability, when the weather seems to abide by no season nor reason. One day can deliver shirt-sleeve warmth, while a raging blizzard can arrive on the next.
About 60 years ago, the Adirondack region was hit by one of the fiercest weather events of the 20th century. Known as the Great Adirondack Blowdown of 1950, the Nov. 25 storm delivered heavy rains driven by winds in excess of 100 mph.
The damaging winds toppled over 800,000 acres of forested lands in the Adirondacks. Roads were closed and the woods were rendered impassable. The Plattsburgh Press Republican reported, "Forest rangers use chain saws to free 33 hunters trapped in the Adirondacks near Saranac Lake by trees felled during the weekend storm. 20 hunters emerge from the woods near Floodwood, 14 miles west of Saranac Inn, after rangers clear 14 miles of trail."
The 1950 storm resulted in 177 deaths throughout the northeastern United States, and the Forest Preserve woods remained closed to the public for many years as logging operations attempted to salvage the blown down timber.
Among the storm's hardest hit regions was the Cold River area, near the high peaks of Seward and Santanoni, where remnants of the destruction can still be found today.
The Great Blowdown of 1950, which many had considered a "once in a lifetime event," was repeated less than a half century later by the Big Blow of '95, which hit the Adirondacks on July 15, 1995 with torrential thunderstorms and winds in excess of 100 mph.
The '95 storm stranded hikers and paddlers, leveling the forests of the Five Ponds Wilderness from Cranberry Lake all the way to Long Lake. Five people were killed and over 150,000 acres of forested lands were damaged.
Both of the events were attributed to a meteorological event known as a derecho, which consists of a complex of thunderstorms that can concentrate the storms into a much larger scale than a single storm.
Although the weather systems pack a similar potential for damage as a hurricane, the 1995 storm was a straight-line event that swept through the region and toppled a majority of trees in the same direction.
Although the storm lacked the swirling winds more typical of a hurricane, the damage to the forest was considerable. Deaths and injuries were limited only by the remoteness of the region affected.
When I first visited the Five Ponds Wilderness, after the trails were finally reopened two years after the storm, the forest looked like a moonscape. The trail we traveled was a single-track corridor that had been cut through a pine and hemlock forest. The fallen trees had the appearance of a box of stick matches that had been spilled.
Along several sections of the trail, trees were piled so high that the trail crew could only manage to carve a tunnel through the destruction. In places, the tunnels were barely tall enough to accommodate a man with a canoe on his shoulders.
Evidence of the trail crew's camps, marked by their fire rings in the middle of the trail, could be readily found. In many sections, their campsites were less than 50 yards apart, although they had likely cut through a hundred cord of wood in that span.
A new hook on the water
I recently received a letter from an old friend inviting me to join a relatively new angling advocacy group. The new outfit, Recycled Fish, has been in existence for almost seven years. It is a national nonprofit group with strong ties to Nebraska, representing a blue collar version of Trout Unlimited, with a similar environmental mission.
Founded in order to educate and encourage anglers to practice catch-and-release and selective harvest, the mission of Recycled Fish has evolved to encourage anglers to adopt the daily lifestyle changes that translate to true stewardship of water resources.
Conserving fish does little good if anglers continue to inflict ecological wounds to our streams, lakes and oceans. So the organization adapted to anglers living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water, because "Our lifestyle runs downstream."
According to Teeg Stouffer, the group's founder and executive director, the mission of Recycled Fish is to help anglers get in touch with their environmental side.
"No group of people in America is better suited to solve problems facing our fisheries than anglers," Stouffer explains.
Some may think environmentalists and anglers don't swim in the same water, however many people connect with nature through fishing, which is often cited as the most popular gateway activity for introducing people to the outdoors.
Although the organization has its roots in ice fishing, it has expanded its mission to encompass all aspects of the sport to include the 40 million Americans who spend more than $20 billion annually in pursuit of freshwater sport fishing.
According to Stouffer, "We started out talking about catch-and-release, but it's bigger than that now. If we want to catch more and bigger fish today and leave healthy waters for our grandkids, it takes living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water."
For further information, please visit www.RecycledFish.org.
This year their "On Ice Tour" will take the Recycled Fish message to over 50 events across the ice belt with tournament series like the North American Ice Fishing Circuit, Northeast Ice Tour, Ice Roads, True Ice Series, and in partnership with organizations like Iceaholics Anonymous.