The Adirondack backcountry is gradually returning to normal in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, which washed out trails and caused three wilderness areas to be temporarily closed.
Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown went hiking and climbed a slide last Saturday from the Adirondack Mountain Club's High Peaks Information Center trailhead. He said when he arrived in the early morning, the parking lot was in its normal state for a weekend day.
"When I arrived, the Loj parking lot was full," Brown said. "I saw the normal amount of people on the trail. I passed a lot of parties. I had hiked before then and I hardly saw anybody."
Chris Knight checks out debris at the Marcy Brook crossing, which is now used by hikers taking the Van Hoevenberg Trail from the High Peaks Information Center. The crossing is about a quarter-mile below Marcy Dam, which had its pedestrian bridge wiped out during Tropical Storm Irene.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 spokesman Dave Winchell said that since the storm his department, with the help of stewardship partners, has cleared 185 miles of trail. He noted that the Adirondack Mountain Club, Student Conservation Association, Adirondack 46ers and the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society have all been busy helping DEC.
"There's a lot of hard work going on restoring these trails," Winchell said. "Our trail crews, forest rangers, foresters, backcountry stewards, summit stewards and caretakers are all pitching in, as well as we're getting help from other regions."
Brown, who has made an effort to get out in the Eastern High Peaks since the storm, has said that most of the trails he encountered were in pretty good shape. That includes a hike up Mount Marcy and one to Avalanche Lake.
"Our goal is to have as many trails passable by Columbus Day weekend as we can," Winchell said.
Up-to-date trail conditions are available on the DEC's website.
Marcy Dam update
One outstanding issue that needs to be resolved is the situation at Marcy Dam. The dam and bridge were seriously damaged during Irene, and now the DEC has to determine if the bridge should be replaced.
"We've determined we need to put a bridge crossing somewhere along Marcy Brook, near Marcy Dam, whether it's going to go over the dam again, that determination hasn't yet been made," Winchell said. "But we know we want to put a bridge crossing there someplace. But that's something I don't see happening before Columbus Day weekend."
Winchell said no determination will be made until the DEC is able to get an engineer to the site to evaluate the damage and to see if it can support a bridge over the dam like there was in the past.
In the absence of the bridge, hikers leaving from the High Peaks Information Center trailhead on the Van Hoevenberg trail are using a low-water crossing about a quarter-mile below the dam. But that isn't considered a long-term solution because it isn't practical when there is high water.
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said his organization is currently working on other options.
"ADK is considering, with working with the department, reestablishing the bridging on the Mr. Van Trail that goes from roughly the Loj parking lot to the Marcy Truck Trail," Woodworth said. "It hasn't been open in recent years because there's an absence of a bridge."
He said there's a possibility that could happen this fall.
Adirondack Trails Day
In conjunction with National Trails Day, which takes place Saturday, Oct. 1, the Adirondack Mountain Club is organizing a series of backcountry trail projects for volunteers.
This year could be especially busy because of the concern for trails after Irene. Winchell said his organization has received a lot calls since the storm from people wanting to help out by doing trail work.
"Essentially, what we've been doing is directing everyone to ADK for their trails day," he said. "We did get an outpouring of people wanting to volunteer and after discussing it we felt that we were not set up to handle that."
Those who want to participate should expect to do a lot of work to improve drainage along the trails and some of the reroutes along damaged sections of trail.
"Those reroutes will require tread preparing and particularly drainage, ditches, water bars, that type of thing, so I anticipate we will be doing a lot of that," Woodworth said. "You want to do a lot of that in the fall, before the spring basically damages the new trails areas."
Eight different trails located in the Adirondack High Peak Region will be focused on during trails day. A cold continental breakfast will be served at the High Peaks Information Center starting at 7:30 a.m. before the crews leave for the day at around 8:45 a.m.
Participants can camp for free in the ADK Wilderness Campground both Friday and Saturday night.
Adirondack Mountain Club is recommending that volunteers pre-register, especially if staying in the campground, which is free.
To register, call 518-523-3441 or visit the website at www.adk.org.