Despite a brief weekend thaw and accompanying rains, it appears winter has finally arrived in the North Country. It was ushered in with the New Year and delivered fresh snow and bitterly low temperatures. Prospects of additional snowfall have raised expectations among many outdoor enthusiasts.
As the new snow erased the dreary dregs of autumn, a deep freeze promptly secured area lakes and ponds with a solid cover of ice. In the course of just two days, holiday humdrums were replaced with a flush of outdoor activity, as skaters and ice fishermen took to the lakes and skiers rode long boards downhill.
While snowshoers and cross-country skiers are still searching for adequate cover, hardwater anglers are already enjoying outstanding catches of both perch and smelt.
Ski tracks are well defined along the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway toll road, which has been providing local nordic enthusiasts with regular skiing opportunities for more than a month.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
Although "first ice" usually provides some outstanding angling opportunities, anglers should remember to take proper precautions to insure their safe travel. Stop and check the ice often, carry a pair of ice picks and be cautious of areas where ice may be weak - near inlets and outlets or other areas where the current or a constricted channel prevents ice from forming.
Most reports indicate an average of 5 to 6 inches of ice cover, but anglers should still be cautious when traveling. The booms, barks and rumbles of ice forming are always a welcome tune in night air and the muffled music is sure to continue as the ice grows.
Moody Pond and Turtle Pond in the village of Saranac Lake are currently sporting nearly 6 inches of ice, while Lake Colby was covered with about 4 to 5 inches of ice earlier in the week.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities will remain rather scarce until an adequate base is established. For now, rock skis are the preferred equipment.
As always, the earliest opportunities will be available on fire truck trails, such as Hays Brook, Fish Pond and Great Camp Santanoni. Other untapped and underutilized ski trails include the quiet trails and roads available at many of the local state campsites, including Meacham Lake, Buck Pond and Fish Creek. I've also learned the trails at Tupper Lake Golf Course are in very good shape.
The Paul Smith's College VIC trails were reported to have adequate cover earlier in the week. Paul Smiths is in the snowbelt, and it usually gets belted. While the VIC has traditionally been an early-season favorite for many area skiers, the facility now charges a trail fee. It appears the free ride is over.
Adirondacks still wild after all these years
The vast, wild lands that comprise the Adirondack Park have long hosted a combination of both permanent and seasonal residents, with population centers that have traditionally featured an assortment of small towns and large villages. Although the region has never produced a codified city, the cosmopolitan air of Saranac Lake prompted Mayor Clyde Rabideau to proclaim the village as the "Capital of the Adirondacks."
If Noah John Rondeau, the famous mayor of Cold River City were still around, he would surely argue that Saranac Lake couldn't possibly be compared to the metropolitan charm of his humble backcountry abode.
The region has also served as host to a fair share of backwoods camps and wide assortment of remote outposts. The numerous small communities are not a modern phenomenon, as small villages had likely dotted the landscape long before the arrival of Europeans.
Settlements such as Tahawus, Euba Mills, Adirondac and Hollywood no longer exist, except in the memories of old timers or curious cartographers. Tall pines may tower over the land for centuries, but the natural world has the ability to easily erase the hand of man in short order.
The region's most remote lands have been surveyed, mapped and even Googled. Although many wild rivers still run free, in many cases they've been dammed, bridged or industrialized and damned. The region's tallest peaks have all been explored, climbed and provided with proper names, even beyond the top 46.
Ore veins have been mined and most of the caves have been explored. Climbers have provided names and even numbers for awe-inspiring routes that they have used to travel to the top of soaring cliffs. Even the temporary seasonal ice sheets have routes that have been climbed, claimed and named.
Biological inventories and bird counts have sorted out the species, while gill nets and electroshocks have been used to reveal the extent of fish stock in every creek, crook, stream, brook, crik, river, pond, bog, washbowl or lake across the region. However, no one has yet to explain the difference between a lake and a pond.
Scientists have plumbed even the deepest depths, and measured the atmosphere from ground level all the way up to the stratosphere. And in our infinite quest for conquest over the earth, the land has had precious little time to rest. It has been shaved and paved, painted and protected, torn up and worn down. Trails have been cut, roads were built and rivers spanned. Benchmarks have been secured and trees toppled as sewers were secured and the wires strung. Entire landscapes have been altered and altars landed.
But through it all, despite the ravaging of man and the savaging of nature, the Adirondacks remain essentially the same as they have for millenniums.
William Chapman White, who once resided upon the shores of Lake Colby, summed it up best in his book, "Adirondack Country." He wrote, "As a man tramps the woods to the lake he knows he will find pines and lilies, blue herons and golden shiners, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets, just as they were in the summer of 1354, as they will be in 2054 and beyond. He can stand on a rock by the shore and be in a past he could not have known, in a future he will never see. He can be a part of time that was and time yet to come."
Although the entire landscape of the Adirondack region has been thoroughly explored, mapped, poked, stoked and tamed in comparison to the wild boreal forests of the Canada's Far North and the vast swath of land called Siberia, the region still holds some secrets and still contains some of the wildest country in the entire United States.
In the last 50 years, the total acreage of wild lands in the park has increased enormously due to the combination of easements, fee purchases and other enhanced measures that have been used to ensure the protection of numerous private holdings.
Although roads still intrude on the landscape, as do towers and trails, towns and trains, it is still possible to find a place that is so remote, you can hear your heart beat.
Humans may have tamed the land in places, but their efforts have not eradicated its inherent wildness. Opportunities to enjoy complete solitude still remain for those willing to seek them out. People can still become lost, and they regularly do.
Compared to the Adirondacks of 1912, the lands of 2012 boast more expansive forests, fewer extractive industries, cleaner rivers with less mills, clearer lakes, connected lands and waterways which provide for a far greater biodiversity and an increased connectivity.
The Adirondack forest of 2012 is wilder, with fewer clear cuts and little evidence of burned-over acreage. The rivers are cleaner, clearer and wilder and fish populations thrive. Public access to canoe routes has increased and travelers can now venture for hundreds of miles without the fear of trespass.
Currently, the Adirondack region encompasses a greater expanse of wild lands than at any point in living memory. Mother Nature is a dynamic and restorative old lady, and when left to her own devices, she has proven an ability to heal both the land and its inhabitants. This restorative effect has led to the revival of such iconic native species as moose, loon, beaver and bald eagles.
Despite the damage wrought by acid rain, brook trout still inhabit the streams and ponds and salmon again run the rivers. Native species of wildlife, many of which were endangered less than a century ago, continue to grow and thrive with healthy populations of whitetail deer, bear, brook trout and beaver. Most recently, there was evidence of both wild wolf and mountain lions venturing through the area, raising prospects for the natural restoration of these extirpated predators.
While regional flora and fauna continue to thrive, the human population has remained relatively static over the years. Although the perceived flight of local youth to urban areas has raised legitimate concerns about the future, several towns on the periphery of the park have actually experienced significant population growth in recent years. However, most of the interior communities have experienced slight population growth or declines, and the population of permanent residents remains about the same as it was in 1912.