It's been an interesting week on the recreational front as a number of access issues have come to a head.
While diminishing water levels on the Hudson, Moose, Black and other northern rivers have robbed whitewater rafters of the usual 'big water' adventures this spring season; the prospect of a new Adirondack whitewater playground loom with a recent decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A recent FERC ruling will require New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) to provide public access to a section of the upper Ausable Chasm for whitewater enthusiasts.
The river section, located downstream from the village of Keeseville in Ausable Chasm has long been closed to the public.
However, through the joint effort of the Adirondack Mountain Club and American Whitewater, a national paddler's advocacy group; FERC has ordered NYSEG to provide public access to the river from Memorial Day through October 31.
The three and a half mile stretch of the Ausable River, which begins below the NYSEG powerhouse at Rainbow Falls. It features a variety of big drops and standing rapids, rated Class IV on the American whitewater scale. Due to a consistent flow of water, the prospective new river run is stirring up a great deal of interest among whitewater paddlers.
Ausable Chasm Corporation, operators of Ausable Chasm which is the oldest tourist attraction in the country, have been offering rafting and tubing adventures for their guests for several years.
Local residents and area rescue personnel have railed against FERC's decision, due to the potential difficulty of rescue presented by the soaring cliffs of the chasm.
In other access news, the Department of Environmental Conservation has settled a long running battle with Jim McCulley of Lake Placid for driving his snowmobile and a pickup truck on Old Mountain Road.
The road, connecting the towns of Keene and North Elba, is located on the backside of Pitchoff Mountain.
The decision, announced last week by DEC Commissioner Grannis states that local municipalities control use of the road. The ruling could affect a number of town roads across the Adirondacks that have been closed in recent years.
Since the early 1980's, the five mile long, Old Mountain Road has been used primarily as a ski trail; though horseback riders, mountain bikers and snowmobilers have occasionally attempted to travel it.
In 1986, the road was incorporated into the popular Jackrabbit Ski Trail, which stretches from Keene to Paul Smiths and beyond. McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, forced the issue that the DEC had illegally closed a town road, by informing Forest Rangers that he was purposely driving a motor vehicle on the road.
He then fought the ticket. It was a long and drawn out struggle.
The recent ruling by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis to toss out the ticket could have additional ramifications, as local communities begin to revisit similar DEC decisions that have closed old town roads located on Forest Preserve lands.
Matt Norfolk, a lawyer representing McCulley in the case, stated that, "I think the private sector, whether it's mountain bikers, horseback riders, or four-wheelers or snowmobile people, are probably going to be looking at this in the Park." Time will tell.
Outdoor programs for area youth
Over the past few years, I have written numerous columns about the pressing need to connect our children with the outdoors.
I've often stressed the need for adult mentors to foster the connection, whether hunting whitetails or turkey, paddling a stream, climbing a mountain or some other outdoor adventure.
I've argued for the pressing need to provide local youth with the skills, knowledge and tools to properly utilize and enjoy their natural surroundings. Such skills are essential, as the outdoors is the most readily available recreation resource. In some communities, it is the only one.
In the course of my research, I've uncovered a number of wonderful programs, including those offered by the Warren County Cooperative Extension 4-H Program.
With offerings ranging from an Adirondack Guides Apprenticeship to Shooting Sports to the current Map and Compass program, the Warren County 4-H provides one of the region's most progressive and comprehensive opportunities. A good deal of their success is due to the dedication of John Bowe of Ticonderoga, an avid outdoorsman.
I've heard disturbing rumors that funding for 4-H Program, as well as the Warrensburg Fish Hatchery, may be in jeopardy. Warren County supervisors should take note of the success of both entities.
However, I would be remiss if I failed to also mention one of the North Country's most traditional outdoor skill providers, the Boy Scouts.
While many small towns struggle to support a Boy Scout Troup, there are numerous active programs throughout the park. And the skills they offer are not exclusively centered on the outdoors.
This point was evident at Saranac Lake's Memorial Day parade, where local scouts and their leaders participated alongside the military veterans.
Scouting may instill participants with outdoor skills and competence; but it also prepares them to be good citizens, students and friends.
In the course of dealing with numerous corporate executives over the years; I am regularly reminded of the fraternity that is scouting. I'm always impressed when successful businessmen reveal their greatest achievement was attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org