Last year, I spent several days fishing waters along the horse trail system in the Hayes Brook-Slush Pond area, which is located just off of State Route 30, a few miles north of Paul Smiths corners. The trail system features a network of fire truck roads and old logging roads that connect with several small streams and a few backwoods ponds.
Although the Hayes Brook region does attract horseback riders, hikers and cross country skiers in season, it remains lightly traveled, especially after the trout season ends.
The area is designated Wild Forest, a classification that permits the use of mountain bikes. Few people realize that despite being banned in designated wilderness areas, the use of mountain bikes is permitted on nearly 1.3 million acres of Forest Preserve land classified as Wild Forest, with most, but not all, trails in Wild Forest being open to mountain bikes.
Much of the Saranac Lake Wild Forest is open to bikers, as are fire truck roads in the St. Regis Canoe Area as well as a seven-mile, primitive corridor that reaches from Star Lake into the Five Ponds Wilderness almost to Cage Lake. Biking is permitted throughout the Moose Plains, a sprawling piece of backcountry that is located south Old Forge.
Most of the trails in the Hayes Brook area are comprised of old tote roads which provide a wide swath for hikers, skiers, bikers or horseback riders to travel side by side. The forest features a mix of boreal, northern hardwoods and mature pine plantation and the topography is a blend of river valleys and rolling hills.
The Osgood River and Hayes Brook comprise two of the area's major waterways, while the nearby waters of Mountain Pond, Grass Pond and Slush Pond offer additional opportunities for brook trout fishing. Barnum Pond, located a mile south of Mountain Pond on Route 30, provides anglers with an additional opportunity for largemouth bass.
At Grass Pond, which is accessible via a well maintained, old tote road, there are several fine campsites and two nice leantos along its eastern shore. The pond is regularly stocked with brook trout but ranks well below other ponds in the area in terms of size and quantity.
At the Sheep Meadows, a horse assembly area located a few miles beyond the turnoff that leads to Grass Pond, there are also two leantos as well as a small barn with horse paddocks in an area of high, open meadows.
There are also numerous roadside campsites along the shores of Mountain Pond, which is designated as a special trout water. The pond is stocked with the Windfall Pond heritage strain of brook trout and angling is limited to catch and release, with only artificials permitted.
There is easy access from Mountain Pond to the Hayes Brook trail system along the old, Route 30, which retains pavement in sections. For information on access and maps of the trail system, please visit the bikekinetix.com mountain bike website located at http://www.bikekinetix.com/t_ny\Ny_state/ franklin_northern.php.
The Adirondack Park Online Atlas of Mountain Bike Trails also offers information on mountain biking opportunities in the Adirondack Park. The mountain bike atlas illustrates 64 trails that are appropriate for mountain biking at http://bikeadk.adirondackcraft.com/data/trails.html
The Biking Buckmaster
Last year while traveling along the Hayes Brook trail system, I came upon a set of bike tracks in the light snow of early fall. I followed the tracks nearly all the way to Grass Pond, where I found a bike leaning up against a tree.
Strapped to the bike's handlebars was an empty rifle scabbard. The footprints of the rider lead off in the direction of the pond's outlet. I continued to the pond and followed his tracks until they left the trail and set off into the thick woods..
After a pleasant afternoon of fishing, I returned to the trailhead where I eventually met up with the hunter/biker. He was a student at Paul Smiths College. He explained that because of class schedules, his opportunities to hunt were severely limited.
As a result, he had researched local areas that permitted the use of mountain bikes. He found that even though the use of bikes was restricted in designated Wilderness Areas, bikes were permitted on almost all other state lands in the region.
He also detailed many of the advantages of using a bike for hunting access, beyond the obvious quick and easy access that bikes typically offer.
"Most of all," he explained, "Bikes are pretty quiet and generally deer don't seem to be spooked by them. I can't say that deer don't run off, but bikes don't make a lot of noise. Hiker's make vibrations as they plod along a trail, bikes just scoot right through!"
"Although bikers do give off a scent, I don't think it's too bad since they are moving through kind of quickly. A hiker's scent is lower and lasts longer since their boots are in contact with the ground; whereas a biker only has rubber wheels leaving sign of his passing. And tires don't have a human scent."
"When there is a light snow, I cover a lot of territory looking for fresh tracks. I've learned this area pretty well and I know where the roads cross. If I see a set of deer tracks headed north, I know where I can cut 'em off. With a bike, I can usually get there fast enough to accomplish it. He continued, "With my rifle in a scabbard, it's within easy reach and I can travel with a loaded gun, since a bike is not a motor vehicle. I don't have the gun slung over my shoulder."
"I can usually get to my tree stand in about a quarter of the time it takes to hike there and hardly break a sweat doing it. Best of all, it's mostly downhill all the way back to the parking lot, so I can stay in my treestand longer and still get out before dark."
Although I've been using mountain bikes for many years to access remote brook trout waters, I never considered utilizing a mountain bike for hunting purposes.
However, my brief encounter with the young, biking buckmaster certainly changed my outlook. It was one of those "Why didn't I think of that," forehead slapping moments. It has opened my eyes to a wide range of prospective new hunting locations and extended the biking season well into the fall.
I've been looking for a scabbard ever since.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org