Navigating in nature: Valleys and mountains | Opinion
November is shoulder season for hiking, when you can expect anything for weather conditions and trails. Many higher elevation mountains now have snow and ice on the trails and it seemed like a good time to explore further down the Champlain Valley.
I hiked a few on the trails in the Champlain area, but with over 67 miles of trails I knew there was a lot more to explore. Champlain Area Trails is a non-profit and accredited land trust established in 2009. Trails that are slated to open this year are the Spirit Sanctuary Trail on November 27 and the Lonely Hill Trail (Lewis) in early December.
TRAILS FOR ALL
All CATS trails can be used for hiking and running. Some are suitable for skiing and only a few are allowed to cycle. The reverse side of CATS Central and Northern Valley maps have symbols indicating which trails are best suited for which type of recreation. Note that these maps show trails run by the state and other organizations in addition to CATS.
CATS Trails have trails with something for everyone. Last week I explored a few trails that just officially opened this year. I have a group of friends that we try to get together at least once a year and it seemed like a good time to do it. Longtime hiker friends Janice Kennedy, Jean Ryan and I, along with my dog Bucky, met at our fourth hiker Luvie Tuller in Essex. How lucky we were to have our own local guide as we set out to explore the trails of Essex Quarry Nature Reserve.
Essex is such a small and quaint town where you get a ‘hello’ or ‘hello’ whether you know them or not. After a pleasant short walk through town we arrived at the trailhead. The car park can accommodate 4 to 5 cars. The trail is wide and starts at a kiosk with a sign with information about the quarry. There is a box with CATS trail maps as well as a dedicated quarry map.
BLUE STONE OF BROOKLYN
There are approximately 1.5 miles of easy trails on the reserve. These consist of a yellow trail loop, a red trail loop, a green trail, and my favorite, the Bluestone trail that overlooks the quarry.
The limestone collected from the quarry was known as bluestone because of its bluish tint. Some of this stone, known for its strength, was shipped to help build the Brooklyn Bridge. The kiosk has a list of 10 buildings and their locations in Essex that used bluestone in their construction.
With Luvie in the lead, we found ourselves caught up as we were enjoying a nice walk in the woods. There were several stone benches, informative signs, and interesting rock formations as we walked and talked. Our hike was short but quite interesting and could be enjoyed by all ages.
ART FARM HIKING
Since I was in the area, I decided to visit the Art Farm trail in Wadhams. I was glad that Jean and Janice joined me. After a short scenic drive from Essex, we pulled into a parking lot near an old barn at the art farm. You can start the trail here or follow the directions provided by the CATS map.
Again, I was fortunate to have tour guides as sisters Jean and Janice are former farm laborers (sorry girls) who grew up on Thew farm in Harkness. There are several sculptures made from old farm equipment and my guides were quick to identify them all. We followed a path through a field passing a small pond with a pile of rocks in the shape of a cone. It is the Floating Stone Cone that will drift along the water.
On the right, on a small elevation, a small old building housed an easel with a painting on it. I could only think of what a picturesque place for an artist to relax and create his masterpiece. We continued with fields of dried milkweed on either side blowing in the breeze. The hike through the forest was easy and pleasant with a few wetlands. After about half a mile, we came to the intersection of the Bobcat Trail and the Field and Forest Trail. At this point, we turned around. When we got out of the forest, a beautiful mountain view awaited us. Although we didn’t do the whole trail I will definitely be back to finish what I started.
ON BLUEBERRY HILL
A few days later, I decided to check out part of the Blueberry Hill Trail System. This network has about thirty multi-use trails through the woods. Along with my loyal hiking buddy Bucky, my good friends Sue Coonrod and Tracy Orkin have agreed to join me. Our destination would be the Colonel Holst Trail to a lean-to. The parking area will hold approximately 4 cars at the Lord Road trailhead near Elizabethtown. The hike is a 1.6 mile loop so we packed the light and off we went. At the start there is a map and descriptions of the trails at Blueberry Hill. If you don’t have the CATS map I suggest you take a photo of this map as the trails can be a bit confusing. (I had found the correct information online and had already made a copy to bring with me.) There was also a sign saying, “For your safety, high visibility colors are recommended for hikers and hikers. animals during the fall hunting season! With our bright orange and red clothes, we were ready.
I had read that the quickest way to the lean-to was to follow the yellow to blue to red trails to reach the lean-to, so we chose that direction.
We started climbing from the start and before we knew it he got to the lean-to. What a lovely area with a wonderful view. Our legs had a good workout to boot. We stayed for a while trying to identify the mountains in the distance and soak up the sun. Taking one last look before heading back down we knew we had another hike to explore. Passing several trail intersections where some were marked and some were not, we still had no problem staying on course. The hike required some rock climbing but I think this would be a great destination for families or if someone just wanted a quick walk through the woods to a lean-to with some pretty views.
Our next hike would be at Eagle Mountain Preserve. This 3.5 mile loop on Benny’s Trail will take you on a scenic drive to Clear Pond. At the start of the trail there is room for about 6 cars (depending on how they parked). At the beginning there is an information kiosk describing the area and the route. The trail is quite wide and easy to walk. There are a lot of tags with a paw print on them, which makes it almost impossible to get lost. As I passed a swampy, wet area, I kept an eye out for a moose, but no chance of seeing one that day. It was mostly flat with only a few small hills to climb and we quickly reached an intersection where you could go either way to reach the pond. We spent some time on the shore enjoying the peaceful pond and the scenic views before continuing around the pond. The beavers must have been very active in the area because several trees were showing signs of their activity. A few wet crossings warranted us bringing trekking poles which helped keep our feet dry. Far too soon, we were back to our car, satisfied with our sightseeing knowing we would be back another day.
It had been a lovely day of hiking as I smiled looking in my mirror to see Bucky sound asleep in the back seat. I guess he enjoyed it too. Upon returning home, I received a phone call from Sue telling me that she had found a tick attached to her. I checked myself and Bucky and there weren’t any on me but Bucky had 4 crawling all over him. So friends, they are still very much alive on and off the trails. You can take precautions before you go hiking by tucking your pant legs into your socks and spraying permethrin on your clothes, but the safest thing to do is check for ticks after every hike.
Later in the week I couldn’t help but look for some snow to hike as I love snow. A trip to Balanced Rocks outside of Lake Placid did the trick. Good friends Sue Coonrod and Wendy Patunoff joined me on this short windy, cold, icy and snowy day. Whatever the conditions, we all seem to be having a great time with lots of stories and laughs. This was a great hike to test out winter gear and a good reminder that it is now winter in these mountains so be prepared. Back home I realized I lost my crampons from my pack on the last part of the hike. Sue surprised me by going up the next day and walking the trail until she found them. I am truly grateful to have a friend like this.
CATS trail maps can be downloaded or requested at www.champlainareatrails.com/trails/
Peruvian resident Joanne Kennedy is a photographer and writer who explores the many lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks and other wilderness areas. She enjoys sharing the unique places she visits in the natural world with her readers. Contact her at [email protected]