Foss: Exploring North Country National Scenic Trail

More opportunities to visit Hammond Pond Wild Forest
Glenville resident Norm Kuchar hikes in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest.
Glenville resident Norm Kuchar hikes in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest.

We make our way upstream, looking for a good place to cross the river that burbles and flows through a woods thick with tall, older trees.

Earlier in the day, we took off our shoes and waded through chilly spring water to get to the other side of a stream.

But this river is too deep and too swift for that approach, and we keep walking, scanning the riverbank for rocks or trees to help us across.

When we come upon a large beaver dam, we know we’ve found the spot. We place our feet carefully, moving from one sturdy-looking log to another, and within minutes we are standing on the opposite side of the river.

It is my first trip to the Hammond Pond Wild Forest, 45,000-plus acres of flora and fauna in the northeastern Adirondacks.

Located near the former Frontier Town theme park in North Hudson, Hammond Pond is one of the less traveled parts of the Adirondacks.

Until last week, when I joined Glenville residents Walt Hayes, 79, and Norm Kuchar, 78, on a peaceful and pleasant 6.7-mile hike through Hammond Pond, I had never been there before. Also on the trip was Corrie O’Dea, the DEC forester who oversees the area.

The three are united by their interest in connecting the Adirondacks to the North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches across seven states, from the Great Plains of North Dakota to New York’s eastern border.

Congress created the NCNST in 1980, but the trail is far from finished – approximately 2,700 of the footpath’s 4,600 miles have been completed.

In New York, many sections of the NCNST already exist, but large gaps remain.

Two years ago the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced a final plan for the 158 miles of trail that cut through the Adirondacks.

The plan recommends incorporating about 81 miles of existing trail and 27 miles of road connectors, and building 39 miles of new trail. About 12 miles of new trail will be built in Hammond Pond, which is why Hayes, Kuchar and O’Dea are hiking there. They are trying to figure out where, exactly, the trail should go.

Our hike starts off on existing trail, but it isn’t long before we step off the trail and start bushwhacking through the woods.

It isn’t a particularly difficult bushwhack – there isn’t a lot of brush to push through, and the trees aren’t especially dense. Kuchar checks our route with a compass, and O’Dea regularly consults her GPS. It never feels like we’re lost, because we aren’t.

Kuchar and Hayes are both longtime members of the Schenectady County chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and they’ve visited Hammond Pond Wild Forest numerous times.

The men learned about the NCNST about a decade ago, and have been hiking in the sections of the western Adirondacks where the trail will go, scouting potential routes and making suggestions to the DEC. To their delight, many of these suggestions were incorporated into the final plan.

“We’ve done a lot of bushwhacking to find easy routes, to avoid swamps and go past interesting places like waterfalls,” Kuchar says. “Walt and I like to go out and explore stuff and we like to bushwhack. Rather than scratch our heads figuring out where to go hike, well, here’s a plan that’s kept us busy for 10 years.”

“No one appointed us,” Hayes says. “We just went out and did it.”

O’Dea has found Kuchar and Hayes’ expertise and companionship useful, and the three have hiked together about a half dozen times.

“(Walt and Norm) have been to 99 percent of the places on the NCST and they’ve probably been there more than once,” O’Dea tells me.

The North Country National Scenic Trail will be a great asset for New York, and also the Adirondacks.

Most hikers probably won’t hike across the entire state, but the existence of a well-maintained, long-distance trail should increase recreation and tourist activity in areas that need an economic boost.

It might also help bring visitors to some of the quieter areas of the Adirondacks, and ease the pressure on the High Peaks, which have seen an enormous increase in hikers.

“The High Peaks are practically in crisis because so many people are hiking there,” Hayes observes. “But Hammond Pond is underused.”
There’s no particular reason Hammond Pond is underused.

It’s a beautiful area, with views of mountains, ponds and rivers, and thick towering trees and pretty little wildflowers. If the North Country National Scenic Trail is completed, perhaps more people will have the opportunity to see it.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog can be found here.

Categories: -News-, Opinion, Schenectady County

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