Mention Adirondack hiking and most people think of the 46 high peaks. Less well known is the 133-mile Northville-Placid Trail, a continuous trail established in 1922 by the Adirondack Mountain Club and now maintained by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Hiking the entire trail takes about a week and a half, through forests dotted with streams and ponds. Most trail hikers — and the ADK — consider the end points of the trail to be Upper Benson, north of Northville, and Averyville, south of Lake Placid. That makes the hiking trail 117 miles,but eliminates highway walking, including a 10-11 mile hike on Route 30 at the start.
Now the DEC is officially moving the southern terminus of the trail more than six miles to the south to eliminate hiking on the highway.
Vehicle access to what most hikers consider the real trailhead — the campsite on the North Stony Creek in Upper Benson in southern Hamilton County — was cut off last December at the end of deer hunting season.
The trail, which starts as a dirt road traveling .8 miles through private hunting club lands and another .4 miles across state wilderness to the campsite, is now blocked by a cable at the southern edge of the club property off Godfrey Road, near the stand supporting the registration book.
The DEC closed the road soon after the last of the pickups pulling camper trailers left the North Stony Creek campsite. Hunters have used that campsite for decades; DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said they can continue to camp there — if they are willing to walk to it.
But that situation on Godfrey Road is not expected to last long.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said work could begin next year on the planned new southern section of the trail starting in Gifford’s Valley, closer to Northville.
New hiking route
On the planned route, which awaits final approval of the Shaker Mountain Unit Management Plan, a switch-back trail would lead hikers over the mountains framing Giffords Valley before descending north to the West Stony Creek, across the Benson Road at Little Cathead Mountain on the east side of Woods Lake, and then northwest to the existing trail, making a junction very near the North Stony campsite.
The new section would save the hikers who want to walk the entire trail from starting on Route 30 near the Northville Bridge.
From a parking area in Giffords Valley, the entire hike would be about 125 miles, and all in the woods.
“Folks are pretty supportive of the fact we’re finally going to get that trail off the highway and into the woods,” said Michael Washburn, executive director of the Residents Committee for the Protection of the Adirondacks.
Washburn, whose parents operate the Trailhead Lodge near Godfrey Road, called Giffords Valley a beautiful area and noted the mountains rising from the valley are quite rugged.
The hunters and campers who have traditionally driven to the North Stony campsite will have to consider other options.
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said there are still plenty of camping areas reachable by vehicle.
“There are literally dozens of them,” he said.
Sheehan sympathized with the people displaced by the new cable placement. “It’s never easy to change a family tradition,” he said. “It’s regrettable people get caught up, but there is a greater good being served here,” he said.
It was inevitable that the laws barring vehicles from state wilderness would be enforced, Sheehan said. “We think it’s our responsibility as New Yorkers to protect the little here that is left,” he said of the 1.1 million acres designated in the Forest Preserve as wilderness. Sheehan said New York’s share of true wilderness constitutes 90 percent of the wilderness from Maine to Georgia.
The plan to move the Godfrey Road cable was announced two years ago, when the unit management plan for the Silver Lake Wilderness was presented to the Adirondack Park Agency board.
In the Silver Lake UMP document, state officials note the right-of-way through the hunting club was obtained in 1968 and that motor vehicle use has occurred since with vehicles traveling the final 0.4 miles to the campsite on wilderness land.
“There is no question that public motor vehicle use along the last 0.4 miles in wilderness is not permitted,” the document states.
The UMP proposes to create a new parking area within 500 feet of the wilderness boundary while also equipping the campsite on the North Stony with a tent pad, pit privy and paths between the facilities.