“A commitment to wildeness forever by non-Native Americans
is a core commitment to claim, at long last, this marvelous
continent as our home place in perpetuity.”
— Ed Zahniser

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FIELD NOTES: EXTENDING THE WILD

One Landowner's Experience
by David Gibson, Partner

 
 
 
 
 

Photographs ©Ken Rimany

Rarely do we meet people so enthusiastic about restoring their land’s health as they try to understand how their land fits into the larger ecological puzzle around them. Adirondack Wild recently met such people.

They moved to the Adirondacks from New York City not many years ago, after spending many seasons exploring the region by canoe. They have traveled widely in the world, yet consider the Adirondacks home. They still face great obstacles in realizing their dreams. Yet, they have already surmounted and learned so much about how to live on this land. They thoroughly enjoy every moment with the more than human world around them. They embody what we mean by “extending the wild.”

What they started with: Their land would have had a railroad running through it, were it not for the Great Sacandaga Reservoir. The filling of the reservoir in 1923 or so quashed a lot of lives and dreams, and sparked others. One of those drowned dreams was to directly rail-connect Northville with the “glove city” of Gloversville to the southwest. The unnatural filling of the Sacandaga valley made that dream impossible. Thus, the process of rewilding an area beyond the reservoir’s reach began. Many decades later, the area was heavily logged – even high-graded, meaning that loggers, including Finch, Pruyn and Company, “took the best” of the area’s hardwoods and “left the rest” with little thought to the future. In the modern era, all-terrain vehicles took off where snowmobiling left off. Eroding trails were worn down to bedrock by ATVs in many of the steep places. In the end, a logger sold them the land.

The land around them: These new owners found the cellar holes, gaunt apple trees and stone walls of abandoned old farms hung on a steep hill. They saw a recovering forest that with some education and educated guesses might use their help. They saw a ring of small mountains around them, and on maps could see their connections to State Forest Preserve beyond. They witnessed abundant deer, heard coyotes, and learned from their beaver neighbors as well as a few of their human neighbors how things are engineered in the wild. They could see the Sacandaga valley below them. They were excited, and became part of this community of life. They built a new timber framed home and barn near several old farmsteads long swallowed up by the woods.

As owners and stewards of nearly a square mile and several small mountain peaks they climb every spring to see the carpet of wildflowers, and to look out at the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest to their west and Silver Lake Wilderness to the north. These are “forever wild,” part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve which together encompass nearly 150,000 acres. To their south and west are lands once owned by Finch, Pruyn Paper Company, and now owned by The Nature Conservancy. They dream of one day ensuring that their re-wilding experiment on their 600-acres continues, either as part of the Forest Preserve, or under a conservation easement. It is their connections to existing wilderness on their borders – both public and private - which excites them.

Stemming erosion: In coming here they faced patterns of motorized use and eroding trails exacerbated by all-terrain vehicles. They ended such use slowly through persistent, personal communication with riders and riding clubs, and by simply living on the land they owned and loved. Understanding between them and their neighbors has come over time. The soil erosion on the old steep ATV routes continues, requiring hard work, haybales and switchbacks.

Forest restoration: In the forest, beech dieback caused by beechbark disease (now beginning its 6th decade in the northeast as the killer of maturing American beech trees through the interactions of a common nectria fungus and an introduced scale insect) has led to thickets of beech “whips,” small diameter beech growing off the rootstock of diseased adults. The deer herd we observed while snowshoeing with the owner will not eat these. Little else can grow underneath the whips. Our owner has learned to repeatedly cut these beech thickets in irregular patches, and in their growing space has planted thousands of white pine, and lesser numbers of red spruce. The white pine is a hedge against a changing climate. The red spruce, while vulnerable to rapid climate change, is still the Adirondack spruce, important to humans, snowshoe hare, and so much else. As we snowshoed and skied, our owner discussed each patch cut and planting as individually unique, satisfying measurements of his time on the land working with shallow soils and short Adirondack growing seasons.

Beavers and more: We ski west with our owner and his dogs, out to a series of beaver ponds, each one successively higher than the last. The beavers flood the trail frequently, but that is part of the space they need to reach next winter’s woody food supply. Our owner has built several lean-tos above their ponds to become more intimate with their ways. Tracks of wild turkey, deer, coyote, fisher and weasel were abundant. An old hunting camp, a landlocked ownership, stands beyond the beaver flow. Years back, our owner welcomed him to access his camp by pick-up truck until age made even that access difficult. Beyond are miles of wild lands in the Towns of Bleecker, Benson and Caroga.

We return the way we have come, swooshing down some beautiful terrain on our skis, and being welcomed back in the house to warm up. The owners and stewards of this place invite us back, and we will be thrilled to experience this landscape in the seasons to come. Meanwhile, we wish them every kind of luck in their re-wilding and other creative ventures.


Posted 02/01/11
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The mission of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is to advance New York’s ‘Forever Wild’ legacy and Forest Preserve policies in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and promote public and private land stewardship that is consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research.

Top lef, Ice Meadows, Hudson River © Ken Rimany; Ducks ©Ken Rimany

ADIRONDACK PARK REGIONAL
Peter Brinkley, Honorary Chair
pbrinkley@frontiernet.net
Terry Jandreau, Chair
terry.jandreau@yahoo.com
 
Kenneth J. Rimany, Partner
krimany@adirondackwild.org
David H. Gibson, Managing Partner
dgibson@adirondackwild.org
Mobile: 518.469.4081

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve    Founded 1945   PO Box 9247 • Niskayuna New York 12309 | ©