Elk Lake Trail

In his guidebook, The Adirondacks Illustrated (1874), S. R. Stoddard recommends staying at Mud Pond House (today’s Elk Lake Lodge) as “it is in the immediate vicinity of the Adirondack Mountains upon the nearest and most direct route, from the South, to the Ausable Ponds and Mount Marcy, distant only 9 miles, over a good trail, 4 miles of which can be made on horseback.”

We can only speculate what Stoddard considered to be a “good trail”. It is unlikely that Stoddard himself ever hiked that trail and merely accepted the self-promotion of the Mud Pond House proprietor. Today’s backpackers do not have the equine option when heading for a few overnights in Panther Gorge to climb Haystack, Marcy and Skylight; but now, thanks to the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society (ATIS) at least the Marcy Swamp bog bridges are much improved from their recent condition.

The much needed, and remote, rehabilitation project took three years (2013-2015) and suffered a few setbacks along the way. Since the delivery of the materials by a DEC helicopter was crucial to the project, DEC representatives needed to assess the need (no question there!) while also checking whether the anticipated Boreas Tract purchase would provide an alternative route. In the end, the analysis was that there was no truly “dry” route between the Boreas and Ausable watersheds, so the existing trail became the preferred option.

With the project now a “go”, ATIS approached the 46ers for some funding to offset the anticipated $13,000 for materials. The 46ers generously came through with $10,000. End of year one. The following March, the material was delivered in anticipation of a late March fly-in from the old air strip at Tahawus. The material consisted of 100 16’x8″x3″ rough-cut but treated planks plus 50 pieces of 12’x6″x4″ pressure-treated material that would underpin the planking.

Unfortunately, weather and higher priority fly-ins prevented that March delivery, followed by several subsequent promises of a fly-in. Then in July, with no advance notice, the material was flown from Tahawus. A planned four days of flying was compressed to two days, resulting in the material being dropped 1/3-mile distant from the trail with very thick swamp vegetation in between (A). The reason was that in flying faster to finish in two days, the material had to be “short-lined”, meaning that the helicopter had to be able to come close to the ground to unload. (“Long-lining” by contrast requires a slow flight speed to prevent the load from becoming a rather heavy “pendulum”.) To help mitigate the less than ideal delivery, the DEC directed a six-member Student Conservation Corps (SCA) crew to spend a total of ten days camped nearby to move as much material as possible (B). The SCA crew built a rough haul trail, laying a good number of the planks temporarily on the haul trail to keep the haulers somewhat dry (C). In the end, the SCA crew moved about half of the material, and left behind a useable trail for the following year (D).

June of the following year, 2015, insects did not bother the ATIS professional trail crew as it rained more than not during the 3.5 weeks it took to rebuild the 1600 feet! The second week, the crew arrived on Monday to find that they could paddle in from the Inlet to the end of the bridging they had built the week before (E). Work on the boardwalk didn’t resume until Wednesday that week. By the middle of the third week, the ATIS crew was hauling additional material out of the swamp, and could project an end to the project by the middle of the following week. Informed of this schedule, DEC Forester Tate Connor made three SCA crew members available for the final push.

The only advantage to so much rain was that the remaining material not moved by the SCA crew could be floated toward the trail. The only other “advantage” to all the rain was to reinforce the need to stake down all of the boardwalk so that the sections don’t float away with every high water event. This does mean that the bridging will be covered with water when the water is exceptionally high, but users should be able to take off their boots and wade on the solid surfaces beneath the water.

Thanks to modern building techniques and materials, the new boardwalk will last much longer. Much of the bridging that was replaced had been built by the first ADK professional trail crew in 1979. Tony Goodwin, now the ATIS Executive Director, was the chief of that 1979 crew. He often commented during this project that in 1979 he never dreamed that he would be in charge of replacing this bridging, but that, “…someone else is going to replace this set of bridges.”

ATIS funded the 3.5 weeks of work, including lodging and transportation to and from the unusually remote location. The crew stayed at an Upper Ausable Lake camp and, thanks to the unusually high water level, was able to paddle a couple of miles and reach the Elk Lake Trail bridge over Inlet (F). Mind you, the strong current made the return trip at the end of the day a lot easier!

Tony Goodwin, ATIS Executive Director, and Erik Jacobson, ATIS Trail Director, took care of the logistics and participated in some of the work with the crew while Zach Seaton was the on-site Crew Boss for the duration of the project (G).

“The Forty-Sixers like to be a partner in High Peaks projects and this one with the ATIS professional crew and DEC will be appreciated for decades by climbers heading to and from mystic Panther Gorge,” said Brian Hoody, President of the Forty-Sixers.