By Andrew Hamlin, Trails Coordinator
Today I want to dig into a project that I’m super excited about: the reimagining of the Mt Jo Long Trail. This is a huge initiative by ADK to showcase the importance of sustainable trail design on a mountain of great significance to the Adirondacks.
Few mountains in the Adirondacks are as iconic as Mt Jo. Named after Josephine Schoefield, the long-lost love of Henry Van Hoevenberg, the founder of the Adirondak Loj, Mt Jo is many people’s introduction to hiking in the Adirondack Park. Featuring sweeping views of the High Peaks Wilderness beyond and picturesque Heart Lake below, it’s easy to understand why this little mountain draws over 15,000 hikers a year. I remember my first hike up Jo, which was many years ago. That one-mile ascent to the summit looked easy on paper until I hit the steep 800-foot incline that stood between me and the top. It was a challenge, but one that only affirmed my love for this place and its trails.
Mt Jo has two main approaches: the accurately named Short Trail and the equally precise Long Trail. Today I want to focus on the Long Trail specifically because it is currently undergoing a transformation. The Mt. Jo Long Trail was originally constructed to allow hikers a more intermediate approach to the summit. Clocking in at 1.1 miles, it spreads out the elevation gain more evenly, making it a bit easier to get to the top than the 0.9-mile Short Trail. Unfortunately, this trail has become so eroded that that it no longer serves that purpose. In the spring season in particular, a large section of the trail turns into a waterfall, driving hikers off the path and into the surrounding woods. Other sections have areas that resemble giant, root filled steps. Despite its original intent to provide easier access, it definitely throws in some extra challenges. After attempts at seasonal maintenance proved unsuccessful, we decided that it was time to take our efforts to the next level.
Utilizing sustainable design techniques, like turnpiking, we are creating a more resilient trail that reduces erosion and trailside damage while also improving the hiker experience. This is a part of a larger initiative by ADK to redesign many of the Heart Lake Program Center’s hiking and winter use trails. Our vision is that the Mt. Jo Long Trail will serve as the flagship in this multi-year effort not only for our trails, but also the Adirondack Park at large. Once completed, we would like this trail to serve as a model for how sustainable trails in the High Peaks Wilderness can be designed. It’s a tall order, but I believe with proper trail layout, and a holistic application of trail features you can achieve sustainable trails in this area. The techniques that we showcase on Mt Jo can be applied in a variety of backcountry settings, all without the use of motorized equipment. This approach to trail design minimizes impacts both during and after the building process.
Additionally, there is also an opportunity to draw hikers away from the more heavily impacted trail corridors in the High Peaks. Of the 100,000 annual visitors to the Heart Lake Program Center, the vast majority are traveling down the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Marcy Dam and the MacIntyre Range. By providing a more accessible trail up Mt Jo, we can provide a peak recreational experience to a wider audience, thus alleviating some of the pressure on the backcountry. It is a small step towards a better future for the Adirondack Park’s trails, but one ADK is excited to make this summer through our professional and volunteer crews.
Thank you to the many donors who helped make this project possible. Your support helped put tools in the hands of our crewmembers and better trails in the backcountry. If you are interested in learning about how you can support ADK’s trails program, click here.