Days # 19 & 20 … Upstate New York Travel

I loved backpacking in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. From 1970 to the 2000’s it was my world to escape when wanting, and probably needing, stress-free time away from people. Nature heals the soul and I was to benefit. I loved the area so much I bought an old hunter’s shack in the Big Moose Lake area. I remember calling my parents to tell them of my purchase: a place on 2.5 acres of land bordering state land. I knew the place had 4 walls, a floor, and a ceiling … for a backpacker this was heaven to have no tent to set up each night! I knew it had no water and I would need to carry it in, no problem. When they asked if it had electricity, I did not know … but yes it did!

My father helped me install a larger window in the front so I could see the lake across the street, build an outhouse, and set up a gutter system to collect rain water and/or snow melt off the roof into a 55 gallon drum for all uses except drinking water. I eventually put another roof on and fiberglass insulation underneath the 23 by 24 foot place. Since I had no parking on-site, I hiked everything up in my backpack and carried gallons of drinking water up the hill in all seasons. I quickly learned to keep a snow shovel indoors so when it snowed I could shovel my way out. Lesson learned after opening the door to three feet of snow with no shovel available! I loved my retreat and friends who visited were never as enamored with the place as I was! In some ways that was fine since it was my place to be quiet, think, and decompress especially during the years with my school administration job responsibilities. I knew I always went back to work recharged.

Day 19: I drove NYS Route 8 toward Utica, NY. If a photojournalist is looking for a project this is a road to write about. There is so much history here. The old cemeteries, buildings from 1803, new businesses and the increased number of dairy farms. Chobani is now in the area. Very, very few billboards and no political signs. The small towns and varied landscapes all there to take in and enjoy! Life should always be so simple and without distraction. It had been a long time since being on this road and I wished I could stop and talk with people, but my day’s destination was to take a walk at the Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area. I spent time walking what is also a bike trail paralleling the Erie Canal Barge Route. It was hot, humid with few birds to be seen, but I certainly heard their calls and singing. An observation tower overlooks the marsh.

Day 20: A day I looked forward to, to visit my old hunter’s shack or to see what the new owners had done with it. The place was on a skinny 2.5 acres of land with a natural spring in the far back corner, an apple tree in the middle of the field and the shack just back from the road, however with a hill few people would want to climb. Because my place is within the Adirondack Park’s “Blue Line” there were certain things I could or could not do to the structure; however, I was part of the 6 million acres of land and the largest park in the lower USA (3x the size of Yellowstone National Park).

I drove past Moss Lake and my old place since it was raining. I decided to visit Stillwater Reservoir with hopes the rain would stop by the time I returned to take a closer look at my old place and to hike at Moss Lake. Everywhere more cottages had popped up, even along the dirt road to Stillwater Reservoir. Despite the rain the ten mile dirt road was graded so well I could drive it at 40mph which was not possible back in the 1970’s when we, a friend and I, came out to the reservoir to canoe to an island, camp on the island of our choice for a few days and listen to the loons at night. Now there was a dock and many buildings not looking like the backcountry I once knew. Some may call this progress. I would call it loss of the natural environment … part of me felt sad.

I drove back to the Big Moose area, stopped at the old train station, the Big Moose Community Chapel, Glennmore Hotel, Big Moose Inn and finally my old place. I talked with a few people in the area to discover many people now own these places and only spend just a few weeks per year. My place had a renovation and quite honestly I think they did knock down the old and build new. Within the “Blue Line” I think it is necessary to stay within the original building footprint which they did. However, I had wanted to move it back closer to the apple tree but probably not allowed. I also never had a place to park my car on property so would do so about a quarter mile away. It only was a challenge to carry gallons of water in during the winter since snow piles high on the road and the hill I climbed up to my place. But once in, who cared, surely not me!

The trees across the street had grown so tall there is no longer a need for a large front window. I do not know their water source and the old outhouse is surely not being used. Now there is a driveway around the side and to the back of the place. I saw no trail to the field with the apple tree, nor to the old outhouse we once built and used. I suspect there was a land exchange as a way to put in the driveway. Unfortunately the people who now own the place were not there for me to ask and know for sure. I decided to not leave a note because it no longer looked like the place I would ever return to since it was now cut-off from the back acreage I had loved. 

I stopped at Moss Lake where first-come, first-serve tent camping sites are now available and noticed all trailheads are well established. Years ago we had no designated camping sites. The history of this 600 acre area is interesting.  In 1924, a 3 mile bridle path was built around the lake. In 1929, there were three separate camps designed for girls of different ages each with an archery range, dance studio, tennis courts, waterfront for swim and boating activities, fencing equipment, craft shop, and at the oldest girls camp a rifle range. Centrally loaded to the 3 camps on this lake was a riding facility with 40 horses! What a fantastic experience for those girls who could afford to attend! In 1973 the property was sold to Nature Conservancy. From 1974 – 1978, the site was occupied by the Ganienkeh Mohawk Indians who eventually moved their settlement north near the Canadian border. I knew of this when I bought my place down the road in 1976 and for a few years I heard of potential lawsuits. In 1979, the Department of Environmental Conservation razed the remaining buildings and returned the lake to primeval condition. 

In the light rain I drove to the towns of Inlet and Old Forge. Tourists were flooding both towns, especially at Enchanted Forest – Water Safari, but no longer at Inlet’s garbage dump where people used to watch the bears! As a backpacker this always unnerved me to see bears there and to see people enjoying the spectacle. No way did I want a bear wanting my food while I was out in the woods tent camping. Even with tying food up in a tree each night, and now available bear canisters, bears should be foraging their own food, not our waste. 

I stopped at the Od Forge Hardware Store. This 1922 store has everything and I noticed through the years has expanded! I also noticed few people wearing facial masks as we are still in the Covid-19 pandemic with variants on the rise. I wore my mask and quickly noticed people would move out of the aisle I was in, no doubt thinking I was unvaccinated and therefore required to wear a mask. Little did they know, I am fully vaccinated and wanted to take the additional precaution to protect them and me! 

I ended the day in Utica, New York and had a fantastic meal at a Middle East Bakery and Restaurant named Karam’s. If you are in the area, check this place out, delicious fresh food! I also bought a cell phone mount for my car after making enough wrong turns. Someday I will have to figure how to undo the adhesive, oh well! Overall these past couple of days were an interesting revisitation of my past. I had wonderful times with many great memories!

I hope the people who now own the place are enjoying it! I will always love the Adirondack Park areas. If you have not traveled to the area and the High Peaks, plan a trip and visit … not mid- May through June as that can be black fly season. Fall is beautiful with the leaves changing colors. Winter is fun if you cross country ski; however, watch out for snow mobile drivers as there are trails all over for them to use. Do visit the Adirondack Park!