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Jay Mountain Wilderness 2014: Surveying My Campsite on Lot 8

Forest near campsite

When the results for Proposition 5 came back in November 2013, it became obvious that the New York State voters decided to offer up a portion of the Jay Mountain Wilderness as another sacrificial lamb at the altar of jobs, greed and profitability. Soon, chainsaws, bulldozers and explosives would move in and destroy Lot 8, a 200-acre plot of wilderness adjacent to the wollastonite mine owned by NYCO Minerals, Inc., transforming the current living and breathing forest into something akin to a war zone.

One of the few positives from this whole travesty was it lit a fire underneath my butt to visit Lot 8 and see for myself what would be lost. Although I could easily gain access from a road to the east, I chose to test my bushwhacking meddle in a mountainous area for the first time in many years. Instead, I would hike the trail up Jay Mountain and then bushwhack to Lot 8, spend a day there, and then bushwhack back to my car via a different route, thus giving myself a tour of the entire Wilderness Area.

Making it to Lot 8 was no easy task. Dwindling daylight and threatening skies forced my hasty retreat off Jay Mountain the first day, while a wet night left me with a less than comfortable climb to the summit, followed by an equally uncomfortable descent to my original destination for the first night. Finally, a mad dash in the late afternoon hours through seemingly unending forest yielded the coveted property before losing daylight.

Section Stats:
Date: June 19, 2014
Length: 0.0 miles (0.0 total daily miles; 12.8 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy

Now I find myself waking in the early morning near the northern border of Lot 8, most of my gear being somewhere between damp and soaking wet. Despite having just a day to check out Lot 8, initiative is vastly lacking, the long and arduous trip from the western side of Jay Mountain the day before lulling me back into a state of slumber. The subdued nature of the morning bird chorus does not help much either.

Finally, after much hemming and hawing, I haul myself up to work on my morning chores and figure out how to cover the entire property in just an eight to ten hour period. Not an easy task. It will be like doing a bushwhacking triage, where I meander around, heading in whichever direction looks interesting as I go. The border with the mine is definitely on my list, as is the flat area in the center of the property, but beyond that it is an open field.

Before eating breakfast, I take a quick survey of the vegetation in the area around my campsite. The trees are thick, tall and entirely hardwoods. American beech, white ash, sugar maple and red maple are the most common by far, with the ashes being especially huge. I curse myself for not having the forethought to bring a dbh tape to measure them, but many appear at least a foot in diameter, with some much larger.

Majestic trees

Although impressive in girth, the ashes greatest achievement is their height. These trees not only tower way above my meager stature, but often that of the other trees surrounding them as well. Luckily, there is not another soul around, as the sight of my stumbling about trying to gander a view of these monstrous trees’ canopy must be quite comical. Within several minutes, my neck aches with an intensity that rivals any serious case of warbler neck, an affliction to which only a birder can relate.

Although not quite as impressive as the ashes, the American beech trees around the campsite are impressive in their own right. Large and smooth barked, not a single one displays any sign of the dreaded beech bark disease, which has left many a beech scared, disfigured and partially decayed in other places. Evidence of their productivity is apparent by the frequency of black bear claw marks along their stem, where they start at ground level only to disappear into the canopy.

Taking note of the trees gets me thinking about their immediate fate going forward into the near future. How many will be downed just to do the wollastonite exploration within the property? Will they be left in place to return to the soil? Or will they be removed, hauled off and sold for their lumber potential? If so, who would profit? New York State or NYCO Minerals?

My neck needing a well-deserved break, I turn my eyes to the understory. At ground level, the immediate area lacks a certain Adirondack feeling, mostly due to the absence of the usually ubiquitous hobblebush. It is not completely absent though, as occasional masses of the progress-impeding shrub sprout up here and there, but it lacks the dominating presence found in much of the other places I wander through in the Adirondack Park.

Many of the common Adirondack herbaceous plants are present near my campsite however. Canadian mayflower, bluebead lily, Indian cucumber root, trillium, coral root, wild sarsaparilla and starflower are growing nearby, just to name a few. Several species of ferns grow nearby as well, including a wood fern, maiden hair fern, rattlesnake fern and oak fern. Honeysuckle shrubs grow in low numbers nearby as well.

Giant ash tree

The sky appears clear and sunny, with the sunshine still being low on the horizon, the light only reaching the very top of the canopy. Despite the sunny conditions and the steady breeze, it is still wet and damp down here at ground level. With my tarp still being wet, I decide to take my time and wander around the area until it dries out, so I can avoid carrying a wad of wet Silnet in my pack for the entire day.

The entire time I spend cataloging plant species, I keep a mental list of all the bird species as I hear them. All the usual suspects are here, such as red-eyed vireo, hermit thrush, winter wren, ovenbird, black-throated blue warbler and yellow-bellied sapsucker. A single Swainson’s thrush sings nearby despite the universal absence of conifers in the area. The typical calls and songs of these commoners are a welcome sound, like hearing old friends no matter where I stay in the Adirondack.

Despite this, I am hoping to find a more uncommon species, whether it be bird, plant, amphibian or any other organism, thus increasing the conservation value of Lot 8. A dream, indeed, but one that I find it impossible to shake regardless of the effort I make to do so.

The stream near my campsite acts as my guide, as it most likely attracts more diversity of species than the drier uplands surrounding it. The sights and sound of the stream, with my campsite adjacent to it, initiates thoughts about the applicability of standard backcountry rules and regulation on a property condemned to an almost certain fate of cut, plow, drill and destroy. Does it really matter if my campsite is 150 feet from a stream now, especially if in the near future, as roads and drilling platforms dot the landscape, the stream eventually tumbles down a thirty-foot drop to the bottom of a pit? Who is going to care then?

Bear claw marks

Signs of other wildlife are frequent here as well. An occasional eastern chipmunk adds in its two cents to the aural cacophony of the birds. Moose scat lies hidden in a clump of ferns near the stream. A red eft crosses just upstream on a rock, totally oblivious to my presence, while a dusky salamander retreats from under an upturned rock, escaping before I get a half-decent look.

While I wander back to my campsite, a leaf leaps a great distance away from me. Not so easily fooled, my pursuit reveals its true identity as a wood frog, which relies on its camouflage coloration to hide itself from my prying eyes. Soon after, a northern spring peeper pulls the same stunt on me, but I catch it in my hand briefly before it leaps off into the foliage below. Now that is one long leap.

At each wildlife encounter, I give the creature a similar warning of what is likely in store for its home. Unable to understand me, let alone fathom the magnitude of the destruction to come, these denizens of the north woods, completely left out of the political process, merely go about their day, oblivious to all threats but the current one they see in me.

Upon returning to my campsite, I find the tarp, my sleeping bag and all my associated sleeping pads all dry and ready for packing away. Finally, my pack has shed all the extraneous moisture it picked up from that very wet first night when I slept in a puddle.

Now I am finally ready to start exploring Lot 8 in all its natural glory. Just need to pack up my gear first.

Wood frog

Red eft

Adirondack Almanack website originally published this story as part of a post describing my time on Lot 8; the original version can be found here.

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