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Jay Mountain Wilderness 2014: The Difference Between a Forest and a Hole in the Ground

Mt. Fey

With the plant and animal survey around my campsite producing diminishing returns, it is time to turn my attention to the entirety of Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area. Although my gear remains damp from the first two days of wetness despite hanging it out dry, it is finally time to see the rest of the 200-acre parcel. With the possibility of this whole area becoming just another giant hole in the ground, opportunities for exploring this forest come with an expiration date.

Getting a good look at the parcel’s future by heading down to view NYCO Mineral’s wollastonite mine seems to be the best place to start. Since the stream near my campsite leads in the same direction as the mine, following it toward the deep hole seems as good a place to start in as any other does. With any luck, a glimpse of the mine pit along the property line will be my reward, since the rush to arrive here by last night forced me to skip exploring the ridge to the west, thus having abandoned any opportunity to see the mine on my way here.

When I finally return to my campsite after my surveying, the tarp and other gear are as dry as they are likely to get underneath the lush tree canopy in Lot 8. With the morning nearly exhausted, I pack up all my stuff and start hiking east along the rocky stream near my campsite. Unfortunately, the late start is going to cost me dearly, covering all 200-acres in less than a day is now going to require switching into full-scale triage mode.

Section Stats:
Date: June 19, 2014
Length: 0.5 miles (0.5 total daily miles; 13.3 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Easy

The stream meanders southeast, undulating through a mature hardwood forest much like the one surrounding my campsite. The trees are tall, thick and lush, with a canopy blocking out any direct sunshine from reaching the forest floor. Despite the moist soils surrounding the stream, the understory remains sparse and the bushwhacking is fairly easy and straight forward. At least there is no dense understory to hinder my hurried exploration of the property.

As I continue east along the stream, a distant beeping and rumble of large equipment slowly intrudes upon my sense of solitude and wilderness. As the distance between the mine and me shrinks, these man-made sounds increasingly intrude upon the natural sounds of rustling leaves and the songs of birds as they defend their territory from all rivals. Sing on brave feathered friends, but your songs will not be enough to stop these mechanical monsters when it comes time for them to claim your homes.

When I finally cross the once stony stream, now much more mushy and nondescript, the muddy banks betray a more convoluted streambank in the early spring or after a substantial rainfall, with mounds of soft mud replacing the leaf litter that was once present upstream. An old human footprint in the mud catches my eye, as does one that resembles a moose print, evidence of other visitors to this doomed area. Whether the human footprint is from a curious visitor or a hanger of flagging, it is impossible to say.

Soon a series of ephemeral pools come into sight; their pattern suggesting that they once might have been a flowing stream too. With the soggy edges and plethora of leaves floating about, I decide to keep my distance initially, not wanting to end up with a wet foot. Unfortunately, denying the muddy conditions their due is impossible, as I am given little choice but to cross what remains of the stream, in search of a better approach on the opposite side of the ponds.

Unfortunately, another sight captures my immediate attention, its bright orange color completely incongruous with the surroundings. Who would have thought that a large orange snow fence could distract me so easily in the midst of such natural beauty?

The fence apparently indicates the property line with that of NYCO Minerals, conspicuously marked with additional orange-posted signs, orange flagging and an occasional piece of rebar stuck in the ground (unsurprisingly, painted orange as well). A metal fence replaces the plastic one to the south, as it undulates over the uneven terrain. My desire to catch a glimpse of the mine pit still unfulfilled, I follow along the property line southwards, not knowing how far I will need to go to satiate my thirst for a view of Lot 8’s future.

Vernal Pond

Hiking along the fence is easy enough, with all woody vegetation cut down to the ground on the state side, while younger trees dominate on the other. To the east, light appears to penetrate into the forest, as if the open pit is just beyond my sight, which gives me hope that a break in the forest, revealing a clear view of the mine. Maintenance appears lacking, as in places, the orange snow fence lies on the ground, rather than attached to the metal posts.

As I follow along the fence, I find a discarded work glove, presumably from a worker either repairing the fence or cutting back the plant life from the property line. My initial instinct is to pick it up and pack it out, just like a wayward balloon, a wrapper or any other piece of trash. Instead, I place it on the end of one of the metal posts, just in case someone comes along to retrieve it, despite how unlikely that it is to happen.

As I continue my way south, I notice a break in forest to the north. From my vantage point, looking up into the canopy, a small mountain peak dominates the break in the canopy. Using my binoculars, I spot numerous areas of open rock, their purplish-gray color standing out in contrast to the green forest canopy surrounding them. Looking at the map, which does not show the pit mine, Mount Fey appears to be the most likely suspect, with Little Fey Mountain off slightly to the east.

Property Border

After only a short distance more, the open pit comes into view through the young trees on the opposite side of the property line. The pit’s edge lies a mere twenty or so feet from the property line, where a shear drop of perhaps thirty feet awaits anyone or anything careless enough to journey so close to the edge. The short distance between the pit and myself causes me a little dismay – the only thing between certain death and me is a flimsy fence and a few dozen tiny hardwood saplings.

Thoughts of the fate of the streams coming off the McDonough Mountain ridge and their countless occupants capture my imagination at that moment, replacing the dread of my precarious position so close to the rocky pit. How many unsuspecting salamanders, frogs and other living organisms tumbled over the side of this cliff during the lifetime of the pit? How many more will after its expansion?

A clear view of the pit does not seem possible, even when I look down the property line to the south. Instead, all I get are flashes of the rocky pit through the gaps in the young trees that separate me from the edge. From what I can see through these limited views is what appears as the bottom of the pit, and perhaps the opposite bank. None of these obstructed views appears anything outstanding, meaning I will have to hold out for a faraway overview from McDonough Mountain ridge on my way back to my vehicle tomorrow.

NYCO Mine Pit

The young trees that obscure my view do nothing to dampen the rumble of the large equipment however. Even the piercing and annoying beeps, signaling the great beasts going in reverse, continues unabated, and perhaps even louder than before. Regardless of the noise, none of these mechanical monsters ever comes into view, as they appear to be working in another portion of the open pit.

Eventually, my desire to view the Lot 8’s present rather than its future compels me away from the mine pit and instead farther into its interior to the west, with a level spot on the map as my immediate goal. Hopefully, there is where most of property’s diversity resides.

With noon approaching, it is past time to see what we will be missing when another pit in the ground replaces the beautiful forest of Lot 8.

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