Saturday, February 24, 2018

The X-C Files: Before the Flood

     I've never been on a roller coaster. Never will be. It's just not my thing. If I want a thrill, I'll have a bowl of Holly's handmade ice cream! But this winter is beginning to feel like a roller coaster. It's been a wild ride between low temperatures and high, between deep snow and none. Take the other morning. Got up and checked the thermometer. A typical February morning at 15 degrees. Then I clicked on the NOAA forecast. Whoa! They predicted a high of 70 by the middle of the week. If my rusty math skills serve me, that's almost a 100 degree swing from January lows a little over a month ago. We're on a weather roller coaster, like it or not.
     Last Sunday there was still nice snow on the ground, but you wouldn't want to sell it life insurance. With summer like temperatures and rain on the way its future didn't look bright. Time to get in a few last ski trips before the flood and the mud that lie ahead.

Hudson River near Fort Miller

     Decided to head up to the Fort Edward Grasslands. Ski a little, maybe see some owls. On the way I was treated to an open Hudson River dotted with clusters of waterfowl. In early spring the river vies with the grasslands as a birding hotspot. Soon I was out in the open fields of Fort Edward and happy to find the parking lot at the DEC Wildlife Management Area on Blackhouse Road plowed and easily accessible.


     While I was getting ready to ski, another gentleman was finishing up his snowshoe hike. It was a quick glide down the trodden and slightly icy path that leads towards the observation platform. Here the snowshoer and others had kept going straight along the edge of the property rather than angling over to the platform. In what may have been a case of the blind following the sightless, I went with their tracks. Not until later did I see signs warning you to stay on the trail, which presumably means going only to the platform and back. Since I didn't see any birds during my off trail ramble, I think it's safe to say that no wildlife were harmed in the creation of this blog.

Trail to viewing platform

     I shuffled down to the banks of Dead Creek - partly open, partly ice. Then along the edge of its thicketed course. The field had been bush-hogged making for easy going. I haven't seen a unit management plan for this parcel but apparently it calls for mowing different quadrants on a rotating schedule. I saw scattered brush piles and a few saplings left standing, perhaps to grow into perch trees. Other sections hadn't been mowed and showed a typical one year growth of grass, weeds and small shrubs. 

Dead Creek

Varied Habitat - Weedy growth, mowed and brush piles

Nest boxes

     Back at the viewing platform I spoke with a couple from downstate who had come up to Saratoga for the Dance Flurry weekend. They wanted to do a little birding before returning home and Google had sent them here. While in the parking area they had been excited to have a Rough-legged hawk fly directly overhead.  Now they were tracking a Northern Harrier in the distance. As the day faded we decided to go over to the blind on Co. 42 with the hopes of spotting Short-eared owls. 

Northern Harrier - from Cornell Ornithology site

     On the way we encountered a small group who had just seen a northern shrike and a snowy owl. A little farther on we spoke with a woman who had her camera focused on a partially hidden Short-ear waiting for a good shot. At the blind we could see a flock of turkeys foraging at the far end of the field. There was also a large hawk that flew from an elm. Other people arrived and there was a lively exchange of sightings and info but the owls were a no-show. Finally, with dusk settling, I bade my new friends a safe trip as they prepared to head back down the Hudson Valley towards home.

Northern Shrike - from Cornell Ornithology site

     I've heard tell of some friction between residents and birders, of some harassment of the owls. That's sad, but what I experienced was a sociable gathering of folks with a shared enthusiasm for birds and the environment. It left me thinking that a small eatery/coffee shop where locals and visitors could mingle over a snack and hot drink might be a good thing. How about  'The Birder Feeder Cafe'! Even something mobile that swung by on weekends - 'The Migratory Food Truck'! Just a feeling that the IBA could benefit from a communal spot, making it more of a destination.

     Monday dawned warm and overcast with afternoon showers possible. A short tour close by seemed in order. Denton Preserve on Rt. 4 between Northumberland and Fort Miller fit the bill. The snow had been plowed back enough to park well off the busy road. I could see where others had snowshoed and walked but no one else had skied. There are orange, blue and yellow marked trails which I followed in a free form sort of way.

Denton Preserve outlined - the red line is Rt. 4

     Denton has an amazing topography of sharp shale ridges and intervening deep ravines. The trails sometimes climb and descend a little more steeply than I'm comfortable with so I often pick my own line thru the trees. With soft, forgiving snow this works well and before long I found the old trolley line, alternately traversing it and frozen wetlands off to the side. Eventually I came to Van Antwerp Creek and thickening undergrowth - "A pox on you, Honeysuckle!". Fortunately, the blue trail was nearby and made for a pleasant loop back towards the entrance. With my truck in sight a light rain began to fall.

     It's sad to see the trolley line being slowly choked by brush and deadfall. I can remember when it was much more open and easy to follow. I've always thought its level, firm bed would make a nice trail for the disabled. With minimal maintenance it could give those in wheel chairs or with other mobility issues a path into a natural area with lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. Furthermore, its historical significance makes preserving at least a small segment seem worthwhile. You can still see a few of the pedestals and the occasional insulator that carried the electric line. A small quarry where they mined fill material and the stone abutments of the creek crossing are also interesting.

Overgrown trolley line

Small shale quarry

     At both Denton and the Grasslands I saw no other ski tracks. Snowshoeing has become much more popular in recent years and, in truth, it's probably a better way to visit these places in winter. It's just that skis offer a playfulness that can be addictive, that the kid in me still craves. But it doesn't really matter what's strapped to your feet. The important thing is to get those feet out there. The landscape, wildlife and fellow explorers will be your reward. 


Saturday, February 17, 2018


     Good news! Filing your income taxes isn't the only thing you have to look forward to. In this post I'm sharing a few upcoming events that might be of interest. Remember, you can always click on any of the organizations in my 'Web Wash' sidebar to review their calendars. There's also the 'Wash When' list. I try to update it when I hear about something but it's not always timely and certainly not comprehensive. Cows and crops take precedence, with 'Wash Wild' getting a few leftover minutes. Alas, in blogs, as in most things, you get what you pay for.

     The Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show and Sale is a fun annual event at the New York State Museum in Albany. In 2018 it's on February 24 and 25, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm on the 4th floor terrace with $5 admission. For more info call 


     This years Winter Raptor Fest will be on May 19 & 20, a Saturday and Sunday at the Washington County Fairgrounds between Greenwich and Schuylerville. The Friends of the IBA also have outings to the grasslands planned for Saturday, February 17 at 3:00 pm (call 518-677-3350) and Saturday, March 17 at 4:00pm.

     -Also look for early evening owl walks in late winter when the birds are mating. The Pember Museum in Granville, Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont and the Wilton Wildlife Preserve in Saratoga County usually schedule events this time of year. Check their sites or give them a call for details.


     The 39th annual Salem April Fools Race fools us by running on Saturday, March 31 this year. The races at Salem were always my incentive to transition from X-C skiing to running as spring approached. I remember the 6.2 mile course as classic Washington County - out past the Evergreen Cemetery, thru farm land, across Black Creek and then back, with just enough hills (or too many if you hadn't trained enough). I like that the April Fools has stayed true to its roots, locally organized and affordable in an era of increasingly commercialized and expensive events. And I still have some of their great T shirts from years past. 10K goes at 9am, 1 mile kids run at 10 and 5K at 10:30 - all from in back of the school.


     Sugar season is almost here with Maple Open House Weekends scheduled for March 17-18 & 24-25. Check here for details. You can do a dirt road training run for the April Fools Race then reward yourself with pancakes and maple syrup!


     Barry Targan is showing his works of "Containment" at the 
Valley Artisan's Market in Cambridge until March 13. Barry is an educator, writer and artist with a long connection to the area. In his short story 'The Garden' , set on Christie Road in the Town of Greenwich, you can feel the affection he has for both his characters and the place where they live. Barry's also leading a book discussion group at the Greenwich Library. I believe they were reading Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible. Call the library for details.

Screen shot of several artworks by Barry Targan from VAM site


      SUNY Adirondack has many interesting continuing education courses this spring. For full details you can visit their website. A few with a Washington County/outdoor focus include:

     -  Several courses on using lavender taught at Lavenlair Farm in Whitehall.
     - Courses on beekeeping, composting, orchard work and logging.
     - Summer archaeology field school on Rogers Island with David Starbuck.

Rogers Island Monument

     - A cemetery preservation workshop.

     - R. Paul McCarty speaking on 'Jane  McCrea: Fact, Myth and Legend' Tuesday, May 8 at 10am.

     - Tours to: -Skene Manor, Whitehall on Friday, April 20.
                       -New Skete Monasteries, Cambridge on Friday,   
                         May 11.
                       -Coal silos, feeder canal and Five Combines,
                        Hudson Falls on Wednesday, April 18.
                       -Rogers Island, Fort Edward on Wednesday, 
                        April 25.
                       -Jane McCrea sites in Fort Edward on Wednesday,
                        May 16.

Five Combines

New Skete


From the Tour of the Battenkill website

     This spring's Tour of the Battenkill bike race will be on Saturday, April 28. Starting from the Washington County Fairgrounds, two  courses - one of 75 miles and one of 40 miles - loop out thru the hills. Maps and more info here.


     Finally, for the geology obsessed (yeah, my hand is raised) this fall features a special event. The New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference and the New York State Geological Association will be having a joint meeting in Lake George on the weekend of October 5 - 7. Details are sketchy but I believe Castleton University is hosting which probably means Helen Mango and/or Timothy Grover are organizing. These aren't your typical listen to speakers blab, blab, blab all day meetings. Rather, they are three days of wide ranging field trips. Non-stop rocks in Vermont, the Adirondacks and surroundings. It's a rare opportunity to be out there with professional geologists as they expound on their latest research, just inches from the outcrops. The organizers always publish a meeting guidebook but there's nothing like being there. 


     Hope you find something that sparks anticipation in the listed events. In the meantime here's a link to a Carly Simon song you might enjoy. 

Friday, February 2, 2018


     "Build it and they will come."

     People have been building for a long time in the Washington County towns of Putnam and Dresden. Last Sunday 'they'  (that would be Gwenne and myself) came to have a look. We did a self-guided architectural tour of the two rural communities. The impetus was A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks by Richard Longstreth. The 427 page book was published in 2017 by Adirondack Architectural Heritage. It contains photos and short descriptions of hundreds of buildings from all corners of New York State's Adirondack  Park, including both Putnam and Dresden.

The green shaded area is the Adirondack Park in upstate New York
The Towns of Putnam and Dresden are located between Ticonderoga and Whitehall

    The book has fifty pages of introductory material, including segments on firetowers and the Northway. The Park is divided into twelve sections that are conducive to driving tours. Included structures tend to be clustered in developed areas which facilitates seeing a number of them on a road trip. All can be viewed from the highway or are otherwise accessible to the public.

          The author mentions the criteria used for the National Register of Historic Places as guiding the selection process in this volume. Some kind of filter is needed when you're covering an area this large. Therein lies the book's strengths and weaknesses. If you frequently travel throughout the Adirondacks it could be a valuable companion. If your focus is narrower - just Washington County for example - it is less useful. Instead, I would recommend An Introduction to Historic Resources In Washington County, New York. That was a 1976 project of the Washington County Planning Department and has photos, maps and essays for each of the counties seventeen towns. We had both books with us on our recent tour. 

     Huletts Landing was our first stop. Here we found a couple of charming country churches. To visit turn off Rt. 22 onto Co. 6. Chug up and over the mountain to a steep descent towards Lake George. At the foot of the hill take a left on Lands End Road. Look for Mountain Grove Cemetery with Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church adjacent and Mountain Grove Memorial Chapel in a clearing beyond. It's a bucolic scene with stone walls and towering pines against a backdrop of the lake and mountains. Be sure to walk around the cobblestone church to see the leaded glass windows. For a lovely way to spend a summer Sunday, you could attend a morning service here and then walk a short distance to the county beach for an afternoon swim and picnic.

     After Huletts we went back over the mountain to Clemons, on the east side of Rt. 22 where the Dresden Baptist Church sits up on a knoll. It's a simple structure in an imposing location high above the road.

     Back on Rt. 22 we drove north past a series of small cottages. They are strung up a hill like colorful beads in a necklace. Longstreth says they were built around 1940, examples of roadside accommodations from an earlier time. I'm not sure if they are still available as lodging but they appear well kept and cute as a button. I could happily live in one of these little nests. 

     The route soon enters the Town of Putnam. A ways further look for the Putnam Log Chapel on the left. The Architecture book says it was built in 1933-34 for the 'poor' families living in this part of town.

     Turning right onto Cummings Road will lead you east to the intersection of Lower Road. The impressive stone house on the left was built in the 1830's. Early settlers used locally abundant materials - stone, wood and clay/bricks to build. Touring the backroads of Putnam reveals a number of these handsome structures still serving their purpose to this day.

     Driving south on Lower Road you will soon come to the stately United Presbyterian Church. It has a memorable setting, backed by a high limestone cliff, looking out on a sweeping vista of the Champlain Valley and adjoined by a picturesque cemetery. The site is also noteworthy for the well kept Church School which dates from 1880.


     Lower Road will eventually lead you to Putnam Center where you can see other stone houses, the Central School building and the Town Hall. All have interesting histories detailed in the two books previously mentioned.

     I love the open feeling and timelessness of Putnam and Dresden. There were several more homes, barns and bridges that I wanted to see but the Sun was setting and it was time to call it a day. This would be such a great place for a leisurely, house viewing bike ride. With warmer spring weather I hope to do just that.
     One thing I can tell you about this architectural touring business - it's hungry, thirsty work. But Battle Hill Brewing Company in Fort Ann has the cure for that. We stopped on our way home for beer, biscuits and turkey soup. Perfect finish to a fun day.