Long lost friends, trail building and 230 (+/-) feet of falling water
Last summer a new trail opened in the Hudson Gorge Wilderness (known locally as the former Finch Pruyn lands), that now leads hikers to breathtaking views of one of the tallest waterfalls in the Adirondacks: OK Slip Falls. As soon as the trail opened I was eager to take the hike. Unfortunately, as life often goes, one thing lead to the next and soon the snow was falling and I realized my chance to see the falls would have to wait another year.
As spring turned to summer, in the back of my mind I knew that this trip was on my "must do" list for 2015, but it still didn't become a reality until I got a message from an old friend.
The trail that led us here...
It was a perfect summer morning as I pulled into the trailhead a few miles outside of Indian Lake. I got out of my vehicle, applied bug repellent and loaded my gear into my bag, excited for our adventure to begin. As eager as I was to finally see the falls, I was probably even more excited to reconnect with one of my best childhood friends.
(Okay, please bear with me for a little back story... trust me it really is part of the story!)
Born on the same day of the same year, Allison Buckley and I were practically inseparable from the first day she moved to our small Adirondack community in the 5th grade. As we moved through middle school and high school we remained close, sharing many great memories, most of which involved being outdoors - skiing, swimming, hiking, water skiing, building trails to forts as youngsters (then later trying to find a way to get our friend into her isolated family camp after hours). It was as these memories flooded back to me that I realized, it was the shared love for these activities and all that's special about the the Adirondacks, that would in time lead us on career paths that would eventually have us collide on this day and this trail.
After we gradated from high school, the same thing happened to us that happens with many childhood friends... our paths lead us in different directions and unfortunately we lost touch. Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, a new tract of land opened in the region of the Adirondacks where I am the Tourism Promotion Agent. At the same time, Allison now works for the New York State DEC as a Natural Resources Planner, and the OK Slip Falls trail - on this same tract of land - became her baby. The message I previously mentioned I received from Allison was an invite to hike the trail and learn about trail building. Allison was in charge of designing this trail in 2014, and she was heading out on this hike to survey its wear and tear from its first year, just as their team was gearing up for another season of trail building and improvements.
Time to Finally Catch up & Hit the Trail
Allison pulled in shortly after I did with Pine Roehrs, who is also a Natural Resources Planner, and would be joining us for our hike to learn a little more about what went into building this particular trail. As we moved from the OK Slip Falls parking area along Route 28 to the trail head, we quickly began catching up, then signed in and were off for what I was sure was going to be a great day and great hike.
Ever Wonder How A Trail is Built?
Soon after signing in, I could see one of the first major elements that went into building this particular trail: bog bridging.
The trail begins as you drop down the embankment from the road into a "bowl like" spot, no matter how dry the season might be, it will always tend to be on the muddy side. To prevent hikers from having to start their journey by trudging through the mud, they installed an extensive amount of bog bridging in this area. If you were in the Adirondacks at all in June you will know that it was a particularly wet month for us, and surprisingly this spot wasn't too bad. After an assessment of this area, it was determined that they needed to extend the bridging another 30 feet or so, Allison was pleased to know supplies were already in route so they would be able to get this task completed over the next couple of days.
After we crossed the bog bridging and continued hiking along the trail, my mind started to wander as it often does when I'm walking through the woods. With over 2,000 miles of hiking trails in the Adirondack Park - I realized that I, probably like many others, often take for granted the hard work that goes into the development and maintenance of these trails. So with Allison hiking along with me I started to pick her brain as to what goes into making a trail like the one we were on.
One of my first questions was simply: "how do you choose where to lay the trail, there has to be so many different options for getting from point A to point B?" Allison explained, "In the Adirondacks, keeping water off the trail is the biggest concern, so we pay a lot of attention to slope and stream crossings. I also like to bring trails by visually interesting areas – large rocks, ledges, particularly big trees, wetland vistas, etc."
As we continued on, I asked if she would explain a little better what the roll of a DEC Natural Resource Planner entailed, as I knew there was probably more to it that just building trails. "In short, I work on plans to develop public access to recreation in the Adirondacks. We work on Conservation Easement land and the Forest Preserve. In the summer I spend a lot of time doing field work – finding trail locations, scouting out new areas, building bridges and trails for both non-motorized activites such as hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, as well as snowmobile trails. Then in the winter, I spend quite a bit of time writing those plans and working with the public to find out what they are looking for."
As you get closer to the falls, you can hear the water cascading over the estimated 230 foot drop - then suddenly the view opens and there it is. I don't care how many photos you may have seen of the falls it is still something that you need to see in person to truly appreciate. After quietly taking in the view for a few minutes, we decided to sit down and have a bite to eat.
Before continuing on, we ran into a group of hikers, and Allison was happy to share some of her insight on the falls with them. After that, Allison explained to me that some of what she enjoyed the most about her job with the DEC included: "time outdoors and working towards improving a place I love as well as being able to help others experience the magic of spending a day in the woods or on the water."
Continuing On to the Hudson River
After leaving the falls we continued back to the intersection in the trail where you can choose to return back to where we started, or to continue along for another .8 miles to the Hudson River - we chose the river. As we walked, Allison explained that they were getting ready to re-route this trail so that it was a more gradual climb down to the river. After following the trail for a bit, Allison pointed out the ribbon on trees in the woods that she had put up to mark the path of the new trail that would be developed in the upcoming weeks. Since the embankment that you climb down to the river is steep, it includes a series of switchbacks to help break it up and keep the hiking grade closer to the "10% rule" that is considered standard for trail building. We all agreed to take that route on the way back up and continued along to the confluence where the OK Slip River meets the Hudson.
The view you get of the river is beautiful, and if your timing is right you might even get to see some whitewater rafters travel by. We were lucky enough to arrive at the water just as a group of hikers guided by Square Eddy's guide services were meeting up with their fellow rafters. With the opening of this new trail, there is now the opportunity for a great surf & turf guided combo. First they hike into the falls, then on to the river - where their raft meets them and they get to raft the rest of the way down the Hudson River.
On our way back from the river we followed the trail Allison had marked earlier this spring. As we walked she trimmed some of the debris that was in the way, and explained that SCA group would be doing "10 day hitch" here soon and they would help build out this new trail. I was curious about what she meant by a SCA 10-day hitch so again I inquired. "The DEC contracts with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to get a variety of things done. For example, crews of 6-7 members brush out trails, help fix fire towers, pull invasive species, build trails and bridges and canoe access sites. Crews go out to the site for either 5 or 10 day "hitches" or shifts, camping the whole time. Members of SCA are 21-24 years old and work from June to mid-October."
When we connected back to the original trail, we all agreed that the new trail definitely is a much more gradual climb back up. It will be a nice optional hike for those, like us, who want to continue on past OK Slip Falls to the River.
What A Great Day...
My day hiking with Allison was fantastic. The weather was beautiful, the sights were spectacular, and I learned a lot about a topic I've often taken for granted... but most of all it was simply awesome to have the opportunity to hike with an old friend. I know some will say that they stay in touch with friends from their past because they follow one another on social media. But to me, there really could not have been a better way to catch up with an old friend than to step away from the craziness of everyday life, to put down the cell phones and leave the unanswered e-mails behind us, and do something together that we have both loved to do since childhood: hike and (as our parents would probably all still agree) talk.
Plan a Girls Weekend (or) Bonding Trip with the Boys!
Have you lost touch with your high school or college friends? Consider planning an awesome weekend reconnecting in the Adirondacks. From whitewater rafting and boating to camping, paddling, and hiking, there are endless opportunities for you and your friends to have a blast as you recount old memories and create new ones. Give them a shout, pick a long weekend and start planning... trust me, you will be glad you did!