Adirondack Guideboat-Return of the Wild

If you are in the Adirondacks for any length of time you will soon find yourself elbow-to-elbow with wild creatures.  After all, with six million acres of pretty much wilderness, man has a hard time asserting his dominance over the natural world.  This post will tell how wildlife took over a small part of our Adirondack world and how a guideboat was used to set matters straight, at least for now.

The Adirondacks weren’t always an untouched wilderness.  Lumbering interests ravaged parts of the Adirondacks beginning about 1860.  They clear cut vast areas of the Park leaving behind the slash which contributed to forest fires.  The denuded mountains were then prone to mudslides which clogged the flow of streams and rivers.  The lumbermen dammed rivers and streams so that they could float logs to market.  The drowned lands caused by this practice were very forlorn in appearance as seen in Seneca Ray Stoddard’s sketches.  Stoddard was a renowned photographer and artist of the Adirondacks during the 1890’s.

Verplank Colvin, the famous surveyor of the Park, was appalled by what he saw as he traveled about mapping vast areas of the Adirondack wilderness.  He alerted the New York State legislature of the wanton destruction he saw.  His witness, as well as that of Stoddard’s, resulted in the legislature creating the Adirondack Park in 1892.

The damage to wildlife from loss of habitat as the vast forest was cut down was staggering.  The last wolf in the Adirondacks was shot in the 1890’s.  Elk and moose disappeared.  Beaver were nearly wiped out.

In 1895, the new York State legislature passed the “forever wild” act that forbids any commercial activity of any kind on state owned land in the Park.  Since the state now owns about 50% of the land in the Adirondack Park, this has had a huge influence on the natural state of this region.

Within the last 20 years I have witnessed a great turnabout in the diversity of wildlife within the Adirondack Park.  I can remember a debate in the 1990’s about whether to reintroduce moose back into the Park.  There were some very opposed to the idea saying that automobiles and moose don’t mix well.  Well, you can’t really legislate the wild world out there.  The moose, unaware of the controversy, decided that the recovered Adirondacks were a pretty nice place to raise a family.  Below is photo of a bull moose taken this fall by my friend Joan Collins of Long Lake.  Joan operates Adirondack Avian Expeditions for those who love to see the great variety of songbirds and other wildlife who make the Adirondacks their summer home.

Bull moose spotted this fall in Long Lake.
Bull moose spotted this fall in Long Lake.

As far as wolves in the Adirondack Park, strictly speaking there are no gray wolves in the Park.  A debate goes on as to whether to introduce gray wolves into some of the very remote areas of the Park.  In the meantime, a kind of hybrid wolf has made himself right at home here.  Called a Coy-wolf, this creature looks every bit a wolf and apparently hunts in packs as wolves do.  These canines are the result of interbreeding between the western coyote and the Canadian red wolf.  They are extremely adaptable having infiltrated some major Eastern cities by following railroad tracks into a city and disembarking at urban parks and golf courses.  They are so stealthy that they can hide in brush or other cover and can’t be seen even from a few feet away.

A pleasant outcome of the introduction of coy-wolves is the rise in the raven population.  Ravens feed on the kills of the coy-wolves.  Twenty years ago ravens weren’t to be seen, at least where our camp is.  This summer I counted six of them at one time in the neighborhood.  Their shrill “screams” and metallic “clonks” can be heard at least a half mile away and are a delight to the ear.

I began by talking about the close proximity of man to nature in the Adirondacks.  A small example was the trashing of our clothesline this summer.  One morning we looked out our bedroom window to find what was left of the clothesline laying on the ground.  Someone or something had cut every strand of the line at the clothes pole.  We ruled out our neighbors since they weren’t home at the time.  Besides, we are good friends.  We finally agreed that red squirrels were the culprit.  Three of them had been chasing about the day before and one of them apparently took great delight in gnawing through our clothesline.

Our clothesline denuded of line, apparently by red squirrels.
Our clothes pole, denuded of line, apparently by red squirrels.

Beavers have made a very strong comeback in the Adirondacks, so strong in fact that they have often become a nuisance.  We have had a family of beavers coexisting with us for a number of years.  The locals call them “bank” beavers since they build their lodge in a bank along a lake or river.  Here are our bank beavers, mom and baby, out getting a snack at dusk before returning to their lodge, which is in a bank on our property.

Mom and baby beaver with a snack.
Mom and baby beaver with a snack heading home.

Now beavers are pretty smart animals.  For example, rather than go all the way around our peninsula to get to their food source they will build a canal across it.  They also anticipate their winter needs and make provision for food for when the weather turns harsh.  That’s where our trouble with them started.  On returning to our camp this spring we spotted a large mass of twigs and brush floating in the middle of our channel.  The channel leads to the main lake so anything that blocks it means we can’t get our boats out into the main lake.

Those in the know in Long Lake said “Oh that’s a feed bed.  That’s were they’ve decided to put it this year.  Last year they stuffed it under someone’s  dock.”

At first we could easily get around the feed bed since the lake was so high with all the spring rains.  But as an especially dry summer wore on it became increasingly difficult to navigate around the feed bed.  Something had to be done.

A plan was hatched.  I would take the anchor from our power boat out in the guideboat and drop it on the other side of the feed bed.  My friend Chris would pull on the anchor, whose flutes we hoped would grab onto the feed bed, and thereby drag the feed bed to shore.

Circling the feed bed in my guideboat, I inspect the feed bed.
Circling the feed bed in my guideboat, I inspect it.
I have the anchor.  Now to get to the other side of the feed bed.
I have the anchor. Now to get to the other side of the feed bed.
I drop the anchor on the other side of the feed bed.
I drop the anchor on the other side of the feed bed.

This scheme was only partially successful.  We did get the feed bed to move a little towards the shore before the anchor came loose from the bed.  We decided that Chris would now throw the anchor over the bed.  That would eliminate my having to come into shore every time to retrieve the anchor.  My role would now be to help make sure the anchor held onto the bed as long as possible

We did this for several tries until the anchor came loose from its line during a throw over the bed and disappeared into the muck.  Goodbye anchor, or so we thought.  Plan B was to use a short length of galvanized pipe with a line through both ends to form a sort of yoke.  I abandoned the guideboat and waded in to put the new plan in effect.

I abandon the guideboat and wade in to put the new plan into effect.
I abandon the guideboat and wade in to put the new plan into effect.

After a total of two hours of hard labor enough of the feed bed was moved aside to allow our power boat to get out to the main lake.

Now the anchor.  When my son Rob came to help us close up the camp in September, he asked us what jobs needed doing.  One, low on the priority list mostly because I thought it was futile, was to retrieve the anchor.  Rob took that as a challenge and off he went in the guideboat.

Son Rob off in search of the missing anchor.
Son Rob off in search of the missing anchor.

In no time he had found what he thought was the anchor.  He marked it by driving the paddle in the muck next to it.  He then waded out and pulled the anchor out.

Rob with the previously lost anchor.
Rob with the previously lost anchor.

So the result was a win-win situation.  The beavers still have their feed bed and we can use the channel again.





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