RICHARD FROST, Plattsburgh Press Republican Sun, link to original post
It’s best to go on the assumption that even with the sputtering beginning to this year’s spring, summer will nonetheless arrive. This is the time of year when my wife and I start taking out the maps and pondering our camping plans.
As always, we take advantage of the resources offered by state parks, both in New York and Vermont. When reserving a place for a week or a long weekend, we try to find parks with both recreational and historical opportunities. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options.
Half Moon Pond
We’ve camped in Half Moon Pond State Park, near Castleton, Vt., only once. More compact than adjacent (and more crowded) Lake Bomoseen State Park, it nonetheless offers a beach, hiking trails and a degree of privacy. Our waterside site served us well as we sampled the surrounding resources.
A half-mile stroll around Half Moon Pond provides an introduction to the terrain. Much of the path lies just beneath two long rock ledges. The pond outlet is crossed via two plank bridges. Connection to the Glen Lake Trail offers a longer option.
We also hiked the Daniel Coffey Memorial Trail to High Pond. It’s easy going at first. My wife pointed out columbines and pulmonaria off to the side. We were glad to see blue paint blazes on the segment twisting around a ridge to a narrower path leading to our ultimate destination.
High Pond itself offers an atmosphere of serenity. We were happy to sit on rocks and ponder the value of wilderness to civilization, a la John Muir.
One unique option is the Slate History Trail, easily followed with an explanatory brochure available at the park entry.
The West Castleton Railroad and Slate Co. prospered here from 1850 through 1929. For the most part, only ruins remain from a company town once including more than 60 buildings and homes.
In its day, the quarries were known for their purple and green slate. The company also devised a process for “marbleizing” slate; the kiln-fired product offered a less expensive source of fireplace mantles and other decorative items.
Consider this sort of a ghost town ripe for exploration. Following our brochure, we found quarries (now filled with water), stone foundations from workers’ houses and remains of old mills.
The deteriorating walls of the slate factory, which produced such items as pool tables and sinks, give off an eerie presence. Atop a hill are three stacked slate structures dating to the 1880s. The one with a bell formerly served as the company store, while the other two housed supervisors. All are now private residences.
Many years had passed since our last experience at Cranberry Lake in the northwestern Adirondacks. We’d forgotten the beauty of the forests there and the spaciousness of the campsites.
The lake was doubled in size by a wood dam in 1867. The current concrete dam was constructed in 1916.
A few trails begin right in the campground, including the 2.4-mile loop that goes up Bear Mountain.
For more leisurely walking, there’s the 2-mile trail through Bear Mountain Swamp, nicknamed the Boardwalk Nature Trail for its two long wooden walkways. Unfortunately, it can be a bit hit-or-miss on the availability of a trail guide at the park office. Even without one, it’s an enjoyable outing.
We spent one afternoon exploring the nearby hamlet of Wanakena, itself a former company town. In this case, it was the Rich Lumber Co.
When that enterprise exhausted its holdings in Pennsylvania in 1902, it moved its employees and buildings in one fell swoop to this remote Adirondack location. Rich Lumber constructed a village for 2,000 people from scratch, built a railroad and went to work.
It took only eight years for the company to clear-cut its 16,000 acres and move on to Manchester, Vt. This time, however, houses were sold rather than relocated. A tightly knit community — winter population about 66 — has grown up here with a finely honed sense of heritage.
Two display kiosks depict a lot of the history. One on the village green (where Friday night campfires are a summer tradition) tells about the company and the community. From there, we walked up to homes on Second Street, visited the Western Adirondack Presbyterian Church and strolled past concrete stairs serving as a silent reminder of Hotel Wanakena.
At several junctures, photographic markers gave us a sense of what the place looked like in its heyday. We noted a picture of the town jail, later used as a school.
The former mill section is reached by crossing a pedestrian bridge, which lays claim to be the oldest such pedestrian suspension structure in the nation. In its day, this represented a peaceful commute to a cluster of mills producing everything from lumber and veneer to shoe lasts and barrel tops. Another kiosk gives a sense of bustling industrial activity where now only quiet fields remain.
Our Labrador retriever and I finished our day in Wanakena with a hike on the Moore Trail along the Oswegatchie River. Luminous moss, fern beds and predominantly conifer forest lined the way. The high point was a series of tumbling rapids at a wide point in the river, where a rocky outcrop split the stream into two cascades.
Gilbert Lake State Park has the advantage of proximity to Cooperstown. This is a perfect base for a variety of indoor and outdoor activities.
The beach is well-maintained. The snack bar serves up great homemade ice-cream sandwiches. A variety of easy trails offer exercise. If it rains, well, there’s always the Baseball Hall of Fame, just a short ride away.
Another unique feature of Gilbert Lake is the CCC Museum. Those men who toiled in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s are, after all, responsible for building many of the state and national parks that we enjoy today.
The Army ran this New Deal program, which offered employment and education in the midst of America’s worst Depression. Enrollees received $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to their families. More importantly, they received meaningful work in the midst of a society with staggering unemployment rates. Civilian Conservation Corps camps also provided education and training in marketable skills that could be used later.
Along with plenty of information about the corps and its accomplishments, the displays feature a trove of photographs and memorabilia. Ice-cutting tools remind of one activity. A circular saw blade attached to a Model T engine and a sled showed a bit of ingenuity.
Government manuals outlined the basics of block-and-tackle work, trail construction, basics of concrete use and the like. Civilian Conservation Corps wool caps and lapel pins are exhibited. Copies of the camp newspaper, The Whistler, recount details of baseball games. Programs from musical productions and samples of taxidermy testify to other leisure pursuits.
The park offers a range of easy hikes. The Deer Run Trail begins amidst pines, enters a mixed forest and later traverses lush rows of ferns. Another easy route, the CCC Trail, passes evidence of blowdown from a 1998 tornado.
The park’s 1.3-mile nature trail is especially well laid out. An informative brochure assured us that we would see the high points. Stone lean-tos along the way were also built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Briggs Pavilion at the far end of the lake is especially impressive. A wedding was taking place the day we were there.
State parks offer many more choices. New York and Vermont protect open space, provide recreational opportunity and facilitate inexpensive vacations with their park systems. These are valuable resources, and we should take advantage of them.