My Relationship/Addiction with the North Country National Scenic Trail in the Adirondack Park

January 29, 2013

My relationship with hiking trails started when I joined the Onondaga Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1981. One of my first ADK events was a trail building trip on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) in Central New York. I was amazed as we hiked out at the end of the day that what had been just a flagged route in the morning was a real foot trail by the afternoon. On the spot I was asked as a newbie to become a trail steward/maintainer and became hooked. When one is “working” outdoors it doesn’t quite seem like working. ADK-ON has over the course of 40 years designed, constructed and still maintains about 110 miles of the FLT, 87 of which is also part of the seven state North Country National Scenic Trail, NCNST.

Within two years “my” section of Finger Lakes Trail in the early 1980’s became accepted as a part of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) whose route now spans 4600 miles (2x the AT) from North Dakota to Crown Point on the NY- VT border. Soon Vermont will connect it to the Appalachian NS Trail. The NCNST is the longest of the congressionally approved National Scenic Trails.

For 30 years I worked maintaining, the concurrent NCNST and FLT (Finger Lakes Trail) and extending the Onondaga Branch 20 more miles east toward the Adirondacks. As this local chapter objective was accomplished a renewed interest in the Adirondack route developed. I was still hooked on trails as was my husband, Bill Coffin, former ADK Trail Committee Chair, and climbed the 46 peaks, hiked the Northville Placid Trail and worked on many Adirondack trail projects in the meantime.

A friend and the first woman to hike the NCNST end to end on foot, Joan Young, needed some help staying true to the trail route where no trail yet existed in the Adirondacks. So I assisted her bushwhacking some of the western Adirondack mileage within the Blue Line. Joan avoided some of the road walks that others used to escape bushwhacking. I didn’t want to become lost assisting Joan on her quest so I needed to do some scouting of the trailless areas. Assisting her got me started field checking the route as accepted in the 2007 Draft and 2008 North Country National Scenic Trail Final Adirondack Park Trail Plan and GEIS.

Again I became hooked on another trail project. Prior to the NCNST Adirondack Park Trail Plan being published in late 2007 for public comment there were as many proposed routes for the NCNST through the Adirondacks as there were interested people. The Plan settled on a route through the central Adirondacks that avoids the highly trafficked High Peaks Wilderness Area yet offers beautiful hiking that showcases many spectacular viewsheds, lesser mountains, lakes, ponds and bogs that characterize the Adirondacks.

So it was easy to become hooked on exploring and scouting this trail route. None of the route had been formally GPSed or GIS mapped and only some of it had been hiked on the ground and evaluated. Members of several ADK Chapters (Onondaga, Genesee Valley, Schenectady, Albany and Iroquois) have also caught the bug and assisted me with the process. Norm Kuchar, Walt Hayes and Mary MacDonald have been especially helpful GPSing the bushwhack eastern end of the route.

The Adirondack section of the NCNST is about 147 miles from Blue Line to Blue Line with about 75 miles on existing trails although some are not well maintained. Most of the route is on state owned land, Wilderness Areas and Wild Forests (seven units) or land with public easements. Areas between the existing trails are presently a bushwhack but most all of it has been GPSed by volunteers and data submitted to DEC and NCTA for mapping and inclusion in Unit Management Plans.

I soon found that the interior of Wild Forests and Wildernesses could not be field checked via day trips only, so I renewed my backpacking equipment trying for less weight for my aging shoulders and found adventuresome partners to assist with the overnight bushwhacks. These trips took us to places few humans have walked since the logging ceased in the 1950’s and even to some old growth sections. One feels pretty self-sufficient when bushwhack backpacking and in tune with nature. Wilderness interiors convey oneness with the environment and all its critters. It is hoped that those who follow on the trail when all sections are built will experience the same sensations, aloneness and smallness when hiking this 18 inch wide foot trail. It will be designed to lie lightly on the land, avoiding sensitive areas and having very little human made structures.

For more information on the Adirondack Plan for the North Country National Scenic Trail in the Adirondacks click here and here.

Any group wishing a slide presentation including maps and pictures taken along the proposed route contact maryccoffin@gmail.com.

About the author. Mary Coffin, a retired science teacher and lifetime hiker, was born in Western New York and now lives in the Syracuse area where she is active in the ADK Onondaga Chapter and affiliated with three others. She is a member of the ADK Conservation Committee and ADK Extended Outings Committee for whom she has led Adventure Travel trips for over 20 years. Mary serves on the Board of Directors for the North Country Trail Association (and formerly on the ADK Board of Directors), is Vice President East for NCTA and a trail steward for two sections of the Finger Lakes Trail concurrent with the NCNST in Central New York.

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