Monday, January 1, 2018

Eighth Leave No Trace principle - consider impact of social media

Yesterday I stumbled on a posting in Paul Magnanti's blog that pointed to a longer, well-written article in TrailGroove Magazine about the possibility of adding an eighth principle to the Leave No Trace guidelines:
Be mindful when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts that rapidly increased use can have on wild places.
or possibly
Use discretion when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts of creating a ‘buzz’ about specific destinations
I surely understand the concerns of hikers regarding the impact of social media! In the Catskills, where I hike most often, I've seen the Blue Hole nearly ruined (NYT- link may be paywalled) after the 'buzz' hit the Internet that it was a gorgeous swimming hole in the middle of nowhere, close to a road. I've been on a work party trying to clean the place up and get ahead of the hordes who were fouling it, and I wholeheartedly approved of the emergency regulations that DEC had to issue, while bemoaning their necessity. It appears that Blue Hole will hence forth be just another 'frontcountry' site.

I've also seen the way that social media can bring in bad behaviour. Some trails in the Catskills are now plagued with groups of hikers who joined together on Meetup, and never had a mentor to teach them how to operate in the wilderness. They are typically young, and have tremendous athletic prowess coupled with abysmal ignorance. Most frustrating, they seem to be nearly unreachable - they think that their ability to get up and down a mountain in jig time makes them the experts, and even friendly warnings that some of their behaviours (postholing, traveling in too-large groups, failing to bury excrement) risk tickets go unheard. They make it clear that they consider me to be unconscionably rude because I don't go as fast in my sixties as I did in my teens and twenties, and can't always even get out of the way before they want to push past me. 

Believe me, I know what can happen when the knowledge about a place goes viral. So I agree in principle with what Mark Wetherington and other on the are promoting.

Still, I wonder where to draw the line - and in my experience, LNT advocates can be quite "zero tolerance" about their lines in the sand. As Paul correctly points out, "don't post - keep it all secret" is not workable. The more impacted "wild" areas are our recruiting office - they're the place where new wilderness advocates get made. If we don't share, if we don't invite, if we don't promote, then wilderness will not be in the public consciousness at all. Worse, when it arises at all, it will be as a Waste of the Taxpayer's Money, not as something they can relate to. Getting interested people Out There is how we maintain pubic awareness.

For that reason, I'm willing to consider some of the popular trails and sites to be sacrificial. People don't immediately step out of the city with both a love for the wilderness and the knowledge of how best to protect it. They need a place to learn to love it, and a place to learn how to love it. If those places come close to being "loved to death", it's probably worth it.

It's probably time for an agonizing appraisal of my social media practices, though.

Review:  I do indeed maintain this blog, and many of my hikes get documented here. 

I also maintained a trail journal, the season that I hiked the Northville-Placid Trail. I happen to think that as the granddaddy of long-distance trails in the US, it deserves to be better known. But perhaps I'm wrong! Paul's advice to leave the obscure to obscurity resonates. Still, it seems to me that particular trail is more likely to languish from lack of attention than to collapse under overuse. The sheer remoteness (the 137-mile trail includes two 40-mile roadless sections) deters many hikers; the few that go, for the most part, know what they're about. I don't think I can feel too guilty for writing about a long-established trail, particularly in telling it as it was - the dunking in a stream while the sky was spattering sleet, the collapse of a bog bridge, the sprained knee, the attack of bronchitis, the unremitting mud, all are in there along with the swim in a beautiful clear pond on the hottest day of the year, the astonishing blue of gentians, and the satisfaction of passing through the arch in Northville. Most of the people who've read my account and commented are non-hikers, who tell me that I'm crazy. Somehow, I don't think I'm suddenly going to draw in the hordes.

I post a fair number of pictures to my Flickr account, most of which are about hiking. The questionable thing about these, I suppose, is that most are geotagged - the photograph's metadata gives a map location. I find this useful for organizing them, and in fact, at least some of my panoramas are indexed and set up over here so that I can find a picture simply by clicking on a pushpin. How risky do the wiser heads than mine consider that practice?

Bringing in that map brings in another practice of mine. When I hike established trails, I usually have a GPS track logger running, and I tidy my tracks and integrate them with OpenStreetMap on a regular basis. Having them there also makes the trails show up on sites like and Waymarked Trails. Since the USGS has really gone out of the business of producing detailed topo maps - at the very least, hiking trails are beyond its capability for the new USTopo series - it remains to citizen mappers to fill the gaps. The maintaining club for the Northville-Placid was glad enough that I did the mapping. since the current mileage table was largely derived from this work.

On the other hand, I ordinarily do not share tracks for off-trail outings - at least since I learnt that where I hike, the DEC asks informally that hikers refrain from doing so. I have in the past shared maps of the tracks as images, but now will do that only for some trips that carry a personal, special meaning, like the tragic family history associated with my climb of North Dome in the Catskills.

I do sometimes go into some detail about where I went to - at least to the extent of naming geographic features that have names. That said, as often as not it's to unrecommend a route - if you feel like following me up the back side of Balsam Cap, be my guest! You'll be swimming in vegetation all the way. I'm not going to climb that way again!

The view from the top was still worth it. 

Generally speaking, I incline toward openness. I'm terrible at keeping secrets. I think I'm likely to go right on mapping trails (and making the result totally free for others to build on), taking pictures (and geotagging them), writing about my experiences (if only to organize my own thoughts) and, of course hiking (even though the only way truly to leave no trace is not to go).

Those that know me know that I tend toward being scrupulous. I very seldom hike the same place twice, unless I'm leading others to a particularly nice spot. (Better that others should enjoy it without the burden of repeated impacts from me.) They will know that I don't enter permit lotteries - if my getting to enjoy a place will deprive others of that enjoyment, better that they should have it. I'm not a wonderful writer, artist, photographer, or naturalist; let it go to someone who has more to bring to the party. If that means that I never walk the more popular routes in Yosemite, see the more remote reaches of the Grand Canyon with my own eyes, or summit Katahdin, so be it. There are lots of wonderful places under less pressure.

I'm therefore no doubt overthinking this principle, the same way that I overthink everything else. But I'd love to hear what others think. "Digital Leave No Trace" is a new idea to me, and I'm cautious that I'm falling victim to the natural desire to justify one's own actions.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Trying to map a section of the Northern Excursion - not exactly successfully

Today, I went over to West Glenville to see if I could get GPS tracks of the one short section of the New York Long Path that is off-road there. I've never seen a map of that section, only the verbal description at the online softcopy guidebook. As we'll see, that description presents some issues. I'm writing this to share my experience; hopefully, the trail and guidebook maintainers will be able to enlighten me!

The trip started out all right. I parked across from the second Wolf Hollow Road turnoff at mile 4.10 of section 39. Note that the “Parking” section of the online book has a typo; it's 4.10 and not 3.10.

I found the point (mile 4.7) where the Long Path swings south into the farmer's field from West Glenville Road without trouble. The blaze at the turnoff is apparent, and there's a deeply rutted mowed line just past the hedgerow, leading right up to the road crossing at mile 4.9. The blazing there is also obvious in the northbound direction. There does not appear to be a southbound blaze at the driveway near the Cape Cod house. There is also a “For Sale” sign there - is the club aware that the property is about to change hands? Will the transaction affect the negotiated trail easement? The trailer on the north side of the road appears not to be there any more, but there is a relatively new house to the left of the trail.

The walk through the woods to mile 5.35 was pleasant. The trail is obvious and well-blazed, and the stone wall and hemlock grove appeared right on cue. At mile 5.35 the trail broke out into a hayfield as described and followed a mowed trail around the eastern edge. There is another typo in the online book here - it says to walk the northern edge of the field. It should say to walk the eastern edge.

The hedgerow and stone fence at mile 5.50 appeared on cue. At least, I presume that I have the correct hedgerow. My GPS coordinates for it are approximately 42.9240,-74.0820. This first hedgerow, though, is only about 0.1 mile from where the trail left the woods. Another hundred yards or so brought me to the corner of a second hayfield, at about 42.9247, -74.0822. This second corner is therefore about mile 5.50, which would match the guidebook description. Blazes were still visible.

At the northern end of this field, I became quite confused. The confusion between northern and eastern edges of fields was sorted out by observing the blazes, but I spent some time wandering in the woods around this corner, and saw no sign of blazing. Returning to the field - whether it was the first or second one described in the online guidebook is in some doubt - and following its northern edge to the west led me to another gap in a hedgerow, (roughly 42.9248,-72.0829). On the other side, further aqua blazes were visible, leading around the edge of a third hayfield, about 0.2 miles. The blazes are a fair distance apart, so I wound up also exploring a mown track at the southeast corner of the field. It led only to several hayricks, an overturned trailer and a considerable amount of rubbish, and no trail lay beyond.

Blazes were visible at intervals following the field edge for about another 0.2 miles to the northeast corner (about 42.9265,-74.0824). I passed several unblazed side trails coming off the east edge of the field. At least one had diagonal blazes instructing the hiker to continue following the field.

At the northeast corner, diagonal blazes instructed a turn to the west, Looking along the northern edge of the field, I saw nothing resembling a trail until a woods road turned to the northwest at about 42.9265,-74.0829. (This is perhaps mile 5.65 in the guidebook.) There were what appeared to be faint paint blazes on this road, instructing a turn on a left fork that soon appeared.

At this point, I lost the blazes entirely - neither fork had apparent markings. After exploring a short distance along the woods roads, I began to be intimidated by the frequent posters that appeared, and simply chose the road that appeared to head most directly for Touarena Road. This road led me to a driveway with a chain across it - and posters - at 42.9266,-74.0885. Not the Long Path! At no time had I come upon the stream crossing that was supposedly at mile 5.70.

The blazing in this area is clearly in need of work. I was not able to follow the guidebook directions northbound.

I then walked up Touarena Road to the correct gravel driveway (42.9291,-74.0875), which was very clearly blazed for the Long Path, and decided to see if I fared any better southbound. The gate is supposedly at mile 6.2. The “Parking” section shows it as mile 5.9 - this does not agree with the mileage table.

The trail leaves the driveway on a broad woods road at mile 6.15, with a conspicuous guidepost indicating it. It follows what is rather a maze of woods roads/ATV trails for about 0.5 miles, with all turns clearly blazed. Everything went along perfectly until I saw the last blaze at about 42.9266,-74.0811. This would be at about mile 5.7 in the guidebook if I am reckoning the mileage correctly. The blaze is near the corner of some stone walls, in a stand of hemlocks, near the poster line of Five Oaks Development.

At this point, the blazing abruptly ended. I walked a spiral pattern around the last blaze out to where I could no longer see it. No luck. I also continued some distance in roughly the same direction, and rapidly came to a property corner which was posted from all directions. Having no way to respect private property in that situation, I forged ahead a short distance farther, and saw mountain bike tracks in the dried mud at an intermittent stream. I followed the tracks across a larger stream, and up an improved but unmarked trail on its steep western bank, finding myself once again on the east edge of the hayfield, about 42.9261,-74.0823, at the head of an unmarked trail between two posters.

I spent a few minutes exploring the northern edge of the field, and the woods road that I had followed before, looking for any sign of a trail that would lead in the general direction of where I lost the blazing when moving southbound, and found nothing.

I uploaded to OpenStreetMap an edited version of the tracks that I followed, as far as I could see the blazes. The points where the blazes peter out, while not that far apart, don't even seem to be aimed for each other, as can be seeo on Waymarked Trails.

Suffice it to say that I'm puzzled.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Making tiled maps, and importing into OpenStreetMap

A user on the OSMand group asked about my process for generating my own tiled maps, and for importing parks and preserves.

The topic, I thought, deserved a decent writeup, so I decided to work my reply into a post here.

Workflow of getting tiles into Backcountry Navigator

I've got a reasonably capable (quad Core i7, 32 GB memory, half a terabyte of SSD, 4 terabytes of RAID 0+1) Linux system at home, where I host a PostGIS database. By far the biggest part of that database is taken up with the OSM North America export from, which I initially loaded with osm2pgsql, and synchronize with GeoFabrik's nightly diffs using osmosis. I retain the 'slim' tables because I have scripts that need them.

Starting from Lars Ahlzen's TopOSM, I've set up a Mapnik rendering pipeline that uses OSM, the National Elevation Dataset, the USFWS national wetlands inventory, the National Hydrography Dataset, the National Landcover Dataset, and a bunch of state and local databases to assemble an American-style topo map that shows much of the information that I want to see. I've set up a previewer for that map at

(Feel free to pan and zoom.) What I'm set up at present to render is the US east of a line from roughly Atlanta to the Mackinac Strait, and north of Atlanta. (That's because I set it up partly for some correspondents of mine who are interested in maintaining information for approach trails to the Appalachian Trail, and the area I render is roughly the bounding box of that trail.

The map is augmented with information that I got from a number of state and local GIS departments. For example, this view shows a number of trails in magenta. Those are trails that I got from NY State Department of Environmental Conservation's GIS department. I do NOT import those because

  1. There are license incompatibilities
  2. The data are stale, and were originally digitized from inappropriately small scale maps. In some places they're quite good indeed, but in other places they're way off.

I find them to be a useful indication of "there is a trail somewhere near here", and a "to do" list for trail mapping with GPS.

For the most part, those auxiliary data came in the form of shapefiles, and got imported into more tables in the PostGIS database. The Mapnik source for the map as you see it has dozens and dozens of layers.

Since I've served the map up, I can tell BackCountry Navigator to use it as a web map, much as it would use the US topos from ArcGIS, or OpenStreetMap tiles, or Bing aerial imagery. The URL for the map is{Z}/{X}/{Y}.jpg

(Please don't incorporate into apps to re-share, I have limited bandwidth and even more limited time to support the thing. Also, ''please'' don't try to bulk-download all the tiles! If you need large amounts of map, email me and we'll work something out.)

Since BackCountry Navigator supports downloading the tiles for an area in advance of a trip, I download from my home Wi-Fi before I go, and run happily without cell service in the woods.

Importing parks and preserves

The imports of parks and preserves have been several projects, each with its own workflow.

New York City watershed recreation

I did an import of New York City Watershed Recreation Lands. For that, the city made available PostScript maps of each of its facilities (note that these are located outside the city, protecting the watershed lands in the Catskill Mountains that provide New York with its water). It turns out that these PostScript files were already georeferenced, and that the names of layers in them were predictable, so I was able to set up a script that downloads them one at a time, scrapes out of the file just the boundary of the facility, and pushes the facility boundary into PostGIS.

The script got rather complicated, because it had to check that it wasn't overwriting data that are already in OSM, repair topology of the polygons, simplify the ways, shrink the polygons back a short distance to avoid collisions, and similar tidying operations. I also developed a mapping between the descriptive attributes in the shapefile and OSM tagging.

All the scripting was done in Tcl/Tk, for no better reason than that I'm familiar with it through having used it for about 25 years.

I proposed the import on the OSM Wiki and went through the usual storm and fury on the 'imports' mailing list.

The eventual import was done by taking the data, one parcel at a time, and using the JOSM remote control interface to push the polygons into JOSM. I did a final eyeball check for each, and committed them to OSM.

I've since revisited the import once, picking up 10 new purchases, 25 boundary changes, and six modified sets of access restrictions.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lands

Emboldened by this experience, I took on reworking the seven-year-old import of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Lands shapefile. It was a similar workflow: pour the data into PostGIS, tidy up the geometry and topology, map tags, and so on - but on a much larger scale, and starting from a single shapefile rather than several hundred PostScript maps.

Once again, since I had automatable data, I did this one as a formal (re)import proposal

This was again a parcel-by-parcel effort in JOSM, but this time, there was much more manual work, since there were existing versions of the parcels that had to be conflated. It was a pretty hellish job, completed in off-and-on evening work between May and September of 2016. The hardest areas to handle were ones where complicated shorelines formed the boundaries of reserves; Saranac Lakes Wild Forest and Lake George Islands were ones that I recall as being particularly tricky.

Conflation was also tricky if the parcels shared ways with adjacent landuse or landcover polygons. In the worst cases, I simply left the original polygons in place, but removed the tagging identifying the land as state forest, and then overlaid with the protected area.

Once again, now that I keep after it every year or so, the modifications are more straightforward. I reimported again a couple of months ago and managed to do it in a couple of evenings.

New York State Parks

I then moved on to New York's State Parks. Note that the Adirondack Park and the Catskill Park are parks owned by the state, but they are not State Parks; instead they are entities unto themselves, enshrined in the state constitution.

Each of the state parks has a georeferenced PDF trail map available from New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Unlike the New York City PDF's, there were no vector layers for me to scrape. Moreover, the license status of the state park maps is unclear, and I live in the one Federal Circuit where government entities can claim copyright to data such as these. Instead, I treated the PDF's as a 'to do' list of parks that needed to be mapped.

For each of these, I did the following:

  1. Converted the PDF to a GeoTIFF for efficiency, and loaded the PDF into Quantum GIS. (QGIS can read GeoPDF, but becomes unusably slow when it does.)

  2. As a separate layer, loaded up a shapefile of tax parcels owned by New York State. This shapefile has license terms compatible with ODBL - the public has the right to use the data for any lawful purpose.

  3. Selected all the tax parcels that were coterminous with the park. This could be as few as one or as many as several hundred.

  4. Conflated the parcels and repaired the topology. (This was a fair amount of manual patchwork.)

  5. Exported the tidied parcel from QGIS as a shapefile.

  6. Opened the shapefile in JOSM and downloaded the OSM data.

  7. Added tagging. For this, I wound up developing a couple of JOSM presets for 'New York State Park' and 'New York State Historic Site', and did a bunch of copy-and-paste of things like park names, web sites, and telephone numbers from

  8. Conflated with what was already in OSM. A lot of state parks were already there, with somewhat whimsical boundaries. If the boundaries were from TIGER, I had no qualms about overwriting them.

    Please pick up after your TIGER

    If the boundaries were actually provided by a local mapper, I tried to get in touch with the mapper in question and find out how they were obtained. The mappers were very cooperative, indeed, and got back to me promptly. In virtually all cases, they had traced approximate boundaries from Bing and were happy to have the ones from the tax rolls.

    Again, there were adjacent-parcel issues, and again, I sometimes resorted to overlaying the protected area and leaving existing landcover polygons (and adjacent landuse polygons) alone.

I didn't call this one an 'import'. I was comfortable with not doing so. There was far too much manual work involved for it to fall under the definition of 'automated edits.' Everything that went in had been touched with eyeball and mouse. Nobody complained. It is more blessed to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

Other land areas

I used the same technique, with different source datasets, to fill in a number of county and municipal parks, and some private preserves. This is a work in progress, there's always more to be done. The most recent ones that I brought in were just this past weekend (2017-07-03), with a few more parcels belonging to the nonprofit Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

(I still need to get out to these and GPS the trails!)

That's also how I sorted out the unholy mess of overlapping polygons for West Point, four state parks (Bear Mountain, Harriman, Sterling Forsest, Schunnemunk, Storm King), the Federal corridor for the Appalachian Trail, a private, open-to-the-public preserve (Black Rock Forest), the villages of Harriman, Woodbury, Fort Montgomery and Stony Point, the Woodbury golf course, and the Hudson River riverbank. What a tangle that was!


The one-line summary: "It's never easy, is it?"


Sunday, September 4, 2016

2016-09-03 The Cliff at Middleburgh

Hi, it's me again, back from a long absence. It was just too much trouble to blog anything when my body was not up to much hiking. On Saturday, 3 September, though, I finally managed to get out for a decently challenging day trip, with few complaints from any of my aging parts.

I went to The Cliff, an unimaginatively named rock formation above the village of Middleburgh, New York that is traversed by the New York Long Path. (The route description is in the online guide book from the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.)

The trailhead is unprepossessing. It's a driveway going between two vacant lots in a newly-built (and still unfinished) residential neighbourhood.
Middleburgh trailhead

Almost immediately, the trail veers left up a very steep slope of loose shale. I missed the turn the first time, and didn't actually see this slope until the return trip. I climbed to the top of the cliff the long and easy way around on an ATV trail. The shale is very loose and slippery, and I was quite frightened on the return trip that it would all slide out from under me.

At the top of this slope stand two things of significance. The first is an enormous cedar tree. Dated at over five hundred years old, it is thought to be the oldest in the Northeast. The second is a vertical rock scramble and "lemon squeeze" that rivals anything that the Catskills have to offer. It's the Long Path's last thumbing of the nose: "so you thought you were done with scrambling? Have this!"
Rock Scramble on The Cliff at Middleburgh
A YouTube video from “Scree Hiker” gives a feel for how strenuous it is, and how tight it is in the crack. A big guy like me makes it through only with sound effects: scraping gear and muttered profanity.

One on the top of the cliff, the hiker is rewarded immediately with a view of Middleburgh village, with Vrooman's Nose behind it. (It's also spelt, 'Vroman', and pronounced as if it didn't have the double O.)
Middleburgh village and Vroman's Nose from The Cliff

The trail then follows the edge of the cliff, sometimes alarmingly closely, for about a mile. All along this section are spectacular views across the rich farmland of the Schoharie Valley.
Schoharie Valley from The Cliff at Middleburgh

I then followed the Long Path through to Durfee Road in Cole Hill State Forest. Most of it is fairly level, but there's a steep plunge into and climb out of the head of The Gorge, another feature that the good people of Middleburgh have blessed with a singularly unimaginative name. At Durfee Road, about 4.5 miles in, I turned back the way that I had come. On the way out, I varied the route a tiny bit by exploring up and down a couple of the snowmobile trails, allowing me to close some more gaps in OpenStreetMap.

While coming back along the cliffs, I was surprised by a sudden "whoosh" going past my ear. It was a red-tailed hawk, soaring along the clifftop, passing with his wingtip just inches from my head! He appeared to be as surprised as I was, and gave me a scream before heading back into the rising air. It isn't often that you see one that close. (Alas, I missed getting a close view of the peregrine falcons that are also sometimes found in the area.)

On the whole, about 10 miles, with some elevation gain (at least 1500 feet, I reckon) and one challenging rock scramble, without a peep from my foot. I think I may just be up to some hiking again. It's surely about time!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016-04-24 Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls
On Sunday, April 24, I got the urge to get outside even more strongly than usual, and decided to go out for a stroll despite some warning twinges from the fasciitis in my foot. I headed over to the Wolf Creek Falls Preserve in the town of Knox, because it contains a short section of the New York Long Path, and its trails had not yet been placed on Open Street Map. (They're there now! Getting the little nature preserves in the Helderbergs mapped has been a pet project of mine, off and on.)

What with church choir and socializing afterwards, it was after three by the time I actually got out on the trails, and I spent about three hours walking around, making field notes, and taking careful compass sights down the many stone walls that crisscross the preserve. I was fairly pleased with the result on the map. As the data propagate, sites like CalTopo or Open Hiking Map will now show the preserve.

I managed to put in about five miles, getting GPS tracks for all of the trails at least once and most of them twice. Averaging these with the tracks on the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy's site gives me with a layout that I feel fairly comfortable with. I may head back at some point to walk everything again in the opposite direction and have further data for averaging.

The Wolf Creek itself runs through the north half of the preserve. It is, for the most part, in a pretty little glen with many riffles and a couple of fairly substantial waterfalls.
Wolf Creek Wolf Creek Wolf Creek Falls

Where the creek leaves the preserve, it's considerably uglier, as the water flows under a strange railroad culvert. The reason for the odd construction is that the upper pipe once carried runoff from a gravel sorting and washing operation that used water from the upper reaches of the creek and had a freight siding for loading gravel. Nearby on the trail, there is a ruined foundation of part of the workings, and various bits of wreckage on display.
Railroad culvert Wreckage Wreckage

While walking the trails, I saw a garter snake, the first I've seen this spring.
Garter snake

A blind that's just beyond the stone wall on the south side of the preserve shows that the neighbour must be a hunter.
Game hide

The property has an unusual number of stone walls crisscrossing it. The two long ones that run its entire width date back to the early 18th century, and mark the boundaries of great lots 791 and 792 of the huge feudal Rensselaerswijck estate. The Van Rensselaer family owned what today is the better part of four counties, and ruled it as lords of the manor right up to the Helderberg War (or Anti-Rent War) of 1866, which was fought on this very ground in the Town of Knox.

The remaining division into rectangular sections was made in the middle of the 19th century by a sheep farmer named Van Auken. He built the walls both to clear the fields and to divide up the pasturage into manageable chunks. The wool that he harvested went to the Huyck felting mill in Rensselaerville, whose ruins I visited on an earlier mapping trip.
Ruined mill

All in all, rather a frustrating day, although at least I got out. Five miles on easy trails, and at the end of it my foot was killing me! I'm obviously not in any shape to return to the high peaks yet. I do hope that this plantar fasciitis lets up soon, it's been months!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015-05-16 Mapping Trips

2015-05-16 Mapping the Helderbergs

There's been too long a hiatus in blogging here, but I've been kind of busy. Still, I've recently had the opportunity to get in a little bit of walking (on easy trails: I won't dignify it with the term, 'hiking') and mapping for OpenStreetMap.

The last few mapping outing, I've been concentrating on the little nature preserves that are strung out like beads along the rim of the Helderberg Escarpment. Many of them are fairly new, since Albany County has been pursuing conservation easements and outright property transfers in recent years, to try to preserve the view as well as the unique environment of the Heldebergs.

2015-04-18 Wolf Hill

On 25 April, I did the first of these mapping expeditions this spring, starting with the Keleher Preserve atop Wolf Hill. This is a smallish (447 acre) plot, with a few miles of moderate trail. Like all of the Helderberg preserves, people tried to farm this land once upon a time, despite the shallow and poor soil. There is ample evidence of ruins. The land was in private hands until two parcels were conveyed to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy in 2010 and 2014.

I hiked in past evidence of recent logging,

I quickly came to an interesting conceit that I've now seen in several of the preserves: a bridge fitted with lengths of PVC pipe tuned like organ pipes. You play it by beating on the tops of the pipe with flipflops that are tied to the bridge. I tapped a couple of bars of a Mozart melody and continued, smiling inwardly, but still more pleased with the babble of the brook.
Organ bridge

The trail steadily ascends the hill, past a number of stone walls that once bordered fields and pastures.
Old stone walls
Old stone walls

I thought that I'd follow the abandoned Wolf Hill Road to the south end of the preserve, where there are reported to be some nice views. Because of the road's being unblazed, and my unfamiliarity with the preserve, I turned off too soon, down an abandoned logging road. I lost the road a couple of times, but each time I found it again and followed it south - inadvertently straying off the preserve to the best views I had all day. Just southwest of the preserve, the whole area has been recently clearcut and has a sweeping view, where the distant horizon shows the Blackhead Range, Windham High Peak, and the ridge ascending to Huntersfield Mountain.
Huntersfield ridge

When I arrived at the clearcut, I knew I'd gone astray, and made my way up the ridge to the correct road - which was, of course, perfectly obvious, The road was still blocked in spots by drifts of patchy wet snow, much churned by ATV's. Snow on the trail
I soon reached the powerline cut that forms the preserve's southernmost extreme, and it did indeed offer views, both east toward the Hudson Valley and the Taconic Mountains beyond: View east
and west across a little valley to the next hill, with the flanks of one of the Catskills (Bearpen Mountain?) just barely visible through the trees at left. View west

I turned around and made my way back up the road into the preserve. Where the snow had melted, I could see just how poor the acidic soil up here is: only a few inches of erosion have exposed the bedrock. The rock here is a limestone pavement, and the Devonian stone to be found here is some of the most fossiliferous on the planet. I noted the odd brachiopod and crinoid without even stopping. Bedrock
In the spots where the limestone dips or is beginning to form sinkholes, the water stands, and the ATV traffic has churned the trail into a lake of mud.

I followed the white and red trails around to where a strategically placed bench overlooks a fine view of Albany Overlook

I then walked a series of loops to pick up the routing of the other trails. I noticed at the end of the green trail that the maintainers have placed flagging in the woods, apparently marking a route up the hill to the east. I followed their flagging for a hundred yards or so, but recalled my promise to Mary Ann that I wouldn't bushwhack solo. I turned around and hiked back to the car. A nice afternoon stroll.

2015-04-25 Huyck Preserve - Hiking the Huyck

Trail marker

A week later, feeling more energetic, I went down to the Huyck Preserve, a considerably larger tract surrounding the village of Rensselaerville. Very close to the south entrance, the trail comes to a bridge,
Bridge over Tenmile Creek
that offers a view of lovely Rensselaerville Falls.
Rensselaerville Falls

On the far bank stands a ruin of what I presume to have been a mill, probably exploiting the falls for water power. I make a note to explore that further another time, and continue with recording my GPS tracks - I've some miles to make today if I'm to map the whole preserve!
Ruined mill
Ruined mill
A side trail leaves the mill to the middle section of the falls.
Rensselaerville Falls
The trail has patches of ice. I'm careful about my footing. Sliding into the gorge of the Tenmile Creek at the falls would not be pleasant!
Ice on the trail

Backtracking to the ruin and heading up the hill puts me on the Falls Trail, which climbs moderately but steadily through a fine stand of hemlocks, most likely planted as a Great Depression reforestation project after the local farms failed.
Trail up to Rensselaerville Falls
A handful of much older trees were probably beloved of the farmer.
Trail up alongside Rensselaerville

Once on top of the massif, the trail bends back to the river and recrosses on a wooden bridge that looks downstream over the lip of the falls.
Bridge over Rensselaerville Falls
Lip of Rensselaer Falls
A stairway down from the far side goes to the edge of the falls at the top, another spectacular overlook. Beyond the falls, the "snow cone" of frozen mist is still apparent, even in late April.
Plaque at the overlook
Rensselaerville Falls
Rensselaerville Falls
Rensselaerville Falls

The trail then goes up the east bank of Tenmile Creek along the spillways of Myosotis Dam, arriving at lovely Myosotis Lake.
Lower spillway of Myosotis Dam
Myosotis Dam
Myosotis Dam

It passes the picnic area, swimming beach and boathouse, the Jessie Huyck building, and the Ordway house (which now serves as part of the preserve's conference facilities.
Huyck Preserve swimming beach
Ordway House

From here I proceeded up on the Ordway Trail, around the Race Track, and onto the Partridge Path. From time to time, I passed some ruins, including some wreckage whose purpose was ... uncertain. (It's too wide to be a trailer, but seems to have been made of parts of several. I've no idea what it was for.)

There are no wild flowers yet, but the corn lilies ( Clintonia borealis ) are starting to emerge. Corn lilies, clubmosses, and moss

Farther up, the first loop of the path brushes the edge of the preserve. Someone has managed to cling to his farm, and there's a hayfield right over the wall. Pasture

With the leaves off the trees, there's also a view down into the marshes, with County Road 6 beyond. The water is high from snowmelt.
Beaver swamp

The trail recrosses the Tenmile Creek on a bridge, and follows an unnamed tributary upstream toward Wolf Hill.
Tenmile Creek
Tenmile Creek
Tenmile Creek

When it reaches the Schoharie power line, there's a view toward the Taconics. Wolf Hill, which I explored the previous week, is visible in the nearer distance.
Power line cut

At the north end of the preserve, yellow survey blazes mark the boundary of the Partridge Run state forest. Survey blazes

I signed the Wood Road register, and continued around to finish the other side of the loops. On the way, I passed a gate in an ancient stone wall. Some mason took pride in his trade. A wagon would still have a smooth ride on the pavement today. Old gate

This early in the Spring, the less developed parts of the trail were still sometimes running with water and full of blowdown. I tossed aside what I could of the lighter brush. Some of the heavy stuff will just have to await a chainsawyer. Washed-out trail

I followed the Wheeler-Watson trail out, which goes by the Lincoln Pond dam and the adjoining cottage, another part of the preserve's facilities, used to house visiting scientists. While there's a trail around Lincoln Pond, and another connector across the north end of the lake, I decided to bypass them. The day was starting to get late, and I still had a few miles back to the car.
Lincoln Pond Cottage
Lincoln Pond Cottage

I signed the trailhead register across from the cottage (I don't pass a register without signing in!) and followed the trail on the west side of Lake Myosotis past someone's experiment. The preserve is an active biological research station.
Experimental plot
Experimental plot

The wet spots are handled nicely by fine new bog bridging of dimensioned lumber. Bog bridging

The Jessie Huyck center, the boathouse and the swimming beach stretch out along the far shore. Myosotis Lake

On the way, I was surprised to see a beaver working away. The beaver was too busy to notice me, and let me photograph for a few minutes, so I came away with a couple of, you should excuse the expression, wet beaver shots.
Castor canadensis
Castor canadensis

A little farther down the lake stands the ruin of another farmstead. Ruined farmhouse

I rapidly made my way back to the car, and arrived with a good half-hour of daylight, having put in roughly a 12-mile day on easy trails.

2015-05-16 Bennett Hill, and return to the Huyck

Bennett Hill Preserve

I felt as if I had to get out again today, even though the weather looked dodgy, so mapping another one of the little preserves seemed a good idea. I could always cut things short, or if the weather held, go back and do the unfinished trails at the Huyck or start mapping another one. I chose Bennett Hill, another one of the newer (1998) preserves in the Helderbergs. Like all the Helderberg hills, this one has a lot of interesting geology. Those who are interested in the complexities can find a lengthy discussion elsewhere. Suffice it to say that springs, sinkholes, and fossils are among the karst features in abundance. In fact, the entrance to the preserve is right near a cluster of four sinkholes, only one of which appears to be active (with a stream running into it that originates at a spring farther up).

On the way in, I got a reminder that the last few weeks have been bone dry, even though we started with a good snowpack. This has been a bad fire year. Fire danger

The entrance trail overlooks a dairy, with fairly good views beyond when the trees are not fully leafed out. Its nicely benched into the side of a hill, and follows a contour line for about a quarter mile before it ascends steeply about 200 feet up a couple of switchbacks.

Near the top of the climb, I caught sight of a strange object in the woods. "What's that bathtub doing there?" I said to myself. It turns out that the preserve builders, or perhaps the former landowners, thought it would be amusing to have a piped spring feed a bathtub faucet, so they set one up that way. I didn't sample the water, knowing that it will most likely taste as if it will rust your teeth!
Bathtub spring

Right at the top of the last switchback, a hiker can rest for a moment. There's a tree with bent branches that's perfect for sitting on.
Nice sitting tree

I made a complete loop of the hilltop on the yellow trail. Over on the east side of it, there's a cairn just built on a straight and level bit of trail, with no turnoffs, good blazes, and good visibility. I have absolutely no clue why anyone would have gone to the trouble of building one right there.

On the north side, there's a nice overlook with a view toward Albany and the Green Mountains. The view left a little to be desired on such a hazy day.
Approaching the Bennett Hil

I finished the loop one-and-a-half times around the yellow trail, and descended the hill on the steeper and less well-maintained red trail. There's a lot of loose soil on steep slopes on the red trail; I suspect it may be headed for an erosion problem if the maintainers aren't careful. On the way out, I heard a strange sound. "What is that?" I said to myself. "It's not a motorcycle revving..."

The farmer had let the cows into the nearby field. I was hearing them arguing over the haystack. "MOO!". My, the sound carried.

This bit of mapping had taken me only a couple of hours, and the weather still looked as if it would hold off for a bit, so I headed back to the Huyck Preserve to map the bits I'd missed. I parked up by the Lincoln Pond dam this time, and started hiking around the pond (after some delays, such as replacing the lens that fell out of my spectacles). The pond with its dam is a pretty sight, and vegetation and driftwood made interesting reflections in the water.
Lincoln (Hicks) Pond
Lincoln (Hicks) Pond

My beaver friend from a few weeks ago wasn't working while I was there, but I saw that he or one of his colleagues had been about.
Beaver damage

After going around the smaller pond, I walked around Myosotis Lake to map the connecting trails that I also had missed on the last visit. I found I didn't have to turn back at the dead end at the dam spillway, because the spillway was completely dry. I jumped down into the concrete gully, walked across and scrambled the other side. I grabbed a panorama of the lake from the center of the dam. Click the image for video.
Myosotis Lake I went back to my car up the east shore, getting the crossover to the north of the lake, and got back just as it was starting to rain.

The day had wildflowers in abundance, while just two weeks earlier there had been none at all. Among the ones I spotted were Geranium maculatum, which gardeners call a 'false geranium.' The 'true geranium' to a gardener, to a botanist isn't a geranium at all, but in genus Pelargonium. Go figure. I also saw wild strawberry, violets, and apple and black cherry in bloom. It was a pretty day.
Geranium maculatum
Wild strawberry
Apple in an abandoned orchard
Black cherry in an abandoned