March 29, 2017

North Country Trail: Circle Drive to Erie Canal Village

Even though the snow from winter storm Stella has virtually all melted at home, the Southern Tier got more accumulation, and I knew it wouldn't have all melted yet down in the hills.  I decided to skip the unmaintained seasonal roads for one more week, and finish up the Erie Canal section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) instead.  I parked at the trailhead on Circle Drive, and hiked east to the old Erie Canal Village, then retraced my steps back to where I started for a roundtrip out-an-back of 8.8 miles.  This was my longest school day hike yet, although certainly not the most challenging, given the pancake-flat terrain. 

There are a few short sections where the trail is paved, but they total less than half a mile.  The remaining surface is stone dust, which was fairly soft today with the ground so saturated with snowmelt, but still a bit firmer than I'd like.  Nevertheless, this was my favorite section of NCT along the Erie Canal, simply because so little of it was next to a road.  There is one portion of this hike where a road runs parallel to the trail on the opposite side of the canal, but it is a dead end with little traffic or development, and the remainder is surrounded by woods.  It's so much more pleasant to walk out of sight of the road!

I didn't know what to expect from the Erie Canal Village, and I still don't, really, since the footbridge over the canal was gated and locked.  I gather it was a living-history interpretive site, a replica of an old canal village.  However, it definitely appears closed now, and the structures look to be deteriorating due to lack of maintenance.  I briefly stepped on the back deck of the old canal boat moored at the side of the canal, but when I peered into the cabin, it was water logged, so I didn't actually enter.  Kind of a sad state of affairs.  With nothing to keep my interest, I didn't linger, and headed back the way I came.  

From here, the NCT eastbound is not developed for many miles, with tentative routing following roads through the City of Rome and beyond.  Therefore, I am done exploring the NCT to the north and east for now.  I will focus on the sections following the Finger Lakes Trail south and west, and see where it takes me. 

Zingerline Road crossing

Heelpath Road crossing

washed out driveway

back at the Circle Drive trailhead

March 19, 2017

Southern Exposure Trail, Beaver Lake

There are about 9 miles of permanent trails at Beaver Lake Nature Center, and in the winter, use is designated, with the longer trails reserved for cross-country skiing and the shorter trails open for walking.  But when snow conditions are right, two additional seasonal trails open for snowshoeing.  Unfortunately, it's been a frustrating winter for snow activities.  We've received more than 130 inches of snow this season, but wild temperature fluctuations have caused it to melt rapidly after each storm.  We got about two feet of snow mid-week, and the temperatures finally stayed cool long enough so we still had snow on the weekend.  This was the first weekend all winter that we've had enough snow on the weekend to go snowshoeing locally.

Ridiculous... but so exciting!

I decided Frankie and I would take the Southern Exposure Trail.  At 2.2 miles, this is the longer of the two snowshoe trail; the Northern Exposure Trail is just 1.3 miles.  Since we so rarely get such perfect snowshoeing conditions, I wanted to make the most of it.  Even without any practice yet this year, Frankie's snowshoeing skills have greatly improved: no more stepping on his own snowshoes.  He was able to move around easily: running, jumping, climbing over things.  He did fall down a lot, but that was entirely by design, run and flop, run and flop.  He got overheated with all the dashing about, and I wished I brought his rain coat, so he could have had a lighter-weight shell.  We did stop and remove his mid-layer, but he refused to take off his coat, like I did, because he wanted to keep playing in the snow.  We had so much fun!     

download trail map from Friends of Beaver Lake

March 8, 2017

North Country Trail: West River Road to Cortland 9 Road

I've been eager to get out and explore more new sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), not just on the Erie Canal, but back in the woods and hills.  We had such a long stretch of mild weather in February that I felt confident I'd be able to find safe parking, even on a dirt road.  I decided on a section of the NCT that follows the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) through Tuller Hill State Forest.  This section is quite close to Interstate 81, which is part of the reason I selected it, as the proximity to the highway made the drive time comparable to many closer sites.  I fully expected to be able to hear the highway for most of the hike, and was pleasantly surprised not to.  I started on West River Road, and hiked up, up, up, crossing the seasonal Snyder Hill and Pipeline Roads before reaching my turnaround point at Cortland Road 9.  I then retraced my steps back the way I came, for an out-and-back hike of approximately 5.9 miles with over 1,000 feet elevation gain.  Not too shabby! 

About a tenth of a mile into the hike, the trail passes through the backyard of an isolated home.  I started to turn back when I first approached, assuming I had missed a blaze, but soon found more confirming I was on the right track.  It puts me a little on edge to be so close to a strange home.  Rationally, I know the homeowners have granted permission for the trail to be there (thank you!), and of course I kept carefully to the well-marked path.  But still... it felt strange.

The trail follows Howe Creek for the first mile or so, cutting across the steep forested slopes and along the edge of a farm field atop the ravine.  The sound of the running water fully obscures the highway noise, at least in these spring-like conditions.  There are small downs mixed in with the general up, as the trail passes through lesser drainages, and eventually crosses a foot bridge over Howe Creek.  From there, the trail climbs out of the hemlocks and runs roughly parallel to Snyder Hill Road through a stand of young even-aged hardwoods.  After crossing the road in sight of a camp, the trail turns south again, climbing through a recently logged section before popping out in Pipeline Road.  The trail approaches the top of Snyder Hill, but doesn't quite get there, dropping a few contour lines and wrapping around the hill, following the property line of the State Forest and crossing a pipeline before descending a bit more to Cortland 9 Road.

Since I did most of the climbing on the way in, the return trip went quicker.  A front blew in and it started sprinkling when I was almost back to the car.  I jogged the last couple hundred feet because it seemed easier than stopping to pack up the camera.  I didn't see another human on the entire hike, and when I signed the register, saw that the last hiker had signed in December 16.  How I love being alone in the woods!  This kind of thing always leads me to wonder what percentage of people actually stop and sign in, though.  Has no one really hiked here in months?  And if so, why not?  It's a terrific hike.   

trailhead along West River Road
follow the blazes through this backyard

Howe Creek

Snyder Hill Road
just north of Pipeline Road

approaching my turnaround point
Cortland 9 Road

Pipeline Road
bridge over Howe Creek

the trail register was last signed December 16
last descent to West River Road