IMAGINING THE PALMERTOWN RANGE TRAIL
Twenty years after a Parks engineer proposed a 13-mile trail to run from
Daniels Road State Forest to Moreau Lake, we may be close to actually hiking it.
Trails take a long time, says Julia Stokes. She would know; she’s been building them for much of her life.
After aiding in the launch of Saratoga Springs’ resurgence as the first director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, Stokes moved to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) where in the early 1990s she was named Deputy Commissioner for Regional Operations. In that position, she was responsible for all of the state’s parks east of Syracuse, south of the St. Lawrence River, and north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Headquartered at Saratoga Spa State Park, Stokes at that time lived with her husband on five acres adjacent to Skidmore's North Woods, which sits at the southern terminus of the Palmertown Range. Walking her collie daily on its trails, she had a personal interest in a meeting she was about to have with Kurt Kress, a young Parks engineer assigned to a team developing a new master plan for Moreau Lake State Park.
BLOCKS OF GREEN
This was the mid-1990s. Niagara Mohawk had just sold its dams on the Hudson due to regulatory changes that prompted the company to get out of the power-generation business and focus on transmission. Having purchased 3000 acres of prime Adirondack forest around Spier Falls Dam and Sherman Island Dam, the Open Space Institute (OSI) had just transferred it to New York State and thereby quadrupled the size of Moreau Lake State Park -- from 700 to 4100 acres.
The question Parks officials were now asking: What do we do with this new land, which can offer the public spectacular new views of the Hudson and access to lakes and forest that were previously off-limits?
Now capital facilities regional manager for OPRHP, Kress at that time was on the team assigned to answering questions like, what do we about these huge Niagara Mohawk transmission towers? Can we build trails under them? That took the team a couple of years to work out with Niagara Mohawk's lawyers, but they did it.
Kress was specifically assigned to surveying all of the ecological communities within an extended radius of the park. He walked into Stokes' office and rolled out on her desk a long map with a twisted line running along it from the North Woods to Moreau Lake.
“That’s the Palmertown Range Trail,” he announced.
Thirteen miles long, the trail Kress proposed included two state forests already in the public domain -- and thus easy to incorporate in the trail -- and other essential properties that weren’t. These included the undeveloped land around the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility and a large plot in Wilton that John Witt had bought for his Woodard Road development.
“As we were inputting my data into my GPS locator, we could see these blocks of green in a line," Kress recalls. "That was the genesis for saying, 'someday, these blocks should be linked together with a coherent trail system.’"
Stokes loved the idea, but she knew it wasn't going to be easy. Trails take a long time.
A STRATEGY FOR THE PALMERTOWN RANGE
Fast forward 20 years and we can see that much of that early vision is in place. Most importantly, 750 acres of undeveloped land around the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility are now attached to Moreau Lake State Park, providing access to two pristine lakes and a way ultimately to get to the popular Grant's Outlook near Mount McGregor's summit.
The result of groundwork laid by Saratoga PLAN and the Saratoga-Capital Region Parks Commission, this acquisition was essential to the vision of the Palmertown Range Trail. It provided the impetus in 2017 for OSI and PLAN to undertake a major study of the region. With extensive community input in the form of stakeholder interviews, focus groups and surveys, environmental consultants Alta Planning + Design and Bernuth & Williamson completed last November a 150-page recreation and conservation strategy. This will serve as the main reference to which everyone can now refer in making virtually any kind of decision involving land.
For example, if you're a private landowner, you'll want to know if your property is particularly prized for conservation. If you’re interested in selling your land, you may have an interested conservation buyer. If you're not looking to sell, there may be other conservation or public access options, many of which may afford a financial incentive.
If you work in town government in Saratoga Springs, Greenfield, Corinth, Moreau, or Wilton, you'll want to know the study's recommendations on zoning.
If you're an outdoors-oriented entrepreneur, you'll want to know the high-traffic areas that offer greatest potential in recreation-based tourism businesses, such as lodging, restaurants and cafes, rental shops, environmental education and guide services, camping, geocaching, and related businesses at appropriate locations along the trail system.
COMPLETING THE ‘SPINE’
With its forested granite peaks and steep valleys, the ruggedness of the Palmertown Range has served as a shield against developers, despite being directly adjacent to the highly developed Northway corridor. That’s why it still has a forest economy that includes Christmas tree farms, the harvesting of lumber and maple syrup, the manufacture of wood crafts, and such recreational opportunities as white-water rafting on the Sacandaga River and tubing on the Hudson.
The strategy concludes: "The myriad charismatic ecosystems, flora, and fauna found in the Palmertown Range can serve as an economic and quality of life asset for the community by providing place-based recreation unique to the location relative to the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, and the Hudson River."
In 2016, the Open Space Institute acquired for $1 million the 282-acre Greentree Lake parcel. Adjacent to Lincoln Mountain State Forest's southern boundary, this will be a key piece of the Palmertown Range Trail's "spine," which is now about 70 percent completed, says Katie Petronis, OSI's northern program director.
"There remains only a handful of parcels on which public access is needed to complete the spine trail. We are in touch and working with the majority of those landowners and are hoping to have the access phase of spine trail development completed in the next five years."
CROWDSOURCING THE STORY
To commemorate the trail’s completion, these articles and other content generated in our Practicum in Collaborative Media will be placed in the Saratoga 2056 Time Capsule that we propose to crowdfund and bury on Mount McGregor.
Our thanks to all who have contributed to our series thus far:
Alan Ball Chinian
Share your story.
An ADK Winter 46er, SMARTACUS Publisher Dan Forbush supports open-space preservation and trail development. He writes about trails for Saratoga Today and assists with its social media.
A video journalist and documentary TV producer, Jill Cowburn teaches journalism at Saratoga Springs High School. She’s Head Coach in the Collaborative Writing Practicum we’re piloting with 25 juniors and seniors.
Founder of the Association for the Cooperative Advancement of Science and Education, Paul Zachos is a nationally regarded advocate for accomplishment-
based grading. He and ACASE Director Monica De Tuya are advising us on how best to evaluate, assess, and grade our students’ creative work.