Last Sunday I visited the New Land Trust for the first time. A friend and I met Steve Jenks, the longtime trail builder, on Plumadore Road in Saranac and set off for a few hours of exploring interspersed with storytelling, trail work and photography.
At the clubhouse we learned about the ambitious project started by a group of four friends from Plattsburgh State in the 1970s. Wanting to live off the land, they bought 287 acres and started working it.
A few decades later their legacy is a big piece of property with miles of trails that are perfect for day hikers, birders, dog walkers and cross-country skiers. Thanks to many volunteers and supporters, this property is entirely open to the public.
Last Sunday, Steve led us on a tour featuring a lean-to, outhouses, bridges, benches and trail signs. The trails wind through old orchards and a variety of forest types, but it was the stone walls that captivated me.
Some trails travel beside a wall; others cross through openings that were made when the walls were built or when recent trails were designed. It was impossible to pass the walls without imagining the hours of backbreaking work by people, oxen or horses. Maybe all three. The walls stretch for hundreds of yards and seem to have been built for field boundaries and livestock enclosures, all of which are now beneath another generation of forest canopy.
Stone walls are not found all over the United States; they are special to New England and upstate New York. Rocks in our walls come from the geologic history that left stony glacial till on the surface of the land. European settlers between 1750 and 1850 likely built stone walls, after the American Revolution but before industrialization changed agriculture and supplied wire fencing. Forests were cut and the stumps that were uprooted to make way for plows exposed many rocks on the surface. Frost heaves would have gouged out more each year.