January 2, 2010

New Land Trust offers great cross-country trails



Contact the New Land Trust by mail at P.O. Box 101, Saranac, NY 12981.

The Web site is

Donations and new members are welcome.

Somehow, the cold feels colder each succeeding winter.

My coping mechanisms depend on the presence of an early snowfall.

When I can go out and play in the white stuff, whether with snowshoes or cross-country skis, my winter mood stays at a much higher level.

This year appears to have gotten off to a good start.

Friends have urged me to try the cross-country ski trails at New Land Trust, and last week, I finally took their advice. This place will now become a winter mainstay for me.

The New Land Trust dates back to the 1970s, when a group of area students purchased a plot of land near the small hamlet of Saranac. Apparently there was an ebb and flow to their use of the property, at least until a nucleus of people, including some of the original buyers, renewed their dedication to the place over recent years.

Volunteer labor has led not only to trail development but also to buildings that enhance use of the area. There's a clubhouse, an open-air lean-to, a bunkhouse and even a stage on the grounds. Oh, yes, and a few outhouses, much more decorative in appearance than the one- and two-holers of a previous era.

The New Land Trust Web site gives clear directions. I turned off Route 3 in Saranac onto Chazy Lake Road. At a four-way stop, Chazy Lake Road goes right, but I continued straight on Clark Hill Road. "NLT" signs point the way, but sometimes they were hard to find.

There's a marker at the intersection denoting the first settlement of the town. This may now be just a quiet rural crossroads, but once, homes, a sawmill, school, church, cemetery and hotel filled the area. An Indian trail and later a smuggling route crossed the spot, and during the War of 1812, British and American troops skirmished nearby. It's a reminder of how much history attaches to almost every place around us.

Anyhow, I continued on Clark Hill then veered onto Plumadore Road. About a mile or so farther, I came to a nicely plowed parking area on my right. Though I'm not much of an early riser, only one car sat in the lot when I arrived.

I waxed my skis for the 20-degree weather (yes, I'm one of those archaic types), kicked my boots into the bindings and followed the sign to the trail entry.

At the sign-in kiosk, I scrutinized a map of the trail system. All told, some 20 routes of varying length have been designated amidst the 287-acre preserve. Most — but not all — carry names, like Zipper, Guadeloupe or Foxhole. I had apparently started out on the more prosaically titled "236 Entrance" that connects the parking area and the kiosk.

I began along the trail called Saranac, enjoying a nice gentle glide to a point where Sugar Shack and Zen branch off. Choosing the former, I passed the expected maple trees (though if there's a sugar house, I didn't find it). A spur brought me to Luke's Lodge, a handsome plank lean-to with snow-covered benches out front. An outhouse, this one with a crescent moon and a star cut out to add some decoration, stood just a few feet away.

Next, I picked up Solstice. This route passed through a stone fence, one of several at New Land Trust. I passed up the left turn to Growler and continued to a sign for Blueberry. There sat another bench with a small stone sculpture nearby. Through the bare trees, I had a wonderful view of snow-fringed Lyon Mountain and Averill Peak.

Resuming my trek, I glided farther down Solstice, crossed Saranac and found myself on Meadow. Within minutes, I found not only a clearing but a fine natural amphitheater complete with stage. I made a mental note to find out what types of events take place here during the summer and fall.

Wandering a bit, I found myself back on Saranac. (Looking at the map again later, I could see that this trail traverses virtually the entire north-south axis of the preserve.) Mixed forest gave way to a very pretty dominance of white birch. Farther along, just past Linker, I entered a fragrant grove of balsam pine.

When I came to a marker for Bunkhouse, I followed my curiosity and headed left. In time, I came to a cozy-looking, wood-shingled hut with a pile of wood out back. Continuation of the trail wound around and eventually brought me back to the clubhouse and my entry point.

During my couple of hours skiing, I saw some snowshoe tracks, footprints of rabbits and squirrels, and one grouse whom I apparently startled. I came across a single skier, and he turned out to be a regular on the trails. A member of New Land Trust, he puts in a fair amount of effort clearing and maintaining the trails. Heeding his cautions, I stayed away from a steep section along Stone Fence.

Otherwise, I found no overly difficult spots. Of course, anytime one enjoys a prolonged glide, there's going to be a compensatory climb somewhere down the line. My modest abilities to herringbone uphill proved sufficient.

Having skied here once, I'm sure to return. And now I want to explore this area during other seasons.

At the entry kiosk, I found a map to the New Land Trust Tree Identification Trail, a Girl Scout Silver Award project completed by Hannah Racette during the fall of 2009. Count on me returning to follow it next summer or fall. And I certainly want to come back and see what gets offered on the stage.

Those behind the New Land Trust deserve commendation for developing this resource for Clinton County and for their clear vision of land stewardship. Their generous provision of a trail system not only offers the public new recreational opportunities for all seasons but strengthens a welcome environmental ethic.

E-mail Richard Frost at: