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Hiking the Northville-Placid Trail Part I: A Preview of Coming Attractions

Updated on December 1, 2014

When the Northville-Placid Trail was first created in 1924, the village of Northville was chosen as the southern terminus because it was located at the end of a railroad. Hikers could ride the rails to Northville, follow the back roads to the traditional trailhead in Upper Benson, and then hike the trail to Lake Placid. From there, public transportation would get you home.

Rail service to Northville was discontinued when Great Sacandaga Lake, a large reservoir on the Sacandaga River, was flooded in 1930. Rather than moving the railroad to higher ground, the trains were simply replaced with a bus line. However, as the twentieth century progressed most hikers preferred to drive to the trail--and rather than parking at Northville and walking the roads to Upper Benson, they simply drove to Upper Benson.

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has been busy building two new segments of the NPT between Northville and Upper Benson intended to replace this unpopular road-walk. The first of these segments, located north of Benson Road in the Silver Lake Wilderness, was opened in 2014. The second segment, south of Benson Road in the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, is currently being constructed. As of August 2014 only 3.5 miles had been cut, and the route is far from completion (the target date is 2015 or 2016). While it may not be ready for end-to-end hiking, you may be interested in learning about the proposed route and the interesting landmarks that it passes along the way.

Getting There

The new trailhead will be located on Collins Gifford Valley Road, west of Sacandaga Park. If you are new to the region, follow the New York State Thruway (I 90) to the NY Route 30 exit in Amsterdam. Follow NY 30 north to Northville, and then 1 mile north to Collins Gifford Valley Road, a left turn. Bear right at the very first fork, and then proceed straight through the next four-way junction at Gifford Valley. The road surface changes to gravel as you pass Woodward Lake. Watch closely for the narrow driveway at 2 miles leading into the woods on the right; it leads for about 500 feet to the proposed parking area. As of 2014 there was no sign, and the driveway was only suitable for high-clearance vehicles.

Mud Lake: The First Landmark

Mud Lake is a small pond nestled in the mountains between Gifford Valley and West Stony Creek. While it may not be a scenic destination, it is certainly an interesting one. It will become the first landmark on the new NPT, and the first of three ponds named Mud. You can already follow the new trail to a campsite on its north shore, although as of August 2014 there were no signs or markers.

From the parking area off Collins Gifford Valley Road, the trail crosses a small footbridge over a muddy stream, right above the concrete remains of an old dam. This new NPT segment will bring the trail closer to its official start in Northville and eliminate many miles of unpopular road walking, but the trade-off will be a significant 760-foot climb that begins immediately on the far side of the footbridge. Fortunately the new trail has been constructed at a moderate grade, with several switchbacks, eschewing an old logging road that adventurous hikers once followed straight up the mountain. The lower slopes are rich with hemlock, and as you ascend you see more and more hardwoods. This was not always a forested wilderness; you pass several rock piles and fences, remnants of an agricultural past. There is also a metal pipe running down the mountain, a part of someone’s former gravity-fed water system.

The switchbacks end as you climb above 1400 feet in elevation, turning northwest for the final 200-plus-foot ascent to the pond. You top out at about 1660 feet in elevation, passing briefly through a stand of hemlock and pine as the glistening surface of Mud Lake first appears through the trees below. The trail keeps on high ground above the east end of the pond, reaching a junction with an old woods road at 1.8 miles. The NPT bears left and merges with this trail, descending for 0.1 mile toward the north shore.

A side trail leads left at 1.9 miles to the best stopping point at Mud Lake: a small campsite midway along the north shore shaded by red maple, shadbush, and a lone hemlock. Mud Lake is truly muddy, so much so that camping here is almost undesirable due to the poor water quality. Certainly, swimming is out of the question. The shape of the original pond is outlined by a ring of bog mats, with stumps and snags filling the portions that the beavers have annexed by damming the outlet. Fern glades ring most of the shoreline, and you may find trailing arbutus in some of these exposed areas.

A Temporary Dead End

Beyond the Mud Lake campsite, the trail passes below the rocky slopes of Mud Lake Ridge, past a crawl space under a huge slab of rock, and across the tannin-stained outlet stream. The trail crosses this stream a second time and passes an enormous boulder at 1.8 miles. Beyond the boulder the NPT turns north toward the foot of West Stony Mountain, climbing a short distance up its slopes to avoid a private inholding. The trail remains on the shoulder of the mountain briefly before it starts to switchback down into the valley.

At 3.5 miles, the NPT approaches the outlet of Mud Lake a third time. Here, during my August 2014 field visit, the brand-new tread came to an abrupt end, with only a faint indication of how the trail might proceed from here. I will therefore refrain from trying to provide a more detailed description of the continuing route, since much work still needs to be done. Generally, the trail will descend northwest to cross West Stony Creek on a long bridge, and then continue northerly to Benson Road to connect with the existing trail through the Silver Lake Wilderness, described in Part II of this series.

West Stony Creek is wide and shallow, with ice meadows all along its edges. Every winter and spring the mighty creek heaves great blocks of ice onto its banks, scouring the ground and preventing trees from growing too close to the water’s edge. In April these bergs can be stranded on dry land as the waters recede. A variety of wildflowers call these ice meadows home, including Canadian burnet, gentian, cardinal flowers, and several varieties of asters. Many of the trees along the forest’s edge bear battle scars from their scrapes with the ice; similar pressures await the bridge.

There is a particularly nice campsite on West Stony at the mouth of Trypoli Creek, with a view of West Stony Mountain to the east. The site is shaded by hemlocks and yellow birches, with a deep layer of duff. Lifting a rock may reveal a salamander or millipede. It is a secluded site located at the heart of the forest, although you can occasionally hear traffic on Benson Road to the north. The birch-hemlock-spruce forest extends along much of the southern bank, while hardwoods predominate to the north.

West Stony Creek Wilderness Proposal

Should the state classify West Stony Creek as wilderness?

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The West Stony Creek Wilderness: A Proposal

Independently of the NPT construction project, another Adirondack conservation group is proposing that this block of state land be reclassified from "wild forest" to "wilderness." Both terms refer to land management categories that govern how the Forest Preserve is managed by state officials.

Currently, Mud Lake and West Stony Creek are part of the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest. Hypothetically, as a wild forest the state could open this new NPT corridor to snowmobile and mountain bikes. However, Protect the Adirondacks is suggesting that a new land acquisition to the south now qualifies this section for a wilderness classification. They have proposed the creation of a new West Stony Creek Wilderness, and are circulating an online petition to help gain support. As a wilderness area, the trail corridor would be reserved for primitive recreation only, including hiking and backpacking. Logging is forbidden on all parts of the Forest Preserve, regardless of classification.

You can find out more about Protect the Adirondacks' proposal by following this link.

Discover the Southern Adirondacks 40th Anniversary Edition

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