Back to school on nature trails in Canton, NY

Indian Creek Nature Center

Indian Creek Nature Center

Wetland_Trail

Wildlife Management Area

A body of water that flows in two directions? This unique feature happens only in the far reaches of St. Lawrence County on a stream called “Indian Creek.” Named after the Native Americans who paddled it by canoe, it flows east to the Grasse River or west to the Oswegatchie River depending on water levels.

This is just one of the many interesting facts gleaned from the interpretive signs enjoyed at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Canton, NY. While students return for their fall semester at SUNY, not far from college, we chose to squat in this wonderful outdoor classroom teaming with learning opportunities.

At nearly 9000 acres, the Indian Creek Nature Center is a wetland area created by intense flooding (in the late 1960s) to enhance waterfowl habitat. There are about 8 miles of trails where visitors can watch for aquatic life, mammals or birds from the comfort of painted boardwalks, viewing platforms and wide, mowed ground. Minus the occasional circling deer fly, this environment beats the artificial lights of a sterile study hall any day.

Better than lessons taught by environmental science professors, Dad pointed out the names of the majority of deciduous and evergreens during our walk. He also gave a particularly descriptive paean to the Tag Adler tree and pointed out plump nannie berries, invasive buckthorn and warned us to stay clear of the blooming poison ivy. To avoid a rash, remember this: “Leaflets three, let it be!”

Check out more photos of the adventure on my FLICKR album: https://flic.kr/s/aHskj1SgiF

Splashing down on the Grasse River

Lyndsey Frog on Grasse River

Grasse River

A myriad of amphibians, migratory birds and even the bony freshwater sturgeon – once mythical in these murky waters – call the Grasse River home. And in the summer, so too do dozens of North Country residents from the Chase Mills area of St. Lawrence County.

At 13 (naïveté) years, Lyndsi likes to torture the habitats of hundreds of frogs that sunbath along the sandy bank. She nets several unsuspecting Kermits for closer inspection – the bigger ones earn her bragging rights and a photo.

“Maybe, frog legs for dinner?” I suggest. “Oh yuck!” she gasps and returns the slimy victims back to freedom. They skip like small stones across the river surface until they sink from view.

This is that fleeting window in a teens evolution when nothing is more important than wildlife discovery. Texting or boys – what are those? It’s wonderful!

There’s no better place to grow up than in the greater St. Lawrence County river basin exploring tributaries like the Grasse, Oswegatchie and Raquette rivers. Old world dams used to exist along the course of these slow-flowing rivers and were later replaced (and mistreated) by mills and factories. Remediation projects have reintroduced ducks, turtles, dragonflies, toads and fish to sections north of Massena.

We grab the inflatable blue rafts, a couple styrofoam noodles, pairs of goggles and swim out to an elevated sandbank in the middle of the river. Lyndsi demonstrates how to do handstands, cartwheels and backflips in three feet of coffee-colored bath water. Her youthful exuberance is contagious and several of us try to do the same.

As expected, it’s not pretty. Arms and legs violently splash about like drowning butterflies devoid of any grace or elegance demonstrated by our young friend. Many of us surface with vertigo. No doubt we are feeling much like the netted frogs.

The sun sets on our fun but not before a boiling pot of fresh shucked corn with family over Uncle Wayne’s “redneck” grill made of rusting car parts.

redneck grill

“36-Hours” of adaptations on The Travel Channel

36 Hours

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes a film adaptation can be just as good as the book it’s based on, for example: The Harry Potter series or Jaws or A Clockwork Orange or The Great Gatsby. But what happens when The Travel Channel tries to do the same to an iconic New York Times travel column – that column being “36 Hours”?

The new 1-hour premiere aired a few days ago and by all accounts the series embodies the same fervor and energy as the Sunday resource and I like it. I like it a lot. Oh hell, who am I kidding, I’d like it even more if PilotGirl Productions were called on to help shoot it!

I wasn’t anticipating an experience equally as engaging as the prolific favorites who pen the newspaper read (I try in vain to parrot the writing) but I’m happy to report that hosts Kristen Kish, an acclaimed chef, and Kyle Martino, a former pro athlete, provide just that exploring a new city with local insiders. Behind the scenes, it’s really the producers doing all the work.

Check it out Monday evenings at 8p on The Travel Channel and tell me what you think.

Slice of beachy heaven on Middle Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake

Middle Saranac Lake Beach

Growing up not far from the Adirondacks my parents had an affinity with Ampersand Mountain. We’d hike the popular climb in the summer, fall and winter – usually introducing a neophyte to the sport of hiking because, albeit steep, Ampersand could be done in just a few hours. At only 5.4 miles round trip it offered incredible views.

Yet, thinking back now on those tiresome climbs (for a 10-year old), not once do I recall my parents setting aside time to relieve sore muscles with a refreshing dip. But, lo and behold, maybe they didn’t know? Fact is, we could have all went swimming not far from where we parked our car on Route 3.

Roughly 30 years since the last time we climbed Ampersand, Mutti, my sister and I discovered the postcard-perfect beach on Middle Saranac Lake (that was there all along). It’s a popular spot for boaters, as several were anchored to the shoreline, with only a few scattered hikers.

Free of litter and debris, free of rules and regulations, free of baking teens and muscle-enhanced lunks, this beach is something plucked from my imagination. No exaggeration, the pristine nature of this destination is truly magical.

Despite the brutal winter, swimming is as easy as easing into a warm bath. Stretch out on the endless salt-less cove or wade for several hundred feet before the water reaches your crown. Visibility is crystal-clear with only the occasional pile of sticks or open clam shells to avoid.

We had the best time here and you will too – especially after climbing Ampersand or any of the surrounding peaks.

Careful not to get too excited lest you might take a tumble down the embankment.  After a small footbridge and set of tree roots, pick up the pace and head straight through the woods for about a half-mile to paradise.  The smell of pine and cedar mix fragrantly with the cool mountain air.

Careful not to get too excited lest you might take a tumble down the embankment. After a small footbridge and set of tree roots, pick up the pace and head straight through the woods for about a half-mile to paradise. The smell of pine and cedar mix fragrantly with the cool mountain air.

Exploring the Adirondacks on pedal powered rail bikes

People of all ages from all over the country have reserved tickets to enjoy this unique scenic ride from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear, NY.

People of all ages from all over the country have reserved tickets to enjoy this unique scenic ride from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear, NY.

It took an international soap opera to seize on a business opportunity that’s taken Saranac Lake by storm. That idea is the pedal powered rail bike. Bonus: you don’t need to be a train enthusiast or own a bike to ride the rails here.

Thank Alex Catchpoole’s wife Mary-Joy Lu and her addiction to a South Korean television series (known as a “K-drama”) that the Adirondack region is the first in the country to debut this unique form of leisure sport. The savvy trendsetting Asians have been repurposing abandoned railway tracks for years. So, why not America? As of July fourth, Rail Explorers has expanded from six to 13 rail bikes and doubled the number of employees.

“The rail bike concept really struck a cord with us… so we got in touch with the Adirondack Scenic Rail and they loved the idea!” says Catchpoole.

The Aussie-Brooklyn-Saranac Lake transplant operates the lucrative enterprise from a historic railway station on Depot street – not far from another popular attraction: the merry-go-round Adirondack Carousel.

The best part of this Flintstones-like recreational activity is that it can be enjoyed by all. The 4-seaters (there is also a 2-seater option) weighs in at 650-pounds but because each are engineered so efficiently they are easy to get going and keep moving.

“The beauty is that there is very little friction. Something like 98% of the pedal power is transferred into forward movement. There are some sections of the 6-mile (12-mile roundtrip) excursion where small hills allow passengers to travel as fast as 20-miles per hour.”

One of the engineers wisely pointed out that even at slow speeds, safety belts are mandatory.

Unfortunately, the author of this blog entry wouldn’t know. I happened across this creative adventure minutes after a group of riders left the station. In lieu of, I managed a short interview with Catchpoole and his team.

“Yes, we are very busy. We offer four tours a day for 40 people. That’s a 160 in total. Even so, we are nearly sold-out through Columbus Day.”

The scenic foot-driven excursion runs west from the train station past a series of beautiful ponds and rivers: Lake Colby, Little Colby Pond, McCauley Pond, Fish Creek and culminating at the Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat. Flora and fauna are abundant. There are colorful fields of wild flowers, a multitude of butterflies and dragonflies and an occasional deer spotted along the track.

Because of snow, the Adirondack Scenic Railway closes to traffic between December 1st and the end of April but Catchpoole looks forward to expanding during the winter months. He would love to bring the rail bikes to other underutilized or overgrown railroad beds in need of bringing a little joy to the next generation.

For information on prices and reservations, visit www.railexplorers.net

The pedal powered rail bike only travels in one direction so backing it up is done by hand.   The driver who sits in the back left seat operates the one brake.

The pedal powered rail bike only travels in one direction so backing it up is done by hand. The driver who sits in the back left seat operates the one brake.

Tucked away at the Tamarac in Saranac Lake, NY

The details (swimming, boating and rail riding) will come soon enough but in the meantime let me share a few photos of our weekend escape to Saranac Lake. Mutti, sis and I lucked out with this beautiful waterfront cottage on Lake Flower – many thanks to the team at ROOST (Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism), the saranaclake.com website and our news friends Owner Denise Bujold and her daughter Jasmine. If you’re striking out trying to find a place to bunk in Lake Placid, don’t despair, Saranac Lake is sheer poetry and at half the cost.

The Tamarac cootage at Harbor Hill in Saranac Lake, NY is one of eight waterfront overnights you can enjoy throughout the year.   The hot tub overlooking the shoreline is like an infinity pool experience.

The Tamarac cottage at Harbor Hill in Saranac Lake, NY is one of eight waterfront overnights you can enjoy throughout the year. The hot tub overlooking the shoreline is like an infinity pool experience.

To see more photos, please visit my FLICKR ALBUM: https://flic.kr/s/aHskhmA5JB