LAKE PLACID - A replacement for one of the most well-traveled and iconic bridges in the Adirondack High Peaks was completed and opened to hikers Sunday as crews continue to repair backcountry trail damage from Tropical Storm Irene in August.
The bridge across Marcy Dam in a popular hiking region near Lake Placid has been a favorite photo spot for generations of hikers who would pause to savor the view of Adirondack peaks mirrored in Marcy Pond. The bridge was destroyed by Irene's floodwaters and the dam breached, leaving a shallow stream meandering through mud flats and gravel bars.
Members of the Adirondack Mountain Club's professional trail crew completed work on a new bridge across Marcy Brook on Sunday about 250 feet downstream from the dam. The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans engineering studies to determine the feasibility of repairing the dam.
"One of the most important projects on our list was the Marcy Brook bridge on the Van Hoevenberg Trail," said Neil Woodworth of the club. "That trail is, by far, the most popular hiking trail in New York state, providing the shortest route to the top of Marcy, the state's highest peak." About 45,000 people a year use the trail, he said.
Four trails remain closed in the Adirondack High Peaks and there are still numerous detours, rock-hop stream crossings, and rough conditions, the DEC said in a trail condition update requested by The Associated Press. In the Catskills, Irene caused less damage to the backcountry, but crews are still working to repair or replace some foot bridges and board walks.
More than a dozen bridge replacement projects are planned this summer, DEC said.
"Last year we did a lot of rock work, but this year we're mainly focusing on bridges since so many were blown out by the storm," said trail crew member Ryan Graig of Oneonta, swatting at biting deerflies as he worked on the new timber bridge over Marcy Brook last week.
The DEC said damage from Irene in the eastern Adirondacks surpassed that of the blowdown of 1995, a massive complex of storms that damaged 150,000 acres of Adirondack forest. The Irene cleanup effort was also one of the largest in the region's history, enlisting DEC rangers and other staff, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society and others.
The DEC has decided not to fix another popular backcountry dam wrecked by Irene, at picturesque Duck Hole in the western High Peaks Wilderness. Duck Hole, a seven-mile hike from the nearest road, is a popular camping spot for hikers of the 130-mile-long Northville-Placid Trail.
More than 40 slides were created in the Adirondack High Peaks when rain-soaked soils slid off mountainsides, exposing vast slabs of bedrock. The Ore Bed Brook trail between John's Brook Lodge and Gothics Mountain, near Keene Valley, was completely washed away, leaving a broad swath of bedrock up the mountainside. Trail crews have built log ladders up the bedrock for the safety of hikers.
"In the Catskills, on the popular trail to Peekamoose and Table mountains, we know we're going to have to repair the 40-foot bridge that crosses the Neversink River," Woodworth said. The bridge is still in place but was damaged by trees swept along by the flood.
Backcountry bridges are constructed of logs or timbers flown in by DEC helicopter. Trail crews working with hand tools construct the bridges, which are anchored with cribs - large wooden cages filled with rocks hauled by hand from the stream bed. Since no motors or heavy equipment are allowed in wilderness areas, it's hard to build a bridge that can withstand severe conditions.
"That's not the first bridge we put in that location," Woodworth said. "The Neversink is a brawling, wild river that drains a large part of the Catskill Forest Preserve."
The 45-foot-long Diamond Notch Falls bridge along one of the Catskill region's most popular hiking routes was washed out by the storm and is slated for reconstruction this summer, DEC said. Four bridges along the Colgate Lake Trail are also scheduled to be rebuilt. In the meantime, hikers can cross on boulders.
DEC is recommending that hikers be able to navigate by map and compass, as some trails may be hard to recognize and washout areas may be mistaken for trails. Trails that remain closed are listed on the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov.