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It’s time to wake up and smell the garbage

August 16, 2014
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

The summer season appears to have hit the turning point. Fortunately, I've spent the majority of the past week on the water, and in the water. I took advantage of it while I could.

Earlier in the week, I traveled with an old friend to revisit as many of my old swimming holes as we could hit in a single day.

The sun was hot, but the waters were cool, as we began the day with a short hike into Slide Rock Falls on the upper Boquet River. We were both breaking a sweat following the forced march to the falls.

Article Photos

Styrofoam worm containers have long been one of the most offensive waste products to be found in the woods and on the waters. Fortunately, many bait supply warehouses now utilize biodegradable cardboard containers, which still should never be left behind.

Photo — Joe Hackett

We were both ready to hit the water, but it was a very quick dip. The waters, flowing out of the 4,000-foot-plus elevation of the Dix Range were hovering in the low 60s. We were in and out in a hurry and the morning sun did little to chase the chill away, so we literally ran back downhill to the vehicle.

Our next stop was at Split Rock Falls, which has always been a summer routine. We were surprised to find that there was only one other group there, a family with a small boy who took great delight in jumping off the rocks into the deep pool, despite being encumbered by a huge Mae West-type of PFD. He jumped in repeatedly and bobbed like a cork as the current swept him downstream, screaming from the cold.

Following the Boquet downstream through the Pleasant Valley, we stopped at the falls in New Russia and at the junction pool where Roaring Brook pours more cold water into the main flow. The old aerator dam that once freshened up the stream with bubbles of oxygen for the trout is long since gone from the site, and so are the trout.

No fish were found at our next stop either, and the new bridge at The Farm Pool near Otis Mountain is far too high to jump from anymore. The once deep pool has been silted in and the bravado of my younger days has escaped me. We looked, we laughed and we left for warmer waters further downstream.

We found the swimming hole at Round the Mountain pool was pretty much the same as it's always been. No silt, no people and warmer waters. The rapids upstream had really warmed the waters, enough so that we could actually swim rather than just jump and run.

The highlight of our visit was finding a rabble of swallowtail butterflies sipping water from a streamside pool. They explored into a fluttering burst of yellow and black on our approach. Another big surprise was the discovery of one big, old crayfish limping along on what appeared to be his last crawl. It was like the ones we used to catch in the old days, a big, blue-clawed monster.

The Round the Mountain pool always seemed to have the largest crawfish on the river, and we would often catch them to cook over a wood fire like mini-lobsters. The fire-ring is still there, but sadly the crawfish aren't, at least not in any great numbers.

After making our way downriver, jumping in at several old holes and finally off a few bridges, we made our way to Wadhams Falls.

The falls had been reduced to a trickle as the waters were encased in a long tube that feeds a turbine at the old mill by the river. The sluiceway to the mill was obviously at full power, and on numerous occasions the overflow let loose with a huge, white frothy geyser that shot a cooling spray off into the warm midday air.

Although it was entertaining, the lack of a deep pool of water to jump into was stunting our fun, so we packed up and drove a few miles downriver to Little Falls.

Little Falls is located just a stone's throw from the railroad tracks, about two miles downstream from downtown Wadhams. It has nice cliffs to jump off and a frothing, tumbling spillway for a falls.

As a youth, we would occasionally ride our bikes over from Elizabethtown, a 20-mile round trip journey, just to jump in a different pool. I doubt I would do the same today. Like so many special places that once hosted so many of my natural pleasures, Little Falls remains but a ghost of what it once was.

Possibly it may be due to the eyes of age, but more likely it is due to the fact that four-wheelers have mucked the access road into a labrinyth of rutted mud and muck. Beer cans, broken glass and trash litter the grounds, and the remains of a half-dozen fires are splayed around the once special grounds. Toilet pauper adorns the bushes and a dozen or so styrofoam worm canisters rot away in the nearby bushes. In the backwater whirlpools, broken glass glistens on a sandy beach, where children once made mud castles that were connected by long stick bridges.

I thought about the messy site as I watched the recent full Power Moon peak out over the High Peaks as I was on my way home. I'd like to think this was the sole example of the trend, but it wouldn't be a trend if it were so. It's sad for me to admit it, but there seems to be a lot more ugly places out there today than there were in my youth.

Sure we had our parties, but we cleaned up after them. We knew we had special places at The Farm, US Falls, The Pines and elsewhere, and we did our part to keep them that way. It just doesn't appear they do it that way today.

Oh I know what many are thinking right now, just another lecture of how good the good old days were.

Or maybe it's just the damn tourists; they're the ones that are always tossing cans and crap out the windows. I wish that was true, but I don't think so.

Our visitors, by and large, realize this is a very special place. They aren't yet jaded to its beauty, they actually seem to revel in it and they want it to stay that way. Many of them come here to seek relief from the plastic bags blowing in the wind outside their car window on the commute home.

I live just off state Route 86 in Ray Brook, and there is a small patch of foliage between our drive and the main highway. We clean it up at least four times a year. If I had the funds, I'd fingerprint every bottle and can that's illegally dumped there and print the names of the offenders in this column so all of my regular readers could see it (both of them).

Now I'm sure to take some flack for this comment, but it's time to wake up and smell the garbage. It isn't just the slob sportsmen who leave their bait containers around anymore (thankfully most worms and night crawlers now come in biodegradable containers).

It appears the trend is now bottles, cans, trash, just take a look at all of the recently resuscitated back road dumps. It's disposable diapers, tires, trash and construction debris. If the varmints that dump such stuff took as much time figuring out how to do the right thing as they do sneaking around to do their dirty deeds, we probably wouldn't be in the situation we're in.

For quite awhile I thought it was just me. Maybe I was just growing a bit too curmudgeonly in my old age. But then the letters and Smallies began to add up, and finally a few readers challenged me to take action.

As one old gent noted, "I see a culture of litterers here that completely astounds me. I come from a place that has massively more people than the Adirondacks, less wild spaces and beauty, yet there is astonishingly less litter on the roads and in public spaces."

As a group we all like to puff out our chests and claim we are true Adirondackers. We go out in 50-below to help a neighbor or stop to push a stranger out of the snowbank. That is what we are known for. That is what we do: we do our best to help each other, even when we've just met.

But it appears we may not really have much to puff about if we don't take the time to notice what's going on around us.

Adirondackers are a proud lot. We're proud of our camps and our heritage. We're proud of our woodlots and our sugar bush, our streams and our mountains. But we can't soil and spoil these areas without tainting all of the rest.

One reader recently related the story of an informal litter survey recently conducted. For reasons I understand, the individual prefers to remain unnamed.

While the survey is far from scientific, the findings seem to correlate quite well with what others have related and with what I've witnessed myself in recent years.

"I started picking up litter and found that new litter would be there the next day. I started doing some informal studies ... here are my results:

1. I started looking in the beds of every truck I came upon. One-third of pickup owners use the beds of their trucks as trash cans. My guess is 25 percent of that trash is bounced out.

2. I walk every day to a popular fishing location and I know the individuals or small groups of people that visit this area daily during the summer. After picking up litter there every day, I decided to see how many days straight there would be none. Not one day all summer passed without new litter.

You would think ... an area that is clean, you would respect it and keep it that way. Nope. In fact, in all of my time picking up litter here, which has been a lot, I have never come across another person picking up litter.

Also, my best guess is 75 percent of the people who visit this particular area are fishermen. I regularly am picking up lure packaging, styrofoam bait containers, fishing line and fishing hooks. Plus, countless other non-fishing trash.

Needless to say, that means that about one-third of the people or groups who visit this public area are purposeful litterers. That to me is a culture of litterers, and some form of attempt to improve this problem or to educate people is necessary.

By the way, the place I'm talking about is not very well known by tourists, so I'd say over 60 percent are locals. To me, it is a culture of litterers, and some form of attempt to improve this problem or to educate people is necessary."

Barney Fowler was a curmudgeonly local writer for the Albany Times-Union newspaper who had a long love affair with the Adirondack region. He also had an an abiding disdain for state employees that misused their state privileges, especially when it came to the use of state vehicles.

He regularly used his column space to report the license plate number of any state car that was parked outside a bar, betting parlor or other locations that were "out of sorts" during working hours. His efforts embarrassed a lot of prominent people, as well as a lot of low Joe's that thought they were getting away with something.

Maybe a similar effort could be accomplished if someone witnesses a litterer. In this day and age of instant cameras on every cell phone, there could even be photographic evidence to prove their point.

There's already an Adirondack Outdoorsman Hall of Fame. Conversely, I suggest we create an Adirondack Litterer's Hall of Shame. Send me your photos of any local or visiting litterbugs, and I'll be glad to post them, so we all can roast them!



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