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Hikers ignore signs, hindering Jackrabbit Trail work

LAKE PLACID — Crews doing work on a section of the Jackrabbit Trail between McKenzie Pass and Lake Placid have been working this month to clear trees and improve drainage, but despite putting up signs telling hikers of the section’s closure — warning of danger and rangers — work there has been interrupted almost daily by hikers ignoring the signs.

Barkeater Trails Alliance Executive Director Josh Wilson said hikers should avoid that section of the Jackrabbit Trail altogether through Thursday, Aug. 20. He said the closure does not eliminate access to anything.

A team of arborists were felling branches, cleaning out dead wood and improving drainage by digging culverts on an unruly portion of trail. This work is meant to clean up the pathway and reduce ice build-up which makes that area slippery on skis.

The work site is dangerous, Wilson said. Rigging to carry cut branches to the ground is tied to trees, carrying heavy log payloads, arborists wield chain saws to slice up the logs and workers chop away at the dirt with pickaxes to cut out the culverts.

The property is around halfway between Whiteface Inn Lane and McKenzie Pass on a private parcel landlocked between state land.

The landowner, who wished to remain anonymous, has been part of the volunteer team and said progress is slowed by interruptions almost daily.

The main trailhead to McKenzie and Haystack mountains is on state Route 86 between Lake Placid and Ray Brook.

However, the route from Whiteface Inn Lane has often been used for easier access to these peaks, which have become more popular in recent years through their inclusion in the Saranac Lake 6er hiking challenge.

Wilson said the trail sees around 100 people a day when its busy, and while most people are doing the right thing, multiple parties have ignored the signs.

“People have been passing all the ‘closed’ signs and caution tape and everything else,” Wilson said. “It’s an unfortunate sign of the times I guess.”

Ignoring the signs

Signs with bright red letters reading “TRAIL CLOSED AHEAD” were staked out on the trail, informing hikers that from Aug. 4 to Aug. 20 that section of trail is under maintenance.

This work was supposed to happen before the busy season but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the arborists’ ability to work.

Wilson said it was thought that signs notifying hikers of the closure would be enough, but after workers left the work site one night someone put themselves in danger messing with the rigging lines.

Wilson said the person or people who played with the lines dropped a log to the ground, putting them in severe danger.

After this, trail volunteers wrote extra warnings on the signs, each word underlined once or twice.

“Cameras are installed!!” The written message says. “Rangers will be called.”

Still, this does not deter everyone, and the landowner said one or two groups seek passage through the work site a day, sometimes twice — there and back.

Their presence slows the work each time and has mildly set back progress.

Forest Ranger Scott van Laer said patrolling rangers would enforce closure of the trail.

Vandalism on Jackrabbit

The cameras referenced by the sign were already installed on the trail before this project, as last year the landowner experienced sign vandalism on the property.

Wilson said people tore down signs BETA had installed over the years asking people to stay on the trail and informing them that they are walking through a trail surrounded by private property.

“Somebody, apparently, was pretty angered by that and destroyed some of the signs and wrote some nasty comments on others,” Wilson said.

On the other side of the McKenzie Pass Wilson said he found a different type of sign vandalism earlier this week. A Jackrabbit trail marker on the McKenzie Pond Road trailhead, built by a volunteer 25 years ago, was stolen.

“They tore the post down to the ground and chopped the top off of it with an ax so they could steal the sign,” Wilson said.

The sign, which gives the distance to the Whiteface Club and McKenzie Pond was gone, and the post was left in the woods.

“If you have any info about this vandalism, please DM us,” a post on BETA’s Facebook page reads. “Its a sad day when trail cameras start to sound like a good idea.”