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Following Alice the Moose along the A2A Wildway, Part I

This is the first installment in a two-part series that follows John Davis along the proposed Algonquin to Adirondack connection that would connect Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada with New York’s Adirondack Park. Read the second installment.

Were I a moose, I’d be breaking all the rules.  I’m climbing mountains merely for views of this glorious watery wooded landscape; complaining about thick bushwhacks through spruce/fir forest that a moose might forage in winter; aiming my Hornbeck solo canoe for clear open water, rather than wading and feeding in the nearby swamps and marshes; carrying too much weight in my Osprey backpack; and gingerly side-stepping the muddy trail sections moose walk right through.  Still, a week into our A2A Reconnaissance Hike, I’ve seen a good bit of what Alice the Moose saw when she journeyed fifteen years ago from the middle of New York’s huge Adirondack Park to Ontario’s fabled Algonquin Park.  

The A2A Wildway

When Alice made this long trek, she inadvertently confirmed the Algonquin to Adirondack (or Adirondack to Algonquin—a.k.a. A2A) wildway that biologists previously identified.  She inspired a conservation effort that has grown into the A2A Collaborative, of which Wildlands Network is a participant.

Three men stand in the middle of the frame on a wooden slat bridge. The bridge is built over flat land, but it leads to a forest of tall green trees in the background.
John’s hiking companions on the first day of his A2A exploration. Photo: John Davis

John Allport, David Miller, Emily Conger and other northern conservation friends on the Canadian side, and Richard Grover, Rich Phillips, Tom Butler and other nearby conservation friends on the U.S. side, are exploring A2A on the ground this month, simultaneously hiking northwest and southeast from our respective parks toward the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, to celebrate Alice the Moose and the wildway she revealed, investigating the possibility of an eventual A2A International Scenic Trail. So far, my hiking and paddling strongly confirm the wildness of this region and its great appeal for wildlife, as well as outdoorspeople.

A2A has long been recognized as a regional habitat connection priority, though it has not yet been fully appreciated as a habitat link of continental importance.  However, a careful look at geologic, geographic and human footprint maps of eastern North America shows this to be among the most promising links between wildlands in the United States and Canada.

Indeed, eastern North American lands can be roughly divided between areas south of the Great Lakes and their outlet, the Saint Lawrence River, and areas north.  There are not many easy crossings for terrestrial animals of this vast waterway system (one of Earth’s great drainages). The A2A area offers a relatively safe crossing of the Saint Lawrence through the Thousand Islands, as well as sparsely peopled, still mostly forested habitat connecting the two great parks.

One of John’s breathtaking mountain views along the A2A connection. Photo: John Davis

Probably many other wide-ranging animals before and after Alice have used the A2A wildlife connection, and it becomes even more important in a warming climate. Likely the famous cougar, posthumously dubbed Walker, who journeyed from South Dakota’s Black Hills to Adirondack Park looking for a mate before being killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011 (see Will Stolzenburg’s powerful book Heart of a Lion) came south from Ontario via A2A.  If ever wolves are to recolonize the northeastern U.S., it’s likely they will disperse southeast from Algonquin Park via the A2A connection—though many guns and traps around the park and border roads stand in their way.

Exploring the A2A

I began my trek on October 1, a picture-perfect autumn day, on the Adirondack Interpretive Center trails outside Newcomb, with my friends Richard Grover (A2A co-founder and visionary), Tom Butler (author of Wildlands Philanthropy and other conservation books), and Bart Howe (intrepid explorer of remote places).  Aptly, we camped the first night on Moose Pond, nestled beneath the western High Peaks.

A female moose dips her head into blue-green water as her calf nuzzles her neck, knee-deep in the water.
A mother moose drinks from a stream, much like Alice would have on her trek along the A2A connection. Photo: William C. Gladish

My friends had to return to their jobs the next day, and I figured I could hike the rest of the circuit around Moose Pond, to the Cold River and then along Long Lake in a day, so I left the trail and followed streams up to a starkly open clear slide cutting down the west side of Santanoni.  This I scaled hurriedly, not at all as a moose would, to get fabulous views of the lake-studded country westward, which Alice had traversed and I’d soon hike and paddle across.

Above the slide, spruce/fir forest got thick—I did not appreciate the moose browse I thrashed through—before finally gaining the Santanoni summit (4,600-plus feet). I then followed “herd paths,” or muddy unmarked trails up some of the more remote High Peaks, to the summits of Panther (the highest of multiple Adirondack mountains named “Panther”—would that we still had as many of the great cats themselves!) and Couchsachraga.

North of Moose Pond, the hiking and equestrian trail became less well maintained but still lovely.  Fittingly, I saw moose tracks following the trail in several places.  It took me to Cold River, near the farthest place from a road you can get in Adirondack Park, and one of the farthest places from a road you can get in the eastern United States—still only about five miles, not nearly so remote as a wildlands explorer (four- or two-legged!) might prefer.  Then I was on Adirondack Park’s famous Northville-Placid Trail, as far as the village of Long Lake.

After a pre-planned meeting with friends Richard Grover and Mike Lynch, they kindly dropped me off at Little Tupper Lake, sparing me the chore of many miles of walking along a busy road.  A2A trail planners hope to eventually find landowners willing to allow a footpath so that future through-hikers need not walk along Route 30.

John canoes along the A2A wildway. Photo: John Davis

There followed three days of classic Adirondack waterway travel, paddling across lakes and along meandering streams, and walking the portage between them.  This is also great moose country, and I saw their tracks often, as well as signs of bear, otter, and other wide-ranging mammals, plus eagles, hawks, osprey, kingfishers, ducks, and geese in flight.  One bold bald eagle chased a full-grown Canada goose past the end of Little Tupper Lake and out of sight.

Perhaps the “moosiest” and mossiest of these sections are the winding sedge- and alder-lined streams between Little Tupper Lake and Rock Pond, Shingle Shanty and Harrington Brooks draining into Lake Lila, and the Oswegatchie River, draining the heart of the proposed Bob Marshall wildlands complex.

Indeed, as I made this watery traverse, I recalled that much of the job of securing A2A within Adirondack Park itself is completing protection of the Bob Marshall (or Oswegatchie) wildlands complex, in the northwest quadrant of the Park, as outlined in the past by Adirondack Council and other Adirondack conservation groups.  I traversed this many years ago southwest to northeast; but I think my traverse this time, southeast to northwest, is even more beautiful a journey.

Close Encounters of the Moose Kind

I’ll close for now with my closest moose encounter, perhaps my nearest approach to the spirit of Alice. At dusk on my fifth trekking day, I sat mesmerized by Big Dear Pond, between Lows Lake and the Oswegatchie River, watching beavers and a muskrat foraging peaceably near each other, hearing coyotes howling in the distance, and admiring ducks alighting gracefully on the still water.

When I could no longer see the animals, I retired to my tent, to study maps and write notes. Just as I was about to turn out my solar lamp and collapse in a hiker’s deep and weary sleep, a terrific crashing sounded not a hundred yards from my camp.  My lamp was not strong enough to catch the creature, but by the noise of him or her moving through the trees, and by the tracks on the portage path next day, I know the big beast was a moose—moving west, leading me the safest way toward Algonquin Park.

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