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Local students work to maintain Stone Valley Trail

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POTSDAM - Potsdam is fortunate to have a first-class hiking area on its doorstep – Stone Valley, 15 minutes south of town.

Established in the 1970’s, it is a collaboration of the landowners, Brookfield Renewable Energy, St Lawrence County, and the town of Colton, which provides access.

The trail coordinator, who plans and manages the trail network, is Mark Simon of SUNY Potsdam’s Wilderness Education program. Mark is also on the organizing committee of the Laurentian Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and maintains close contact with other schools in the area and other outdoor clubs including the St. Lawrence Mountain Bike Association (SLMBA).

All year long Mark and a few of his colleagues carry out minor repairs, inspect the trail system and plan a maintenance blitz in October. On a recent weekend more than 50 students from area colleges and a number of local residents, guided by a handful of Mark’s crew leaders, conducted a large-scale improvement of the area.

Early Saturday morning, two crews of students from the Wilderness Education program tackled a stretch of the East Side River Trail, which runs alongside the Raquette River from Colton to Browns Bridge.

The segment featured an extremely steep sideways slope toward the fast-moving, powerful Raquette some 50 feet below, a safety hazard that was compounded by many slippery tree roots crossing the trail. The crews broke up and removed many of the roots using pulaskis (special tools resembling an ax and an adze, originally developed for wilderness firefighting); placed large tree trunks on the downhill side to provide a base; and filled in the trail with gravel, sand, and earth. After several hours’ work, the treacherous slant was replaced by level, high-quality trail.

The crews climbed back up the slope to the Lenny Road and set off for their afternoon assignments, grabbing a sandwich on the way. A couple of the more-experienced Wilderness Education students assumed the role of student crew leaders for some projects at the south end of the trail near the Colton fire station, where they were joined by a large crew from the faculty of Environmental Studies.

Some students moved down the trail rectifying single-point or short-stretch problems on the trail. These included, for example, widening the trail where it ran along the side of a steep embankment and creating drainage channels to prevent pooling of water on the trail. One crew refurbished a long, low-level “bog bridge” that crosses a low point of the trail. A number of bridge deck planks had rotted to the point of being dangerous. These were removed with crowbars and new planks were shaped to fit and nailed into place.

Other crews were out simultaneously working on other projects. A few students and area residents cleaned up trash along the Lenny Road.

A crew from SUNY Canton joined Ben Yandeau in continuing a summer of work that has gone into constructing a new mountain bike trail on County land adjacent Stone Valley. Bob Dowman and a SLMBA crew carried out maintenance of a mountain bike trail on The Ledges, an area high above the river on the east side of the Lenny Road.

Work continued on into Sunday. The second day’s activities focused on general maintenance, including removal of unwanted brush from the sides of trails in some places, and in other places the deliberate placement of brush to conceal unwanted paths and discourage access that would cause erosion. The weekend ended with a Harvest Party late on Sunday afternoon.

The ADK Laurentian Chapter is running a special program for SUNY Potsdam students this year to encourage them to appreciate wilderness conservation and to enjoy the outdoors. It is already clear that many of the students themselves are well-equipped to become leaders in this program, and leadership training to enable that will happen soon.

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