Newsflash: Hikers Asked to Avoid Katahdin Over Labor Day Weekend

Appalachian Trail hikers hoping to finish their 2,190-mile trek on Mount Katahdin this weekend are being asked to make alternate plans.

The Monson Appalachian Trail Visitor Center is advising long-distance hikers to summit Maine’s tallest peak before Saturday, Sept. 1 or after Monday, Sept. 3 to allow the Penobscot Indian Nation to take part in the Katahdin 100, an annual spiritual run that finishes at the northern terminus of the AT.

The Katahdin Stream Campground, located at the base of the AT route up the 5,267-foot mountain in Baxter State Park, will be closed to overnight guests on Saturday and Sunday while the Penobscot conduct their traditional ceremonies.

“Avoiding those days for summiting is in the best interest for the hikers and Baxter and the AT,” Claire Polfus, the program manager of Appalachian Trail Conservancy Maine, told The Bangor Daily News.

Meanwhile, there are no day-use parking passes left for either Saturday or Sunday, the Monson Visitor Center announced in a Facebook post. The visitor center staff added that The Birches campground will remain open to 12 northbound hikers, but the area will be exceedingly busy.

The Katahdin 100, which was first run in the early 1980s, retraces the migration pattern of Maine’s native peoples from Indian Island near Orono to Mount Katahdin. Each year, the members of the Penobscot tribe make the 100-mile journey from Indian Island to the mountain in canoes, on bikes, and their own two feet.

“For the duration of the gathering (Saturday to Monday of Labor Day weekend), Katahdin Stream Campground largely belongs to the Penobscot.” the visitor center staff wrote on Facebook. “It’s important to remember…this was Penobscot territory for millennia before the A.T. existed.”


Newsflash: Carrabassett Valley's Mountain Bike Trails Will Double By 2022

Big plans are in store for one of Maine’s top mountain biking destinations. By 2022, the 74-mile bike trail system in the town of Carrabassett Valley will expand by 50-percent, according to the Carrabassett Valley Trails Committee’s (CVTC) development plan released in March. Comprising the CVTC are representatives from the town of Carrabassett Valley, the Carrabassett Regional Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, Maine Huts & Trails, and Sugarloaf ski resort.

The 12-page document outlines a long-term plan to grow and improve the already-popular mountain biking locale in western Maine. The CVTC seeks to double the size of the existing trail system within 10 years. As the first step, they’ll add 37 miles of new trails by 2022.

“The mountain bike trail system developed to date by the CVTC partners has already been a significant success,” the report states. “Nonetheless, the network and riding experience need additional development to solidify our position as a regional leader.”

Trails and Signs Coming Soon

Carrabassett Valley is roughly two-and-a-half hours north of Portland. But, the town of about 500 residents is best known as the home of Sugarloaf, the Northeast’s second-largest ski resort. When the snow melts, a vast network of rideable trails emerges. In fact, on singletracks.com, Carrabassett Valley is currently Maine’s top-rated mountain biking trail system. Singletracks.com bases its rankings on average trail rating, number of members who have ridden the trail, and the number who want to ride it.

Despite the system’s popularity, the CVTC sees room for improvement, specifically in how its paths are marked.

“Significant effort has been made by relative few to address the challenge of signing our complicated system,” the report states. “Nonetheless, it remains a confusing system to navigate in many areas.”

Currently, the Carrabassett network overlaps with two nearby trail systems. In response, the development calls for planning and funding a signage system. Ideally, they’ll have the signs ready by the 2019 riding season.

The proposal also touches on funding trail development. For previous projects, the town of Carrabassett Valley and the CRNEMBA primarily paid for all trail construction. Maine Huts & Trails and Sugarloaf have also made contributions. Yet, according to the report, funding the ambitious expansion will “undoubtedly be an ongoing challenge.”

To fund the new trails and system upkeep, the CVTC will develop a plan that projects how much each of the four stakeholder groups can contribute. The CVTC may further form its own subcommittee to focus exclusively on funding.


Newsflash: UMass Will Test Your Ticks for Lyme, Other Diseases

Using state funding, the University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to help state residents test ticks they’ve found at a reduced rate.

Since 2006, the school’s Laboratory of Medical Zoology (LMZ) has tested ticks from all 50 states for various transmittable illnesses and pathogens. Anyone concerned they’ve been bitten can mail the parasite in question to the UMass lab, have it tested, and get the results back within three business days.

Normal pricing ranges from $50 for a baseline DNA analysis of one tick to a $200 comprehensive package, which includes screening for 23 tick-borne illnesses. But, thanks to the state Department of Public Health’s $100,000 grant, the LMZ will do the testing for just $15 per critter.

That rate won’t last, though.

“We anticipate that this program will be over by early to mid-July. The subsidy is really going to go fast,” said Stephen Rich, a professor of microbiology and LMZ director, in a statement.

Are ticks getting more dangerous?

The grant comes on the heels of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. From 2004 through 2016, researchers reported a 300-percent uptick in mosquito, tick, and flea bite-related illnesses. The analysis found the number of reported tick-borne diseases doubled during that 13-year period. That figure also makes up more than 60 percent of all mosquito-, tick-, and flea-related illnesses.

Since the UMass laboratory launched its TickReport testing program and database, researchers have analyzed more than 37,000 ticks, including over 12,400 in 2017. The LMZ expects to test between 18,000 and 20,000 for 2018.

Of the 23 diseases tested, Lyme disease comes out on top. Since 2006, 26.5 percent of all ticks screened have tested positive. The illness, spread by blacklegged ticks, causes someone to experience a combination of fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash. If left untreated, it eventually spreads to the joints, heart, and nervous system.

More than just Lyme

But, Lyme disease is just one condition spread to humans. The LMZ also tests for anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and the lesser-known Powassan virus. Out of these four, Powassan is particularly rare. In fact, the CDC has recorded about 100 cases over the past 10 years. Yet, the disease may cause a combination of fever, vomiting, confusion, seizures, and memory loss, and may even lead to long-term neurologic problems.

Meanwhile, the LMZ plans to use half of the grant to cover the cost of Powassan virus testing on the first 1,000 ticks sent.

Of course, it’s important to note: Not all ticks transmit diseases. The type, time of year it’s found, and region all influence whether one poses a health risk.

As for the blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) commonly found in the Northeast, the CDC says they typically need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours or longer before spreading Lyme disease. With this in mind, always thoroughly check your skin and clothing after outings in the woods.

What if you find a tick on your body? The LMZ advises removing it with a pair of tweezers, and washing the area with soap or antiseptic wipes. Then, mail the tick to the lab in a Ziploc bag.


5 Hikes That Will (Almost) Make You Forget You Started The Day in New York City

New York City has just about everything. The great outdoors, however? Not so much.

If you’re like me, escaping the concrete jungle and its outer reaches every few weeks is a must. There’s no better way to do that than by lacing up my hiking boots and exploring some new terrain.

In fact, you may be surprised by all the opportunities around the New York metropolitan area. From a “surprise” lake in North Jersey to a killer rock scramble up the New York State Thruway, here are five day hikes to get you out of Manhattan and back into nature.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

1. Storm King Mountain (Cornwall-On-Hudson, New York)

Never climbed a mountain before? That’s okay. This is the perfect trip to get your hiking legs under you.

Storm King Mountain in Cornwall rises only 1,340 feet above sea level, but packs sweeping views of the Hudson River, Hudson Highlands, and the Catskill Mountains. At 2.5 miles roundtrip and only one hour and 15 minutes from Midtown, it’s a fine alternative to Breakneck Ridge, its overcrowded cousin across the river.

Set out from the parking lot along the northbound lanes of Route 9W, and pick up the orange-blazed trail at the lot’s north end. But, be ready. You’ll be sweating almost immediately as you quickly gain elevation when climbing over the exposed rock.

Follow the orange trail markers to the yellow/blue-blazed trail, which will take you to the summit. Stop and take in the view over lunch before heading back to the parking lot along the white-blazed trail.

If you’re thirsty after conquering Storm King Mountain, be sure to stop off at Industrial Arts Brewing Company, a fantastic brewery housed in a pre-Civil War era warehouse in Garnerville, New York. It’s just a quick 30-minute drive south on Route 9W.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

2. Bald Mountain (Stony Point, New York)

If you’ve done much hiking in the New York metropolitan area, chances are you’ve spent some time in either Harriman or Bear Mountain State Park. Bald Mountain, located in the latter, is a short but steep hike that leads to a wonderful view of the Hudson River and surrounding landscapes.

At just over three miles roundtrip, this out-and-back hike gains more than 1,100 vertical feet before giving way to a rocky, mostly bald summit that overlooks the iconic Bear Mountain Bridge and surrounding highlands.

Expect about an hour-and-15-minute drive from Midtown Manhattan. Park along Route 9W north across from the Ramapo-Dunderberg and Doodletown Brook trailhead. From the road, follow the blue-blazed Cornell Mine Trail for 1.45 miles—here’s where you’ll be doing most of your climbing—before turning right onto the red/white blazes of the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Then, you’ll need to do just a bit more climbing before hitting your payoff at the top of Bald Mountain. Head back the way you came.

If you’re looking for another post-hike haunt, check out the Peekskill Brewery on the east side of the Hudson River. But, be prepared, as it’s often packed with hikers on weekends.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

3. Bearfort Ridge to Surprise Lake (West Milford, New Jersey)

Hike to the remote Surprise Lake near the New York/New Jersey border, and enjoy a refreshing swim on a hot summer day, all just an hour from Midtown.

For non-hikers, this will be a challenging but rewarding adventure. At just under six miles, it has a little bit of everything: plenty of up and downs along the Bearfort Ridge, occasional rock scrambling, a rhododendron tunnel, and, of course, Surprise Lake.

Park in one of two small pullouts along Warwick Turnpike (near the intersection with White Road) in West Milford, New Jersey. Then, enter the forest just east of the barely-noticeable concrete bridge. Start on the white-blazed trail, and hike for about three miles, before picking up the yellow-blazed trail. Follow this path to the rhododendron tunnel, located at the 3.3-mile mark right before you reach Surprise Lake.

After a swim and some lunch, head back to the road along the orange-blazed trail. If you’re still sucking wind, don’t worry. The return trip will be far flatter and less challenging than the hike up.

Credit: Jorge Quinteros
Credit: Jorge Quinteros

4. Bonticou Crag (Gardiner, New York)

If a true rock scramble is what you seek, this is the hike you’ll want.

Bonticou Crag in the Mohonk Preserve near New Paltz, New York offers a short yet physical challenge for anyone wanting to use all fours on their next outing. Atop this jagged boulder field is a sunbaked summit–more of a ridgeline, actually–equipped with stunning views of the surrounding Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains.

While you have many route options within the preserve, climbing Bonticou Crag before continuing to Table Rocks makes for a nice six-mile outing.

As a word of caution, this hike is not for small children and non-hikers. You’ll need to use some upper body strength while completing the 20-minute rock scramble, but it’s an exciting challenge to tackle. Also, be prepared to pay a $15 fee per hiker.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

5. Hunter Mountain (West Kill, New York)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not driving 2.5 hours to go hiking!

It’s a long ride, yes, but if you’re really in need of a break from the city, Hunter Mountain and the stunning view from its fire tower make for a great experience. Get an early start, because at the end lies one of the Catskills’ best pound-for-pound hikes.

At eight miles roundtrip and with approximately 1,900 feet of elevation gain, Hunter is certainly the most ambitious on this list. It’s one of the Catskills’ only two 4,000-foot mountains, but well worth the effort and time it takes to get there.

Park in the first of two lots near the end of Spruceton Road. Then, ascend the mountain on the blue-blazed horse trail, which passes through a dense and fragrant conifer forest en route to the summit. It’s about 3.1 miles to the top, but once you’re there, you will be greeted by one of the Northeast’s tallest fire towers. While the summit is technically flat and forested, the fire tower offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. For my money, it’s the Catskills’ best view.

After you’re done taking in the scenery, make your way down by following the yellow blazes, which lead to the red-blazed trail. During your descent, you will pass through more of the lush conifer forest before reaching the Devil’s Acre shelter. Stop there for a quick break, but don’t dilly-dally. Less than a mile from the end of the hike, you’ll have the chance to cool off at Diamond Notch Falls, a pair of 15-foot waterfalls just off the red-blazed trail.

When you reach the end, walk back along Spruceton Road for a few minutes to return to the parking lot. But, before heading back to the New York State Thruway, be sure to stop at the West Kill Brewery, just a mile from the trailhead, to celebrate bagging the Catskills’ second-tallest mountain. You’ve earned it.


Newsflash: Maine Gov Agrees to Allow Signs to Katahdin Woods and Waters

Getting to Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is about to get a little easier.

Following a year-and-a-half delay, the state says it plans to install road signs directing visitors to the 87,000-square-acre area in the northern part of the state.

It’s an about face for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who previously opposed installing roadway signs for the monument while the U.S. Department of the Interior conducted a review 27 national monuments at the behest of President Donald Trump. LePage has strongly opposed the creation of the monument and lobbied for it’s reversal.

But months after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has signed off on keeping Katahdin Woods and Rivers unaltered, LePage has given in and is allowing the signs. A spokeswoman for LePage told Maine Public the state Department of Transportation is now working with the National Park Service to “expedite the production and installation of signs” and says they could be appear on roadways by summer.

It’s good news for business advocates who say the absence of road signs directing visitors to the monument has slowed the flow of tourists to the area.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in having missed the turnoff to go up to the monument on Route 11 because there is no signage,” Wendy Sairio, director of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, told Maine Public. “And there’s no signage on the highway off of I-95, for exit 244 or 264, either one of which will take you to the loop road of the monument.”

Last year, a team of Maine-born photographers and filmmakers journeyed to the new monument to complete a 5-day 64-mile circumnavigation of the park, documenting it for the film, Monumental:

In a March 28 letter to the state DOT commissioner, Superintendent of Katahdin Woods and Waters Tim Hudson requested that six signs for the monument be placed on Interstate 95, as well as 11 more on state roads in Medway, Sherman, Patten, and Island Falls. It was the second request Hudson made for road signs.

A spokesman for the DOT told Portland news station ABC 8 the agency is still working to determine where the signs will be placed and that no official timetable has been given.

While national parks must be created by Congress, a national monument can be established by presidential proclamation, as was the case in August 2016 when former President Barack Obama authorized the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters. Located in Penobscot County just east of Baxter State Park, the monument was established with the help of Roxanne Quimby, a cofounder of Burt’s Bees. Quimby donated an estimated $60 million worth land for the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters.

With views of the state’s tallest peak, Mount Katahdin, and a myriad of recreation opportunities, the monument welcomed some 30,000 visitors during its first year of operation. That number could now increase with the added visibility that road signs with provide.