Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Merck Farm and Forest, Right To Farm

(from 1st visit of May 2009)

With the spring just taking hold at the lower elevations, and still a few weeks away up high, I've been chomping at the bit to get a little color in my life and in my photos. In a month the greens won't seem so impressive, and I'll be anxiously awaiting the late summer flowers, and then the fall foliage, but when looking out at a skeleton forest of gray and brown for the last month the green cannot come fast enough.

Heading east on Rt 146 at 4:55am the sky looked like it might become dramatic as the sun rose over the Hudson River. Of course getting up to the alarm clock at 4:30am I was certainly hoping for better light then what was before me. Because it was so warm and so breezy, the water is actually cooler than the air, and there was no dramatic morning fog and mist coming off the rivers and ponds. Now I had no lighting, and I had no early morning mist. As I drove east towards the Vermont border I wondered if I should even bother driving the 50 miles or just hit something a bit closer to home.

Something told me to keep going, and when I find that something, I am going to give it a little lecture for the bad advice. No, it wasn't a bad day, actually the weather was interesting for a hike, but depressing when you are toting 10lbs of photo gear with the intention of using it.

Believe it or not this drive northeast through Greenwhich and then Salem was a first for me. I've never been farther east than Schuylerville in Washington/Saratoga county, and it was actually quite pretty. Vermont might be known for quaintness, but New York can be quaint as well. This portion of Washington County undulating dairy country, criss crossed by the Battenkill River.

When I arrived at the Merck Forest parking area I was greeted by a swarm of black flies. Of course, I didn't have bug dope. Usually it's not needed this early in the year since the flies tend to not be aggressive this early, and fortunately while the flies were swarming, they weren't all that hungry.

6:30am is even early for the farmers on a Sunday, and I had the place to myself for more than an hour. I headed up to the live stock fields, and hung out with the ewes and lambs for a while, although I never could get a clear shot of the young lambs nursing which was truly the most interesting thing going on..

After breakfast with the sheep, I headed down Old Town Road  to Clarks Clearing. With the trees not leafed out yet, the forest floor along the woods roads was covered with tiny wildflowers. I spent a little while taking some flower flower closeups of the dime sized flowers, and then continued on to  Clarks Clearing. At the clearing it was starting to feel a lot like rain was imminent, but I was 2/3 of the way to Mt Antone, the 2600ft peak over the farm. I began to climb Mount Antone but ended up in the clouds. Instead of pushing my luck, on a day when I was certain not got get anything photographically interesting, I turned around.

The return trip I took the McCormick Trail, and then the Wildlife Loop, with the intention of shortcutting back to the car via the Forestry or Discovery trails. I somehow got lost on the Wildlife Trail, and ended up bushwhacking to make up some time. Of course, that didn't go as planned either. I did hit another trail as I had planned the problem was the private property markers had me confused. I expected to be on the Forestry trail, above the parking area, but I was on the Discovery trail below the parking area. The problem was I started out the bushwhack lost, and the key the staying not lost is to not get lost in the first place. (this is going to continue to sound like a Yogi-ism) The bottom line is you can know where you are going, if you don't know where you started from. Got that!

Back at the car I realized that while the Merck lands aren't exactly the pristine wilds, or the deep backcountry, this is a great place for families to come and backpack with young kids. I saw several scout troops, and a few families with very young kids who had backpacked and overnight camped. One family had an all terrain stroller to push the youngest kid. Camping here is not exactly cheap ($25 a night for tent sites) and more for the cabins, but it is on par with a state campground in cost, and the semi backcountry experience is probably well worth the added cost for a family with young kids.

All in all I hiked about 8 miles before 10am, and never actually got rained on. The Merck Forest, with it's 25 miles of trails only a 45 mile drive from home, will certainly be a place I will spend more time in all seasons.

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