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Town hooked into trail

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JOHNSBURG -- Steve Ovitt’s 25 years as a state forest ranger left him quite familiar with how hikers, skiers and snowshoers use the trails of the Adirondacks.

Assigned to a region that included the town of Johnsburg, home to thousands of acres of state land that includes the Siamese Ponds Wilderness as well as Thirteenth Lake, Ovitt concluded the town’s forests could be home to an additional trail network that could be an asset and attraction for the region, if done right.

Eight years after work began, the first maps of the 30-mile network have been published.

And the hope is the network will grow bigger and better in the coming years as Ovitt and volunteers with the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Trail Improvement Society work to cater to more users.

Town of Johnsburg officials want to make sure visitors to the town, including those arriving via the revamped local railroad, know what is available.

“This is a hidden treasure,” said Johnsburg Supervisor Ron Vanselow. “We’re doing everything we can to help him (Ovitt) and try to promote this.”

In the 1990s, Ovitt started “coming up with ideas” for a system in Johnsburg that would connect the town’s prominent features, such as Gore Mountain, North Creek Ski Bowl, Thirteenth Lake and the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, with well-designed trails that “people would use.”

Over the years, he said, he saw many poorly designed and constructed trails hikers and skiers wouldn’t use because of their deficiencies. You can’t just put markers on trees in the woods and call it a trail, he said.

Thought has to go into the design, and effort has to go into the construction.

Instead of going around downed trees and other blowdown, Ovitt and his volunteers cut their way through if it made sense for the trail. They used native materials to build bridges, including one 50-foot span across the East Branch of the

Sacandaga River.

Their efforts resulted in 16 miles of new trails, networked with 14 miles of rehabilitated existing trails, including some of the old, unused ski trails dating back to the 1930s on the north side of Gore Mountain. Most of the network is on state land, but it also uses property owned by the town of Johnsburg as well as private land.

The network features numerous mountain trails, including one from North Creek Ski Bowl to the top of Gore Mountain. It offers access to some tremendous backcountry trout ponds and streams.

“The key was forming loops and connections in areas where people want to go and to make it flow,” Ovitt said. “I built things I knew people would use.”

Loops are important, because they give users different experiences and don’t require traffic in and out on the same trail, said Jim Underwood, a Queensbury resident and member of the trail improvement society that helped Ovitt.

“You really want to make it nice so people will want to come back,” Underwood said. “We really set standards and wanted to do a superb job with what we were doing.”

Ovitt was still a ranger when work began on the project in 2004. The trail work was not something he was required to undertake as a ranger or as part of his normal patrols, however.

He hopes the next phase of the project will be a 5-kilometer mountain biking course usable by bikers of all abilities where races could be held. Organizers visited a renowned trail system in Rutland, Vt., for ideas.

Vanselow said the trail network can help the town diversify its tourist attractions, since they can be used year-round, by all types of people and whether or not there is snow.

“They made some short loop hikes that are readily accessible for all types of abilities,” he said.

Vanselow said the town is also working with Ovitt to seek grants for the mountain biking course and additional improvements.

Ovitt now runs Wilderness Property Management Inc., a business that designs and builds trails and manages wilderness properties for their owners.

But continued improvements to the project he took on in his hometown of Johnsburg is high on his list of priorities.

“It’s been really satisfying. I left something that is going to be there forever,” he said.


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