Busy turtles usher in official start of summer

Summer has officially arrived in the North Country. It began on Friday and will continue until Sept. 22, no matter what the weather looks like. We all know snow can fall anytime in the Adirondacks, so summers are to be cherished.

Although the official date for summer always falls on June 21, in the Adirondack summer arrives when school is finally over. For visitors, the summer traditionally begins when the lake begins to get busy. For locals, it begins with high school graduation.

As a youngster, summer always signaled adventure and it offered a multitude of opportunities to explore and test your limits. The joys and toys of a boy’s life consisted of fishing, camping, hiking, paddling, climbing and a lot more biking.

Summers always featured jackknives and lightning bugs, slingshots, fishing poles and a host of other summer season treasures and outdoor pleasures. Whether climbing a peak, floating a river, biking the back roads or fishing a small stream, there always seems to be some way to occupy the day during the summer season.

Last weekend, I spent two full days traveling the back roads of Franklin County. In the course of those travels, I encountered more turtles than people and more deer than cars.

All sorts of turtles were busy laying eggs, and as usual the most impressive of the species were the snappers.

Only about a quarter of a turtle’s eggs survive to hatch. Predators include seagulls, snakes, fox and even bullfrogs.

I also discovered plenty of box turtles in my travels, and even a wood turtle that was hurrying to scale the sandy bank of a gentle river. Whoever claimed turtles are slow and plodding creatures likely never tried to get a good photo of one. Turtles move faster than a dollar sign at the gas pump, when they want to.

Snappers are distinctly prehistoric-looking creatures. They are all about body armor, and threats. Their snap is fearsome, and they use it to lop off the head of other creatures.

Because of their small plastron (the underside of the shell), snappers are very vulnerable to prey. Their snap is a fearsome defensive weapon, and yet they spend most of their life under water for defense, where they can live up to 30 years of age.

They are solitary creatures who communicate with mates by using leg signals. Snappers can weigh up to 35 pounds, and they come with an attitude. I’ve even seen snappers attack a fishing lure. I’d hate to admit how many fishing poles I have donated to the “Poke a Snapper, Lose a Rod Tip” fan club when I was young.

Prior to my encounters with the turtles, the week began with a smartly attired bird banging into my living room window. The bird was a cardinal, resplendent in a cardinal colored cloak. The poor bird continued to sing for a mate, before returning to the window to spar with its reflection.

In other birding adventures, I again encountered a spruce grouse, one of the rarest of all Adirondack birds. In fact, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering importing spruce grouse from Canada to prop up the Adirondack population, which estimates claim has been reduced to less than 100 birds.

Fire tower exploration

For many Adirondack residents, fire towers were a symbol of their community. The towers were an obvious landmark, and many woodland travelers welcomed the sight of a familiar tower looming in the distance.

The towers oriented townspeople as much as the town people were oriented toward “their tower.” Possibly, this relationship was the cause of much of the strife that surrounded the state’s efforts to remove the towers.

Many of the towers originally slated for removal were eventually protected, inlcuding those on Azure Mountain, Pok-O-Moonshine, Hurricane Mountain and St. Regis Mountain.

For those wishing to learn more about fire towers, the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown has recently announced three dates for the Adirondack Fire Tower Exploration Program: July 11, July 25 and Aug. 17.

Join naturalist David Thomas-Train for a full day of activities or attend any portion of the day. The program begins at 10 a.m., with an orientation at the museum, a viewing of the museum’s fire tower exhibit and a climb up the museum’s fire tower. The morning session examines Adirondack fire tower history using the museum’s new expanded fire tower exhibit.

Following the morning session, interested participants are invited to take a guided hike to the restored fire tower at Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain in the nearby town of Chesterfield. Poke-O-Moonshine hikers will learn about the natural history of Poke-O-Moonshine and its fire tower’s role in protecting the surrounding forest. The mountain’s interpretive trail brochure and the restored “fire finder” map and interpretive photographic panels in the fire tower’s cab provide further information for exploration.

Participants may sign up for the fire tower orientation, the climb, or the full day. All are invited to the morning session at 10 am. For the climb, hikers should be at least 14 years old and in shape for a sustained steep hike. The cost is $15 for the entire day or $5 to attend just the morning session. Reservations are required. Spaces for the hike are limited.

The Adirondack History Center received an Education and Outreach Grant from the Champlain Valley National Historical Partnership to sponsor the series of classes and hikes focused on the historic role of Adirondack fire towers in forest stewardship. The fire tower education program is offered in cooperation with the Adirondack Fire Tower Association and the Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine.

Free sessions to learn about the museum’s fire tower also are available to summer youth groups in July and August. For further information about youth programs, contact the museum at 873-6466 or by email to echs@adkhistorycenter.org.