With fall closing in, kids take to the woods

As the summer season starts to wind down and children begin to stir under the threat of returning to school, it seems I’ve been running into a lot more young anglers on the water than usual.

There are also a lot more young people in the woods and on the trails.

In my younger days, I spent a lot of time in school – high school, college and then graduate school. My early years were spent largely inside of a building.

But since those days, I’ve made a point to spend most of my time on the water and in the woods, and life is certainly a whole lot better out there.

I must admit there has been a noticeable increase in the number of local hikers this summer, especially on the usually quiet trails of Ray Brook. Obviously, the draw of becoming a Saranac Lake 6er has been responsible for getting a lot of folks out of their cars and into the hills.

Over the past month, there have been at least a half dozen vehicles in the McKenzie Mountain trailhead whenever I drive by. Prior to the 6er’s campaign, the same lot was usually vacant, except on the weekends.

A similar situation has been evident at most of the other Saranac Lake 6er trailheads, but it has been most notable at the base of the Baker Mountain trail, which unfortunately lacks an established parking lot. On a few of the busy weekends, the parked vehicles were wrapped halfway around the shore of Moody Pond.

One of the most obvious benefits of the 6er effort is the large percentage of both parents and children who have taken up the challenge. In this age of electronic addiction and virtual reality, it’s nice to know the “Last Child in the Woods” has been replaced by the “Next Kid Up the Mountain,” at least in the Saranac Lake region.

Studies indicate parents who recreate with their children in the outdoors develop stronger bonds and create healthier relationships as a result of sharing an activity in natural surroundings.

It may actually be a throwback to more primitive times, when family units actually traveled as a pack. We do it to escape, to lose ourselves in the moment and to recover a bit of our past in the process.

Undeniably, there is something to it. Families tend to stick together in the woods; they bond for safety and for comfort. Conversation comes easy, because they are more relaxed and there is so much more to talk about.

The situation reminds me of a quote I once heard from a longtime hunter safety instructor who claimed, “If you hunt with your kids, you’ll never have to hunt for them.”

In a sense, outdoor recreation is a form of self-nourishment. Modern man has long been starving to replenish a little bit of the wild that still remains within all of us. We travel out back to feed the need because it provides an easy and exciting escape from the excessive seriousness of our increasingly technological world.

Unfortunately, backcountry travelers often fail to distribute themselves evenly throughout the vast wild lands of the Adirondack Park, which encompass nearly 85 percent of all the designated wilderness available in the eastern United States.

In fact, the heaviest use is typically concentrated in just a few specific wild areas. Better than half of all backcountry use in the Adirondacks occurs on less than 10 percent of the one million acres of designated wilderness encompassed within the park’s boundaries.

The St Regis Canoe Area, which is not even considered a wilderness area, shares the brunt of traffic with the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area.

Similar to most wilderness areas in the country, more than half of all the backcountry travel in the park occurs on less than 10 percent of the total trail miles.

Visitation is also unevenly distributed over the course of the year. Certain seasons tend to be popular, while others see little use.

Anglers are likely the only user group that’s crazy enough to visit the Park during the peak of the blackfly season.

Typically, weekend and holiday use is especially high in season, as it tends to be in most National Parks. Wilderness use on Memorial Day weekend is estimated to be nearly five times as great as the weekends that follow. With this in mind, it is easy to see why crowding has become a problem in certain wilderness areas.

Unfortunately, not all backcountry travelers share a similar vision of what wilderness travel is all about. While many believe enjoying the outdoors is an instinctual trait, it doesn’t always work out that way.

In reality, most outdoor travelers learned how to behave in the outdoors from their father, an uncle or some other adult. Occasionally, it appears they learned it from their Weird Old Uncle Al.

During my 30-plus years in the woods, I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of travelers, some were very funny and some were just sad. But overall, I’ve found the vast majority of backcountry travelers are a likable sort. I’ve always found the best response to any hint of trouble was just common sense and mutual respect of others.

And if I thought there was a problem, I usually just ask. The same folks who would be considered rude and inconsiderate on the street don’t change much when they are on the trail or the ponds.

I’ve discovered that you’ll rarely have a problem if you respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience with as much concern as you would your own.

Be courteous and let natural sounds prevail. Build a small fire and sit up close, rather than building a big fire and standing way back. That way you can keep the volume of your voice down a couple of notches.

Always remember that nobody wants to hear your cell phone ring or listen to your conversation. If you need to use a cell, take a walk and do it privately.

Fall isn’t so far off

A quick reminder for local sportsmen and women. The new New York hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for the 2013-2014 season went on sale across the state Monday, Aug. 12.

Licenses and permits can be purchased at any one of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s 1,500 licensed sales outlets statewide. Sporting licenses can also be ordered by telephone or online.

The 2013-2014 sporting licenses will be valid beginning Oct. 1.

To further encourage fishing in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation last year to expand opportunities for free fishing clinics. The Free Fishing Days program began in 1991 to give all people an opportunity to sample the incredible fishing New York has to offer.

New York’s sport fishing industry generates an estimated $1.8 billion in economic activity annually, while supporting nearly 17,000 jobs.