Poke-O-Moonshine undergoing a revival

Poke-O-Moonshine is best known for its renowned cliffs that draw rock climbers from around the country who come to explore its many routes.

But the 2,162-foot mountain located in the northeastern Adirondacks also offers hiking trails to a summit with great views, both from the peak and its 35-foot fire tower.

In early August, I joined David Thomas-Train, a member of the Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine on a trip up this mountain on the Ranger’s Trail, a 2.4-mile roundtrip. The route is one of two established hiking trails that go up the mountain. The other trail is the Observer’s Trail, an old Jeep access road to the fire tower that is located just south of the Ranger’s Trail.

The Ranger’s Trail is a more direct route to the mountaintop, but is also very steep and the trail is eroded in spots. It needs maintenance and also is hindered by the face that the trailhead is located in a state campground that closed in 2009. That means winter access is limited because the former campground roads aren’t plowed and parking is limited.

For these reasons, the state Department of Environmental is considering closing the Ranger’s Trail as part of its update to the Taylor Pond Wild Forest unit management plan. Thomas-Train took me up the mountain to explain why he and others believe the trail should remain open.

“It’s quite popular,” said Thomas-Train on the summit. “It’s the historic route up the mountain. It’s got this great botany, and as I was telling you incredible ephemeral spring wildflowers. It’s got interesting geology. It’s got the cliff sites that you could route the trail along. And it spreads out the use. You know if we can eventually restore that into a connector trail then we’ve got a great loop on the mountain.”

Thomas-Train said he believes there is public support for keeping the trail open. He pointed out that Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine is currently in the midst of a trail improvement fundraising campaign for the Ranger’s Trail with a goal of $125,000, and the group is well on its way to achieving its goal.

“We’re not even a full year into the campaign, and we’re halfway there,” he said. “So I think the response has been incredible. We’ve gotten some private foundations, support from local businesses, from Stewarts (Shops), local folks in and around the Park and more widespread.”

Thomas-Train hopes the group can actually raise more than their goal and do additional projects on the mountain.

Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine has already been responsible for leading an effort to restore the mountain’s fire tower, creating a Poke-O-Moonshine pamphlet, installing interpretive panels and establishing a summit steward on the mountain, which the town of Chesterfield pays for.

The most obvious reason for the group is the fire tower, which has a history that goes back about a century. The original wooden fire tower was built in 1912 after much of the Adirondacks was burned in forest fires. It was then replaced by the current steel one in 1917. It was deactivated in 1988 and Friends of Poke-O-Moonshine restored it, with their work beginning in 1997. The friends group is a coalition of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the town of Chesterfield, Champlain Area Trails (CATS), the Mountaineer, local summer camps and businesses, several Adirondack Mountain Club chapters and individuals who care about the mountain.

Although it’s a small mountain, the Ranger Trail attracts a lot of traffic. One of the reasons for that is that it is located just off the Northway and a short drive from Plattsburgh. Just a week before my visit to the mountain, summit steward Kelly Glascott said he saw about 100 people in one day.

“You get hikers, you get peak-baggers, you get climbers and you get just families coming up,” he said.

There’s also a lean-to near the summit that gets use from campers.

Glascott, who studies wilderness education and environmental studies at SUNY Potsdam, said his main duties include keeping hikers off the vegetation on the summit and educating them about conservation in the Adirondacks. One of the ways he does that is to compare the mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks, many of which can be seen from Poke-O-Moonshine.

“To me, Vermont is (very) different because when you see Vermont, you see the Green Mountains but you also see the development in the Green Mountains so we see the difference between them and the High Peaks,” he said. “Really, it’s just kind of untrammeled wilderness, at least from the view of Poke-O-Moonshine. You can see Burlington and you can see windmills on top of the Green Mountains. So it’s cool to bring that up to people and that leads into … talking about conservation in New York because New York has done a great deal to conserve the public lands.”

For those interested in exploring Poke-O-Moonshine, the Ranger’s Trail is located at the former Poke-O-Moonshine campground off of state Route 9, about 3 miles south of Exit 33. Parking is available on the road or in the former campground.