Big Bog Skiing
by Mary Thill
Just as some rivers are runnable for only a week in spring, and some ponds are skateable only after a particular sequence of thaw-to-freeze, bogs are best skied on late-winter crust, and last week was the time.
Wildlife Conservation Society Adirondack Program ecologist Jerry Jenkins calls the necklace of large, open boreal peatlands bounded by Meacham Lake and Cranberry Lake “the big-bog belt.” Sprinkled across the northwestern Adirondack watersheds are also many smaller bogs.
In any other season, Adirondack bogs are mostly inaccessible. The conditions underfoot are squishy and sometimes unsafe. In a past job, one of my duties was Catcher in the Bog: A botanist would lead field trips on a springy peatland near Upper St. Regis Lake. Part of the sphagnum mat floated on water several feet deep—imagine walking on a waterbed. I followed the group and helped retrieve any naturalist who broke through. Fortunately, only feet and legs got dunked.
But toward the end of winter, when snow is too thin or punchy to make good skiing under the trees, freeze-thaw conditions can provide easy travel on the flats and a rare up-close look at a bog. Until today’s snowstorm, the bogs were holding skiers atop the crust. But who knows what early spring will bring: this new snow may also weather into a firm platform before it’s gone.
Over the weekend I glided between hummocks of leatherleaf and sheep laurel on Bloomingdale Bog. Only the taller heath showed above the snow; sphagnum moss and pitcher plants were hidden, but the flat was interrupted by stands of stunted tamarack and black spruce. Cool temperatures, a short growing season, and a wet, acidic sphagnum base limit size and types of plants and provide habitat for northern species that are typical of Canada but rare south of here. Two representatives, a pair of gray jays, begged for handouts from taller spruce at the edge.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC also has easily accessible bogs. I’ve skied on Heron Marsh with a biologist who knows where a beaver dam ensures safe passage over a stream—don’t risk crossing what might be moving water. The wide-open flats make a nice detour from the VIC’s 25 miles of ski and snowshoe trails. In all seasons, the VIC’s Boreal Life trail provides a boardwalk for an up-close but dry-footed look at a northern bog in full, with cotton grass, buckbean and carnivorous plants.