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Before Helicopters: Resupplying Backcountry Outposts

Forest ranger Lucius Russell at Shattuck Clearing outpost, between 1944 and 1955. Photograph courtesy of Scott van Laer.

Interior Outposts, also called “ranger cabins,” have a long history in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Today, the DEC still maintains four, located at Marcy Dam, Johns Brook, Raquette Falls and Lake Colden. Lake Colden, because of the heavy year-round recreational use and its remote locationmore than 6 miles by trail from any trailheadis the only one staffed year-round. In the past, ranger cabins were also maintained at West Canada, Cedar Lakes, Shattuck Clearing and Duck Hole.

Lake Colden was first staffed by forest ranger Clint West in 1921, shortly after the land was added to the Forest Preserve. The original cabin was already present at the time the state took title to the land. West remained there for the next 17 seasons and, in 1937, rangers built a new cabin and constructed a telephone line in from the south. Resupplying the facility was certainly more difficult in the early years.

Resupply mission to Lake Colden Interior Outpost. Photograph courtesy of Scott van Laer.

In the 1950s the resupply mission was accomplished overland with a tractor and took several weeks. It was done in late March, when the ground and lakes were still frozen. Materials were trucked into Upper Works and staged until conditions were favorable.

Joe Hartson, a conservation department employee bringing supplies to the Lake Colden Interior Outpost. Photograph courtesy of Scott van Laer.

Then a large sled was loaded and pulled by a tractor. Many trips were necessary and the entire process was labor intensive. I am told by retired rangers that each year the resupply “was quite an expedition.” One ranger shared a story with me that he said was kept secret for years, about a tractor going through the ice at Flowed Lands. At the time it was dammed and was actually a lake. They did eventually get it out, but it took days of work to free it from the icy water. Sometimes they could not get all the way in with the tractor and would be forced to unload material and finish the trip with toboggans or wheelbarrows.

The Lake Colden resupply helped foster teamwork among the rangers for future emergency incidents, like fires and search missions, as well as keeping the cabin stocked with supplies. Today, a helicopter is utilized, carrying sling loads of fire wood, propane and any needed construction materials. The resupply continues to foster teamwork but is now accomplished more quickly and in a more environmentally friendly manner. Today the resupply also provides rangers with experience in air operations that prove beneficial in our other missions.

Modern-day resupply to Lake Colden Interior Outpost. Photograph by Scott van Laer.

The historical images above were given to me by Terri Manley, whose late father, Gibb Manley, was a forest ranger.

Guest blogger Scott van Laer is a forest ranger based in Ray Brook. His article on backcountry safety will appear in the 2015 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors, on newsstands May 20.

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