Changing Planet

Bears, Biking, and Building Community in the Adirondacks

By Katie Dolan

[Note: This is the third and final blog about Cycle Adirondacks, which ran from August 23-29.]

The final three days of Cycle Adirondacks brought bears, Blue Mountain Lake, lessons in building community, and beautiful scenery both on and off our bikes.

Sunset on the nature trail at Long Lake, N.Y. Photo by © Katie Dolan.

Residents from the towns along our route welcomed riders with big bear hugs, and taught us something special about the wildlife there. Long Lake, N.Y. sponsored a “decorate the bear contest” with amazing entries. The town’s enthusiastic volunteers, dressed in t-shirts with bears emblazoned on them, thanked us for visiting as we rode out of town. The Adirondack Museum – a welcome respite in the middle of a steep uphill – displayed guide boats and beaver skins. At the Wild Center’s new elevated nature walk, we discovered that spider webs are slightly electromagnetic and bend towards insects to pull them into the silk trap. We also met Oliver the barred owl.

A bird soars over the Adirondack Museum's Lakeview Café. Photo by © Katie Dolan.
A bird soars over the Adirondack Museum’s Lakeview Café. Photo by © Katie Dolan.

My siblings and I spent many childhood summers at Blue Mountain Lake in Hamilton County, N.Y., so we were particularly thrilled that the Cycle Adirondacks route passed through this tiny hamlet. After four decades, the serene blue mountain looming over the lake’s tree-lined rocky islands and the ancient marina perched on a steep hill appeared unchanged and unspoiled. A group rented a pontoon boat and persuaded Zoe Smith, Director of WCS’s Adirondacks Program and Jerry, the marina’s dog, to join us in exploring the lake.

Zoe Smith, Director of WCS’s Adirondacks Program and Jerry.  Photo by © Katie Dolan.
Zoe Smith, Director of WCS’s Adirondacks Program and Jerry. Photo by © Katie Dolan.

While we devoured delicious blueberry pie on the pontoon, Ms. Smith shared some bear basics. A bear, with a sense of smell 50 times better than a dog, whose nose is itself 20 times keener than a human’s, can easily sniff out a baking pie or garbage from miles away. Several Adirondack communities have a tradition of feeding bears to encourage tourism. But becoming habituated to humans is bad news for the animals, who are hit by motorists (more than 20 were killed last year on Adirondack roads). Others that break into a home may be classified as “nuisance bears” and shot.

Katie Dolan in the bear den at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Katie Dolan.
Katie Dolan in the bear den at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Katie Dolan.

As an alternative, WCS and local communities seek wildlife-friendly ways to promote tourism with events like Cycle Adirondacks. It was a first visit to the region for 80 percent of the riders; most can “’bearly” wait to return for next year’s cycling adventure!

Riders pass through Cranberry Lake N.Y., home of the popular Cranberry Lake 50 — a long-distance hiking trail in the Northwest Adirondacks. Photo Credit: Left Eye Images.
Riders pass through Cranberry Lake N.Y., home of the popular Cranberry Lake 50 — a long-distance hiking trail in the Northwest Adirondacks. Photo Credit: Left Eye Images.

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Katie Dolan is a WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Trustee and environmental writer.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.
  • Margot Ernst

    So proud of my good buddy taking on this challenge for WCS and their great work in the Adirondacks and beyond. Wonderful stories and enjoyed vicariously riding with Katie through the wilderness and roads of these very wild and special place. Bravo!

  • Heather Breslin

    Blue Mountain lake and the Adirondack Museum have a special place in my heart too. So glad to hear the WCS is helping to save the wildlife of the park.

  • Nell Peyronnin

    You make it all sound like such fun, I expect next year’s trip is already fully booked! Thank you for sharing this adventure with your readers.

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