When Hurricane Irene stormed through northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains in 2011, the blowout of Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness Area was a minor mishap compared to the human devastation and million dollar losses left in her wake. Although real damage to the natural world from the breach wasn’t large, for many humans, it never felt like a minor mishap. The mountains Colden, Avalanche, and Wright probably didn’t notice the hole in Marcy Dam, but scores of outdoor recreation enthusiasts surely did.
Marcy Dam, or the Marcy Dam Pond, was an iconic spot for anyone who ever hiked, biked, ran, or skied to the dam itself, or beyond to Mts. Marcy, Avalanche, Colden, Wright, and more. In a brilliant move, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a dam on the Marcy Brook around 1930, which created Marcy Pond. The dam, resulting pond, and footbridge were perfectly sited and provided gentle access to outdoor recreation and stunning views. A wooden footbridge connected the two sides of the pond. Two popular trails led to the Marcy Dam, the truck trail and the hiking trail, in addition to the many alternate routes. It was an easy 2.6-miles on the truck trail to get to “the Dam,” a great rest spot or destination.
I know I am not the only one with fond memories of the Marcy Dam. Like many, I took it hard when Irene took it out. Marcy Dam had been a part of my life since 1987; it was in my backyard. Since the storm, I’ve been living in a kind of Adirondack Marcy Dam purgatory–I knew the dam was breached and destroyed and going to be dismantled, but most of the structure remained. On hikes and skis I could still see a clear outline of what used to be the pond and, except for a hole in it, the dam was still there. Now that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has started removing the pieces, I have accepted the fact Marcy Dam is gone.
Fortunately, the memories are not. I still remember and can almost feel the cold toes I got on the countless ski trips with Bill Koch and ski club children and parents to Marcy Dam. Marcy Dam was the destination at first, and then we skied beyond to Mts. Avalanche, Colden, and Marcy, as the youngsters’ ski skills surpassed most parents’. I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach when I relive the time I skied from the lean-to at the top of the far shoreline, onto the pond and over the dam, because the teenagers did, and so did another parent. Over the dam, there was just enough snow on the frozen waterfall for one turn. I hope I never forget trying to wipe the grin off my face the rest of that entire day.
It was long ago when skis, runs, mountain bike rides, and hikes to “the Dam” included the family canine companion, who ran free to sniff and leave messages. This was before leash laws and the law that prohibits mountain biking went into effect. These favorable conditions made a run or mountain bike ride “into the Dam” our neighborhood outdoor exercise jaunt. Despite what the experts say about stretching during a workout, I always felt better after a stop on the dam to stretch and take in the views before I started the run back.
On a big ski or hike day, Marcy Dam was the stop for a rest, some food and drink, and admiring the view. The Dam was a point of measurement on the way out at the end of a long day in the woods. I imagine I am not the only one who said to tired children or myself, “Hang in there, it is not that far to the car after we rest at Marcy Dam.”
A couple of decades ago, Marcy Dam was the first stop on a memorable ski day that started at a local ski center and pub. A number of us pooled our money for a ski party in the woods. We left the complicated arrangements for food, drink, and transportation to the expert and were not disappointed. I got my first glimpse into what the day would be like when we stopped on the Dam for adult hot chocolate. That was just the beginning. You haven’t backcountry skied until you’ve skied behind an empty keg bouncing down an expert backcountry trail, attached to the skier in front of you. I won’t forget that day spent with family and friends, and my surprise at the content of the thermoses on the libation stop at Marcy Dam.
We watched in horror as a rescue team worked to save the lives of six skiers, buried in a rare Adirondack avalanche on the northeast slope of Wright Peak.
Not all memories of Marcy Dam are sweet and fun. Those of us who were skiing out of the backcountry on February 16, 2000 will never forget the scene as we stood on the Dam and watched in horror as a rescue team worked to save the lives of six skiers, buried in a rare Adirondack avalanche on the northeast slope of Wright Peak, a popular backcountry route. One young man lost his life in the mountains that day. Five skiers were injured, one critically. A fresh coating of snow lured skiers out for what was supposed to be a great day of backcountry powder, but had turned tragic. The slides on Wright Peak are now referred to as “Angel Slides” in honor of the man who died and as a reminder to all of us.
Like many most of life’s memories, Marcy Dam’s are bittersweet on many levels. Some friends, who were there for that epic ski party in the woods, are no longer with us, and some have moved away and no longer ski. The face of the man who lost his life in the Avalanche comes to mind every time I look at Angel Slides. The kids who hung their legs over the edge of the dam and threw sticks in the water, and fed the chickadees, are grown. Perhaps not worst of all, but sadly, the dam is gone. Thanks for the memories Marcy Dam.
As usual, click on the image for a larger version of memories of Marcy Dam.