Opinion: Higley Flow State Park in Colton is great for exercise, spotting wildlife
Brent Bishop with family in tow. Photo submitted by Judy Fuhr.
To the Editor:Where can you ski or snowshoe for free, bring your children to learn to xc ski and love the outdoors, enjoy the beauty of nature and occasional wildlife, learn to ski or to improve your skiing at a nominal cost, rent equipment for small fry for nothing and pay only $7.00 per day for quality equipment for yourself, skijor with your dog, skate ski or traditional ski in groomed and set tracks, enjoy a heated lodge with capabilities to warm up a lunch or purchase a few treats to enjoy?
That little piece of heaven is Higley Flow State Park, nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks, in Colton a Town with a population of around 1400. The Park is part of the Thousand Islands State Parks. While most of the Parks in this category are near the St. Lawrence River, Higley is on the Raquette, on Higley Flow. The Park itself is one of the most beautiful camping destinations anywhere and operates for camping from Victoria Day Weekend through Labor Day. What makes it unique is that sites are wooded and secluded with ample distance between them. Cycling from the Lodge around all the loops and back to the lodge yields a 4.5 mile loop. The Park offers swimming at a lovely sandy beach and a new beach house, a boat launch, and also rents kayaks with which to enjoy the surrounding waterway. There is a nature center with a naturalist offering activities in the summer months and 10 miles of wooded trails to explore.
When the Park shuts down from the camping season, Park staff take a long breath, wrap things up for the coming winter and shift gears to prepare for the other busy season-winter. Fall is a time for walkers to enjoy the Park’s 14 miles of trails, including the camp roads, away from the potential danger of hunters. It is also a time for Park staff to check each trail for hazard trees to be removed before they cause issues over the winter and to do any trail improvements.
The Park has an active Friends group with over 150 members. Each fall they host a work day to trim trails and spread woodchips purchased by the Parks and by the Friends. This year’s event was a socially distanced version to comply with Covid regulations with family units working together but apart from others on a variety of projects throughout the Park. With Covid on the rise it was uncertain how many would show up-usually between 50 and 75. This year 143 volunteers came ranging in age from toddlers to octogenarians.
The Friends group also provides adult lessons in a four lesson package. Danielle Jerry organizes the program where lessons are available for all ability levels. This year approximately 30 are participating. In addition there is an active youth ski group, the “Ermines” with 63 members organized by Jenny Townsend and Liz Bollt. School groups are invited to spend a day at the Park with free equipment rentals and volunteer helpers from the Friends group. Most bring a lunch with them and enjoy a break in the lodge.
Trails are groomed by a dedicated group of volunteers with the road grooming being provided by St. Lawrence University, one of the two colleges whose XC teams train there, the other being Clarkson University. Grooming is done with two Arctic Cat Bearcats with Tidd Tech drags and one Skandic with a roller. The roads are groomed for skating and classic technique with an adjacent lane for snowmobile traffic groomed by the county snowmobile association (the Park is the connecting link for trails south and north of it). An excellent relationship has been formed with the county and local snowmobile associations to everyone’s benefit.
Most woods’ trails are classic technique and vary from mostly flat, to undulating to some with very steep hills. Two woods’ trails are dual groomed for classic and freestyle. One is a very gentle, beginners’ loop, the other is a very challenging short loop.
The Park has one trail that is lit with solar motion sensing lights for night skiing on most Tuesday and Thursday evenings until 8:00P.M. On other days the Park and trails close at sunset. Volunteers from the Friends’ group act as lodge hosts on the evenings the Park is open. The other trails are open for night skiing, a headlamp is suggested.
Most days the Park lodge closes at 3:00P.M. The lodge has heated bathrooms, a microwave, coffeemaker, frig with cold beverages and a table with snacks. There is ample seating in the lodge to rest between trails. The lodge was completed in 2014 through a partnership between Parks maintenance and the Friends group. The lodge and trail improvements have been possible because of the efforts and support of the current Park Supervisor, Henry Sieg.
Weekdays see steady traffic on the trails keeping the Parking lot filled much of the time. Weekends are very busy with a conservative estimate of 400 users per weekend as the access road lined with a continually changing variety of vehicles attests to. Fortunately the Park trails disperse people well and once on the trail the serenity of the woods takes over.
The lodge is Covid compliant with reduced occupancy, hand sanitization and masks required. Masks are also required on the trails when social distancing is not possible. Certainly, the tragedy of Covid is evident everywhere we look, but there is a silver lining. The Park has seen more new skiers and more families skiing together than ever before. We all long for the end of Covid but at the same time we hope we can hold onto some of the positive things that have been by-products of it.
The Friends host two social media sites- website: higleyfriends.org; and Facebook Friends of Higley Flow State Park, where you can learn more about the Park and its offerings.
The Higley Flow Association