09 November 2013

Zim Smith Trail - 3 Nov 2013

I'll forever have mixed feelings about this trail.  It was built on an old railroad bed, one of two abandoned railroads that defined my childhood exploration.  What was once a muddy, rutted highway to fun is now a paved trail to various destinations.  In a way, it feels like the trail has been paved over a piece of my childhood.  On the other hand, thanks to their efforts, the trail is now a National Recreation Trail, and should therefore have some permanence.

The other railroad bed, an abandoned trolley line, is now closed off.  It's a shame, really, since it was by far the more picturesque of the two.  I've heard that a piece of it has been reopened, and connected to the Zim Smith Trail, near where it crosses under the Northway.  I hope to check it out soon.  I have fond memories of wandering down that path with my brother: near the end, it gains a little bit of elevation, and provides wonderful views of the valley below.  Ok, so the valley was usually a swamp, and the horseflies and deer flies are atrocious out there, but it was fun, nevertheless.  There was also a small bit of water near the head of the track, where we could usually find crayfish, and another tiny pond at the other end, which, now that I think about it, was probably either a kettle hole or the remains of a septic system.  Nostalgia is funny like that.

I mention all of this in an effort to extend sympathy and understanding to the residents of Oak Street in Ballston Spa.  The newest section of the Zim Smith Trail terminates at the end of their (presumably) once quiet dead-end street.  The news articles mentioning the opening of the trail mention the increased traffic associated with the trail, which is understandable, though it should settle down to a steady state once the novelty factor is gone.  Shenantaha Creek Park and Round Lake Road both provide better parking areas and easier access, and should remain the more popular trail heads.

On the positive side, there is now a relatively car free trail running between Ballston Spa and Round Lake.  The trail is well engineered, makes use of an existing corridor, and provides excellent recreation and exercise opportunities.  The trail goes all the way from Oak Street in Ballston Spa to Coons Crossing Road in Halfmoon, a tiny stretch of road that runs between NY 67 and Ushers Road.  There are plans to extend the trail further, east into Mechanicville and north to Saratoga Spa State Park, which would be fantastic.  The county literature even describes the trail as being the backbone or spine of a trail system that will eventually run the length of the county.  There's some evidence of this already: the piece of trail I described, linking the railroad line to the trolley line, is intended to link the user up with trails over in Luther Forest.  That's another network I intend on checking out soon.  I just hope that some of this network gets left as dirt or grass instead of pavement.

At any rate, the Zim Smith Trail, as it stands at the end of 2013, is 9 miles of trail, running past a park (Shenantaha Creek Park) and a state forest (Ushers Road).  There's even a Stewart's along it, where it crosses East Line Road.  Access to Ushers Road State Forest is via a connector trail, and if you add in the ~2mi lollipop route through Ushers Road State Forest, you can get a 20 mile out and back run.

I'm not even close to the point where I'm doing a 20 mile long run, though.  My long run last weekend was 2.5 miles.  I set out from the Oak Street end, and intended on doing a 5 minute walking warm up, 1.25 out, 1.25 back, and then cool down with the walk back to my car.  It never works out the way I intend, though.  After half a mile, I spotted a carved mushroom over to the left, and knew that I had to stop to check it out.  I had seen several other carvings over on the Louden Road Trail and the Edie-Bullard Trail, and I remain intrigued by them.  So, I decided to run for another mile, and then turn around.  I ran past wetlands, past fields, over access roads, over a creek, and under a big road (NY 67) before finally turning around in the middle of an open field not far from Curtis Lumber and heading back.

To build fitness I decided to kick up my pace some on the final stretch, and I ran the last half mile at around a 9:32 (compared with 11:03 the first mile and 11:41 the second).  Of course, along the way I passed a painted rock that I desperately wanted to stop and take a picture of, but decided not to in the name of keeping my pace up.  It was, after all, why I was out there.  I finished up my 2.5 miles at the mushroom, took a few pictures, and started walking back.  I almost walked back to get a picture of the painted rock, but decided against it.  I'll get one next time.  There was a painting of a bear, in a style reminiscent of Native American artwork, along with other symbols.

Magic Mushroom
Magic Mushroom

The rest of the walk back was uneventful.  The entire time that I was out there I saw 3 other people, two walkers and one other runner.  This is in sharp contrast to the older sections of the trail, especially between Shenantaha and Round Lake, where you're likely to see a dozen or two people during any outing.

One final note: the main deer hunting season in the Southern Region of New York starts next weekend, November 16th, 2013, and runs until December 8th.  Please remember to wear orange, even on paved and open trails like the Zim Smith.  Please also remember that hunters can and do use the trail for access to private and public hunting areas along its length, and that they deserve the same courtesy and respect that any other trail user deserves.  In general, it is best to avoid State and County Forests during the main deer hunting season, for both safety reasons as well as respect for the hunter's sport.  It is also best not to be out in the woods during the early morning and early evening hours, since that is when most hunting takes place.

If you're looking for a place to explore in the Saratoga area during hunting season, I suggest Saratoga Spa State Park.  It's closed to hunters but has many miles of paved and unpaved trails waiting to be explored.  Also, any popular trail heading directly up a mountain is generally unappealing to hunters.

Be safe, have fun, and be excellent to each other!


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