Snowshoes on the Sandstone Trail

The map of the trail and the two snowshoers (Andy Sewell & myself)

Red Sandstone Trail

Difficulty: Easy
Date of Hike: 1/25/2009
Length: 2.5 miles
Trip Time: 3 hrs
Temperature: 27 Degrees and snowy

I think that I had been putting off hiking the Red Sandstone Trail (which is located in my hometown, Potsdam, NY) because it seemed both a bit too close to home and just not "Adirondacky" enough for my aspirations. While both of these assumptions proved true, that should have by no means been a reason for me to avoid this wonderful trail. Andy Sewell, who was visiting us for the weekend with his wife, Sarah Miller, accompanied me on this Sunday afternoon snowshoe hike. Andy is no stranger to hiking the region, as he was my hiking partner a few months ago, when we hiked Owl's Head, down in the park.

Sunlight peeking through the clouds at Sugar Island Flow (old Clarkson Quarry)

I have both my home chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Laurentian Chapter, as well as other organizations such as the local boy scout troop and Brascan Power for making this wonderful and relaxing walk through history possible. While it is a short hike overall (the total mileage is listed as 3.5 miles), we only ended up hiking about 2.5 miles of it, due to our schedule. The entire hike follows the Racquette River, which is a historically interesting body of water, due to it's importance throughout the last 200 years in the lumber, sandstone, and now hydro power industries. Over the course of our hike, we encountered two distinct sandstone quarries (one of which was the famous quarry where Thomas S. Clarkson met his tragic death, causing his sisters to found Clarkson University in his name), four powerhouse/dam structures, a half-mile long pipe/aqueduct section, and a beautiful wood-encased cylindrical water tower. Thanks to the many "interpretive plaques" along the way, one could get a sense of the river's powerful and evolving presence in the region throughout the past two centuries.

Broken Ice Exposing the Racquette after the Sugar Island Dam

This was the perfect hike for winter sports, including both snowshoeing and cross country skiing, for much of the terrain (especially up near Sugar Island) is extremely flat while it follows the river. During this hike, more than any other I've been on, I found myself fascinated (and not at all annoyed) by the continuous presence of man-made structures nestled amongst the natural wilderness. Each one was a more amazing engineering feat than the previous, all of which focused on harnessing the Racquette River's power. From the various dams, to the massive pipeline (which measured at least 10 feet in diameter) and it's eventual end in the Sugar Island Powerhouse (which held two house-sized GE generators), I was awestruck by humanity's ability to control such a massive and powerful amount of earth's most abundant natural resource.

Half-mile Long Aqueduct running to Sugar Island Powerhouse

The weather was wonderful as well, with just enough snow to make using snowshoes practical, while not being too deep to make it not worth the effort. Since we were not able to finish the hike completely, I look forward to returning to this trail in the spring, perhaps with a boat, so that I might be able to experience and appreciate the Racquette's power from yet another vantage point as well.

Water Tower Covered with Wood Planks near Sugar Island Powerhouse