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The Future of French Mountain

Recreation and Conservation in the Lake’s South Basin

The Future of French Mountain April 24, 2024
The view from French Mountain.
The view from French Mountain.

The Town of Lake George’s recreation park at the McPhillips Preserve on French Mountain, comprising networks of hiking and biking trails, a pavilion for nature education, a parking lot and various amenities, is expected to open to the public in 2025.

The Town is now reviewing bids from contractors to construct the trails, said Dan Barusch, Lake George’s Director of Planning and Zoning.

To ensure that all trail work is consistent with the values and principles of environmental conservation, the Town will work with the Lake George Land Conservancy in the construction and management of the trails.

Trail construction is funded by a $200,000 state grant, announced by Governor Kathy Hochul in December, 2022, $130,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds distributed by Warren County and $50,000 in Occupancy Tax funds.

Any matching funds still required by New York State will be supplied by the Town’s in-kind construction and site-development services, said Barusch.

According to Barusch, the Town’s Master Plan for the McPhillips Preserve, which was approved by the Lake George Town Board and funded by a 2020 $75,000 Adirondack Park Community Smart Growth grant,

set the stage for the $200,000 state grant.

The Town of Lake George purchased the property for $67,000 in 2019 from the Lake George Land Conservancy, which retains a conservation easement across the property.

After purchasing a 317-acre tract from the McPhillips family in October, 2018 for $525,000, the Conservancy held the property until the Towns of Lake George and Queensbury were able to purchase their portions, subject to conservation easements.

According to Barusch, the Town of Queensbury retains ownership of a portion of the McPhillips Preserve, a portion that includes a summit of French Mountain, where the hiking trail terminates.

Barusch said the hiking and biking trails will be segregated, permitting the hiking trails to be used for passive recreation and some mountain biking trails to be used for competitive racing.

At some point, biking trails could be linked to the Warren County Bikeway, said Barusch. 

“That’s a long-term project but the two systems are close enough to one another for a connection to be made,” said Barusch.

According to the Lake George Land Conservancy, the trails will afford clear views of Lake George’s south basin and Prospect Mountain, which rises above the lake’s west shore.

“Recreational use is compatible with water quality protection and the preservation of natural habitat in many of our protected lands,” said Sarah Hoffman, the Conservancy’s Communications Manager. “Those properties play an important role in the local tourism economy, providing destinations for visitors as well as local residents. And public access connects people to our mission.”

“We’re ecstatic to see that the original vision is being implemented and we strongly supported the Town of Lake George’s application for a grant to build hiking and biking trails,” said Mike Horn, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director.  “We will be actively involved in their planning and maintenance, ensuring that the ecological integrity of the property is protected.”

The LGLC’s East Brook Preserve

According to the Lake George Land Conservancy, the 317-acre municipal recreation area complements the Conservancy’s nearby East Brook Preserve, also purchased from the McPhillips family in 2018.

More than 2,000 feet of seasonal streams flow down the slopes of the McPhillips Preserve, merging with East Brook at the base of French Mountain.

Moreover, the Conservancy is in the process of developing its own publicly accessible recreational and educational trails on the East Brook Preserve.

Once completed, this trail will connect to the Lake George Elementary School’s extensive nature trails.

All three trail systems will ultimately be linked by means of a crosswalk on Bloody Pond Road, the Conservancy stated.

East Brook Preserve Grows with Donation of Land

The Conservancy’s 2-acre East Brook preserve was recently enlarged by a 4.4-acre donation from Karen Azer and her late mother, Helene Horn.

“I am glad the parcel will remain forever wild,” said Karen Azer, “

“We are incredibly grateful to Karen and Helene for their generous donation of land for conservation. Their gift will benefit water quality and protect habitat for wildlife, a legacy that will forever work to protect Lake George,” said the Conservancy’s Mike Horn (no relation, by the way, to Helene Horn).

 The enlarged East Brook Preserve now includes more than 1,100 feet of East Brook, one of the ten largest tributaries of Lake George, and a mixed hardwood and evergreen forest.

 It is also the second LGLC preserve to have been found to be infested with the invasive pest, Hemlock wooly adelgid.

According to Sarah Hoffman, the LGLC will begin managing the invasive at the site this year, starting

with the targeted application of an insecticide to the infected trees.

“If left unchecked, HWA would imperil the old growth hemlock trees and disrupt the unique habitat, threaten the water quality of Lake George, and present a danger to recreational users of the property,” said Hoffman.

The herbicide will be directly absorbed by the tree, receiving protection from HWA for up to seven years, said Hoffman.

Protecting the South Basin

According to the Conservancy, the 4.4-acre addition to the East Brook Preserve is the latest contribution to the organization’s South Basin Conservation Initiative, multi-year effort to preserve the ecological integrity of Lake George’s south basin, the most densely populated and heavily used portion of the watershed.

That initiative includes the purchase of a conservation easement across 47 acres of forest, stream corridors and wetlands owned by Wiawaka, completed last fall.

As part of the Wiawaka Uplands Project, the Lake George Land Conservancy pay for a sustainable trail system and a public parking area with kiosk and interpretive materials, and for costs associated with stewardship and maintenance.

Those trails will be available to the residents of and visitors to Lake George, as will be hiking and biking trails on the McPhillips Preserve on French Mountain.

Over the past two decades, the Lake George Land Conservancy alone has protected nearly 2,500 acres along a rim from Pilot Knob and Dunhams Bay to French and Prospect Mountains. The acquisitions and easements include ponds, wetlands and the headwaters of some of Lake George’s most critical tributaries, all of which serve as filters for runoff and pollutants, making Lake George a cleaner lake than it would be otherwise.

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