Crew begins taking down Marcy Dam


SCA Interns Help out in the High Peaks

LAKE PLACID – An iconic High Peaks vantage point is vanishing. A work crew began a five-year process this week to remove Marcy Dam, which was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, causing the pond above it to drain.

The dam across Marcy Brook is located along the Van Hoevenberg Trail, which begins at the back of the High Peaks Information Center parking lot near Lake Placid and continues to the summit of the 5,344-foot Mount Marcy. The dam is also the endpoint of a truck trail from South Meadow Road. After Irene’s blast of water, state officials decided the dam would be too expensive to repair and called for its removal.

Led by Tate Connor, the High Peaks Wilderness Area manager with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a crew of Student Conservation Association interns are spending the week removing metal railings, splash boards, top rocks for the first tier, first-tier crib pieces and vertical side boards from the walls below the spillway.

Motors can’t be used in the High Peaks, so some portions of the structure, like the splash boards, will be removed using hand tools while others, like the vertical side boards, will be lifted off of the dam using a high line.

The high line is two steel tripods, one on each side of the dam, with a rope strung between. Slack in the rope causes it to lower so workers can hook large materials that can’t easily be carried, like wooden beams. Removing the slack from the rope makes the materials rise, and a pulley enables someone to move it safely to shore.

“We’re taking the top 18 inches off of the dam and bringing it to the low-water level of the spillway,” Connor said. “Next year we’ll drop it down some more, so it will gradually naturalize. We don’t want to take it down all at once because it would flood out.” After the second year, Connor said the department will assess if more needs to be done. Connor said there are no plans to build a bridge where the dam used to be. He expects hikers will be able to easily cross the stream in several years, and a wooden bridge constructed after Irene that’s just downstream from Marcy Dam will serve as a high-water bridge. “Either way, I’m not making any moves on the trail until this is finalized,” Connor said.

When the SCA interns aren’t removing dams, they’re busy doing other projects in the High Peaks, like building bridges, installing rock water bars and moving latrines. Virginia resident and SCA intern Chaz Langston said it’s his first time in the Adirondacks. “I’m from the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are like little foothills compared to this,” Langston said. “This work is challenging, but it’s fun. Rain or shine, we’re out here.” Victoria Challingsworth of St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, is in the midst of her second SCA internship in the High Peaks. She’s done backcountry education programs, and she also helped create the new trail up Hurricane Mountain. –

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Student Conservation Association