Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve is home to pristine ponds, extensive wetlands, and dramatic cliffs, each offering unique habitat to a wide variety of species.
Gaze out from the summit of Eagle Mountain after a strenuous bushwhack, and the scale is difficult to comprehend. Follow the arc of a peregrine falcon into the distance, and the vastness of this low-elevation, biologically rich landscape is unveiled, the canopy unfurling at your feet, stretching unbroken towards the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to the west.
The Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve, northwest of Essex, New York, encompasses 2,434 acres of glacial-carved topography and unique water features in the foothills of the Northeastern Adirondacks, in a landscape that is underrepresented in protected areas in the Adirondack Park and across the Northeast. This densely forested property consists of northern hardwood and conifer forests, with patches of cliffs and talus, pristine undeveloped ponds, miles of clear running brooks, vernal pools, and wetlands. Peregrine Falcons (a New York State endangered species) have been consistently nesting on the property for at least five years.
“This area has seen considerable logging over the decades but its wild character is strong and vital—and in the decades to come, if we can protect it now, it will be a jewel of the eastern Adirondacks, a place of beauty, integrity, and wildness for future generations of people to enjoy.”
Tom Butler, Conservationist
Since 2003, the transition lands between Lake Champlain and the Adirondack High Peaks have been a focal area for Northeast Wilderness Trust. In the Split Rock Wildway to the south, the Wilderness Trust has completed nine transactions to protect an important “sea-to-sky” wildlife corridor. Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve protects a critical wildlife corridor to the north. Surrounding conservation areas include New York State’s Jay Mountain Wilderness and Taylor Pond Wild Forest (home to the local landmark, Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain), as well as privately conserved lands.
This Wilderness Preserve protects just over 1.25 miles of Durgan Brook and its tributary (Trout Pond Brook) and 2.45 miles of Doyle Brook. Both of these brooks are cold, clear, and support native Brook Trout habitat. Miles of smaller brooks and over 155 acres of wetlands provide diverse habitat for a multitude of species. Seepage wetlands thaw first in the spring and provide some of the earliest browse for energy-strapped wildlife (such as bears, moose, and deer—all present on the property) at the end of a long winter. The exceptional water quality of this stream system is demonstrated by the presence of the Eastern Pearlshell, a rare freshwater mussel found in only a few locations in New York State and at risk throughout its range due to water pollution and dams.
In addition to the fish and wildlife that depend on clean water in the Lake Champlain Basin, approximately 145,000 people rely on the lake for drinking water. With warming temperatures and agricultural runoff threatening the lake’s water quality, protecting headwater streams is an insurance policy for a healthier future.
The Eagle Mountain property ranks as ‘Above Average Resilient’ on The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient and Connected Landscapes dataset. The core area surrounding the ponds and the elevated region surrounding Eagle Mountain itself ranks as ‘Far Above Average.’ Resilient sites like Eagle Mountain are defined as having “sufficient variability and microclimate options to enable species and ecosystems to persist in the face of climate change and which will maintain this ability over time.” Eagle Mountain’s unique, low-elevation habitat will only prove more valuable with the onslaught of climate change, assisting wildlife as they stair-step across this large landscape.
Building on years of partnership in the Split Rock Wildway, Northeast Wilderness Trust will team up with Champlain Area Trails (CATS) to develop a loop footpath on the property to minimize impacts to plants and wildlife while connecting people to the peace and beauty of the land. Seasonal closures, monitored by the Wilderness Trust, will protect nesting peregrine falcons.
Adirondack Land Trust, a longtime conservation leader in the region, holds a forever-wild easement on the property.
Photography by Brendan Wiltse