NEWCOMB, N.Y. - The 400-mile trek of a radio-collared moose named Alice is the inspiration for a proposed hiking trail from Ontario's forested Algonquin Park to the heart of New York's Adirondack Mountains.
Planners of the A2A — Algonquin to Adirondack — Trail liken it to Spain's famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, with the added benefit of preserving an important wildlife migration corridor between two vast wilderness regions.
"This is one of last great migration routes. It's an area where wildlife can regenerate itself," said Emily Conger, chair of the trail committee for the A2A Collaborative, the Ontario-based non-profit conservation group behind the project.
Still in the planning stage with no definite route, the A2A will combine existing trails and roads following the general track taken by Alice, a moose radio-collared by New York wildlife workers in 1998 and released in a remote forest area in the central Adirondack town of Newcomb.
For two years, researchers tracked Alice as she swam across lakes, traversed the U.S. Army's Fort Drum, swam the St. Lawrence River and loped across Canada's busy Highway 401 before eventually reaching the 3,000-square-mile Algonquin Park, where she died of unknown causes. Her remains were found in 2001.
"We want to create a trail system that is not only a destination, but also elevates the concept of wildlife corridors and connectivity of landscapes," said Sarah Walsh, with New York's Department of Environmental Conservation who serves privately as A2A's volunteer president. "People will be able to experience the way Alice made this journey."
The Adirondack section of the trail will most likely start in Newcomb at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, a nature centre where the College of Environmental Science and Forestry tracked Alice. From there, it will meander through hardwood and evergreen forest interspersed with bogs, streams and lakes.
A tentative plan includes 192 miles of existing hiking trails, 56 miles of rail-trail, 60 miles of main roads and 115 miles of back roads. Coordinators plan to engage communities along the route to provide amenities for trail-walkers.
Conger envisions something similar to the 375-mile stretch of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain that she walked in 2014, starting in the rugged Pyrenees and travelling through villages, vineyards, farms and forests. Along the way, pilgrims were welcomed into cafes, shops and inns in communities that had a thriving tourist industry because of the trail.
"The A2A can bring a similar economic boost for small towns in northern New York and eastern Ontario," Conger said.
A series of trail-promoting events is in the works along the Canadian section starting this fall, with a goal of seeing the full route completed in five years, Conger said.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, which has been building and maintaining trails in the region for more than 90 years, said the A2A Trail is feasible but will take considerable resources. The club hasn't been asked to work on the A2A, but for the next few years, Woodworth said his organization is committed to building the Adirondack leg of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail that stretches from North Dakota to Lake Champlain.
Walsh concedes that the A2A Trail has many obstacles outside the park boundaries, but the organization will work with civic groups, greenways, land trusts and others to design a route that communities will embrace. She said the Appalachian Trail, maintained by 31 trail clubs and many partnerships from Georgia to Maine, provides inspiration.
"It took decades to complete the Appalachian Trail," she said. "We've only been working on this for less than two years."