Plotting their Heart of a Lion tour, the author of this outstanding book, Will Stolzenburg, and one of its main human characters, Chris Spatz, finally landed on a name for the famous Mountain Lion — Walker. As Will and Chris headed to southern New York and Connecticut for talks on the need to restore Cougars to the East and on this particular lion’s amazing effort to do so, I set out to walk a little of the great cat’s likely approximate route through the eastern Adirondacks in northern New York.
Walker’s exact travel route from South Dakota’s Black Hills in late 2009 to the Lake George area of New York’s Adirondack Park in late 2010 will never be known. Walker was caught on remote wildlife cameras or tracked about twenty times during his multi-thousand mile journey; but after leaving Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and presumably crossing southern Ontario – and likely following the Algonquin to Adirondack (A2A) connection back into the US – Walker was not firmly documented again until crossing a New York conservation officer’s yard near Lake George in December 2010.
A wide wanderer and cat lover myself, though, I’ve strong suspicions about roughly where Walker may have traveled. I suspect Walker inadvertently and quietly confirmed the value of the A2A conservation corridor by traversing the Frontenac Axis. This arm of Canadian Shield reaches from Ontario’s Algonquin Park southeast to the Thousand Islands – stepping stones across the wide St Lawrence River – then into the northwest Adirondacks. Reaching the security of New York’s Adirondack Park, Walker could then have moved in relative safety many ways through it. Indeed, he probably would have stayed in the Adirondack Park, where millions of acres of forest are protected and cover is nearly continuous and prey abundant; but he did not find a mate, so he kept moving.
Anyway, how Walker traversed the Adirondacks is any rambler’s guess. Mine is this: Walker, in the opportunistically meandering yet directional way of a dispersing predator, kept trending east, through the northern then eastern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, till he reached a water body, Lake Champlain, too wide to easily swim (and too early to be frozen – especially with our warming winters). I’d guess Walker then turned south and traversed the rocky, prey-rich West Champlain Hills, leading to another Adirondack coast on Lake George.
These suspicions in mind, I’m declaring a few days of fieldwork and hiking and biking south through the West Champlain Hills to the Tongue Range on Lake George. Having only four days between indoor work obligations, I shall mountain bike the Split Rock Wildway and Westport Woods sections (my stomping grounds, thus already plenty familiar), then hike south through Hammond Pond Wild Forest, Pharoah Lake Wilderness, and Lake George Wild Forest. Happily, as I’m packing on the porch of my cabin overlooking a small Beaver pond, a River Otter furtively swims toward me, before gracefully submerging, as if to assure me we do indeed have good habitat here for top carnivores.
- Will Cougars Return to the Adirondacks? (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Heart of a Lion: The Biography of a Courageous Peripatetic Predator (huffingtonpost.com)
- Weasels of Our Home: Aquatic Mustelids (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)