On Wednesday afternoon I drove on Lakeshore Road from Essex to Westport in the late afternoon. A little before 4:00 pm I came across this unfortunate timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) dead in the middle of the road near Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest. Although his head had obviously been hit, there was very little apparent injury. The specimen was approximately three feet long and of substantial girth considering its length. As you’ll notice in the photograph, someone had cut off the snake’s rattle. Perhaps the same person who hit the snake?
Although it’s easy to understand the fear that provokes people to intentionally kill the timber rattlesnakes prevalent along the Split Rock corridor, these rare and fascinating snakes actually represent little risk and represent an important part of our local ecosystem. The New York State DEC believes that Adirondack rattlesnakes inhabiting the wilderness between Whallons Bay, Rock Harbor and Lakeshore Road represent the “northern-most breeding population of the Timber Rattlesnake on the East Coast.”
This intrigues scientists and outdoor nature lovers alike. Despite the widely held misconception that they are aggressive and likely to attack unprovoked, tourists are drawn to the Split Rock trails and adjacent Lake Champlain shorelines with the hopes of seeing an Adirondack rattlesnake. Sightings are infrequent, but when a hiker manages to snap a photograph and record a video, word spreads wide and fast suggesting that even those who fear rattlers are fascinated with them.
I am planning an outing soon, “a rattlesnake safari”, if you will, with the hopes of photographing rattlesnakes in the Split Rock wilderness area. I aim to learn more about these large, carnivorous serpents so that I may share my experience. On the one hand, my curiosity is a reaction to the dead rattlers I’ve seen. I yearn to see live rattlesnakes! But I also have a hidden agenda, a hope. I want to believe that sharing a personal timber rattlesnake experience will inspire people to exercise greater caution when driving along Lakeshore Road. And, with a dash of luck, I just might convince people fearful of rattlesnakes to spare their lives.
A lofty ambition? Perhaps. But it’s worth a try. After all, tourists travel around the world to explore our unspoiled wilderness in search of rattlesnakes. It would be a shame if the only one they saw had been hit by a car…