Almanack Contributor John Warren

John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Remembering Murdered Game Warden William Jackson

The LaGoy brothers were rough. A neighbor near Severence, on the road between Schroon Lake Village and Paradox, once wrote a letter to a local newspaper asking for a telling retraction. “I was not lost,” D.S. Knox wrote. “My wife was much excited by the delay of about an hour of time over due, thinking as I have an organic heart trouble, caused to give her alarm, and not ever thinking of any of the LeGoy family causing any harm as neither of us believe that any of the LeGoy family ever would cause any personal harm without a provocation.” It was rather important to Knox to make it clear to the world, that even if his wife had been talking out of school, neither of them harbored any ill will toward the LaGoys.

There was probably good reason to write that letter. Three LaGoy brothers were then being held at the Elizabethtown Jail on suspicion of the axe murder of game warden William H. Jackson. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Before Forest Rangers, There Were Game Protectors

A recent spate of backcountry rescues has shone a light on some of those among us on the front lines of Adirondack Park stewardship and public safety – Forest Rangers. Until 1981 there were over 100 Forest Rangers patrolling the Adirondacks. Over the succeeding 30 years that number was gradually reduced to 40-45 and now continues to fall due to budget cuts, retirements, and defunding of the the Forest Ranger and Environmental Conservation Officer Training Academy. As Dave Gibson recently noted:

“These days, one is hard pressed to encounter a Forest Ranger on the trails or in the woods – at the very time when the recreating public is most in need of their services. And their jobs have become much more complex. Since becoming a part of the DEC Office of Public Protection around 1997, law enforcement has become a big part of their jobs, and Rangers are frequently pulled away from their patrols to enforce against substance abuse in crowded places like campgrounds.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Adirondack Aquatic Insect History Made, Again

When entomologist James Needham arrived in Upper Saranac Lake in 1900 on a mission to study Adirondack aquatic insects, he found no room at the Saranac Inn. For the first 10 days, Needham, State Entomologist Ephraim P. Felt, and their assistant Cornelius Betten, were forced to find lodging two miles from the Adirondack Fish Hatchery where they hoped to “collect and study the habits of aquatic insects, paying special attention to the conditions necessary for the existence of the various species, their relative value as food for fishes, the relations of the forms to each other, and their life histories.” Although their study was short, it was also a historic first, up until that time all that had been written about Adirondack aquatic insects amounted to a few short paragraphs by former State Entomologist J. A. Lintner (1889).

The daily trek to their study area didn’t diminish their enthusiasm. “I arrived at Saranac Inn on the evening of June 12m and at once began looking over the ground,” Needham recalled. “Dr. Felt came on the 14th, and spent the day with me canvassing the situations to be studied… and the regular work of the session was at once begun, to be continued without cessation to the date of closing [on August 20].” The study session was the first of a comprehensive study of aquatic insects in the state funded by the NYS Museum that also included short surveys in Old Forge and Lake George, and two additional trips to the Saranac Inn.

Needham and Felt identified a number waters to be studied. They were provided by the hatchery a space to work, the use of several hatching troughs for insect breeding, a carpenter bench and tools to build specialized breeding cages, and a small boat. They brought with them or acquired additional equipment necessary to sweep vegetation, raise insects, and store their collections. “Extensive use was made of white wash bowls, soup plates and saucers in the examination of our catch,” Needham reported.

The entomologists chose Little Clear creek on the hatchery grounds for their study area, which proved to be the most fruitful, but also the hatchery’s three fish propagating ponds, Little Clear, Little Green, and Bone. Twice they made trips to Lake Colby, Stony Brook (just north of Axton) and St. Regis, at the end of the carry from Little Clear, and the first week they spent mornings and evenings at Lake Clear.

The study they produced, “Aquatic Insects of the Adirondacks” (NYS Museum Bulletin 47, September 1901, link to pdf), proved to be the most important study of the subject for more than 100 years. It was one of the first truly scientific studies of aquatic insects in North America, and yielded life histories of more than 100 species, the discovery of 10 new species and and two new genera, plus additional information about Chironomidae dragon flies.

Needham, who studied under renowned entomologist John Henry Comstock (1849–1931), was then refining his pretracheation insect wing theory. Although discredited in 1938 by more refined studies, Needham’s work was the basis for the Comstock–Needham System of naming insect wing veins, considered “an important step in showing the homology of all insect wings.” Needham later replaced Comstock as head of the Department of Entomology at Cornell, a position he held for more than 20 years.

A new study by Luke Myers (a Saranac native) and Timothy Mihuc of the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh, along with Boris Kondratieff of Colorado State University, highlights the role of Needham and Betten in the rise to prominence of of aquatic insect entomology in New York State in the early 20th century and treads new ground as an important update to our knowledge of aquatic insects in the Adirondack region.

After four years of studying mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, Myers (who did much of the fieldwork with the assistance of self-taught caddisfly expert D.E. Ruiter), Mihuc, and Kondratieff have produced what is being considered the most comprehensive biodiversity study of those aquatic insects in the Adirondacks.

According to a story by Mike Lynch in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, “Myers and his team examined 25,000 specimens from 465 locations. They found 509 species of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, including 99 that were reported in this state for the first time. They also discovered several species new to science and some species of conservation concern.”

Even given the new techniques and equipment available to modern researchers, that’s no mean feat. It’s also one that will be a welcome addition to those interested in the biodiversity of Adirondack wetlands and their place in the larger ecology of the region.

Photos: Above, Little Clear creek, Adirondack Fish Hatchery (1900 NYS Museum Photo); Middle, illustration from the 1901 report “Aquatic Insects – Sepedon and Tetanecera”; Below, Luke Myers working on the Raquette River near Axton Landing (Photo Provided).


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Adirondack Ice Fishing Gets Underway

One of the great traditional Adirondack wintertime pastimes kicked of this past week – ice fishing. The stalled winter has had hard-water anglers itching to hit the ice, although a few hardy (some would say fool-hardy) early adventurers found just enough ice here and there to safely fish two weekends ago. All that is behind us now, as many smaller lakes have the minimum of three to four inches considered safe to travel ice on foot. The ice shanties are being readied, tip-ups and jig poles tested, new lines and leaders in place. This weekend will see small congregations of anglers sprinkled across the frozen surface of local lakes. According to a recent DEC survey, ice fishing participation has doubled over the past 10 years.

“Everyone is anxious to get out, as early ice often produces some of the best fishing opportunities of the season,” local guide Joe Hackett told me last week. Joe said he saw anglers on Lake Colby, Rollins Pond, Connery Pond and most of the smaller waters in the Tri-Lakes region last weekend. “I’d stay off the big lakes for a while yet,” he cautioned, “especially around the inlets and outlets”.

This year, there will be an expanded opportunity to improve the catch. In waters where a full compliment of ice fishing gear is permitted, anglers are now allowed up to three lines and five tip-ups. The previous limit was two lines and five tip-ups.

DEC reminds anglers to take these important guidelines when ice fishing:

Follow the bait fish regulations to prevent the spread of harmful fish diseases and invasive species. Bait fish may be used in most but not all waters that are open to ice fishing.

Use only certified disease-free bait fish purchased at a local tackle store or use only personally collected bait fish for use in the same waterbody in which they were caught.

Check for sufficient ice thickness before venturing onto the ice and frequently as you travel to new areas.

Remember, ice thickness varies on every body of water and anglers should be particularly wary of areas of moving water and around boat docks/houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice buildup. Snowmobile tracks or footprints should not be taken as evidence of safe ice – always check ice conditions for yourself and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk.

More information on ice fishing, ice safety, and places to ice fish can be found online. Read all of the Almanack‘s stories about ice here.

Photo: Above, Mike Todriff of Chestertown shows off a salmon caught last year on Lake George; below, Shannon Houlihan of Chestertown tries her luck with a jig pole in 2011.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Forever Wild Advocates Seek Study of Planned Resort

Citing the lack of wildlife and ecological information in the hearing record, Adirondack Wild, a nonprofit membership organization which advocates on behalf of the New York Constitution’s “Forever Wild” clause, petitioned the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) on Friday to reopen its hearing on the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) “to secure additional evidence.” ACR is proposed development of 719 dwelling units spread across 6,200 acres near Tupper Lake.

Adirondack Wild, a party to the adjudicatory hearing reviewing the large Adirondack resort project in Tupper Lake issued the following statement via press release: “The hearing should be reopened to obtain substantive information and assessment without which the members of the Agency cannot make the requisite findings of ‘no undue adverse impact’ to the Park’s ‘natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources, or upon the ability of public to provide supporting facilities and services.'”

“Every expert witness, as well as Agency staff, found the ACR project application seriously flawed due to the lack of on-site studies of wildlife, sensitive habitats or rare, threatened or endangered species,” Dan Plumley, partner with Adirondack Wild. said. ”Our motion also highlights the fact that Agency staff admit that the applicant failed to sufficiently examine alternative project designs, as the law requires.”

“Moreover, the project’s purported economic benefits have been put forth with no factual data, or other basis upon which the Agency can make an informed judgment about commercial and other benefits of the project. The lot value and sales projections were pulled out of thin air,” Plumley said. Adirondack Wild argues that the APA Act states that such benefits must be taken into account in order to evaluate possible burdens on the local community to provide supporting facilities and services to the development.

Agency Regulations permit any party, or the Agency itself, to move to reopen an adjudicatory hearing to secure additional evidence. The Agency has been deliberating about the ACR hearing since November, and is expected to render a decision on the permit at its January 20 meeting in Ray Brook. The Agency’s Executive Director informed its members in November that it has three choices: to deny the project, approve the project with conditions, or send the project back to hearing.

“The APA executive staff are trying to persuade the Agency board to make a blind inductive leap by purporting that open space, natural and wildlife resources are adequately protected with no basis for this conclusion in the evidentiary record given the failure of the applicant to complete the requisite wildlife studies,” Bob Glennon, Adirondack Wild’s advisor on the motion, said.

“The applicant bears the burden of proof that the project will be compatible with the character, description and purposes of Resource Management lands, will not have an undue adverse impact, and that reasonable alternatives have been thoroughly examined. The applicant has completely failed to meet all of these burdens,” states Glennon, who is a former APA Agency Counsel and Executive Director. ”The Park Agency cannot legally make their required finding of no undue adverse impact without substantial evidence that is competent, material and relevant. Instead, the staff is offering mere speculation that adequate habitat protection can be assured.”

“The Agency should deny the project without prejudice to resubmission, or reopen the hearing so that the applicant finally conducts the natural resource inventory and assessments, and the alternatives analysis that he should have provided years ago,” according to David Gibson, Partner with Adirondack Wild and a regular contributor here at Adirondack Almanack.

“Collecting this evidence will not require years of study,” Gibson said. “While two full field seasons would be preferable, one full field season of work by qualified experts would gather a considerable amount of information about the presence of wildlife and sensitive ecosystems that is presently not available to Agency Members as they seek to render an informed determination whether this is an approvable project or not.”

The project developers have not yet completed applications for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Department of Health and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or for a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan (PILOT) with Franklin County. Developers are proposing taking out approximately $36 million in taxpayer supported bonds to finance the construction.

“Reopening the hearing to obtain vitally needed new evidence will not be holding up progress on the project at all. The applicant can pursue these other permit applications while he is obtaining the additional evidence we believe is essential for the hearing record and for an intelligent, well-reasoned, legally-defensible decision by the Agency,” Gibson said.

Photo: The view over the proposed development area from the summit of Mt. Morris, with Cranberry Pond and Lake Simond in distance.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: Recalling A Year Of Adirondack Weather

It’s been quite a year for Adirondack weather. As we head into winter proper with recent warm temperatures and little snow on the ground, it’s worth looking back on this year’s weather highlights. A good place to start is with the Almanack‘s resident naturalist Tom Kalinowski’s predictions for what kind of winter he thought we’d have. Turns out, Tom was more correct in his prediction than the National Weather Service, both Farmers Almanacs, whooly bears, and wasps. When it comes to predicting this winter’s weather, so far, so good Tom.

Last year, after a somewhat dry early start, winter deep snows beginning in mid-January and February proved a boon for mice, and a struggle for whitetail deer.

For a while in late March, it seemed the snow might last through summer. Phil Brown climbed the Colden Trap Dike in still deep snow and Dan Crane was musing about the arrival of mud season, when the spring floods arrived.

At the time, we counted ourselves lucky that a string of warm weather had meant that most river ice had gone out, ending the threat of ice jams. But waters were already high and the ground saturated when heavy rains and even warmer weather arrived in late April. The resulting devastating floods forced all the region’s major rivers and eventually Lake Champlain above flood stage. More than 75 roads were closed due to roads and bridge collapses and major flooding forced evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, and Raquette Rivers, and along Mill Brook in Moriah, which was particularly hard hit.

The floods were followed by a generally wet summer that had Dan Crane proclaiming “The Year of the Mosquito“, but the summer wore on with two minor earthquakes and rains that contributed to what was already the state’s largest land slide on record in Keene>. The worst weather of the year was yet to arrive.

In late August when the Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) closed the region’s campgrounds and warned that the approaching Hurricane Irene had the potential to cause massive damage and warned people to stay out of the woods, some were skeptical. That warning proved correct, however, as Irene reached the eastern High Peaks. The Almanack reported on the approaching storm (1, 2), and the by now well-recounted results (1, 2).

Irene left behind a changed landscape, isolated communities, disastrous flash flooding and historic damage to local infrastructure, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and trails. In the backcountry, dozens of new slides were created or extended, and Duck Hole Dam (1, 2) and Marcy Dam were breached.

Thankfully, we had a quiet fall of clean-up. And although the warm start to winter has extended the opportunity to rebuild, repair, and rest, it has been a tough year for local businesses that rely on snow, particularly the region’s ski facilities.

Of course, the big question on the minds of many is whether or not climate change is to blame for the dramatic weather we’ve been seeing. This past weekend the New York Times reported that scientists are struggling to answer that question definitively, in part thanks to Republican climate change deniers. Even without coordinated and funded federal studies however, the evidence is beginning to mount.

“For instance, scientists have long expected that a warming atmosphere would result in fewer extremes of low temperature and more extremes of high temperature,” the Times reported. “In fact, research shows that about two record highs are being set in the United States for every record low, and similar trends can be detected in other parts of the world.” The paper also noted an increase in atmospheric moisture leading to heavier storms, and more snowfall and rain.

So as we await the heart of the winter season, my eyes are on Tom Kalinowski’s prediction for what’s to come: “minimal amounts of snowfall into mid January. Normal to slightly above normal temperatures for the rest of the winter with above normal amounts of snowfall.”

What do you think?

Photo: A snowmobile sits in flood waters on the Schroon River in Chestertown in early May, 2011. Photo by John Warren.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Locally Funded Albany Ice Rink Draws Fire

A plan to spend $100,000 to fund free ice skating in the City of Albany is drawing the ire of a local Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) workers who have been without a contract for nearly three years.

“CSEA workers at Gore, Whiteface, and the other Olympic facilities have spent the last three years without a contract making wages commensurate to the working poor,” says a mailing that arrived in local mailboxes this week from the Civil Service Employees’ Association (CSEA), the union that represents ORDA workers. “As they struggle to support their families here in the North Country the ORDA CEO Ted Blazer is spending $100,000 for an ice skating rink in the City of Albany!” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

John Warren: What the Occupation is All About

Over the past few weeks Adirondackers have gathered to hear about their economic situation and what we can do about it. North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann has been suggesting that the Adirondack Park Agency shift its focus toward economic development. Clarkson University’s Forever Wild initiative has brought forward plans to expand broadband services and connect local workers to new wired jobs. The Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) provided its own twist on our economic situation, offering a panel that suggested we’re not as bad off as others around the nation.

Missing from these discussions has been the big picture thinking about our economic problems, namely the changes in our economic and democratic system that have endangered the ability of young people to control their economic destinies.

At the ANCA meeting last week Jaison Abel, Senior Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, reported that “The Upstate economy has generally proven to be more stable than average, and has performed relatively well through the recession and recovery to date” [Emphasis His]. His presentation (available as a pdf here), like most of the economic discussions in the Adirondacks lately, was misleading in its narrow scope.

Taking a wider view are the demonstrators that have been occupying cities and towns across America in recent weeks. The Occupy Wall Street movement began when a large group of people, calling themselves the 99%, established a modern day Hooverville at a privately owned park near Wall Street. Despite claims they are unorganized anarchists, they have met daily in a direct democratic assembly to make decisions and plan and prepare for what has become a nationwide movement to change the fundamental operation of our relatively recently failed economic and democratic systems.

In exchange for exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble for redress of grievances, they have been maced, beaten, and driven from the places where they have assembled for democratic change. News of police actions in New York City were widely circulated via social media (disturbing video 1, 2, and 3 for example) and served to grow the ranks of protesters exponentially.

In recent days there have been beatings, macings and arrests of many more in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Albuquerque, Portland, San Francisco, and even in Des Moines, Iowa where a former Iowa state representative and a 14-year-old girl were arrested. Many of those arrests have included bystanders, independent media, legal observers, and medics caring for the injured. It appears that more than 2,000 have been arrested so far and with widespread demonstrations planned for Saturday that number is likely to rise. Demonstrations are expected to take place over the next week in Canton, Saranac Lake, Montreal, Plattsburg, Burlington, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Utica, Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo.

Although the call for an end to corporate control of our economic and political systems is no more vague than the Tea Party’s call for an end to big government, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been characterized as unfocused and lacking concrete goals. Two videos that have gone viral in the movement serve to sum up most of the complaints being voiced, and counter the recent criticisms. The first, which has played frequently on the Occupy Wall Street livestream is an older video from George Carlin (warning: explicit language) who warns: “it’s a big club and you ain’t in it”. The second is the first cohesive response to the movement’s detractors from John Stewart.

It’s no surprise these videos come from comedians, a class of Americans who are often the only people who can be so direct in their critiques. They also reflect the nature of the movement itself, which is forced to use a kind of comic theater of the streets to be heard. There are more serious commentators as well. Bernie Sanders points out why he thinks protests are a necessary part of the process and even traditional conservatives have weighed in at The Atlantic. The Christian Science Monitor reminds us of the long history populists movements occupying Wall Street. The Nation published an Occupy Wall Street FAQ some weeks ago when the movement was small that explains in a serious way what it’s about.

This being a largely social media driven movement, videos and documents from the 1% have been used against them. Take for example this video of a Wall Street trader on BBC who defiantly claims “governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world,” or the page from JP Morgan Chase’s website which reminded protesters that they had given $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation, a gift they said (even while the NYPD was keeping protesters from protesting in front of their building) that “was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple.” Both links have gone viral among the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of most interesting coverage of the movement is being written by a group of reporters with the Village Voice toting cameras and smart phones and posting to the #OccupyWallSt and #OccupyWallStreet hashtags on Twitter. There have been more than sixty 24-hour livestream channels set up from occupations around the world in the last 24 hours.

No doubt there will still be some who say they just don’t understand what it’s all about, so it’s probably fair to say that the movement’s goals are to roll back a number of economic trends which Adirondackers, like nearly all Americans, are experiencing. For those who like charts with facts and figures, Business Insider has a series of charts titled “Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About…“. Here are a few excerpts from the most salient:

Unemployment: Three years after the financial crisis, the unemployment rate is still at the highest level since the Great Depression (except for a brief blip in the early 1980s). A record percentage of unemployed people have been unemployed for longer than 6 months. The average duration of all unemployment remains at a near an all-time high. If people working part-time who want to work full-time and people who have given up finding a job through official means are included, the unemployment rate is at 17%. That is the lowest percentage of Americans with jobs since the early 1980s.

Corporate Profits: Corporate profits are at an all-time high. As a percentage of the economy, corporate profits are near a record all-time high. With the exception of a short period just before the 2007 crash, profits are higher than they’ve been since the 1950s, vastly higher than they’ve been for most of the last half-century.

Worker Pay: CEO pay is now 350 times the average worker’s pay, up from 50 times the average worker’s pay between 1960-1985. Adjusted for inflation, CEO pay has jumped 300% since 1990 alone and corporate profits have doubled. Average “production worker” pay has increased just 4% and the minimum wage has fallen. After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven’t increased in 50 years. While CEOs and shareholders have been cashing in, wages as a percent of the economy have dropped to an all-time low.

The 1%: The top 1% of American wage earners have the biggest percentage of the country’s total pre-tax income than any time since the late 1920s, almost 2 times the long-term average. Income inequality has gotten so extreme that the US now ranks 93rd in the world in “income equality” behind China, India, and Iran.

Social Mobility Through Hard Work: Social mobility in America is near an all-time low. The top 1% of Americans own 42% of American financial wealth; the top 5% own nearly 70%. 60% of the net worth of the country held by the top 5%. Taxes on the nation’s highest-earners are close to the lowest they’ve ever been. The aggregate tax rate for the top 1% is lower than for the next 9% — and not much higher than it is for almost everyone else.

Bank Theft: Despite bailing out the banks so that they could keep lending to American businesses, bank lending has dropped sharply except to the American Government, which has risen sharply. They’ve also been collecting interest on money they are not lending — the “excess reserves” at the Federal Reserve Bank. At the same time, because the Fed has slashed the prime rate to almost zero, the banks are able to borrow money for essentially free – as a result they have made $211 billion in the first six months of 2011. That’s one reason there is near-record financial sector profits while the rest of Americans have sunk to their economic lowest.

Check the facts for yourself, but one thing is clear – all the hand-wringing about our local economies in the local media has missed the point entirely.

Photo: Above, photo-shopped Occupy Saranac Lake illustration courtesy Aaron Hobson; Middle and below, two viral Occupy Wall Street photographs that have made the rounds in the past few weeks.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Leaves Widespread Damage in the Adirondacks

Following a spring of historic flooding and two minor earthquakes, the Adirondacks has been slammed by the remains of Hurricane Irene leaving behind a changed landscape, isolated communities, disastrous flooding and epic damage to local infrastructure, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and trails.

Damage from the remnants of Hurricane Irene is widespread across the Eastern Adirondacks from Moriah, which suffered extensive damage during the spring flooding that had still not been repaired, to the entire Keene Valley and into the Lake Placid region. Trails in the Eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain wilderness areas have been closed through the Labor Day weekend. The bridge over Marcy Dam has been washed away and the Duck Hole Dam breached.

Every town in Essex County suffered damage officials say, but Upper Jay, Jay, AuSable Forks, and all hamlets in the town of Keene have been devastated by flooding of the AuSable, which rose to a record 12 feet over flood stage. Essex County Highway Department Tony Lavigne told the Press Republican that “the flooding is way worse than this past spring and much more widespread.” Mountain Health Center in Keene suffered heavy damage and has been closed. In Upper Jay, the historic remains of Arto Monaco’s Land of Make Believe are gone. Flood waters also raged through Lake George Village and closed dozens of roads in Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties. [Lake George Photos via Lake George Mirror].

Tom Woodman, who reported on the situation in Keene for the Almanack, wrote that “The hamlet of Keene is an astonishing and deeply saddening sight. The fire station has been torn in half by rampaging waters of a tributary of the East Branch of the Ausable. Buildings that house the dreams of merchants and restaurateurs, who have brought new life to Keene, are battered, blanketed in mud, and perched on craters scoured out by the flood waters.” North Country Public Radio‘s Martha Foley posted photos of the devastation in Keene.

Route 73 has been washed out and undermined in several places, closing the main artery into the High Peaks and Lake Placid from the east. Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation told Woodman that Route 73 should reopen before winter. Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay is expected to be reopened in a few days.

Although criticized at the time by many for being premature and unnecessary, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation warned recreationists to stay out of the backcountry and closed its campgrounds and other facilities across the Adirondacks on Saturday. That closure was fortuitous, as damage in some areas has stranded campers and has closed the Giant, Dix, and Eastern High Peaks wilderness areas. More than a dozen DEC campgrounds and day-use areas remain closed. These closures are expected to continue through the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

The historic dam at Duck Hole has been washed away, closing off only recently acquired access by canoe or guideboat into the High Peaks via Henderson Lake and Preston Ponds. Phil Brown has posted DEC photos of Duck Hole draining.

DEC District Forester Kris Alberga, who was among the first to see the widespread destruction in the backcountry during a flyover of the High Peaks Monday afternoon, reported that the bridge over Marcy Dam has been washed away and the dam is leaking seriously. “There are numerous washouts on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail,” Alberga said in a e-mail forwarded to the Almanack, “Marcy Brook between Marcy Dam and Avalanche Camps jumped its banks, carved a new channel and wiped out much of the trail. The Van Hovenberg trail above Marcy Dam is eroded 1-3 ft deep in many places. The handrails on the suspension bridge on the Calamity Pond trail are gone and the trail is not passable.” Phil Brown reported today that the level of Marcy Dam pond has dropped, revealing mud flats. The trails along Lake Colden are reported to be underwater and the trail to Avalanche Pass made impassable.

The bridge on the Adirondack Loj Road south of South Meadows Road has been washed out, cutting off the Loj and stranding some 31 visitors and Adirondack Mountain Club staff there. The access to the Garden Trailhead at Interbrook Road is no longer passable beyond the bridge over Johns Brook.

Phil Brown traveled to Marcy Dam Monday afternoon and snapped a photo of a new slide on Wright Peak, near Angel Slide. Other new slides reported include those on Mount Colden (including at the Trap Dike), Basin, Haystack, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw, in the Dixes, and on Giant Mountain.

Although reports have not been received from the Santanoni and Seward ranges, it appears that the Western and South-Central Adirondacks have not been seriously impacted. Backcountry users in those and other areas of the Adirondack Park should, however, expect blowdown and eroded trails, washed-out bridges and new landslides.

At a press conference held in front of the destroyed Keene Volunteer Fire Department, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency will suspend special permitting requirements to aid in a speedy rebuild.

Photo: Duck Hole Pond is draining after the dam went out. Photo courtesy NYS DEC.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Scaroon Manor and Accessible State Lands

During the opening ceremony of the new Scaroon Manor Campground and Day Use Area on Schroon Lake, State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward told a short story. Standing at a podium under a newly built pavilion on the sweeping grounds of the former resort turned DEC Campground, Sayward told a small crowd that when she was young, she “couldn’t afford to come here.” Once, she said, on a school field trip she had come to the Scaroon Manor resort by bus for the day and was amazed by what she saw. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

John Warren: An Open Letter to Brian Mann

Dear Brian,

I just finished reading your latest editorial piece, “The Other Endangered Species,” in the September/October issue of Adirondack Life magazine. I’m writing to say that your premise is all wrong.

You wrote that it’s time to end the discussion of whether or not the Adirondack Park “as a conservation model” is a success or a failure. You say “the various factions in the Adirondacks need to accept that the human community is in peril.”

Brian, the Adirondack human community is not in peril, human communities in the Adirondacks are not endangered, and there is no chance, despite your claims, that the Adirondacks “will be reduced to a patchwork of ghost towns and hollow vacation resorts.”
» Continue Reading.


Monday, July 25, 2011

John Warren: The Art of Making Enemies

A small group of the usual opponents of smart development have raised another ruckus with the help of some local media. It was reported in the local daily press (“APA hears citizens’ rage“, “APA critics blast board“), and followed up by Denton Publications, (including video!). It was one of a regular stream of media campaigns orchestrated and carried out by some of the same folks who have opposed smart development planning for the Adirondack Park since it began 40 years ago.

As if on cue, the Glens Falls Post-Star then launched another of its – this time particularly vicious – attacks on the Adirondack Park’s regional planning board, the Adirondack park Agency (APA). That nasty editorial ran on the same day some 120 people from all perspectives and sectors of the Adirondacks were meeting in Long Lake to find ways to set aside their differences and work together for a better Adirondacks.

It started July 15th with what appears to have been an organized protest at an APA business meeting, and may have been result of leaked information that APA Chairman Curt Stiles would step down the next day. The usual suspects were on hand, including Salim “Sandy” Lewis, Carol LaGrasse, Frank Casier, Mike Vilegi, Howard Aubin, and Bob Schulz. Insults were hurled at the “un-American”; cries for “liberty” and an end to “tyranny” and “repression and fear” were heard – Lewis and his entourage stormed out. Here’s a quick look at those who were there:

Salim “Sandy” Lewis is the former Wall Street trader who recently won a $71,600 settlement from state taxpayers after arguing that the APA had no jurisdiction over farms (he had sought close to a quarter million). “You are hated by a significant portion of this community,” he told the APA’s commissioners. Lewis believes the APA restricts local farming operations, despite the fact that local farming is up considerably amid a national decline (1, 2). [He believes there are two kind of farmers: “real farmers” who have capital to invest in their farms, and “phony farmers” who don’t]. Apparently, Lewis’s Wall Street experience has led him to believe that no none should have a say in the impacts large businesses have in the Adirondack Park. During a litany of threats against a variety of enemies, Lewis claimed he was asked to attend the APA meeting by the Governor’s Office. “I’ve been asked to name five new board members to this group by the Governor’s office,” he said.

Carol LaGrasse is the leader of the one-woman Property Rights Foundation who has called the APA “anti-family”. Among her more ridiculous assertions was the prediction that massive forest fires would follow the blowdown of 1995 if the state didn’t allow logging on Forest Preserve land (1). She was wrong then, but continues to appear regularly in local media reports whenever they need to trot out a rabid anti-environmentalist, Adirondack Park or Forest Preserve opponent.

Frank Casier is a former real estate developer. Now 92, Casier was a co-founder of Tony D’Elia’s Adirondack Defense League, described by Kim Smith Dedam as “an early order of resistance to the institution of the APA Act in 1973.” Casier, who said “The APA destroyed three of my housing projects,” was on hand with a 12-page pamphlet entitled The Theft of the Adirondacks. According to LaGrasse, Casier hasn’t been to an APA meeting in decades, but he said he has a new anti-APA book forthcoming. Casier was once the publisher of the anti-APA Adirondack Defender, funded by Alpo Dog Foods founder and Lake Placid summer resident (now deceased) Robert F. Hunsicker. The first Adirondack Defender was published as an supplement insert in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (then led by Will Doolittle‘s dad), and subsequently run in the Tupper Lake Free Press, Ticonderoga Sentinel, and Malone Telegram. The Denton newspapers, then numbering ten weeklies and owned by William Denton, refused to run the Defender.

Mike Vilegi was a passenger in the truck James McCulley drove down Old Mountain Road in an effort to have the long-abandoned wilderness road reopened to motorized vehicles. Vilegi is a Lake Placid builder who was leader of the “Adirondack Porn Agency” effort to taint the reputations of APA staff and commissioners. According to the Press-Republican, Vilegi once attended an APA meeting “wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Adirondack Porn Agency’ written across the chest and a less polite phrase written on the back”. Vilegi has a flair for the dramatic; he’s a producer of YouTube videos showing how damaging hikers are.

Howard Aubin is a businessman who found his way to the Big Tupper Resort hearings to proclaim that 100 percent of Tupper Lakers support building the Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest residential development ever proposed in the Adirondacks. In an affidavit in support of the Lewis case, Aubin claimed “There is a general fear among the Bar in the North Country that participation in a dispute against the Agency will harm their practices.” Twenty years ago Aubin helped organize the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the folks who brought us the 1990 “freedom drive” which attempted to block Northway traffic between exits 20 and 28.

Bob Schulz, now in his 70s, is the Queensbury founder of We the People Foundation who launched the “Revolution Project” in 2008. Schulz is a longstanding proponent of the idea that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Before that, he was the subject of several federal investigations, including his alleged failure to file Federal income tax returns for years 2001 through 2004. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice successfully sued Schulz to stop the sale “of an alleged tax fraud scheme reported to have cost the U.S. Treasury more than 21 million dollars.” Last year the Internal Revenue Service revoked We the People’s tax exempt status.

Trying to force logging of the Forest Preserve, subverting the APA Act for financial gain, blocking traffic, wearing obscene t-shirts to public meetings, promoting the refusal to pay taxes – these are the folks who enjoy standing with the local media.

Meanwhile, 120 private citizens, business, education, and nonprofit leaders, environmentalists, state and local economic development professionals and government leaders, and anti-APA property rights advocates were joining together in Long Lake to try and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. What coverage did that get? None that I can find.

Instead, we’re treated to a malicious anti-APA diatribe by the Glens Falls Post-Star that includes a number of personal attacks on APA staff and commissioners, all civil servants doing their job to help protect the Adirondack Park, a park for all the people of the state.

Unfortunately we need to constantly rehash the wrong-headed arguments expressed by the Post-Star‘s editorial board, even though they’ve been shown time and again to have no basis in fact. They claim, for example, “In its zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization, real or imagined, the agency has tipped the balance against the interests of individual rights and against economic development.” How any reasonable person can make that claim is beyond me – but they repeat it again and again.

First, the APA regulates about 40% of new buildings and 20% of total development activities. Second, the APA has declined just .8% of the projects that have been brought before it since 1973. And while we’re at it, there is also no basis whatsoever for the argument that the APA somehow coerces people to withdraw their applications – there simply aren’t that many withdrawn applications. There is no need to withdraw an application because the APA approves nearly all of them. This is what the Post-Star calls a “zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization”.

It is simply ludicrous to continue to argue that an agency that has power over just 20% of development activities and only 40% of new buildings, and has blocked only the tiniest fraction of those, is responsible for “overzealous enforcement of state regulations and an unwavering support of restrictive environmentalist policies over reasonable economic growth and development in the Adirondacks.”

The Post-Star‘s editorial board, which includes Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant, should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to divide Adirondackers, especially on the same day those of us with an actual stake here were trying to make efforts to come together.

One final issue which really gets to the heart of the Post-Star‘s project to discredit reasonable environmental protections and smart growth planning in the Adirondack Park. The entire tone of their editorial is couched in terms of government openness, yet they don’t expect the same from the Local Government Review Board (LGRB). To my knowledge the paper has never once investigated the LGRB despite the fact that the APA-funded body is headed by Fred Monroe (and its one employee, his wife), who until very recently collected a paycheck from New York State, Warren County, and the Town of Chester (more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded salary).

The LGRB, which frequently meets at private restaurants on the public’s dime, issues no notices that a meeting is being held, no agendas before the meeting, no meeting minutes, and no online audio or video recordings of meetings. I signed up for the LGRB’s e-mail newsletter several years ago, I’m still on the list, but I’ve never received any information from them whatsoever. By the way, the APA does all these things and more.

When was the last time anyone had a say in who is on the LGRB? They are county backroom appointments, not elected, and there is no public discussion whatsoever. At a meeting I attended recently it was not even clear who was on the board and who wasn’t. They have never held a public forum or public hearing that I’m aware of. And despite the LGRB’s budget of over $110,000, it appears they haven’t produced anything in a full year.

It’s time these folks stop constantly disrupting our mutual progress for their own personal gain. As Adirondack Daily Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore and Managing Editor Peter Crowley wrote this week in an editorial about their community’s recent division over the Adirondack Club and Resort:

“We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn’t be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don’t go looking for enemies – that’s our advice.”

And mine too.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Short History of Johns Brook Lodge

Johns Brook (the apostrophe fell away long ago) is said to have been named for John Gibbs who lived at (or at least owned) the spot where the brook enters the East Branch of the Ausable in about 1795 (about where the Mountaineer stands today in Keene Valley).

The trail from the Garden Parking Area to Mount Marcy, on which Johns Brook Lodge sits, is said to have been laid out by Ed Phelps, son of legendary Keene Valley guide Old Mountain Phelps. Known primarily as the Phelps Trail (but also called the Johns Brook or Northside Trail), the route also serves as the northern boundary of the Johns Brook Primitive Area. The Primitive Area is one of four DEC management units (the High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Canoe Route, and Ampersand Primitive Area are the others) that make up the High Peaks Wilderness Complex [UMP pdf]. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Remembering Anne LaBastille’s Environmental Record

Author, environmentalist, photographer and former longtime Adirondack Park Agency commissioner Anne LaBastille died in Plattsburgh on Friday, July 1st; she was 77.

LaBastille was an outspoken proponent of environmental conservation whose book Woodswoman reached a national audience and served as inspiration for legions of women interested in the outdoors. At the same time she was a controversial Adirondack figure who served as Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioner from 1975 to 1993, a tenure that showed her to be a tenacious defender of the wild character of the Adirondack Park.

Born in Montclair, NJ on Nov. 20, 1933, she attended Cornell University and received a B.S. in Conservation of Natural Resources in 1955, long before environmentalism began to emerge as a force for natural resource protection. She left Cornell to attend graduate school at Colorado State University where she received an M.S. in Wildlife Management in 1961. Her Masters Thesis was An Ecological Analysis of Mule Deer Winter Range, Cache la Poudre Canyon, Colorado.

As the modern environmental movement began to take shape following the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1967, LaBastille was already immersed in ornithology and wildlife ecology. During the 1960s her field work produced a number of papers on Guatemalan birds and fish including the Atitlán Grebe (Podilymbus gigas), also known as Giant Pied-billed Grebe or Poc. The flightless upland water bird began to decline precipitously following the introduction of invasive large and smallmouth bass into its home waters of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala in the late 1950s. LaBastille’s “Recent census and observations of the Giant Pied-billed Grebe” (published with C.V. Bowes in 1962) set her on a 25-year project that tracked the decline and eventual extinction of the Poc.

LaBastille’s thesis “The life history, ecology and management of the Giant Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus gigas), Lake Atitlán, Guatemala” was accepted in 1969, the year she received a doctorate degree in Wildlife Ecology from Cornell University. She helped establish a refuge for the Poc in 1966 (the first national wildlife refuge in Guatemala) and while their numbers rose through the early 1970s they were reduced to only 32 by 1983. The last two birds were seen in 1989. LaBastille’s Mama Poc (1990) recounted her experience with the Giant Pied-billed Grebe and its extinction. Her first book, Bird Kingdom of the Mayas, was published in 1967.

In 1974 she helped build her own small cabin at the northeast end of Twitchell Lake, near Big Moose Lake. While her academic work in the 1970s focused on conservation in South and Central America, particularity Quetzals and Giant Pied-billed Grebes, LaBastille wrote a series of children’s books about wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation and Adirondack related works for a general audience. She had three pieces in Adirondack Life in 1972, including “Canachagala and the Erie Canal,” “The Adirondack Museum” and “Canoeing through time: The Eckford Chain.” She continued to contribute regularly to Adirondack Life and other publications for the next several years, most notably “The endangered loon” and “Across the Adirondacks” for Backpacker Magazine in 1977.

LaBastille was part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s DOCUMERICA Project which hired freelance photographers to document environmental problems, EPA activities, and outdoor recreation. The National Archives has digitized and placed online 370 of her photographs.

Her autobiographical sixth book, Woodswoman, in which she relates her Adirondack experiences in a back-to-the-land Thoreau style, was published in 1976. It drew some critical acclaim, but more enduring was the envy and respect of followers of her adventures in the woods and on the waters. Subsequent volumes included Beyond Black Bear Lake (1987) and Woodswoman III (1997). Her most recent book was Woodswoman IIII, published in 2003 by her own West of the Wind Publications of Wesport.

LaBastille wrote in Woodswoman that she came to the Adirondacks to “sit in my cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by the swaying spruces from the outside world.” In an obituary this morning, long time Adirondack guide and outdoors writer Joe Hackett described LaBastille:

“Following the publication [of Woodswoman], LaBastille became an instant role model for thousands of young women all across the country. Her story offered evidence that a lonely life in the forest can foster great confidence.

“Her story proved to be an inspiration for a generation of female outdoor enthusiasts, and it empowered them to be more independent and self-reliant in their enjoyment of the outdoors.

“In the process of paddling, hiking and camping throughout the Adirondacks, she became an icon of the mountains she wandered. Undoubtedly she cultivated her image, and it didn’t hurt matters that she had blonde hair, a fit figure, a bright smile and a tangible sense of independence. She exuded an air of confidence, and whether she was walking into a diner or paddling across a pond, her presence turned heads. She recognized it and enjoyed it.”

LaBastille received her first (an interim) appointment to the Adirondack Park Agency in 1975 during a time when, as writer David Helvarg has noted, “one of the most militant Property Rights movements in the United States… escalated from protests to punches to vandalism and an organized campaign of terror involving death threats, arson, and gunfire…”. LaBastille became a prominent target.

On August 7, 1992, during the debate over the findings of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century, LaBastille’s barns at her home in Wadhams were destroyed in a fire she believed was an act of arson by residents opposed to the APA (the Adirondack Council’s offices were vandalized on several occasions around the same time).

“I’m a woman alone, so I’m a great target” she said at the time, “What’s happening in the Adirondacks reminds me a lot of the death squad stuff in Central America [where the game warden she worked with was murdered].” Although she claimed at the time that she was doing so out of the demands of her career, she stopped regularly attending APA meetings and resigned the following year.

“Anne became a symbol to these people,” former APA Director Bob Glennon (the man who captured arsonist Brian Gale in the act of torching an APA building in 1976) later remembered. “They’d point to her as a world conservationist and say she didn’t represent the Adirondacks’ point of view, meaning theirs.”

During her tenure at the APA, LaBastille’s predicted many of the issues that would come to the fore in later decades. She argued against the proliferation of towers as early as 1976 [pdf], even opposing the location of the 1980 Olympic ski jumps [pdf]. Her work in Guatemala influenced her early warnings about the endangered loon (which she wrote about for Adirondack Life in 1977) and the dangers of invasive species such as Coho salmon [pdf]. In 1982, she voiced concerns about building an Adirondack economy around prisons [pdf].

LaBastille took an early interest in the impact of acid rain on the Adirondacks and wrote
“Death from the Sky” for Outdoor Life in 1979, the first of a series of articles she wrote about the problem for popular audiences in National Geographic, Garden Journal, Sierra, and other publications. Her work contributed to the greater awareness of the problem which precipitated the 1980 Acid Deposition Act. The law established a 10-year US government research program that produced with first assessment of acid rain in the United States in 1991. LaBastille’s Beyond Black Bear Lake is considered one of the first accounts of the impacts of acid rain written for a popular audience.

LaBastille was the first woman awarded The Explorers Club Citation of Merit in 1984 and the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s Jade of Chiefs Award in 1988. In 1990 she recieved honorary doctorates from Ripon College, Wisconsin and the State University of New York at Albany. She was given the Society of Woman Geographers Gold Medal in 1993 and the following year the Roger Tory Peterson Award for National Nature Educator. In 2008 she received the Howard Zahniser Adirondack Award given by the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and also the the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Adirondack Center for Writing.

In the late 1990s LaBastille began spending less time at her lakeside cabin, and more time at her home in Wadhams near Westport. In 2008 the Almanack reported that she had became too ill to remain at home and her pets were put for adoption. Adirondack Council Conservation Director John Davis later confirmed that “Dear friend and Park champion for decades, Anne LaBastille is for the first time in memory missing a summer at her beloved cabin north of here, due to health concerns.”

Photos: Anne LaBastille with her constant companions at her Twitchell Lake log cabin in 2004 (Courtesy Cornell University); “Rain and Mist on Twichell Lake” (Anne LaBastille, EPA Photo); Souvenir Village Old Forge c 1973 (Anne LaBastille, EPA Photo).

UPDATE: Anne LaBastille’s birth date and age of death were corrected in the this story from 1935 to 1933, based on information discovered by Valerie Nelson of the LA Times.


Monday, June 27, 2011

John Warren: How Gore Mountain Abandoned North Creek

There were radically different stories being told last week in two Adirondack communities located below state owned ski resorts. In Wilmington, residents were talking about their community’s newly recognized esteem in the bicycling world. With the help of ORDA’s Whiteface Mountain, the DEC, local bicyclists, bike businesses and local officials, Wilmington is on the verge of becoming one of the premiere mountain biking destinations in America. » Continue Reading.


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