Saturday, July 3, 2010

Snowberry Clearwing: The Hummingbird Moth

As the flowers in our gardens burst into their summer display, the critters that crave nectar descend upon them, each intent on sipping its share. From birds to bees, they are all there, and if you aren’t careful, you can mistake one for another. Take for example, the clearwing moths, which for us are most likely the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) or the snowberry clearwing (H. diffinis).

These noisy insects look like a cross between a hummingbird and a bumblebee. Like a hummer, they hover before each flower (bumble bees land) as they uncurl their long proboscises (think tongues) to probes the flower’s nectaries for food. Like a bumble bee, these moths are furry: the snowberry clearwing has black and yellow bands, while the hummingbird clearwing tends more towards dark red and black. All three animals (bird, bee, and moth) have wings that hum and buzz while the animals are in flight. It’s enough to give a gardener pause.

I found the snowberry clearwing pictured above this spring as it supped at the tubular flowers of a native honeysuckle. Honeysuckles are one of the favored plants of both the adults and the larvae. Other plants where you might find the adults hovering include orange hawkweed, thistles, and lilacs. I often see them flitting in and out of my patches of bee balm, along with the hummingbirds.

In the spring adult clearwings emerge from the ground where they have spent the winter sleeping snugly in silken cocoons spun the previous fall beneath the leaf litter. Upon emergence, the “fresh” moths have solidly-colored wings: nearly black in appearance. Their first flight, however, with wings flapping to beat the band, causes most of the scales to fall off, especially near the center of each wing. The end result is wings that are nearly scale-less and therefore look clear.

The first flights begin, and soon the female is sending out a pheromone from a gland located near the tip of her abdomen to signal to any available male that she is ready to mate. Once the deed is accomplished, she lays her newly fertilized pale green eggs singly beneath the leaves of a host plant.

Host plants are those that are favored food items of caterpillars. In the case of the snowberry clearwing, several plants will do. Many are in the honeysuckle family, including snowberry (hence the name), but others include cherry, plum, dogbane and the viburnums.

Summer rolls along and the eggs hatch. Miniscule green caterpillars begin to eat, growing a little more each day. They go through five instars, or growth spurts. As it grows, the larva’s patterns begin to emerge: pale green color with black spots along the sides. These spots are called spiracular circles, for they form around the spiracles, or breathing holes (insects do not have lungs and noses like us for breathing – they breathe through holes in their sides). Additionally, the caterpillar sports a spike, or horn, on its rear end. When it reaches its final instar, this spike is blue-black over most of its length, with white and yellow at its base. Some larvae, however, opt for a more subtle coloration and are various shades of brown. Still, the spiked tail and spiracular circles are good clues for ID.

When the final instar is reached, and the larva has eaten its fill, it drops to the ground, crawls under some leaves and spins a silken cocoon in which it will spend the winter. If nothing squashes or eats it, come spring a new adult will emerge and the cycle will begin again.

Another of the common names for these insects is sphinx moth. This name came about from the habit the caterpillars have of rearing up (and looking sphinx-like) when threatened.

Clearwing moths are insects that almost anyone with a flower garden should encounter, for not only are they fairly common, but they are denizens of open areas, like streamsides, fields, and the ‘burbs. Therefore, it should be fairly easy to find one or more. Here’s my suggestion: the next sunny day, grab a lawn chair (or your Adirondack chair) and kick back in front of your flowers. Have a cool drink handy, and a wide-brimmed hat. Keep your eyes open – you just never know what will fly by.


Friday, July 2, 2010

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, July 2, 2010

Lake George: Upland Development Battle Continues

The front lines in the battle over upland development continues to be Lake George. In the latest skirmish, a recent approval of a controversial, three lot subdivision atop a prominent ridge in Bolton Landing has prompted The FUND for Lake George and Lake George Waterkeeper to bring a lawsuit against the Town of Bolton.

The organizations filed the suit against the Town of Bolton’s Planning Board, Zoning Board and Zoning Administrator late last week. According to the suit, the application should have received a variance from the Zoning Board in order for it to be approved by the Planning Board.

“The approval granted by the Planning Board violates the Town Code for driveway width as well as violating the Town of Bolton Zoning Law, because the applicant never obtained a variance to exceed allowable clearing limits for road/driveway construction,” argued Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky.

According to Navitsky, the mile long road to the top of the Pinnacle was described as a shared driveway. “Under the Bolton Zoning and Planning codes, a driveway should only be 16 feet in width. The Planning Board issued a waiver, exempting the applicant’s access road from the Town’s Planning code restrictions of a 16-foot width. The Planning Board’s approval authorized a “shared driveway” of 20 feet in width with two 2-foot shoulders, totaling 24 feet,” said Navitsky.

“What the Planning Board is calling a shared driveway is a road in every way. We’re challenging the Planning Board’s authorization because what it authorized is not what’s been designed. The applicant is planning a road that is eight times as wide as the 24 foot width approved by the Planning Board,” said Navitsky. “This is a clear case where rules and standards exist for a reason. Roads should not involve acres of clear cuts and traverse steep slopes. The extent of disturbance and excessive clearing involved in this proposal will scar the Pinnacle for generations.”

The suit also alleges that the Town Zoning Board of Appeals should have issued a variance to permit excessive clearing. “Town Zoning Law states that clearing for driveways shall not exceed 16 feet. The Zoning Administrator should have recognized the need for a variance once she reviewed the plans and referred the matter to the Zoning Board,” said Navitsky.

“We asked the Town Boards and Town officials numerous times for an explanation of how a shared driveway that’s supposed to be 24 feet wide was approved given that it involves eight acres of clearcutting, widths of over 150 feet, and will be built on grades of over 25%? We never received a response” said Navitsky. “We feel like we attempted every means practical to work with the Town, but they refused to answer these basic questions. Now we’ll let the courts settle the matter.”

“This is an important legal issue because it seeks to clarify the Bolton code and establish an important precedent for placement and design of these shared driveways and roads to upland developments. As more development continues in the uplands of Bolton, many accessed by long driveways or roads over steep terrain, the issues of clearing widths and construction on steep slopes are very important” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of the FUND for Lake George. “In this instance it appears to us that the Town is violating its own local laws.”

Photo: The Pinnacle from Cat Mountain, courtesy Lake George Waterkeeper.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Friday, July 2, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Current Conditions in the Adirondack Park (July 1)

This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to change. For complete Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation conditions see the DEC’s webpage. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].

Fire Danger: Low

Holiday Weekend: Due to the Fourth of July and Canada Day holiday weekends and the forecast for good weather, visitors should be aware that popular parking lots, camping sites, motels and hotels may fill to capacity. Heavy traffic is expected in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness in particular. This is a weekend to seek recreation opportunities in less-used areas of the Adirondack Park.

Weather
Friday: Sunny, with a high near 71.
Friday Night: Partly cloudy, low around 45.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, windy, high near 79.
Saturday Night: Mostly clear, low around 51.
Independence Day: Sunny, high near 85.
Sunday Night: Clear, low around 53.
Monday: Sunny, high near 87.

Biting Insects
It is “Bug Season” in the Adirondacks so Black Flies, Mosquitos, Deer Flies and/or Midges will be present. To minimize the nuisance wear light colored clothing, pack a head net and use an insect repellent.

Firewood Ban
Due to the possibilty of spreading invasive species that could devastate northern New York forests (such as Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Wooly Adeljid and Asian Longhorn Beetle), DEC prohibits moving untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source. Forest Rangers have begun ticketing violators of this firewood ban. More details and frequently asked questions at the DEC website.

General Backcountry Conditions

Wilderness conditions can change suddenly. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.

Rainy Weather: Due to significant recent rainfalls, trails have mud and/or puddles in many locations. Hikers are advised to wear appropriate footwear and to stay on the trail – hike through muddy areas and puddles to avoid widening the trails or creating “herd paths” around those areas. The rains have also raised the water levels of many streams – particularly during and immediately following storm events – low water crossings may not be accessible.

Blowdowns: Due to recent storms and high winds blowdown may be found on trails, particularly infrequently used side trails. Blowdown may be heavy enough in some places to impede travel.

Bear-Resistant Canisters: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear resistant canisters; DEC encourages the use of bear-resistant canisters throughout the Adirondacks.

Local Conditions

The Raquette River Boat Launch on state Route 3 outside Tupper Lake has reopened, although the floating docks are not expected to be installed until mid-July. The canoe and kayak launch area is not yet open but paddlers can launch at the ramp until that area reopens as well.

Moose River Plains Wild Forest: The main Moose River Plains Road (Limekiln Lake-Cedar River Road) is open. DEC, the Town of Inlet, and the Town of Indian Lake have partnered to make repairs to roads and campsites along the road. Gates to side roads, including Rock Dam Road, Indian Lake Road, and Otter Brook Road, remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic at this time.

Lake George Wild Forest / Hudson River Recreation Area: Funding reductions have required that several gates and roads remain closed to motor vehicle traffic. These include Dacy Clearing Road, Lily Pond Road, Jabe Pond Road, Gay Pond Road, Buttermilk Road Extension and Scofield Flats Road.

Lake George Wild Forest: Equestrians should be aware that there is significant blowdown on horse trails. While hikers may be able to get through the trails, it may be impossible or at least much harder for horses to get through. Lack of resources, resulting from the state’s budget shortfall, preclude DEC from clearing trails of blowdown at this time.

Santanoni Historic Preserve: The stone bridge on the Newcomb Lake Road to Camp Santanoni has been repaired and is now passable.

St. Regis Canoe Area: The carry between Long Pond and Nellie Pond has been flooded by beavers about half way between the ponds. A short paddle will be required.

St. Regis Canoe Area: DEC and Student Conservation Association crews will be working throughout the summer to move 8 campsites, close 23 campsites and create 21 new campsites. An online map of the St. Regis Canoe Area depicts the campsites that are being moved, closed or created. Please help protect this work by respecting closure signs. Work will occur during the week, and only on one or two campsites at a time.

Whitney Wilderness / Lake Lila: Beaver activity has caused the flooding of the Stony Pond Road approximately one mile from the trailhead. Please use caution if you choose to cross this area.

Chimney Mountain / Eagle Cave: DEC is investigating the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats in Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Until further notice Eagle Cave is closed to all public access.

Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River Trail is out. The cable bridge over the Opalescent River on the Hanging Spear Falls trail has also been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.

High Peaks/Big Slide Ladder: The ladder up the final pitch of Big Slide has been removed.

High Peaks/VanHovenburg Trail: The High Water Bridge has reopened.

Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail: Much of the blowdown on the Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail between the Calkins Brook lean-tos and Shattuck Clearing has been removed. The trail is open for hikers but remains impassable to horses and wagons. DEC crews continue to work to open the trail.

Calamity Dam Lean-to: Calamity Lean-to #1, the lean-to closest to the old Calamity Dam in the Flowed Lands, has been dismantled and removed.

Mt. Adams Fire Tower: The cab of the Mt. Adams Fire Tower was heavily damaged by windstorms. The fire tower is closed to public access until DEC can make repairs to the structure.

Upper Works – Preston Ponds Washouts: Two foot bridges on the trail between Upper Works and Preston Pond were washed out by an ice jam. One bridge was located 1/3 mile northwest of the new lean-to on Henderson Lake. The second bridge was located several tenths of a mile further northwest. The streams can be crossed by rock hopping. Crossings may be difficult during periods of high water.

Duck Hole: The bridge across the dam has been removed due to its deteriorating condition. A low water crossing (ford) has been marked below the dam near the lean-to site. This crossing will not be possible during periods of high water.

Northville-Placid Trail: Beaver activity has blocked a section between Plumley Point and Shattuck Clearing. Hikers can use a well used, but unmarked, 1/4 mile reroute around the flooded portion of the trail.

——————–
Forecast provided by the National Weather Service; warnings and announcements drawn from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Remembering Ketch: Educator and Conservationist

Dr. Edwin H. Ketchledge died peacefully yesterday. He was 85.

“Ketch,” to all who knew him, was a botanist, teacher and founder of the Summit Steward program, a 20-year collaborative effort to educate hikers and protect vulnerable alpine plants that cling to the Adirondacks’ highest summits.

He was veteran of the 10th Mountain Division’s Italy campaign. Surviving that experience inspired Ketch to live a meaningful life. He dedicated himself to Adirondack conservation, botany and teaching.

Dr. Ketchledge was a distinguished teaching professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

He authored one of the essential Adirondack field guides, Forests & Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region, first published by Adirondack Mountain Club in 1967. He understood the Adirondack landscape in both paleo and poetic terms.

“The forests we see around us now are unique; they have no analogs in the past. Interglacial conditions have been here for only 40 tree generations of time,” he wrote. “The outwardly stable forests we see in our human lifetime are more correctly understood as dynamic populations of competing species, adjusting as necessary over centuries of time to variations in the proverbial balance of nature: that so-called ‘balance’ is more truthfully an episodic teeter-totter!”

He worked in the High Peaks for more than 40 years, surveying, mapping and restoring alpine meadows. His belief that people would take responsibility for protecting the meadows if they were informed about them has been validated by the success of the Summit Steward program, which teaches hikers on-site about the mountaintop ecosystem.

Arrangements are incomplete with the Garner Funeral Home in Potsdam. Gifts in his memory may be made to the Summit Steward program, in care of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and to SUNY-ESF.

Photograph of Ketch on Whiteface Mountain, courtesy of Kathy Regan


Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Study: Visitors Are Younger, More Affluent

Visitors to Lake Placid and Essex County in 2009 were younger and more affluent than in 2008 according to the latest travel and tourism study. For the seventh year in a row, the Technical Assistance Center (TAC), based at SUNY Plattsburgh, was contracted by the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (LPCVB) to conduct an independent, third party Leisure Travel Information Study.

According to the report, the average household income of 2009 respondents was $93,211, which is slightly higher than in 2008 and the 5-year average of $91,610. The average age was 49.9 years, slightly lower than in 2008, with a 5-year average of 48.9 years.

Respondents live primarily in the Northeast. Hotels remain the most common type of lodging respondents used during their stay. When asked to select the activities which attracted them to the region, the top three were consistent with the 5 year average: outdoor activities, relax/dine/shop and sightseeing.

The results affirm many of the findings from previous years according to the study’s authors. Although there are seven years of data, the 2009 report compares to a five year rolling average to smooth out anomalies.

The LPCVB promotes the Schroon Lake, Lake Champlain, Whiteface, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid regions. The study is based on a survey of the LPCVB’s 2009 trackable leads database. New leads are added on a constant basis; walk-in visitors, phone and mail inquiries, bingo cards from magazine advertising, and web signups provide a snapshot of the respondents to the 2009 overall marketing efforts.

Although lakeplacid.com alone receives millions of unique visitors, the survey takes only these trackable leads into consideration. In order to calculate the economic impact of the LPCVB’s marketing efforts exclusively, the results do not include any standard economic multipliers, such as the impact from group visitation, staff expenditures, sales tax or events.

In addition to valuable demographic data and trends, the study’s intent is to determine the effectiveness of the LPCVB’s marketing programs, to measure the return on investment (ROI) ratio for public marketing expenditures and the conversion rate factor, or the number of those leads who actually visited the region.

The report found that the percent of visitors who stated that the information or advertisements viewed influenced their decision to visit the region was 79%, which is near the five-year average of 82%. And, for every occupancy tax dollar the LPCVB spent on marketing, visitors to Essex County spent $89, which is slightly higher than in 2008, and lower than the five-year average of 99:1.

The 2009 report, additional CVB research and more is available for download at a new online resource developed specifically for local tourism-related businesses at www.lakeplacidcvb.com.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ellen Rathbone: Thoughts on Flies and Death

Last night at chorus practice a fellow tenor and I got to discussing flies and death. The conversation started off normally enough, with her asking me how the flies were in Newcomb. I allowed as how the blackflies were still around, but not terribly problematic, the mosquitoes were quite numerous and taking over my house, and the deerflies were holding their own. Mostly, however, I told her of how the large black “house” flies were filling up my kitchen window and buzzing around the house until all hours of the night.

From here the conversation turned to her childhood. She told me of how her father had deer hanging in the cellar at all times of the year so the family could eat. Sometimes in summer the meat would start to get rather ripe. And then the flies arrived: they would line the doors, crawl on the tables. For a small child, they could be quite terrifying. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To The Top: Biking The Whiteface Memorial Highway

File this one under, “What took so long?”

The Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Whiteface Mountain, will let bicyclists ride the Whiteface Memorial Highway, a 5-mile auto road, to the summit for a $5 fee during its summer operations.

Extreme cyclists have always plied their leg strength against Whiteface’s 3,500-foot climb from Wilmington (2,300 feet from the toll booth). But bicycles have never been allowed on the road when the toll booth was open during the summer — they had to sneak in before or after hours.

Why? Turns out the culprit was an old DEC memo that prohibited non-motorized transportation on the road, said ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin. “We just kind of abided by that,” he said. “There hasn’t been a demand until recently.”

These days, more and more people are taking bikes to the Adirondacks, as witnessed by Whiteface’s mountain-bike activities at the ski center, a nearby mountain biking area called the Flume Trail system and the debate about turning railroad tracks into rail-trails happening a few miles away.

Finally, someone at ORDA thought to ask the DEC to rethink the memo. Turns out, now it’s OK.

So, if you want to ride during the day — and get to visit the summit house — it’s $5 per cycle. Helmets are required (but you’d be a fool to go screaming down that hill without one anyway). Whiteface is the state’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet.

Cheapskates who just want to ride to the top can still ride around the gate before or after hours for free.

For those who like thrill, challenge and lactic burn of hill-climbing, Whiteface is only one of a handful of mountains in the Northeast that allow cycling to the top. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (6,288) and Mt. Mansfield (4,393) and Mt. Equinox (3,850) in Vermont do not let cyclists on their roads, except during a yearly race held on those peaks.

In Massachusetts, cyclists are allowed to ride up the road to Mt. Greylock, the state’s highest peak, but the elevation is not nearly as high as these more significant peaks. Further to the northeast, Ascutney, Okemo and Burke mountains in Vermont all allow bikes to the top (but with pitches significantly steeper than Whiteface’s 8-percent grade).

Photo courtesy of ORDA.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days, July 10-11

The Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days, which has grown from a small local one-day affair to a large two-event attracting thousands of visitors, will be celebrating its 29th year this July 11th and 12th. The event features lumberjack and lady jack events, heavy equipment contests, the Adirondacks’ largest horse-pull, chain saw carvings, and a wide range of games and contests for geared toward the entire family.

The festivities kick off Friday evening and the public is invited to join with woodsmen, heavy equipment operators and representatives of the woods industry at the event’s annual banquet – this year being held at the Park Restaurant on Park Street in Tupper Lake, beginning at 6 p.m.

Woodsmen’s Days will kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday morning with what organizers are calling “one of the largest parades ever staged in the North Country.” “The miles long procession, featuring well over 50 entries of floats, marching bands and logging equipment, will wind its way through the business district en route to the municipal park where the thrilling events take place,” according to a press notice.

Contestants (lumberjacks and lady jacks) from around the United States and Canada, will chop, saw, roll and maneuver heavy logs in a number of contests beginning at noon. The events that day will include open and modified chain sawing (four classes), cross-cut and buck-saw matches, log rolling, axe throwing, human log skidding, tree felling and horizontal log chop.

Last year Dave Engasser of Cortland and Julie Miller of Branchport were crowned 2009 Lumberjack of the Year and 2009 Lumberjill of the Year.

Outside the park staging area, as well as the lakefront area, various vendors and heavy equipment dealers will be on display. Games and contests, as well as a varied menu of food and refreshments will also be offered both days.

That afternoon, at 1 p.m. in the heavy equipment area, heavy equipment operators from around the northeast will face off in the popular loading competition.

A highlight of the evening will begin at 7 p.m. when youngsters compete in their own games. At 7:30 p.m., the men and women to take over the area to team up in various competitions including the tug-of-war and greased pole climb.

At noon Sunday, the Adirondacks’ largest horse pull will compete for nearly $4,000 in prizes in the heavy and lightweight horse pull divisions; skidding and truck driving competitions will begin at 1 pm. Last year Jon Duhaime emerged as the 2009 Heavy Equipment Operator of the Year.

For more information or a reservation for Friday’s banquet contact the Woodsmen’s Association at (518) 359-9444 or online at http://www.woodsmendays.com/.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chris Morris: Fall 2010 Election Preview

We’re a little more than two months out from the September primary elections, so it’s a good time to take stock on what we’ll be dealing with this fall.

Statewide, the governor’s race is sure to capture most of the headlines, although early polling indicates Democrat Andrew Cuomo will be our next governor.

Former Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio is the front-runner for the Republicans, and then there’s Carl Paladino, who’s picked up some tea party support and hopes to challenge Lazio come September.

And Mr. Paladino has already added a little sizzle and spice to what has so far been a ho-hum gubernatorial race. For starters, some of the first press the Buffalo-area mogul received followed leaked emails that featured racist material and images of bestiality. That’s one way to kick off a campaign with a bang.

Then, last week, Paladino set his sights on New York Governor David Paterson. During a meeting with voters and some members of the press, including Jude Seymour of the Watertown Daily Times, Paladino called the governor a “drug addict.”

Seymour recorded the meeting, and you can watch it here.

The comments were downplayed by Paterson and his staff, perhaps because Paterson isn’t running for reelection and has more important things to worry about at the moment (see: NY’s ongoing budget mess).

In fact, Paladino’s comments about Paterson seem to have caught the ear of voters who were unfamiliar with him. Judging from subsequent interviews, it doesn’t appear that Paladino will back off in the near future.

Howie Hawkins is running for governor as the Green Party’s candidate. Hawkins’ has a history of activism that dates back to the 1960s; in 2005, he ran for mayor of the city of Syracuse on the Green Party Line. He also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, during which he campaigned to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There’s tons more about Hawkins at his website.

There’s a fourth person in the mix, but whether or not he’ll end up in a primary battle with Cuomo is hard to say. Charles Barron is a New York City councilman who says he’s running for governor because there’ s a lack of diversity on the ticket this year.

Barron is referring to the fact that most of the gubernatorial candidates are white men. He says he’ll run on the newly-formed New York Freedom Democratic Party line.

In the Adirondack region, it’s the two Congressional elections that are sure to dominate headlines here on out. Democratic Representative Bill Owens faces a potential three-way race in the 23rd Congressional District, as Republican businessman Matt Doheny and Conservative accountant Doug Hoffman gear up for a September primary.

Doheny has stated he’ll bow out of the race if he loses the primary. Hoffman, on the other hand, says he’ll forge ahead on the Conservative line if he fails to lock up the Republican line.

The wrangling in the 23rd district begs the question: does a three-way race guarantee a second Owens victory?

In an interview with North Country Public Radio, Siena Research Institute pollster Steven Greenberg told Jonathan Brown there’s some concern with the conservative block of voters that a split ticket will end in Owens winning again. Conversely, on the liberal side, voters may be prematurely raising their glasses in victory.

I asked Upstate New York Tea Party (UNYTEA) chairman Mark Barie about the “third party” issue. Here’s what he told me:

“It’s a question on both sides of the political aisle now,” he said. “Hoffman has the Conservative Party endorsement, Doheny has the Independence Party’s support. Continuing in the race on a third party line, for either candidate, is very difficult.”

Barie also said that Doheny is “no Dede Scozzafava.” I took that to mean he’s a more cut and dry Republican candidate than the North Country Assemblywoman — who ended up throwing her support behind Owens just days before the election.

The 20th Congressional District election will be easier to follow. Republican Chris Gibson will challenge incumbent Democrat Scott Murphy, who won the seat last year in a special election to replace U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

There’s also the two U.S. Senate races, as Gillibrand and Charles Schumer both battle to keep their seats. It should be a good ride, and I’ll do my best here to keep you updated on developments as they occur.

If you like politics, buckle up. This fall should be fun.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Ski Jumping Season Begins in Lake PLacid

A tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century will continue Saturday, July 3, when ski jumpers take to the Olympic Jumping Complex for the beginning of the summer ski jumping season.

Summer ski jumping actually began on snow when blocks of ice were removed from area lakes and stored until needed for the competitions. This ice was brought to the jumps and crushed into the hill. Crews laboriously spread this “snow” along the length of the site to allow the event to occur.

In the late-1980s artificial surfaces, introduced in Europe for summer training, made their way to Lake Placid. Now the in-run, where the jumpers gain speed, is made of porcelain tile troughs, while the landing hill is a synthetic surface layered like a thatched roof. When the in-run and the landing hill are watered, the result is a winter replica of speeds and jumping distance.

The July 3 winner will have a leg up on the 2010 Art Devlin Cup chase. This is a season-long series that includes the July 3 event, the Flaming Leaves meet in October and the Masters Ski Jump in December. The day begins at 1 p.m. with the first of two official rounds.

Admission is $15 for adults, $9 for juniors and seniors and includes a chairlift ride and an elevator ride to the top of the 120-meter ski jump. Food and drinks are offered by ORDA’s concessionaire.

Admission into this event is included when purchasing an Olympic Sites Passportwhich provides purchasers access to each of ORDA’s Olympic venues for $29. They are sold at the ORDA Store on Main Street in Lake Placid and all ticket offices. For more information about the Olympic Sites Passport can be found online.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Wilderness on the Raquette River:Should Motorboats Be Banned?

Ah, the ideal Adirondack day: sunny, mild, few people, no bugs. These circumstances aligned the other day when I paddled from Axton Landing to Raquette Falls.

The six-mile trip up the Raquette River is one of the more popular flatwater paddles in the Adirondacks. (Click here for a description and photos.) Meandering upriver, you see lovely silver maples overhanging grassy banks, kingfishers darting across the water, common mergansers with their young in train, inlets that lead to hidden marshes. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Local Power and Energy History: Windmill Déjà Vu

Scores of gigantic wind turbines in the Adirondacks’ northeastern and southwestern foothills are a startling site amidst historically bucolic scenery. The landscape appears “citified,” with structures nearly 40 stories high where the largest buildings rarely top 3 stories. It is a dramatic change, and a far cry from simpler days when family farms were prevalent.

Few realize that in those “simpler days” of dairy farms, windmills were actually quite common across the region. Of course, the windmills once dotting the North Country’s landscape were nothing like today’s behemoths, which stand nearly 400 feet high from the ground to the tip of a skyward-pointing blade. And, the windmills of old weren’t always efficient machines.

Wind technology took a tremendous leap forward in the 1850s thanks to Daniel Halladay, a Connecticut machinist. Halladay’s windmill not only pumped water, but automatically turned to face into the wind as it changed directions. Almost as important, he devised a way to control the speed of the blades (windmills are prone to destruction from within when operating at high rpm levels). Halladay established the US Wind Engine & Pump Company, setting up shop in Illinois. From the start, the business flourished.

Though his sales were focused on the country’s expansion westward, New York State was also experiencing dramatic growth, particularly in the remote northern Adirondack foothills, where pioneers faced a harsh climate and difficult living conditions. Halladay’s invention eventually helped turn some of those weather negatives into positives by taking advantage of wind patterns across upper New York State.

In 1874, the railroad was expanding north from Whitehall towards Plattsburgh. Since steam engines require water, the line generally followed the shore of Lake Champlain. Tanks were constructed along the route where the rails neared the lakeshore. Steam pumps or windmills were used to fill the feeder tanks, which had a capacity of 33,000 gallons each.

As settlers moved north on both sides of the Adirondacks, windmill technology crept northward with them. Farming was necessary for survival, and the enormous workload was eased by mechanical devices like windmills. The description of one man’s operation about 18 miles south of Lowville was typical of the times: “ … a beautiful farm of 280 acres, milks 35 cows, and is a model farm. House, barns, windmill pump, all systematically arranged.”

In situations like that, windmills often filled tanks placed on the upper floor of a barn. The water was then gravity-fed to the livestock below, and piped to other locations as needed. The machine was also used to grind various grains. Early models were mounted on wooden frames, but many fell victim to the very power they were trying to harness, toppling before raging windstorms. Eventually, steel frames supported most windmills.

Wind power wasn’t just for individual homes and farms. In July 1879, H. H. Babcock & Sons of Watertown was hired to install a windmill at 1000 Islands State Park. Water was drawn from the St. Lawrence River to large tanks near the dining hall, and from there was conducted to the various cottages by galvanized iron pipe.

And at Hermon, a contract for $6,595.00 was signed with Daniel Halladay’s company to install a new waterworks system. Included were a wooden tank of 50,000-gallon capacity, a windmill with a wheel diameter of 20 feet, and more than a mile of piping. The frost-proof tank was 24 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 3 inches thick. It sat on a trestle 20 feet high, while the windmill stood on a trestle 80 feet high.

Many hotels, including the Whitney House in Norwood and the Turin House in Turin, used windmills to power their water systems. At Chazy, windmills pumped water from the quarries; at Port Henry, they filled water tanks for the trains; and at Saranac Lake, they fed the water supply of the Adirondack Sanitarium.

In 1889, George Baltz of Watertown handled the Halladay display at the Jefferson County Fair, demonstrating that windmills furnished cheaper power than steam engines and could run a feed mill, a circular saw for cutting wood, or pump water.

Though Halladay’s products were widely known, he did have competitors. Some added their own modifications, and some were “copycats.” And they weren’t all products from afar. In 1882, an advertisement touted a windmill “warranted to take care of itself in high winds, equal to the best western mills, and is sold for half the money. It is manufactured at Potsdam.” It featured a self-regulator, and appeared to be based on Halladay’s own successful model.

In the late 1890s, most of the windmills in the Ticonderoga and Lake George area were products of the Perkins Windmill Company, which had already installed more than 50 units across the lake in Vermont. Though windmills in the Midwest were primarily for irrigation, most of those in the North Country supplied water to homes, businesses, and farm animals.

Wind power did face competition from other sources. Gasoline engines became more and more common, offering a reliable alternative. However, they were expensive, noisy, and costly to run. An operator had to be present to start and stop a gas engine, while windmills employed a system of floats to start and stop filling the tanks automatically. A once-a-week oiling was the only required maintenance. The biggest problem at the time was that gas engines ran when you wanted them to, but windmills depended on the weather.

The giant turbines we see in northern New York today are not a new idea. In a peek at the future, Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio demonstrated in 1888 the first use of a large windmill to generate electricity. As early as 1895, observers noted that windmills were “destined to be much used for storing electricity. We predict an immense future for the windmill industry.”

In 1910, a farm in America’s Midwest employed windmills to charge a bank of batteries. Wind power provided electricity to light the farm and operate the equipment, and when the wind didn’t blow, the farm ran on battery power for a few days.

By 1925, wind turbines had been used to run refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and power tools. And in 1926, the NYS Fair urged farmers to purchase windmills, using a 12-foot-high model to show the benefits they might enjoy. It was an enticing glimpse at the potential of electricity. Ironically, the popularity of windmills soon became their undoing.

Though they were a wonderful source of cheap power, the main problem was intermittent operation. When the wind didn’t blow, the tools didn’t go. Battery storage systems were only good for brief periods, and people wanted power WHEN they wanted it. Soon, another overriding factor arose—the growing need for huge amounts of electricity.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, constantly flowing electricity was the goal, relegating wind power to the background of the energy battle. It was still used, and advancements were pursued, but success was limited. One notable effort was the huge Smith-Putnam windmill installed atop Grandpa’s Knob near Castleton and Rutland, Vermont, in 1941.

Though less than half the size of today’s models, it was still large, featuring a 16-ton, 175-foot steel rotor that turned at 28 RPM. Occasional use ended abruptly in 1945 when metal fatigue caused the blade to snap, hurling a huge section 1000 feet down the mountain.

In the North Country, windmills have returned after a long hiatus. They stand ten times taller than their predecessors, and now pump electricity instead of water. Where potato, hop, and dairy farms once dominated, the wind farms of today stand above all others.

Photo Top: Windmills 400 feet tall at Churubusco (and another under construction in the foreground).

Photo Middle Right: Typical use of windmill to fill railroad water tanks.

Photo Middle Left: Halladay windmills were offered by George Baltz of Watertown.

Photo Bottom: Advertisement for Halladay’s company.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 28, 2010

VIC Commentary: Vital Service, No One’s Responsibility

I went to the ceremony this week that formally announced plans for a smooth transition of the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Newcomb from the Adirondack Park Agency to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

It was a great relief to learn that APA, SUNY and the Town of Newcomb had been planning for this transfer of responsibilities even before the Governor’s budget announced plans to close both VICs in 2011. The fate of Paul Smith’s VIC remains very much up in the air, despite a long-held awareness that interpreting the Adirondack environment is a vitally important job and service that should be available to anybody throughout the Adirondacks at low or no cost.

The tragedy of the commons holds that all parts of the environment that we share in common is everybody’s to use, perhaps to exploit, and nobody’s to care for. The resource seems abundant, someone is responsible, it just isn’t me. The failure to systematically make the incredibly diverse and exciting natural and cultural history of the Adirondacks accessible to more Adirondackers and visitors to the Park is one of those tragedies.

Interpreting what is in a Park, and how it came to be there, and how it relates to people’s lives is a fundamental mission of the National Park Service, but not of any one agency in the Adirondack Park. It is said that not systematically offering to interpret a place to which so many are drawn, like the Adirondacks, is akin to inviting someone into your own home, and then abruptly disappearing. How many families have come and left the Park without ever encountering an Adirondack expert, in whatever field, who is also well versed in this form of public communication? Well over ten million people visit the Park each year. Less than one percent may seek out or casually encounter someone who can deepen their awareness, understanding and knowledge of Adirondack wildlife, Forest Preserve, unique architecture, or cultural history. This failure to reach more people with expert interpretation remains one of the greatest gaps in the continuing maturation and overall performance of the Adirondack Park.

The building and opening of the NYS APA’s VICs at Paul Smith’s and Newcomb in the late 1980s were expected to be the catalyst for the development of a well distributed and coordinated network of interpretive services across the Park. The Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st century made the “development of a comprehensive interpretive system for the Adirondack Park” one of the core functions of a proposed Adirondack Park Service (see the Commission’s Technical Report Vol. 1, #11 by Thomas L. Cobb, one of the Commission’s staff). Once built, in the 1990s the APA finally selected Adirondack Discovery as its nonprofit partner or arm of the VICs. Discovery featured expert presentations, coupled with field trips covering a wide range of Adirondack subjects, and convened these programs in town halls and libraries throughout the region, thus expanding the reach of the two VICs at very low cost since all expertise and service delivery were volunteered. Discovery’s founder, Joan Payne of Inlet, said at a 1987 conference called Envisioning an Interpretive Future for the Adirondack Park (see Cobb), “the trick in this whole field of interpretation is to bring together people who are receptive and eager to learn with people whose love of the place and all of its components just overflows.” She and Discovery did this very well for 25 years. I was just one of hundreds of people she invited to speak to local audiences throughout the summer months. In my case, I spoke about the Park’s conservation history that dated to the 19th century, and tried to relate that history to current events and threats. These talks and walks introduced me to some great towns and villages, people filled with curiosity and local knowledge, and opportunities for enlisting them in our cause of protecting the Adirondack Park.

Adirondack Discovery has ended its work, Joan died in 2009, and the VICs are threatened with closure. We can be grateful that the Newcomb VIC will in 2011 be under new management which has a similar commitment to “educational resources for both students and visitors so that they can learn about the wonders of ecology in the Adirondacks” (SUNY ESF President Neil Murphy). I walked Newcomb’s Peninsula Trail after the ceremony, feeling the freshness of discovery that I felt in 1990, gratitude for all the staff and volunteers who for 20 years have devoted themselves to enriching the lives of visitors, and the hope that anybody who comes here in future years will be guaranteed the chance to meet a naturalist who can help them gain fresh insights, and rekindle their love of and commitment to this Park that is so unique on planet earth.

Hopefully, Paul Smith’s College and other partners will help maintain and extend the services of the Paul Smith’s VIC. Meanwhile, The Wild Center, Adirondack Museum, Adirondack Architectural Heritage, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Explorer, and many other diverse institutions are doing wonderful interpretive work. The stubborn questions still remain: who is coordinating and marketing all of those efforts? Who is ensuring that visitors and residents alike receive a schedule of all their program offerings? This continued failure to guarantee a Park-wide system of interpretive services is a gap we all share in common, and a problem nobody has the clear responsibility to solve. As Tom Cobb wrote for the Commission, “the future of education and interpretation in the Adirondack Park hinges on the acceptance of this role as an integral part of park operation and management.”

Photo: From the Peninsula Trail, Rich Lake, Newcomb VIC


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