Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities: Scenic RR Summer Events

There certainly is controversy about the Adirondack Scenic Railroad being a viable tourist attraction versus the tracks becoming an interconnecting bike path through the towns of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

Those that believe the expense, need and usage isn’t warranted are often pitted against nostalgic train riders who want to ride the rails. For now the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is running full steam ahead for the summer season. For parents wishing for a different type of experience, perhaps this is the way to go.

I have never been sure what made my son stop in his tracks when he heard a train’s whistle. Is it a taste of magic, new destinations or a promise of adventure? For us as we board the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and hear the conductor yell “Ready to button up,” it is a bit of each. With our busy lives this is one Adirondack family activity where we really do get to sit and watch clouds go by. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vintage Fire Equipment Show July 23rd

This year Chilson Volunteer Fire Department will celebrate its 50th anniversary with an antique-and-classic firefighting equipment show at the department’s annual barbecue.

The event, which is open to the public, takes place on July 23rd at the department’s headquarters, 60 Putts Pond Road in Ticonderoga. Festivities begin at noon and the barbecue will be served beginning at 2:00 p.m. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bishop Wins Wilmington-Whiteface 100 K Bike Race

On Sunday over 200 cyclists participated in the Wilmington/Whiteface 100 K race. While some were hoping just to complete the challenging 57-mile course, others were aiming to qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race (LT100). People from all walks of life competed in this event, from professionals to Olympic athletes.

The Leadville 100 was created in 1994 and participants previously had to gain access by using a lottery system; now, athletes hoping to complete in the prestigious race can qualify through one of the qualifying races in Wilmington, Tahoe, and Crested Butte. Each of the three races allow 100 racers to qualify for spots in the LT 100; 50 of these slots are based on age group performance, while the other 50 with a drawing among the athletes who finished within the time standard. Wilmington’s race, along with the other two in the western part of the country, is one of the inaugural races, as 2011 is the first year ever to allow athletes to qualify. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adirondack Insects: The Spittlebug

After several days without a significant rain, an observant gardener pulling up clumps of weeds, or a perceptive hiker traveling through a pine forest or a meadow near a stand of conifers may notice a glob of saliva-like fluid attached to a wildflower stalk or the stem of a piece of grass.

Occasionally referred to by some people as snake spit, or frog spit, this common frothy deposit of whitish, watery liquid is neither associated with a snake or frog, nor is it produced by the salivary glands of any creature. The spit-like fluid seen on various plants during the early days of summer in the Adirondacks is a form of protective enclosure that surrounds a small insect known as the spittlebug. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Essex County Grange Hall Farm Mixer

The Greenhorns, a national nonprofit organization led by a self described “raucous posse of America’s new generation of farmers,” will host a grange hall mixer at the historic Whallonsburg Grange Hall on the shores of Lake Champlain this Saturday, June 25th beginning at 10 am and continuing into the night.

More than 150 aspiring, young, beginning and veteran farmers from the Hudson Valley, Champlain Valley, Capital Region, Adirondacks, and even some Vermonters are expected to attend this inaugural event. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Unlikely History of Pigeons in the Adirondacks

Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity.

The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.

Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.

The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.

Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.

In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.

According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.

This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.

Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.

In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.

Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.

That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “No person shall take or interfere with any… homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark.”

“Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles. They didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather. Many of the birds that landed in the North Country came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common.

In 1912, one Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.

In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.

And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.

Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.

In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.

During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.

Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.

Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon (broken leg) found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that broke the bird’s leg. It was suspected that the balloon had finally gone down over Lake Ontario.

One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.

Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachment—a piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.

Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”

In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.

It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoon—it was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.

Photo Top: Homing pigeon with message in tube.

Photo Middle: WW I military troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon.

Photo Bottom: Winged members of the military.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 20, 2011

DEC Planning for Tug Hill North

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will begin developing a unit management plan (UMP) for the 42,408-acre unit called Tug Hill North. The Unit is located in the Lewis County towns of Harrisburg, Martinsburg, Montague and Pinckney and the Jefferson County towns of Lorraine, Rodman, Rutland and Worth just outside the Adirodnack Park.

An open house meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 22, 2011, from 7-9 p.m. at the Copenhagen Central School. Before the meeting, from 6 to 7 p.m., the public will have an opportunity to meet one on one with DEC planning staff and offer comments regarding the future management of the area. Additional opportunities for public review and comments will be available after a draft is prepared. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lake George Theater Lab’s 7th Season

The Lake George Theater Lab has announced its 2011 season, “A love letter to the Adirondacks”, including their annual free outdoor Shakes on the Lake “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” (the very first Shakespeare play they performed in Rogers Memorial Park); Tales for Tots Players (a children’s show); “The Cottage”(an eerie and mysterious new play representing the New Play Laboratory); an evening of original Ghost Stories; and “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney, starring Lake George Theater Lab Artistic Director Lindsey Gates and Adirondack Theater Festival Artistic Director Mark Fleischer.

The season opens with the annual free outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, or, What You Will”, Shakespeare’s comedy about love, mistaken identity and the power of will. The Theater Lab has again teamed up with the Classical Acting Studio at New York University’s Associate Director Daniel Spector, who cuts all of Shakespeare’s scripts to 90 minutes, casts the play with graduates of the Classical Studio, rehearses at a breakneck pace and brings a naturalistic Shakespeare to Rogers Memorial Park. Through a grant from New York’s Roundtable Ensemble the production will be performing in New York City’s Riverside Park June 24th and 25th before travelling upstate. July 14th, 15th and 16th, Rogers Memorial Park, Route 9A; 7:30 PM. Rain location is at Bolton Rec Center. Free and outdoors.

Next up is Daisy Foote’s “The Cottage”, an eerie mystery set on an unnamed body of water in upstate New York. Every summer Lake George Theater Lab selects artists to come upstate for a week on the lake and lab a brand new play. The playwright, director and actors all live in one house and workshop the play’s structure, theme, dialogue, etc., and then present a reading to the public with a guided talk-back afterward for the playwright to gather as much feedback as possible. Daisy Foote and the director Evan Yionoulis are frequent collaborators, including Ms. Foote’s play “Bhutan” off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater and Daisy’s upcoming play “Him” this Fall at Primary Stages in New York City. Ms. Foote is the daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Horton Foote. July 30; The Sagamore Hotel, 110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing; 8:00 PM; $15. Reservations: (518)203-2600.

The full Lake George Theater Lab 2011 season includes:

“Twelfth Night, or, What You Will”

Shakes on the Lake
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Spector
July 14-16, 7:30 PM
Rogers Memorial Park
Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing
Rain location- Bolton Rec Center
Free. Outdoors.

Tales for Tots

Children’s Fairytale performance
July 20, Free
Bolton Free Library
(518)644-2233

“The Cottage”

New Play Lab
By Daisy Foote
Directed by Evan Yionoulis
July 30th, 8 PM
Sagamore Hotel
110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing
$15, (518)203-2600

Original Ghost Stories

August 6, 8 PM
Sembrich Opera Museum
Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing
$12, (518)203-2600

“Love Letters”

By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Michael Barakiva
Starring Lindsey Gates and Mark Fleischer
August 12-14, 8 PM/2PM
Sagamore Hotel
110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing
$25, (518)203-2600


Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Stewards; Assistant Forest Rangers Return

Adirondack backcountry users and the state’s natural resources will both receive a higher level of protection following the creation of a Backcountry Stewards Internship Program, a new partnership between New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA), and the reinstatement of the Assistant Forest Ranger program.

The Backcountry Stewardship Program expands on a long-running partnership between SCA and DEC that began more than a decade ago in the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondacks. Funding from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) will be matched by contributions from SCA to hire college-aged students to work on state lands. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Stoddard Adirondack Waterfalls Photo Exhibit

A new exhibit featuring twenty original Seneca Ray Stoddard photographs of waterfalls in the Adirondacks is now on view at the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls.

Included are popular falls located on the Hudson, Raquette and Ausable Rivers, as well as lesser known falls in remote locations in the central Adirondacks — places that today still are accessible only by foot. Examples are Roaring Brook Falls on Giant, Buttermilk Falls on the Raquette, Surprise Falls on Gill Brook near Lower Ausable, and Silver Cascade in Elizabethtown. The photos will be on display until July 3rd. » Continue Reading.


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