Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Backcountry Explorer’s New Year’s Resolutions

As the New Year is almost upon us I thought I would take part in the time-honored tradition of making a list of New Year’s resolutions. But unlike those typical resolutions of “exercise more,” “lose weight,” and “change my career” this list will concentrate on backcountry exploration in the Adirondacks.

The following is a list of my 10 New Year’s backcountry/bushwhacking resolutions in no particular order.

1. Spend more money while in the Adirondacks.

Typically in the past, I race up to the Adirondacks, go on whatever hike/bushwhack I have planned and afterward depart for home almost immediately upon exiting the backcountry. The most I would purchase is a couple drinks and a small snack on my drive home.

This year I would like to try make more purchases either while in the Adirondacks or en route. Such items as gas, food for the trip and perhaps even some equipment could be purchased while in the Adirondacks.

For years I have had my eye on an Adirondack pack basket at The Natural Basket Shop in Natural Bridge but when I stopped in this year the price scared me off. This year I will have to pull the trigger on that purchase.

2. Spend more time exploring the backcountry.

This past year I only got out exploring the backcountry three times. All three were in the Adirondacks: one in the Five Ponds Wilderness for eight days and the other two times in the Pepperbox Wilderness for three and five days.

Sixteen days in the backcountry was clearly not enough so with the New Year I definitely would like to surpass this past year’s total.

3. Explore some new places.

Lately, I have been concentrating my backcountry explorations in the northwestern part of the Adirondacks, specifically either the Five Ponds or Pepperbox Wildernesses. This year I would like to branch out and at least visit one place outside of the northwestern part of the Adirondacks or somewhere outside the Adirondacks completely.

One possible location would be the West Canada Lake Wilderness, which I have hiked through multiple times but never investigated with the intention of bushwhacking before. Also, I have been seriously thinking of doing some backpacking within Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

4. Try to stay healthy.

One of the reasons for the few bushwhacking trips this past year was due to back issues that struck me in the middle of the summer. Then during autumn I developed a strained groin and it went all downhill from there.

With the New Year I would like to try to stay healthy so I can enjoy more days out in the backcountry. To remain healthy I will have to work out smarter in 2011 than I did during this past year.

5. Avoid buying more expensive equipment.

I spent a good deal of hard-earned cash on a few expensive pieces of backcountry equipment this past year. The reasons for these purchases varied from replacing old equipment to enhancing my ability to describe my adventures.

The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx handheld personal GPS was purchased to replace my previous GPS, which had started to go on the fritz the year before. The Gitzo tripod head and legs were acquired so I could take better pictures to chronicle my adventures. And finally, I purchased a SONY recorder so I could avoid taking so many notes while bushwhacking through the backcountry. All of these expensive items were used throughout my three trips except the recorder. The recorder was actually more of an effort than simply writing the notes on paper. But it was useful for recording the morning bird chorus.

6. Give more money to charities dedicated to preserving wild areas within the Adirondacks.

This past year I was somewhat lax in my charitable contributions to Adirondack-centric organizations. During 2011 I would like to give more financial support to organizations devoted to preserving natural areas, protecting the environment and lobbying politicians for environmentally-friendly policies at all levels of government. Examples of such organizations are the Adirondack Council the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Mountain Club.

7. Communicate my support for public land acquisition within the Adirondacks to my elected officials

Although I do not live within the Blue Line, I am still a tax-paying New Yorker and I need to let my elected officials know of my support for further land acquisitions and/or conservations easements in the Adirondack Park. This is particularly important with a new governor for whom conservation does NOT appear to be a priority, especially during tough economic times when funds are scarce.

8. Haul more garbage out of the backcountry.

There seems to be no shortage of irresponsible people in the backcountry who refuse to pick up after themselves. It seems as if I am regularly finding new sources of litter in the backcountry in the most unlikely of places. This litter ranges from candy wrappers to discarded equipment to balloons.

9. Do some backcountry volunteering.

During 2011 I would like to do some backcountry-oriented volunteering. I am not certain in what form this volunteering would take but such programs as the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adopt-a-Lean-to or Adopt-a-Wild-Land programs would be a good start. Perhaps someone could suggest some other opportunities for volunteering in the Adirondacks.

10. Promote outdoor recreation especially backcountry bushwhacking.

In 2011 I want to continue to promote backcountry bushwhacking via this website and on my own blog at the Bushwhacking Fool.

Although 2010 was a good year for backcountry exploration these resolutions should ensure that 2011 will be an even better one. I hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year’s celebration filled with hats, noise-makers and helium-filled balloons. On second thought, scratch those balloons, I would hate to have to pick up their remains in the backcountry.

Happy New Year!

Photo: Conifer trees along a stream in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

DEC Region 5 Forest Ranger Report (Nov-Dec 2010)

What follows is the Novemeber and December Forest Ranger Activity Report for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. These reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date. You can read previous Forest Ranger Reports here.

These incident reports are a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry and always carry a 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.

The Adirondack Almanack reports current outdoor recreation and trail conditions each Thursday evening. Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Conditions Report on Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and on the stations of North Country Public Radio. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anthony Hall: Another Side of Kenneth Durant

Last week, I posted an article here on the Almanack about Kenneth Durant, best known today for his authoritative history of the Adirondack guide-boat.

But for people with more than a casual interest in things Adirondack, one of the most fascinating things about Durant is his biography. A member of Harvard’s class of 1910, which also included John Reed and T.S. Eliot, he attended the Versailles peace conference as an aide to Woodrow Wilson’s envoy, Colonel House. And before retiring to Jamaica, Vermont, and devoting himself to researching the evolution of the guide-boat, he was the US bureau chief for TASS, the Soviet news agency.

I don’t know whether that was common knowledge before Durant’s death in 1972. I once asked my mother whether it would be a violation of trust to write about that aspect of his career. She advised against publishing anything locally about Kenneth’s time with TASS, on the grounds that it was not something he would have wished discussed in public.

In 2003, however, Amy Godine wrote a meticulously researched article for Adirondack Life titled “The Red Woods,” about leftists with Adirondack associations, Kenneth Durant included.

Godine also wrote about my father, Rob Hall, a Daily Worker editor who left the Communist party in 1956 and moved to the Adirondacks. In last week’s post, I was somewhat disingenuous when implying that my family’s friendship with Kenneth and his wife Helen was based on a shared interest in the history of wood boats.

To be sure, my father was interested in Kenneth’s work on guide-boats, and published excerpts from the work in progress in his weekly newspapers and later in the Conservationist magazine.

Kenneth also solicited my father’s help in publicizing Tom Bissell’s fiberglass guide-boats, which Bissell manufactured in Long Lake in the early 1960s.

But my parents’ relationship with the Durants began well before they moved to the Adirondacks, and it was much more complex than most of their Adirondack friendships.

Genevieve Taggard, a poet and biographer of Emily Dickinson, was a teacher of my mother’s at Sarah Lawrence College in the late 1940s; Taggard was also Kenneth’s second wife.

After my mother graduated from Sarah Lawrence, she went to work for TASS, presumably upon the advice or at least with the consent of Kenneth, who had retired from TASS in 1944.

Kenneth, in fact, became something of a paternal figure in my mother’s life, a substitute, perhaps, for her own father, who publicly disavowed her in the early 1950s.

A Cleveland manufacturer, my grandfather was serving as an assistant to Averell Harriman, Harry Truman’s Secretary of Commerce, when a midwestern Congressman revealed that the daughter of an administration official was working for TASS. My grandfather resigned and returned to Cleveland.

When my parents were married in 1950, they drove to the Durants’ home in southern Vermont for their honeymoon, listening to the Weavers’ ‘Good Night Irene’ on the car radio all the way from Washington. (Reds at the top of the pop charts! Perhaps they were on the right side of history after all.)

Thereafter, my parents spent most, if not all their holidays at the Durants’ house in Vermont, called Gilfeather after the farmer who once owned it, or in a nearby farmhouse called Potter Place, which the Durants also owned.

When, for instance, my father was covering the trial of Emmett Till’s killers in Mississippi for the Communist newspapers, my mother stayed behind at Potter Place.

By then, Genevieve Taggard had died and Kenneth had married Helen Van Dongen, celebrated in her own right as the editor of Joris Ivens’ 1936 Spanish Civil War film, The Spanish Earth.

Written and narrated by Ernest Hemingway, the film remains highly valued as a documentary about war as well as for its innovative technique.

A few years ago, in a book about American writers and the Spanish Civil War (The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos and the Murder of Jose Robles), writer Stephen Koch claimed that Joris Ivens and Helen were not independent film makers with leftist sympathies, as they represented themselves, but, rather, Soviet agents. According to Koch, their assignment was to persuade Hemingway, Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish and others to work, however inadvertently or unknowingly, for the Soviet cause.

I once asked Craig Gilborn, the former director of the Adirondack Museum who had come to know Helen well in her final years (she died in Vermont at the age of 97 in 2006), what he thought of Koch’s claims; fanciful at best, scurrilous at worst, he replied.

Why do I write about these things? In part, because I’ve always been struck by the words of a character in Russell Banks’ Adirondack novel, The Sweet Hereafter: “To love a place, you have to know it.”

Our appreciation of the Adirondacks only deepens the better we come to know the characters who have populated the region, and Kenneth Durant was a true Adirondack character.

As I noted in last week’s post, Kenneth had a legitimate claim upon the Adirondacks.

His father, Frederick C. Durant, was the developer of the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake, the first luxury hotel in the Adirondacks. To accommodate his own family, Durant built a camp on Forked Lake, a tributary of Racquette Lake, in the style made popular by his father’s cousin, William West Durant, which they called “Camp Cedars.”

Browsing through a Vermont antique shop a few years ago, I saw hanging near the rafters a large photo, badly framed, which the dealer had labeled, “Fisherman in rowboat on Vermont Lake.”

It was, in fact, none of those things. It was a photo of Kenneth, taken by Helen, rowing his guide-boat in Blue Mountain Lake. The photo was taken to commemorate Kenneth’s last row in the boat before donating it to the Adirondack Museum. I recognized it from the book on the guide-boat, and, needless to say, I bought it.

We’ve also had hanging in the house a large embroidered tapestry of a richly imagined Dutch village, which Helen made for us.

These things remind me how profoundly people from the past shaped us, our assumptions, our choices, our aspirations. For me, connections with those long gone are ties that bind me to the Adirondacks today.

Photos: Kenneth Durant in Vermont; Helen Van Dongen with documentary film maker Robert Flaherty, whose Louisiana Story and The Land she edited.

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


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Upcoming: Ski Jumping, New Year’s Eve Skate Party

There are a couple of great winter sports events this New Year’s Eve week. The Olympic Regional Development Authority and NYSEF will be hosting their annual New Year’s Masters Ski Jump and the NYSEF Nordic Combined and Ski Jump on December 29 and 30 at the Ski Jumps in Lake Placid. Daily admission to the ski jumping events is $14 for adults, $8 for juniors/seniors while children 6 and under enter free. Snacks and beverages will also be sold by Centerplate at the base of the chair lift. For more information, visit orda.org.

Skate into the New Year on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval in Lake Placid- there will be a skating party to benefit the food pantry on New Year’s Eve from 10:30 pm until 12:30 am. Bring your figure, hockey, or speed skates and enjoy free refreshments. Admission is five dollars, and students with a valid student id get in free. Skaters are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to donate. For more information, visit their event page

Christie Sausa writes about national and international winter sports and blogs at www.lakeplacidskater.blogspot.com


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: First Night in Saranac Lake and Saratoga

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities

First Night celebrations offer families an opportunity to bring in the New Year in a healthy fashion. Originating in Boston over 35 years ago, First Night originators wanted to provide non-alcohol related New Year’s Eve festivities. The arts centered event grew from a small community celebration to what now showcases Boston’s diverse culture and art. There are now 200 similarly modeled celebrations worldwide. In our part of the world, Saratoga Springs and Saranac Lake are two such sanctioned events.

For the fifteenth year the First Night Saratoga’s button gets the recipient into all 35 First Night venues and 70 First Night performances and happenings. Events start at 6:00 p.m. at a variety of locations and continue through midnight.

Jackie Marchand, Saratoga First Night coordinator says, “ This is the first year that Saratoga Arts is presenting First Night. The YMCA presented the event for fourteen years and wanted to continue to focus on their fitness programs. The Art Center’s Executive Director felt it was a good fit for an art institution to take over and continue to make art accessible to all.”

“There are new programs to look forward to this year, “ says Marchand.” The theme is ‘Live Creatively’ so we are presenting art in all its forms. There will be something for everyone from film, music, comedy, dance and even interactive visual art.”

Marchard gives one such example of interactive art. Ghost Train, a digital graffiti installation originally featured at Burning Man 2010, is a projected New York City subway train where participants can use an “aerosol can” to tag designs onto the train. Light is used rather than paint.

CDTA buses will run all night for free along the route. There are plenty of parking lots in the city as well as on street parking. The fireworks will bring in the New Year from Congress Park at midnight. A DJ will do the countdown and provide music onsite while people are waiting for the fireworks.

Saranac Lake will celebrate its fifth First Night that continues the tradition of providing non-alcoholic, family-friendly, visual arts oriented activities to all. The $12 button is available at a variety of locations while children (12 and under) are issued a special button allowing them access for free. Opening ceremonies are at the Harrietstown Town Hall at 5:45 p.m.

Puppet shows, storytellers, live music and performers are just a few of the 42 activities at over 12 venues around Saranac Lake. All performances end near midnight so participants can make it to River Street to watch “the snowflake” drop for the New Year’s countdown and welcome fireworks over Lake Flower. There is a community bus available to various locations for $1.00/ride.

However you choose to spend your New Year’s Eve, I wish you a healthy and safe celebration. Happy New Year!


photo and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chain Saws in the Adirondack Wilderness

When we needed to do an early-season ski tour for the Adirondack Explorer, we opted for the Hays Brook Truck Trail north of Paul Smiths, which needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable.

On December 7, four of us from the office spent a good part of the day gliding through fresh, fluffy powder on our way to the Sheep Meadow at the end of the truck trail and to Grass Pond via a side trail.

With snow adorning the tall pines, the forest was serene and beautiful, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s available online.

Apart from two fairly steep hills, the truck trail traverses gentle terrain suitable for novice skiers. It’s a fun outing anytime in winter.

The biggest difficulty we faced was getting past two nasty pieces of blowdown about three miles from the trailhead. In one case, we thrashed through the woods to get around a large tree fallen across the trail.

Blowdown is something skiers and hikers put up with in the Adirondacks. It’s not a huge deal. Still, when I skied to the Sheep Meadow again with my daughter the day after Christmas, I was glad to discover that someone had cut through the blowdown with a chain saw. Hat’s off to whoever did it.

As we continued down the trail, it occurred to me that the doer of this good deed would have broken the law if the blowdown had been in a Wilderness Area instead of a Wild Forest Area. (The Hays Brook Truck Trail lies within the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.) Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation forbids the use of chain saws in Wilderness Areas except from April 1 to May 24. DEC can grant permission to use them from September 15 to April 1 as well, but this is not usually granted for routine blowdown such as we encountered on the Hays Brook Truck Trail.

I understand the rationale. A Wilderness Area is supposed to approximate nature in its primeval state. No motor vehicles, no snowmobiles, no bicycles, no motorized equipment.

As much as I support this management objective, I couldn’t help wondering what harm would have resulted if someone had cut through this blowdown even if it had been in a Wilderness Area. If the job were undertaken on a weekday, it’s possible that no one would have been around to hear the chain saw other than the person running the saw. In any case, the short interruption of natural serenity would serve the greater good. Although a few people who happened to be nearby might be bothered briefly by the noise, skiers would benefit all winter from the clearing of the trail.

I am not suggesting that forest rangers and others be allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness Areas anytime and anywhere. I do wonder if the regulations should be loosened somewhat to permit more clearing of trails before and during the ski season. I don’t have a specific proposal. I’m not even sure the regulations should be loosened. I’m just throwing out the idea for discussion.

Photo of the Sheep Meadow by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adirondack Ice Harness Racing

In the late nineteenth century, ice harness racing made its Adirondack debut, becoming a major winter sport which flourished well into the 1940s. Ice racing used to attract large crowds. Today, however, it seems that knowledge of it has quietly slipped from our historical grasp.

The Franklin Malone Gazette‘s “Horsemen’s’ Column” from January 29, 1897 captures the excitement surrounding these races in an article about Saranac Lake: “In spite of the cold weather last week the ice races were decidedly ‘hot’ in more senses than one. The bracing Adirondack air seemed to give the enthusiastic horsemen a tremendous appetite for – well, for refreshments of all kinds – and the many hotels of the town were thronged during the evening with hundreds of hungry and thirsty sports who seemed to enjoy themselves with a zest and vim seldom encountered at summer races.”

How did ice harness racing gain such popularity? In the late nineteenth century, most people owned one if not more horses which were muscular, accustomed to cold weather and used to hauling farm equipment, sleds and coaches. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, bred primarily for racing and jumping, were expensive and of little value for the average Adirondacker who needed practical work horses for transportation and chores.

Frozen lakes offered perfect and easily accessible sites for racing. One need only plow the snow away to create a level track. No clearing of woods and rocks was needed.

A ten foot-wide track shaped like a kite was the most popular shape. This consisted of a large triangular kite-shaped loop, either a half- or full mile-long, on which the actual race was held. A smaller loop, attached where the kite track came to a point served for warming up and later slowing down the horses. The course looked something like a lopsided figure eight.

Judges sat on one side where the loops came together; the spectators stood or sat in grandstands on the other. From this vantage point, watchers could sit close to both the start and finish of the race.

Horses were sharp-shod, meaning they were outfitted with special studded shoes (already in use for ice harvesting) called calks. Horses pulled both sulkies and “Portland Cutters,” though eventually, when it was discovered that wheeled sulkies were slightly faster than sleds, the use of cutters declined.

Racing associations set rules and monitored the races. Purses ran from around 50 to 250 dollars per race, excellent money in the late nineteenth century. Was betting taking place as well? Indisputably. Clarence Petty, who attended the races as a child, recalled that a fair amount of gambling was part of the grownup scene.

For smaller events, most of the participants came from a distance of not much over twenty miles; for larger events, horses were shipped to the site by boxcar.

Encouraged by special reduced railroad rates, spectators flocked to these events from as far away as New York City. Crowd sizes were impressive, numbering anywhere from 400 to 4,000 spectators. To get a feel of the action, imagine standing on the ice, all bundled up, stamping your feet to keep warm, a frigid wind lashing your face as you listen to the drivers snap their whips and urge their horses on. Through icy eyelashes you try to focus on the action as the crowd’s roar reaches a fevered pitch. At the same time, no doubt, you may be looking forward to returning to the welcome warmth of both a hot stove and drink at the end of the day.

According to the New York Times, 14 December 1894, “[There] seems to be more dash and spirit to [harness racing on ice] than there is to the hauling of a bicycle sulky over a dirt track.”

Such was the excitement of this winter entertainment. Anybody for bringing it all back?

Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Donegal Beard Contest Participants Sought

It’s that time of year again, when men with whiskers shave-down in anticipation of growing their Donegal for this year’s Adirondack Donegal Beard Contest. New beardsmen are welcome to take part in the event, which is free and open to the public.

A Donegal Beard (also called a chin-curtain or Lincoln) is a particular style of Irish hirsute appendage (facial hair) that grows along the jaw line and covers the chin — no soul patch, no mustache. This year marks the contest’s third year.

In order to take part in the contest (and all are welcome) contestants must be clean shaven January 1st and grow a Donegal Beard by St. Patrick’s Day. On the day of the contest, held at Basil and Wicks on Route 28 in North Creek, 4 to 7 pm — all beards must conform to the Donegal standard.

Contestants are judged on length, fullness, style and sophistication.

To see pictures from last year’s contest, and to join the Facebook group, go here.

Photo: 2009 Adirondack Donegal Beard Contestants.


Monday, December 27, 2010

What A Wonderful Life: Lowville’s Erwin Eugene Lanpher

Research has taken me to more cemeteries than I can remember. Surrounded by hundreds of gravestones, I frequently remind myself that every person has a story. What often impresses me is that many people who are largely forgotten actually made a real difference in other people’s lives. Uncovering those stories from the past is humbling, carrying with it the realization that I’ll probably never approach the good works done by others.

Sometimes those good works seem to escape notice, and that was the sense that engulfed me as I read the obituary of Erwin Eugene Lanpher of Lowville. It reminded me of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, a regular guy who, as it turned out, was darn important to a lot of people. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Dave Gibson: Naturalists Help Keep the Lights On

It’s certainly getting frosty out there, and that’s particularly true for the state’s environmental centers, educators and interpreters.

I first wrote about the closing of the two Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers and the loss of their naturalist staff last June, and the good news that the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) would run programs at the Newcomb facility in 2011.

Comments back to me said, to summarize, “it’s nice, but get real. In this recession, we have no time to worry about frills and luxuries like environmental education.” I thought I could make a better effort at stating my case.

Most of these “retired” state naturalists are skilled environmental interpreters – meaning that they, to quote a classic definition of interpretation, are skilled at “revealing meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, first hand experiences and illustrative media, rather than simply conveying factual information” (Interpreting our Heritage, by Freeman Tilden).

In essence, these professionals relate parts of the natural world (or the historic or cultural worlds) to something deep within the personality or experience of the visitor, resident or student. What they reveal provokes people to respond, not to yawn. This provocation, in turn, causes visitors to the VICs, Wild Center, Adirondack Museum, or Five Rivers Center to appreciate what they are seeing or experiencing more intensely.

That intensity of appreciation can lead to a desire to understand the details, or a whole ecosystems. These people may develop into aware, informed, understanding, active environmental managers, conservationists, or historians. These activities can and do change the world in ways large and small, and it often begins through good interpretation at a State Park, Visitor Center, or Museum.

Like all layoffs, these at Christmastide are bad enough for the individuals and families involved, like the forced departure of naturalist Ellen Rathbone from the Newcomb VIC, from her park community and from Adirondack Almanack as she seeks new opportunities beyond New York State. We hope New York’s loss will be Ohio’s gain. But the loss of veteran naturalists and educators in NYS is felt statewide.

For instance, a veteran educator at NYS Parks was just laid off after 26 years of successful efforts to link environmental education to improved stewardship of all 150 State Parks. The response of officials in Albany is predictable. “It’s too bad, but we have to cut these naturalist jobs just to keep most Parks open next year.” Keeping the lights on, the golf courses open, the bathrooms plumbed, the roads cleared are a priority. So is keeping the lights on in our eyes, hearts and minds. What these educators do can have real-world, stewardship implications.

For example, this particular naturalist developed a Bird Checklist system for all State Parks back in the late 1980’s. That was considered a “nice” thing to do. A decade later, the awareness those checklists created helped activists to fight off a proposal to construct a large trucking haul road through breeding bird habitats and wetlands of Saratoga Spa State Park. Fifteen years later, these intact wetlands still feed Great Blue Herons, and Kayaderroseras Creek, which in turn has developed into a premier canoeing and kayaking destination.

Thinking ahead, the opportunities for future environmental education employment – and the services those people provide – are shrinking. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is closing two of their three Environmental Education Centers – Stony Kill Farm in Dutchess County, and Rogers EE Center in Sherburne, Chenango County.

The closing of these facilities is big deal for many families for whom these centers and their professional staffs represented learning opportunities, career advancement, family fun and happy memories – to say nothing of community meeting space – at no expense just miles from their front doors. As far as I can tell, the electric lights are still on at Five Rivers EE Center in the Capital District, but I’m not sure about the learning lights, meaning the staffing.

Who will provide those “provocational,” interpretive services to our young people and families in 2011, or 2021? More and more, we hear of the crisis of “wired” kids staying indoors, who are not exposed to the confidence-building, skills-building that outdoor experiences and unstructured playtime provide. We need more adults to share our outdoor heritage, not fewer.

The system of centers supporting this activity around the State is frayed. But there is hope. My hope is founded on the efforts of people who have picked up the fallen baton, such as SUNY’s Paul Hai, who is committed to keeping the Newcomb Interpretive Center open for continuing cultural and environmental interpretation under the auspices of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

It will take time for that facility and others in Newcomb and elsewhere to gain their footing after the loss of so many experienced staff. But there are people like Paul and institutions like ESF out in their communities who are determined not to lose a chance to change someone’s life, or to turn them on to the Adirondacks, or anywhere else with the potential to reveal both our landscapes and parts of ourselves. Let’s work with SUNY’s Paul Hai, or Paul Smith’s College and many others to keep the “lights on” for the fragile network of Adirondack learning centers, museums and interpretive facilities.

Photo: Paul Hai, right, of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry with Tom Cobb, left, retired Preserve Manager with NYS Parks, former staff with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, and a director of Adirondack Wild: Friend of the Forest Preserve.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Adirondack Stats: Deer-Car Collisions

Number of deer-vehicle accidents per year in the US: approximately 1.5 million

Months when deer-related accidents are most likely to occur: October and November

Number of people in the US killed in crashes involving animals (mostly deer) in 1993: 101

That number in 2007: 223 » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bicycle Technology: Then and Now

Bicycles have come a long way. They are one of the most important methods of transportation ever created. Millions of people all over the world rely on them and enjoy them as both a primary means of transport and as a personal means of recreation.

Lifelong bicycle aficionados Rob van der Plas and Stuart Baird have indulged their passion for cycling and created a richly illustrated compendium dedicated to the technology and engineering that goes into the modern bicycle and its key historical components.

Their new book, titled Bicycle Technology, covers every detail and aspect of the bicycle, from the frame materials to the drivetrain, gears, to the wheels, suspension lights, bells and whistles, and more. They have shared their technical know-how and love of the history and the developments of the bicycle from its inauspicious beginnings to the use of space-age materials, and the incorporation of electronic innovations of today.

The book is a thorough and up-to-date treatment of the technical aspects of the modern (and historic) bicycle, illustrated with 800 photographs and other illustrations. This new, 2nd edition was completely rewritten, with up-to-date material and numerous clear illustrations, covering bsoth the modern bike itself and its components in a historical context.

The first bicycle was invented in 1817 by Carl Von Drais (no, not three centuries earlier by Leonardo Da Vinci, as has sometimes been claimed). Drais viewed it as a substitute for a horse, which was in very short supply at the time due to a very harsh winter. His earliest machine was protected by a patent, which was soon copied by many people, some under license, some simply pirated. However, interest soon diminished, and by 1830, they were all but forgotten relics of a short-lived craze.

The pedal-drive was first introduced in the 1950s for use on a workman’s tricycle powered by means of cranks on the front wheel, and later found use on Michaux’s two-wheel velocipeds. Tension wire spokes were introduced in 1869, making it possible to build very large wheels of the iconic high-wheel, or “ordinary” bicycle of the 1870 and 1880s.

The first chain-driven bicycle was patented in 1879. Within a few years of their introduction the safety bicycle, with chain-drive and two equal-sized had superseded the high-wheel bicycle.

During much of the 20th Century, bicycle developments were confined to “tweaking” the details rather than the overall re-design of the bicycle as a whole. The most important development of the 20th Century was the introduction and perfection of gearing systems. A modern bicycle derailleur gearing system in the process of changing gear by literally “derailing” the chain to a smaller or larger rear cog

Technical developments in bicycles continue to undergo subtle refinements. There have been, and continue to be, significant developments in areas like brake systems, gearing, suspension, and frame materials. High-tech, lightweight materials, including carbon and titanium, sometimes in combination, are now used in the frames and components of high-end bicycles.

Many bicycles are now available with full suspension and hydraulic disk brakes. Fully equipped urban commuter bikes are available with carriers for a briefcase or laptop, effective lights for night riding, and other electronic and mechanical accessories.

In recent years, electric-assist bikes, or “E-bikes” have gained popularity amongst casual riders and utility cyclists. There are four E-bike categories: CEBs, which are conventional electric bikes; SABs, or simple assisted bikes; EHBs, or electro-hybrid bikes; and SHBs, or Synergetic Hybrid Bicycles, which can be seen as pedal-powered equivalent of hybrid cars.

Modern lighting systems of course, now use ultra-bright multi-light LEDs with rechargeable battery packs and on board generators. Modern audio warning systems are also electronic.

No matter what advances in technology we may see, some people may still choose on installing an old-fashioned bell or horn.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Photo: Early High-Wheel or Ordinary Bicycle (c 1872).


Saturday, December 25, 2010

North Country Schools Peace Poetry Contest Announced

SUNY Potsdam’s School of Education and Professional Studies, in partnership with the College’s Department of English and Communication, invites submissions from area elementary, middle and high school students for the 2011 North Country Peace Poetry Contest.

The North Country Peace Poetry Contest is open to students in all K-12 classrooms in both public and private schools in Northern New York. Students are invited to create and submit original poems on the subject of peace.

Dr. Viki Levitt is a poet and a longtime judge for the contest, and beginning this year she will serve as co-director with Dr. Jennifer Mitchell. They are taking the lead as organizers, with guidance from Dr. Sharmain van Blommestein, who coordinated the contest for several years.

“The Peace Poetry Contest provides an opportunity for young writers to express their own concepts of peace through the creative act of composing original poems. Their poems offer all of us the chance to contemplate the ideal of peace and to celebrate each others’ visions of it,” Dr. Levitt said.

Peace is a uniquely human concept, and it affirms the human spirit. Though this contest holds no formal position on the current state of world affairs, the College wants to honor the ideal of peace through young students’ writing.

Judging will occur in February and March. Contest organizers will select about 80 poems for publication in a poetry calendar with the title North Country Schools Peace Poetry, 2011. Winning students and their teachers will receive free copies of the poetry calendar, and will be invited to take part in a poetry reading on the SUNY Potsdam campus to celebrate their contributions and accept their awards.

The deadline for submissions is February 11, 2011. To submit an entry, send it via e-mail to peacepoetry@potsdam.edu. For more information, call (315) 267-3152 or visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/peacepoetry.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Early 1900s Letters to Santa

Children’s Christmas wishes and expectations years ago were much different. I was so struck by this—the simplicity and innocence—while researching a recent book that I included a chapter entitled “Letters to Santa” (in History of Churubusco). The sample letters below were published in local newspapers from 1920–1940. They offer historical significance, portraying the sharp contrast to the modern holiday, where disproportionately expensive gifts have become the norm.

Like hundreds of other small villages and towns in the early twentieth century, Churubusco was a farming community. Families were often self-sufficient, and everyone, including small children, had daily chores. This fostered teamwork and family unity, and it gave children a firsthand understanding of the values of goods, services, and hard work. Those lessons were conveyed in their missives to Santa. And, some of the comments in the letters are just plain cute.

1923
Dear Santa,
This year, money being scarce, my wants are few. I want a doll, set of dishes, ribbon, candy, and nuts. Don’t forget my brothers and sisters.
Your girl,
Eva Lussier

Dear Santa Claus,
I want you to bring me a little serving set, ball, candy, nuts, and bananas. Never mind the sled this year because I am expecting one from my aunt. My Xmas tree will be in the parlor near the stove, so take your time and get good and warm before you leave.
Wishing you a merry Xmas, your little friend,
Louis Patnode

1925
Dear Santa Claus,
I would like you to bring me a little bedroom set, some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
Louise Recore

Dear Santa Claus,
I would like a flashlight, sled, gold watch, some candy, nuts, oranges, bananas, and peanuts. Please don’t forget my little brothers, Walter and Francis. Walter would like a little drum, mouth organ, candy, nuts, gum, and oranges. Francis would like a little wagon full of toys, and some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
John Brady

1938
Dear Santa,
For Christmas I want a bottle of perfume and a locket, a 59 cent box of paints that I saw in your sale catalogue, a pair of skates, a nice dress and candy and nuts. I am eleven years old and Santa I hope you have a very merry Xmas.
Your friend,
Anita Robare

Dear Santa,
I am writing a few lines to tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a toothbrush and there is a set of 12 different games in your Christmas catalogue for 98 cents. Some of the names of the games are bingo, checkers, and jacksticks. Please bring me this set. I hope you don’t forget my little sister and brothers.
Your friend,
Henrietta Matthews

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I would like these things: a pair of ski shoes, pair of fur bedroom slippers, a dump truck, and banjo. I will leave some crackers and milk on the breakfast table.
Your friend,
Ann Elderbaum

Dear Santa,
When you come around for Xmas, I would like to have you bring me a pair of skates and a woolen shirt. It’s all I want for Christmas for I thought that you are getting old and those chimneys will be hard to climb. You will have some bread and milk at Christmas Eve.
Yours truly,
Theodore Leclair

Dear Santa Claus,
I wish you would bring me a sled and a ring. I don’t want very much for I know you are getting old and I don’t want you to carry too much. You will find my stocking near the stove and on the kitchen table you will find some bread and milk. I want you to leave me some candy, especially peanut brittle. I am 12 years old.
Your friend,
Cecelia Louise Miller

Dear Santa,
I wish you would bring me a popgun, tractor, truck and an airplane. You will find a bowl of bread and milk near the Xmas tree. You will find my stocking near the stove. I am only seven years old.
Your friend,
Clayton Miller

My Dear Santa,
I am eleven years old, and I wish you would bring me a cowboy suit and a sweater. You will find my stocking near the stairway, and on the kitchen table you will find some corn meal mush.
Your little friend,
Herman Leclair

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I thought I would drop you a line and let you know what I want for Christmas. I would like a red sweater, western book, and a fur hood. I will leave you some bread, cake, peanuts, and milk. I don’t want very much because you are growing old and your bag will be too heavy. So I will close and hope to have all I want for Christmas.
Sincerely yours,
Rita Theresa Leclair

Dear Santa,
I would like a new pair of shoes for Christmas.
Ruth Demarse

Dear Santa,
I want a tractor and some colors for Christmas.
Henry Lagree

1939
Dear Santa,
I have been a very good girl this year. I thank you for the things that you brought me last year. For Christmas I would like a doll and a Chinese Checker game. I will leave a lunch for you on the table. I will clean our chimney so you can slide down it. I will hang our stockings near the Christmas tree. I would like to stay up and see you but I am afraid that I would not get any presents so I will go to bed. Well we will have to close.
Your friend,
Helen and Patty Smith

Dear Santa Claus,
I have been a good boy this year. I would like a car that pedals. If you couldn’t bring that, I would like something smaller. And don’t forget Carol my baby sister. And I would like some candy, gum, oranges, and nuts.
Your little friend,
Robert K. Smith

Dear Santa,
I have tried to be a good little girl this year. I am nine years old and in the fifth grade. I would like a pair of ice skates between my sister and I. And don’t forget my baby sister, because she wasn’t here last year and I through that maybe you would forget her. But I guess that you wouldn’t do that trick. And don’t forget the candy, nuts, oranges, and gum.
Your friend,
Helen L. Smith

Dear Santa,
I would like for Christmas a pencil box and drawing paper, candy, and nuts.
Your friend,
Beulah Perry

1940
Dear Santa Claus,
I want a train and candy.
Norman Lafave

Dear Santa,
I would like a box of colors, a teddy bear, candy and nuts.
Agnes Lagree

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a pair of shoes, dress, and Christmas candy and nuts.
Ruth Demarse

From Jill and me at Bloated Toe Publishing, Happy Holidays to all.

Photo: 1916 Christmas advertisement for a Malone store.

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 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Friday, December 24, 2010

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers a collection of the week’s top weblinks. You can find all our weekly web round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 4,400 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


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