Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adirondack Family Activity: Wild Center’s Otter Birthday Party

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities
I have been having a great winter skiing and snowshoeing around the Adirondacks so much so that when I received my Otter birthday party reminder at the Wild Center it took me a bit by surprise. It is already that time of year when The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (The Wild Center) closes for the month of April to rejuvenate and get ready for a busy summer season. That said, this weekend, March 25-27) will be the last opportunity until May 1st to see what the Wild Center has been up to this winter.

Now with the recent flurries of snow, mud season doesn’t seem to be approaching as fast as some may wish. Keep in mind that if you always wanted to attempt snowshoeing now is the time. The Wild Center offers free snowshoes with paid admission. So practice around the various trails and see how easy it is to go out an explore while the trails are still covered in snow. The added bonus for this weekend is the Otters’ birthday party celebration.

Interpretive Naturalist Kerri Ziemann says,”On Friday and Saturday we will have all our regular programming as well as one more chance for people to find the golden otter before the drawing on Sunday.”

For those not in the know, a tiny golden otter has been hiding in various places within the Wild Center for the past twelve weeks. Children and adults are welcome to search and use a list of clues to find the evasive creature. Once found, submit his/her name into a raffle for a chance to win a pack basket full of otter related goodies. Thankfully nothing that I saw relates to having to go home with a real otter though there is a huge plush toy right on top.

“For this weekend the otters’ birthday will be held on the 27th and we will have activities all day starting at 10:00 and ending around 3:30. There will be enrichment programs about otters and craft tables open for anyone to color an individual quilt square. We will then tie all the squares together to create a quilt,” continues Ziemann.

Additional events are face painting and storytelling sessions with author Hope Marston of “My Little book of River Otters” at noon and 1:00 p.m. Ollie the Otter, the Wild Center mascot, will also be around for picture taking. Currently the Wild Center as four otters: Squirt, Louie, Squeaker, and Remy. The raffle will be drawn at 1:30 p.m. with a celebration of cupcakes (for humans) and ice “cake” for the otters.

After a month of spring cleaning the Wild Center will reopen on May 1st with a green festival as part of “Build a Greener Adirondacks Expo.”

If that doesn’t fit into the schedule, the Adirondack Museum will hold two more Cabin Fever Sundays. Women and their role in early conservation is the March 27 topic where Museum Educator Jessica Rubin will highlight early female activism. On April 10, curator Laura Cotton will discuss artifacts from the museum’s collection that show chase Adirondack ingenuity. These events are at 1:30 p.m. in the auditorium and free to museum members or elementary-school-age children and younger. Otherwise it is $5 for nonmembers. Though to see the whole facility you will have to wait until its May 27th opening day.

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, March 22, 2011

Taking Stock of Adirondack Trout

As the snow melts and the ice recedes from local water bodies around the Adirondacks, the thoughts of some turn to trout. There are a variety of trout species found in the Adirondacks: Rainbow, Brown, and Lake Trout and the king of all fish – in my eyes at least – the Brook Trout. While April 1st marks the opening day of trout season across New York State, many bodies of water in the Adirondacks are open to trout fishing all year long. For specific fishing regulations, check out the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website.

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis, is actually a char and our state fish. They are easy to identify, having wormlike markings or vermiculation on their backs and brilliant red spots on their sides that are surrounded by blue halos. The most distinguishing feature is the brilliant white edges on their pectoral, pelvic and anal fins. Brook Trout live in lakes and streams in cold well-oxygenated waters and spawn in the fall. The state record for Brook Trout is 5 pounds 4.5 ounces.

Rainbow Trout Salmo gairdneri, are an introduced species originally coming from the Western side of the continent. They are dark olive, almost blue green in color above, lighter on their sides, with a pale yellow to white belly. Adults will have a pink or red band along their sides. Rainbow Trout occur in large streams and lakes where they have been stocked, and spawn in the spring. The state record for Rainbow Trout is 31 pounds 3 ounces.

Brown Trout Salmo trutta, are an introduced species originally from Europe. They are olive green, shading to tan or white on the belly. They have small irregular spots, which are surrounded by pale halos. Brown Trout are primarily a stream fish but can live in lakes. They tolerate higher water temeratures than Brook Trout and spawn in the fall. The state record for Brown Trout is 33 pounds 2 ounces.

Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush, are a native species of trout. They are silvery gray on their sides and have white on their bellies. Their backs have darker areas with white to creamy spots and vermiculation. Sometimes their fins will have an orange cast to them. Lake Trout are found in deep, cold, well-oxygenated lakes and spawn in the fall. The state record for Lake Trout is 41 pounds 8 ounces.

All species of trout feed on smaller fish species and insects, which is why it is important to conduct a bottom up management approach for fisheries management. Trout are very sensitive to changes in their environment, to maintain a healthy, viable trout population, which is why shoreline and streamside riparian buffers are important.

Photo: Above, Adirondack fisherman shows off a string of trout; Below, Brook Trout courtesy Wikipidia.

Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Short History of Hoffman Notch Wilderness

The 38,500 acre Hoffman Notch Wilderness Area in the towns of Minerva, Schroon, and North Hudson (Essex County) is part of a giant swath of mountain wilderness you see along the west side of the Northway between Schroon Lake and North Hudson. It’s the kind of land the state has traditionally owned in the Adirondacks, rocky and mountainous, with little development potential. Most of the area is located in the Town of Schroon (21,593 acres), and North Hudson (15,280).

Once slated to be New York’s third state run ski area (more on that later) Hoffman Notch lies between Boreas Road (Blue Ridge Road Scenic Byway) on the North and developed areas west of Schroon Lake on the South (Loch Muller). On the east lies the Northway and Route 9, on the west Minerva Stream and the motorized Vanderwacker Wild Forest.

Although Hoffman Notch lies in the Upper Hudson Watershed, its primary waterways are the Boreas River (designated a scenic river) and the Schroon River (designated recreational). The Schroon was an important location for early native American travel and likely some small settlements. Minerva Stream flows into Trout Brook along with Rogers Brook, while Platt Brook and The Branch flow directly into the Schroon. There are about 3,000 acres of wetland and 155 acres of open water, including Big Pond (57 acres) in the south near North Pond (25 acres) and the smaller Marion (10 acres), and Bailey (18 acre) ponds to the west. Long-established camping areas and trails around these ponds get very little use and are almost never by promoted by local tourism efforts. One small pond, Big Marsh (13 acres), lies in Hoffman Notch itself, near the middle of the Wilderness Area.

Major mountains include those in the Blue Ridge Range: Hoffman Mountain, Blue Ridge Mountain, and the Peaked Hills to the east. Hayes Mountain lies in the southwest. Mount Severence (or Severence Hill), the most popular spot in the Hoffman Notch Wilderness is located in the southeast corner, accessed via a trail from Route 9 that travels under the Northway.

Thomas Cole painted Hoffman Mountain, then called Schroon Mountain, from a sheep field now covered by forest and later, Grace Hudolowski drew inspiration from the view of Hoffman from her east side of Schroon Lake camp, the Boulders.

There has been almost little historical development of the area beyond the late 1800s when the softwoods were logged along Minerva Stream, and the Boreas and Schroon rivers. Logging began with mostly pine, and then shifted to spruce and hemlock used in local tanneries. Because there was little market for hardwoods and they couldn’t be floated to mills, these trees were generally left behind.

The Hoffman Notch Wilderness was mostly (60%) acquired by the State from logging companies for back taxes before 1900. State law at the time, until the creation of the Forest Preserve, required the State to bid for lands at tax sale that had no other bidders. A smaller portion of Hoffman Notch (25%) was acquired between 1891 and 1900 by purchase. A section to the west was acquired in a settlement with George Finch that provided Finch Pruyn and Company the right to dam waters and flood land in order to drive logs to the Hudson, to cut some trees to build and repair dams and driving camps, a ten‐year logging easement (called then a “timber reservation”) and a right‐of way for an east‐west railroad, which was never built. The small balance of lands were acquired from timber companies and private citizens during the Great Depression. In 1959 Finch, Pruyn and Company gave the “People of State of New York” the last large piece located in the north central part of Hoffman Notch.

There were early tanneries nearby which likely drew hemlock bark from what is now the Wilderness Area. One was at Olmstedville, four were located a couple miles apart west of Schroon Lake, two on The Branch, and one west of North Hudson. These tanneries could consume 15,000 cords of bark per year, but most were out of business by the 1870s.

Jacob Parmeter built a forge in 1857 on the north bank of the West Branch (today The Branch) of the Schroon River and a sawmill and gristmill were also located there. The forge, sometimes called the Schroon River Forge, was owned by John Roth between 1861 and 1881, it was destroyed by fire in the very early 1880s. Roth’s Forge, was said to have had two or three fires, an 1,800 pound hammer and two wheels that produced blooms, billots and slabs and used ore brought from nearby Paradox Lake and Moriah. The tiny settlement of mostly workers was recreated as Roth’s Forge Village at Frontier Town in the 1950s.

Once most of the Hoffman Notch land had been acquired by the state, the Bailey Pond Inn was built in the late 1890’s in the hamlet of Loch Muller to the south by Paschal (Pasco) Warren. Begun as a simple boarding house, but later known as Warrens Inn, the location’s primary selling point was its access to the ponds, streams, and mountains in the Hoffman Notch area. The hotel was purchased by the Gadjo family in 1947. The Loch Muller white pine is located nearby, said to have been planted in 1845 by Paschal Warren, when he and the tree were both 12 years old. In 1920, Warren put a plaque on the tree with the inscription “Woodsman Spare That tree, Touch Not a Single Bough, In Youth It Protected Me, And I’ll Protect It Now.” Arthur Warren’s granddaughter, Marion is believed to have given her name to Marion Pond.

In 1967 there was a proposal to build a ski resort with lifts and 30 miles of trails
on Hoffman Mountain and two of the Peaked Hills. The plan was sponsored by the Schroon – North Hudson Winter Sports Council . Among the local proponents were M. Leo Friedman, a Schroon Lake attorney and realtor; Arthur Douglas, Town of Jay Supervisor and Essex County Chair; members of the Essex County Fish and Game League; the Town Supervisors of Schroon, North Hudson and Ticonderoga; and several local newspaper editors. Despite opposition by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Forest Preserve taking passed the state legislature, but was defeated by voters by a margin of nearly 3 to 1.

Today, Hoffman Notch is little used. The historic route through the Notch is the
Hoffman Notch Trail, which was designated a snowmobile trail until the adoption of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan in 1972 made it a non‐conforming use and it became a foot trail, and perhaps more famously, a cross country ski trail. The Bailey Pond Trail was once a town road but was abandoned and Big Pond Trail (from Hoffman Road to junction of Hoffman Notch Trail) was once a logging road but now sees mostly cross country skiers.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Adirondack Winter: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Sunshine, melting snow, mild temperatures—it sure felt like spring this past weekend. But not everywhere.

On Saturday, I climbed the Trap Dike and the slide on the northwest face of Mount Colden. The snow throughout the ascent was hard, like Styrofoam, ideal for ascending with crampons. When my foot did break through the crust one time, I sank up to my thigh.

The trip served as a reminder that winter lingers in the high elevations long after spring arrives in the valleys. If you’re willing to carry your equipment two or three miles over muddy trails at the start, you sometimes can ski Mount Marcy into May.

Spring skiing is great fun if you catch the right conditions. Ideally, the nights are cold enough that the snowpack remains hard, but the temperatures climb enough during the day to soften the surface. If snow remains too firm, you’ll have a hair-raising descent. If it softens too much, you’ll be sinking into mashed potatoes.

A friend of mine snowboarded Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak on the day I climbed the Trap Dike. In photos posted on Facebook, his friends are seen crossing an open brook with skis over their shoulders. This kind of thing is typical of the approaches in spring.

A few years ago, I did the Algonquin/Wright trip with four others and wrote about it for the Adirondack Explorer in a story headlined “Winter’s last redoubt.” If you’re interested in reading a detailed account of spring adventure, click here to see the story and Susan Bibeau’s photos.

Spring skiing leads to odd juxtapositions. I once skied Marcy and played golf on the same day. Other times, I drove to Albany after a ski trip and saw flowers in bloom, with temperatures in the seventies. If you tell people you went skiing on a day like that, they look at you funny.

Indeed, many people do not realize how long winter hangs on in the High Peaks. On a warm day in April, I once encountered a hiker on the plateau below Marcy’s summit, sinking to his knees with each step. I asked him why he wasn’t wearing snowshoes, as required by law. He informed me that “the season is over”—referring, I suppose, to the skiing/snowshoeing season.

I’m skiing and you’re sinking up to your knees in snow, but the season is over?

Another day, I started out from the Adirondak Loj in a T-shirt. The temperatures must have been in the sixties, and it got warmer as the day progressed. Nevertheless, when I got to Marcy’s summit cone, the wind-chill made it feel well below freezing. I put on my winter layers. Meanwhile, a hiker was struggling up the slope in shorts, looking miserable but determined to get to the top.

So if you’re planning to climb a High Peak in April or early May, don’t be misled by the mild weather at the trailhead. Winter can be nasty, even in spring.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: skiers ascending Algonquin Peak in spring.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Comments Sought on Hoffman Notch Wilderness

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the release of the draft unit management plan (UMP) for the Hoffman Notch Wilderness. The unit consists of 38,500 acres in the Towns of North Hudson, Minerva and Schroon Lake in Essex County.

“The release of the draft unit management plan for the Hoffman Notch Wilderness is another significant milestone in our efforts to improve public access and ensure the protection of the Adirondacks for future generations,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “The public’s participation has been extremely valuable throughout the planning process to date, providing the Department with important information and recommendations incorporated into the draft plan.”

A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26, at the Town of Schroon Town Hall in Schroon Lake. The meeting will provide the public with an opportunity to learn more on the proposed management actions in the draft UMP and to provide comment on the proposals. DEC will accept comments on the draft UMP until May 13, 2011. The meeting facility is wheelchair accessible. Please provide any requests for specific accommodation to 518-623-1200 at least two weeks in advance.

The Hoffman Notch Wilderness, southern Essex County, is situated near the communities of Newcomb, North Hudson, Schroon Lake, Minerva and Olmstedville. The unit is generally bounded on the north by the Boreas Road, on the east by the Adirondack Northway, on the south by Hoffman Road, and on the west by the boundary of Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.

The Hoffman Notch Wilderness offers many recreational opportunities, including but not limited to hiking, cross country skiing, camping, canoeing, hunting, trapping and fishing. With over 18 miles of marked trails available, the public can easily reach a variety of natural attractions such as Hoffman Notch and Mt. Severance, as well as popular fishing locations at Bailey Pond or Big Pond. Other scattered water bodies providing additional recreational uses include Big Marsh, North Pond, Sand Pond, and Marion Pond.

Recommended management actions in the draft UMP include:

• Designate and sign the herd path south of Big Pond as a DEC trail connected to the Big Pond Trail to create a loop hiking and cross country skiing trail system from Hoffman Road and connected to Loch Muller road.

• Construct foot bridges over Hoffman Notch Brook near north end of Hoffman Notch Trail and over East Branch on the Big Pond Trail.

• Reroute 1/4 mile portion of Hoffman Notch Trail north of Big Marsh to west side of Hoffman Notch Brook.

• Construct an improved parking lot along the Blue Ridge Road to serve as the northern trailhead for the Hoffman Notch Trail.

• Designate two primitive tent sites on Big Pond.

A UMP must be completed before significant new recreational facilities, such as trails, lean-tos, or parking areas, can be constructed. The plan includes an analysis of the natural features of the area and the ability of the land to accommodate public use. The planning process is designed to cover all environmental considerations for the unit and forms the basis for all proposed management activities for a five-year time period.

UMPs are required by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan for each unit of State land in the Adirondack Park. The plans integrate the goals and objectives of the Master Plan, related legislation, and resource and visitor use information into a single document.

The draft UMP will be available for public review beginning next week at DEC headquarters in Albany, DEC Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook and the DEC Region 5 office in Warrensburg. CDs of the plan will be available at these same locations, as well as the offices for the Towns of North Hudson, Minerva and Schroon Lake, and the Schroon Lake Public Library. The complete document will be available on DEC’s Unit Management Plan website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22600.html.

Public comments will be accepted until May 13, 2011, and may be sent to Ben Thomas, Senior Forester, NYSDEC, 232 Golf Course Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885 or emailed to r5ump@gw.dec.state.ny.us.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Horse Racing Legends: Eddie "Peg Leg" Jones

Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet have somehow managed to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process. For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.

When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.

The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.

That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.

By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.

At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey and Hagerstown, Maryland led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.

While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition. He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.

After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.

Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.

In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.

He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.

But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?

And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him. Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.

Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of the 1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).

Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.

Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.

In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall, 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.

On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. A razor lay nearby, and Eddie’s throat had been cut. More than $2,500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.

No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.

The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.

Photo Top: Saratoga Trotting Track.

Photo Bottom: Trotting scene from 1915.

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.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Return of the Red-Winged Blackbird

A warm southerly breeze in mid-March brings with it loose, granular conditions on the ski slopes, a layer of mud on dirt roads, and the return of the Adirondacks first seasonal avian residents and among these are the male red-winged blackbirds.

This jet black bird with the red and yellow patch on its upper wing, known as an epaulet, is quick to return to its breeding grounds when air currents become favorable for migration. Despite the presence of snow on the ground, ice on many of our waterways, and periodic outbreaks of bitter cold, these birds exhibit an eagerness to get back to their breeding areas.

Immediately upon their arrival, the males begin to lay claim to favored sections of marsh and the weedy shorelines of rivers, ponds, and lakes, especially those that are covered by cattails. It is in such areas of tall aquatic grasses, shrubs, sedges and weeds that the females will be looking to establish a nesting territory when they arrive during the first few weeks of April.

Unlike many birds, the red-winged blackbird does not form a pair bond with a single individual, rather the male services the reproductive needs of all of the females that happen to set up a nesting territory within the boundaries of their section of real estate. It is not uncommon for a prime chunk of marsh, held by a single male, to encompass up to three female nesting territories.

Those individuals that arrive first tend to gain control of the best parcels of marsh. These are the older and more experienced males that average from 3 to 6 years of age. They have learned what areas are likely to attract the strongest and hardiest females, as well as what settings are most likely to allow for a successful nesting season. In this way, these males can best ensure that their genetic information will be passed on to future generations of red-wings.

Once a male selects a territory, he will defend it by loudly announcing his presence with a distinct vocalization. The phrase, “O-Ka-TEE” is often used to describe this call. Additionally, the male opens its wings slightly to expose its epaulets. This visual cue is given to alert other nearby males that he is dead serious about defending his area. It is akin to a human brandishing some type of weapon while standing on his front porch when confronting an unwelcome visitor. Finally, the male is quick to attack any other male that fails to heed the warnings.

Over a several day period, regular skirmishes with neighboring males over the exact boundaries ensue until ownership claims become established. Because most wetlands are still covered in snow and ice, these birds are forced to find food outside their breeding territories. It is not uncommon in mid to late March to note small flocks of male red-wings in poplar trees that border open, south-facing hillsides where foraging conditions are better. Also, when the wind comes up from the north, preventing other migrants from arriving and creating bitter cold conditions, the males congregate in more sheltered locations rather than guard a breeding territory that is currently devoid of any rivals.

Yet, as soon as the weather turns more spring like, these birds quickly return to their patch of marsh to immediately challenge any intruder that has just arrived from the south. Since the first birds back have had a chance to recover from their bout of long distance flight, they are generally at an advantage when they confront recent arrivals that are more physically drained.

During years when frequent spells of unseasonably cold and snowy weather hinder this birds ability to forage, these early migrants may experience significant nutritional stress. This is why birds are careful not to return too early in March.

It is impossible to predict the type of spring we will experience based on sightings and signs in nature. The arrival of numerous flocks of red-winged blackbirds earlier than normal is only a reflection of a period of favorable migration conditions as St. Patrick’s Day approaches. The awakening urge that males are experiencing is strong, and the battles that become a part of this process have now begun in the marshes of the Adirondacks.

Photo Courtesy Wikipedia.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Brief History of Figure Skating in Lake Placid

Since the 1920s, the Skating Club of Lake Placid has been an integral part of Lake Placid’s skating culture. The first formal group skating in Lake Placid were the “Sno-Birds”, sponsored by the Lake Placid Club. They organized their own competitions and were the group in charge of assembling the U.S. and Canadian Skating Associations in 1921. The United States Figure Skating Association was formed at this meeting; making the Sno Birds very important in not only Lake Placid’s skating history, but the country’s skating history as well.

According the Skating Club of Lake Placid historian Barbara Kelly, figure skating in Lake Placid really started to develop in the 1930s. The Sno Birds hosted their first indoor competition in 1932 in the new Olympic Arena. This was also when the skating club, then called the “Adirondack Skating Club”, was formed after the Olympics. The board of directors were influential local people, among them the manager of the Olympic Arena Jack Garren and Chairman of the North Elba Park Commission Rollie J. Kennedy. In 1937 the name was changed to the “Skating Club of Lake Placid”.

The “Golden Age” of skating continued through the 40s, when skaters flocked to Lake Placid to train in the summers with the best coaches in the world. This provided them the opportunity to skate in the two spectacular summer ice shows, some of the most elaborate shows in the country. At this time, well-known skaters such as Dick Button trained with equally famous coaches like Gus Lussi.

Through the 50s , 60s, and 70s, the figure skating program continued to attract talented and well known skaters. Some notables included Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Ronnie Robertson, Tab Hunter, and Evelyn Mueller Kramer. Fleming and Hamill were the 1968 and 1976 Olympic Gold Medalists in Ladies Figure Skating, respectively. Ronnie Robertson was the 1956 Olympic Silver Medalist in Men’s Figure Skating, and was best known for his amazing spinning ability. Coached by Gus Lussi, Robertson’s incredibly fast spins were tested by the American Space Program to determine how to achieve balance in a weightless environment; they were baffled by his lack of dizziness after spinning. Tab Hunter was a movie star and recording artist best known for his good looks and roles in movies such as “Damn Yankees”. Hunter was a figure skater as a teenager, competing in both singles and pairs; he was another of Gus Lussi’s famous students. Evelyn Mueller Kramer trained alongside Ronnie Robertson and Tab Hunter, and is currently a well-known skating coach.

In 1979 the first Skate America competition, now a part of the annual Grand Prix series, was held in Lake Placid. It was considered a “test event” for the 1980 Olympics, and was obviously a success, since the competition was also there in 1981 (the competition was not held in 1980). Since then, Lake Placid has continued to host several important figure skating events. Most recently Lake Placid hosted the 2011 Eastern Synchronized Skating Championships, which determined the synchronized skating teams that qualified for Nationals. Previously, Skate America returned in 2009, along with Regional and Sectional Qualifiers, the annual Lake Placid Free Skating Championships and Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.
Ice shows such as Smuckers Stars on Ice and Disney on Ice return annually and
biannually respectively.

Summer skating continues every year, bringing skaters from all over the world to train with a variety of coaches. Celebrity skaters train here as well; the most well known are Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov, 1964 and 1968 Olympic Gold Medalists in Pairs Skating. Part time residents of Lake Placid, they train here every summer and can often be spotted practicing on one of the rinks (see photo above).

The Saturday Night Ice Shows have also continued. Skaters taking part in the summer skating camp have the opportunity to skate alongside “guest” skaters who are National and World caliber. The shows are weekly instead of just twice in the summer, allowing for more skaters and more memorable performances under the spotlights in the 1932 Arena. Notable guest skaters have included Johnny Weir, Ryan Bradley, Kimmie Meissner, and Rachel Flatt, as well as many others.

For more information on the figure skating program, visit the Lake Placid Skating site. For more information on the Skating Club of Lake Placid, visit their website.


Friday, March 18, 2011

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 5,000 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.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Fort George Recomended for Historic Registers

For 19th century guests of the Fort William Henry Hotel, an exploration of the ruins of Fort George was as essential to the experience of visiting Lake George as an excursion to Paradise Bay aboard the Ganouski or the Lillie M. Price.

Today, the grounds of the fort are part of a state park, but the site has remained remarkably undisturbed. For the past decade, state officials have worked with local organizations, archaeologists and historians to protect the site while, at the same time, taking steps to enhance public appreciation of one of the most significant battlegrounds in North America.

Earlier this month, New York State’s Board for Historic Preservation took an additional measure to both preserve and promote Fort George; it recommended that the site be placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

“Archaeological investigations at this French and Indian War site have provided rare insights into New York’s colonial wars; the site is also an example of an early and successful public initiative in land conservation and commemoration,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner for Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Bringing recognition to this property will help us to preserve and illuminate an important component of New York State history.”

After having been the site of battles in 1755 and 1757, Fort George became the headquarters of the British as they prepared to launch attacks on the French at Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Montreal. In 1759, General Jeffery Amherst ordered the construction of a stone fort. Only one corner bastion was completed, but that stone ruin survives. During the War of Independence, the fort was occupied by both the Americans and the British.

In 1998, interpretive signs were installed, permitting visitors to conduct self-guided tours of the park. Two years later, Dr. David Starbuck led the first archaeological excavation of the grounds. Starbuck, his students and volunteers uncovered the foundations of two large buildings and hundreds of artifacts.

According to Commissioner Harvey, a place on the State and National Registers can make the site eligible for various public preservation programs and services.

Once the recommendation is approved by the state historic preservation officer, the property will be listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and then nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, where it will be reviewed and, once approved, entered on the National Register.

Illustrations: 19th century views of the ruins of Fort George.

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


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