Monday, December 13, 2010

Adirondack Celebrity: Centenarian Charles Jennette

In 1936, at a birthday party in the Adirondacks, the honoree said he would be married within two years. He died six years later, but in that short time he made headlines across the state and the country on several occasions. During that span, he received more than 100 letters and 9 personal visits from female suitors; became engaged; was dumped the day before the wedding; was the guest of honor at several dinners, birthday parties, and parades; regularly mowed his lawn with a scythe; joined a ski club; and received the Purple Heart for war injuries.

Those are interesting, but relatively normal life events. Unless, of course, at that party in 1936, the birthday boy was turning 99 years old. Review it all from that perspective, and now you’ve got something.

Meet Charles Jennette, for a time the most famous man in the Adirondacks. His greatest notoriety came in his 100th year when he became engaged to Ella Blanch Manning, a New York City woman who had attended his 99th birthday party several weeks earlier. Days before the wedding, the Albany headline read “100 Called Too Old to Marry; Man Will Take 3d Wife at 99.”

But just 24 hours before the wedding, and after a visit with her daughters, Ella changed her mind. Already a media sensation, and despite being left high and dry, Charles continued with his post-wedding plans of a boat ride and dinner, remaining hopeful of marriage in the near future. After many interviews, he was only too happy to return to an otherwise, quiet, humble life.

Jennette was born in Maine in 1837. The family moved to Canada when he was five, and returned to the US when the Civil War began. At Malone, Charles enlisted for three years with Company A, 95th NY Volunteers, but served only nine months. His time was cut short in 1865 when he was wounded in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (also known as Dabney’s Mills) in Virginia. He was still in the hospital when the war ended.

In 1866, he married Emily Proulx in Ottawa, a union that would endure for 57 years. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Charles tried to enlist at the age of 61 but was refused. He lived much of his life in the St. Regis Falls area as a lumberman, toiling in partnership for many years with his son, John.

They ended the business relationship in December 1915 when Charles was 78, and in the following year he built a cottage at Old Forge. In 1921, the 84-year-old was one of only 6 attendees at the final meeting of the Durkee Post GAR in St. Regis Falls. GAR represents Grand Army of the Republic, the title given to Union forces in the Civil War. Few veterans survived, so the local group was discontinued.

His wife, Emily, died in the mid-1920s. Charles soon began spending summers in Old Forge and winters in Ilion (near Herkimer), while making regular visits to family in Tupper Lake. He married for a second time (January 1935, in Montreal), but his new bride died just two months later.

He was generally known as a remarkable old-timer until fame arrived in 1936 when, at his 98th birthday party, Charles announced he expected to wed again before he reached 100 (because “over 100 is too old”). Several hundred people attended the festivities.

After addressing more than a hundred female suitors (ages 42 to 72), he made plans to marry Ella Manning. Instead, at 99, he became America’s most famous groom to be jilted at the altar.

After that, it seemed anything he did was remarkable, and at such an advanced age, it certainly was. In 1937 (age 100) he rode in a Memorial Day parade as guest of honor. Shortly after his 101st birthday, he attended the Gettysburg Annual GAR Convention 72 years after his combat days had ended.

In 1940, on his 103rd birthday, he used a scythe to mow the lawn, and otherwise continued his daily ritual—trekking nearly two miles to retrieve the mail, and taking time to read the daily newspapers (and he didn’t need glasses!). Yearly, he made maple syrup in the spring and tended a garden each summer.

In August 1940 at Oneida Square in Utica, Charles was honored in a ceremony at the Soldiers’ Monument, which was built in 1891 to memorialize the Utica men who “risked their lives to save the Union.” Seventy-five years after suffering wounds in battle, Charles Jennette became a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (formed during WW I).

At age 104, perhaps still holding a marriage possibility in the back of his mind, Charles became the first male allowed to join the Old Forge Sno-Flakes, an all-girls’ ski club. He soon expressed regret at not having taken up skiing “when I was young, say 70 or so.”

In mid-1942, in support of the WW II effort, a photo of Charles purchasing war bonds was widely distributed among newspapers. He continued to attend American Legion rallies and make other appearances. Finally, in December of that year, he passed away at the age of 105.

Photo Top: At age 99, Charles Jennette with his fiancé, Ella Manning.

Photo Bottom: One of many headlines generated by Jennette’s story.

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.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Commentary: The Truth About Property Rights

They’re at it again. A small number of so-called “property rights advocates” are spreading falsehoods about development in the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), and our local economy to further their wider anti-conservation political agendas.

This time it’s a column by Karen Moreau, a Hudson Valley attorney who is president of the newly-formed Foundation for Land and Liberty. You remember them, the group Plattsburgh Press-Republican reporter Kim Smith-Dedam called “a new legal resource founded to protect one of the oldest American rights.”

It turns out that Karen Moreau, and apparently her Foundation for Land and Liberty, has no hesitation about misleading the public when it comes to the Adirondacks. Take a look at her commentary at the NY Post (surprise, surprise, Fred Monroe’s go-to tabloid). It’s full of lies, obfuscations, and what NCPR’s Brian Mann calls “goofy” accusations. Pull up a stool and let’s review a few:

Claim 1: There is a “de facto ban on development in the Adirondack Park.”

On what planet does one have to live on to make this claim? Most of the men I know have spent the last ten to fifteen working in the housing construction industry. Until the last year or so they were busy building thousands of first and second homes. NCPR’s Brian Mann, who called Moreau’s commentary “full out flat out errors,” offers a more accurate perspective: “Over the last decade, in-Park communities have seen a massive influx of private capital, investment and development to the tune of billions of dollars. Investors have built and bought their way to one of the most robust second-home markets in the US. Literally thousands of homes have been built, many with APA permits and many more in parts of the Park where no permits are required.”

Claim 2: “Approval for nearly any kind of land-based investment in the “park” lies chiefly with a single agency — the Adirondack Park Agency.”

As Brian Mann indicated in the quote above, the APA is responsible for oversight of a small portion of development in the Adirondack Park. The APA reviews applications on only about 20 percent of permit-requiring development activities in the park. Not to mention the fact that the APA overwhelming approves those projects, and by that I mean the APA approves nearly every single application it sees. In other words, the APA simply works to keep development activities in some general bounds of good environmental stewardship (and not very effectively at even that). The APA very rarely reject projects – almost never.

Claim 3: “APA enforcement actions, with the threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens, has literally ruined lives and contributed to a stagnant and declining upstate economy.”

I challenge Moreau to provide the evidence that our economy is anymore stagnant or declining than any other rural area around the state. To the contrary, as Brain Mann noted, “the state of New York spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the Adirondacks — far more per capita than in any other part of the state.” The single case she uses to back her “threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens” claim is the Sandy Lewis case. A millionaire financier who fought tooth and nail and won his case against the APA, including legal fees – no life ruined there. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000 – that is the fact. Enforcement is down overall from 496 cases in 2008, to 467 in 2009, and just 392 cases as of the end of October this year. And by the way, the APA has won against more than 100 lawsuits, and has lost less than five.

Claim 4: An alliance of green groups, the DEC, and the APA “has delayed for seven years the approvals to develop the Adirondack Club and Resort [ACR] in Tupper Lake, which would create hundreds of jobs.”

Apparently our great defender of property rights doesn’t care to mention that the ACR developers have won the right to SEIZE the private property of others for their own profit. Forget for a minute the “hundreds of jobs” nonsense, according to Brian Mann: “A significant part of that delay (not all, to be sure) was caused by the developers, who asked repeatedly for the permitting process to be delayed, took long periods to respond to requests for information, and then asked that the process be diverted into alternative mediation.”

Claim 5: “The notorious bureaucracy has deterred anyone from even bidding on Camp Gabriels.”

This is an unbelievable assertion, and frankly, laughable. The APA has nothing to do with the sale of Camp Gabriels. This claim really makes me wonder just how woefully misinformed Moreau and the Foundation for Land and Liberty are about the Adirondacks.

Claim 6: “The state’s been fueling the APA’s power by buying up land and rewarding the wealthy and powerful Nature Conservancy with millions in profits for their role in facilitating the transactions.”

This has already be shown to be a baseless assertion, one that even the editorial board of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (ADE) couldn’t accept. Repeating it shows Moreau to be dishonest and clearly not interested in the facts. As the ADE editorial put it, that assertion “smacks of gossip.” I second their call: “if it’s true, prove it with a credible source.” Moreau won’t because it’s not true. Just ask Fred Monroe, who told the ADE: “I don’t know if that’s true at all.”

All that aside, you’d think a “property rights” advocate would accept that people have the right to sell their land to whoever they like – including the state and the Nature Conservancy. If you think the state shouldn’t acquire more land, fine, but don’t make up lies to bolster your opinions.

We deserve more honesty from those who oppose outright, or seek to scale back, the Forest Preserve system and Adirondack Park conservation. Considering the track record lately, I don’t think we’ll get it.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adirondack Stats: Winter Sports

Year of the first known winter ascent of Mount Marcy: 1893

Number of recorded “Winter” 46ers as of May 2010: 467

Year volunteers cut the first trails on Gore Mountain: 1931

Approximate number of ski facilities, downhill and cross-country in the Adirondacks today: 30

Year in which Jim Goodwin and Bob Notman made the first ascent of the Chapel Pond Slab: 1936

Approximate number of ice climbing routes today: 100 on 13 major cliffs

Year in which Polaris Industries’ introduced the “Pol-Cat,” the first modern snowmobile: 1954

Approximate number of miles of groomed snowmobile trails on state land today: 800

Year of the first winter sports festival in Lake Placid: 1914

Amount of state taxpayers money ORDA received in 2010: $5.6 million

Amount ORDA contributes to the local economy: about $300 million

Estimated number of people employed by the winter economy in the Old Forge area: 500 to 1,000

Sources, Press Republican, Climate Change in the Adirondacks, ORDA, Lee Manchester, “Santa’s Historians” [pdf], John Warren “Adirondack Snowmobile History“.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Clarkson Offers High School Students Winter Courses

Clarkson University’s Project Challenge, an academic program for local high school students, returns this winter with a choice of nine five-week courses.

The program is designed to offer area students an opportunity to participate in classes that are not commonly offered in their high-school curriculum.

Clarkson faculty and administrators teach the courses on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. until noon for five weeks under the direction of The Clarkson School. This winter’s program begins on January 15.

This year the program offers three new courses: Real Medicine, Blood and Guts: Medical History through the Ages, and Gen Y: in Business.

Real Medicine, with instructors from Clarkson’s new Physician Assistant Program, will provide students with an opportunity to learn about the real world of today’s medicine.

Blood and Guts: Medical History through the Ages with Stephen Casper will provide students with an opportunity to explore a number of different case studies from actual historical medical records and advance medical problem solving skills.

Gen Y in Business with Mike Walsh and Erin Draper will focus on the entrepreneurial spirit of students and allow them to develop ideas and concepts in a “real world” context.

Digital Creativity with Julie Davis will provide an introduction to software and concepts relating to 2-D computer generated art and design.

Know Your Computer: How to Make Your Home Computer Work for You with Jeanna Matthews will have students see what kind of data goes over the network when they surf the Web or use AIM, as well as look at traces of common attacks like viruses or worms. They will write their own Web page and learn to install an operating system from Windows.

Cryptography through the Ages with Christino Tamon will look at the science of designing and breaking secret codes from Roman to modern times and focus on the use of computer programming in modern cryptography.

Students can study the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment in The First Amendment in American Democracy with Christopher Robinson. This class will examine how these freedoms are affected by wars abroad and terrorist threats at home.

Students will also have the opportunity to express their creative side in Creativity and Imagination with poet Joseph Duemer. This course features guest visual artists and students will create their own journal/notebook.

And Mary Alice Minor of Clarkson’s Physical Therapy Program will provide hands-on instruction on diagnosing injuries and the study of anatomy and physical therapy in Saturdays with Grey’s Anatomy.

Project Challenge courses will begin on January 15 and continue through the next four Saturdays until February 12, with a possible snow date of February 19.

Schools that have participated in the past include Alexandria Bay, Brasher Falls, Brushton-Moira, Canton, Chateaugay, Clifton-Fine, Colton-Pierrepont, Edwards-Knox, Gouverneur, Herman-Dekalb, Heuvelton, Indian River, Lisbon, Lyme, Malone, Massena, Morristown, Ogdensburg, Parishville-Hopkinton, Potsdam, Sackets Harbor, Salmon River, Saranac Lake, and Thousand Islands.

Interested students should first contact their guidance counselor to see if their school is participating. Participating high schools may sponsor all or part of the students’ tuition.

If the school is not participating, the out-of-pocket expense for the program is $140 per student. Enrollment in all courses is now available, but space is limited.

For more information, contact Brenda Kozsan or Annette Green at 315-268-4425 or at kozsanbd@clarkson.edu.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cornell Cooperative’s Master Gardner Training Offered

The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is now accepting applications for the program beginning in January 2011. Space is limited, so contact your local office soon for an application. Information about the program can be found on the CCE Warren County website.

After enrolling, you are provided with a large binder of information and reference material for the course that supplements the weekly presentations from Cornell University faculty, Cooperative Extension staff, and local experts on a wide range of horticultural topics. The topics include: Basic Botany, Entomology, Soils, Home Lawn Care, Vegetable and Fruit Gardening, Composting, Organic Gardening, among others. Local regional training is held in Ballston Spa (saratoga County) on Mondays from late January to mid April. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Grant to Help Protect Lake George’s English Brook

The Lake George Association has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to help protect the English Brook Watershed on Lake George.

One of the eight major streams entering Lake George, English Brook has been of high concern to the Association for over a decade. Land development in the English Brook watershed has increased the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff, leading to increased pollution entering the brook. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) lists the brook as sediment impaired, and its delta is one of the largest on the Lake. According to National Urban Runoff Program reports conducted during the 1980s, English Brook has high levels of total phosphorus, chlorides, total suspended sediments, lead and nitrate-nitrogen.

The grant will partially fund the installation of a $48,400 Aqua-Swirl hydrodynamic separator on the east side of Rt. 9N at the Lochlea Estate in the town of Lake George. The system will collect previously untreated stormwater runoff from both the east and west sides of Rt. 9N, as well as the bridge between the two exits at Exit 22 on Interstate 87. The majority of the runoff in the 48-acre watershed will be captured and treated.

Other stormwater solutions requiring a larger footprint were explored but were not possible due to the shallow soil depth and high bedrock found throughout the site. The Aqua-Swirl unit has a small footprint and a suitable location was found near existing stormwater infrastructure.

The project is also taking the opportunity to capture untreated stormwater runoff from the west side of the road. By installing some additional infrastructure, stormwater from both sides of the road will be directed to the new unit.

The cost of the entire project is estimated at $117,000. In addition to the Lake Champlain Basin Program grant, funding for this project has been secured from the Lake George Watershed Coalition and the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation. The village of Lake George will maintain the structure and clean out the system using the LGA’s Catch Vac.

How does an Aqua-Swirl Hydrodynamic Separator work?

Stormwater enters an Aqua-Swirl unit through an inlet pipe, producing a circular flow that makes contaminates settle. A swirl concentrator removes the gross pollutants; a filtration chamber then removes fine sediment and waterborne pollutants. A combination of gravity and hydrodynamic forces encourages solids to drop out of the flow and migrate to the center of the chamber, where velocities will be lower. The Aqua-Swirl also retains water between storms, allowing for settling of inorganic solids when the water is not flowing.

Additional work protecting the English Brook Watershed

Significant work in the English Brook watershed has already been completed by the LGA in conjunction with Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District (WCSWCD). In 2009, design work for a 150-foot-long sediment basin at the mouth of the brook was completed. Permits for this project have been submitted to the appropriate agencies. The basin will be about 6 feet deep with a capacity to trap over 700 cubic yards of material. Further upstream, at the Hubble Reservoir, the LGA hired Galusha Construction to remove a non-functioning sluice gate and valve that were making it difficult to maintain the site. The site was dewatered and almost 600 cubic yards of sediment were removed. The LGA acquired funding for both projects through grants from the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation and the New York State Department of State and the Environmental Protection Fund.

Once this important upland work is completed, the culminating step is to remove the sediment that has built up in the delta over the course of generations. The nutrient-rich sediment in deltas supports invasive plant growth, hampers fish spawning, and harbors nuisance waterfowl. By removing the delta, safe navigation is restored, the health of the Lake’s fisheries improves, the Lake returns to its original bottom, and property values are retained.

Photo: The English Brook delta in Lake George taken by the LGA in November 2010.


Friday, December 10, 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.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Ankle Deep: Lake George’s First Gold Cup Race Boat

After the Gold Cup races of 1914, the Ankle Deep was loaded onto a horse-drawn farm wagon and taken up the road to a corner of Count Casimir Mankowski’s estate on Northwest Bay – a humiliating end for a splendid boat, but then again, she had just suffered a humiliating defeat.

On the final day of the races, her propeller shaft had snapped. Mankowski let go of the wheel, and was sent overboard, right in front of the Sagamore. Her rival, the Baby Speed Demon II owned by Paula Brackton of New York City, went on to establish a world’s record. The Count, apparently, was too depressed to even remove the boat from the wagon. “Just leave the wagon where it is,” he told the drover. “Send me a bill for it.”

And that, more or less, was the end of both the Ankle Deep and Count Mankowski himself. The Ankle Deep caught fire and burned in a race held later that summer in Buffalo. The Count left Bolton Landing and never returned.

Nevertheless, the Gold Cup races of 1914 were a critical moment in the history of boating on Lake George. Gasoline powered boats had come to Lake George only a few years earlier. Competitive motorboating began in 1906, when the Lake George Regatta sponsored a race between boats owned by LeGrand C.Cramer, W.K.Bixby and Herman Broesel. Flat bottomed, sloping gradually toward the stern, the boats traveled at speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.

The 1914 race was the largest power boating event ever to be held in the United States; the field of starters was the largest, the boats were faster than any that had competed in previous races. The crowds too were the largest that had ever assembled in one place to watch speedboat races. Some of the spectators came by a special train from Albany. The Horicon met them at the station and took them to Bolton Landing. There, the Horicon anchored inside the race course, a 6 nautical mile ellipse that stretched from Montcalm Point to a point south of Dome Island. Throughout the races, cars lined the road from Glens Falls to the Sagamore.

The Ankle Deep was the first long distance speed boat ever built. Thirty-two feet long, she had two 150 horsepower engines, and was capable of a speed of 50 miles or more per hour. After winning the Gold Cup races on the St. Lawrence River in 1913, Mankowski brought the cup – which was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and displayed at the Sagamore – and the races to Lake George.

The first race was scheduled for July 29th, but a northwest gale forced it to be postponed until the following day. On Thursday ,at 5:00 PM, the races began. The Ankle Deep was late getting to the starting line, and finished behind the Baby Speed Demon and two other boats.

The Count made certain that he would not repeat that mistake. Here’s how the Lake George Mirror reported the Ankle Deep’s start on the second day of the races: “But a few feet back of the line and going at almost full speed she jumped like a thing of life as the Count yanked the throttle wide open, and crossed the line a shimmering streak of mahogany, soon distancing all her rivals.” By the end of the second day of racing, however, it must have been obvious that the Ankle Deep was no longer the fastest boat in the field. The Baby Speed Demon II passed her on the second lap, retaining the lead that she had established the previous day.

The Ankle Deep now had no chance of victory unless the leaders were removed from the competition by some accident or by mechanical failures. Frank Schneider, the retired industrial arts teacher who restored boats at the Pilot Knob boat shop, wrote an account of the third day of the races for the Lake George Mirror in 1964.

“I saw this race from a small motor launch. Beecher Howe of Glens Falls and I, from Pilot Knob, proceeded to go diagonally across the lake to where we could see. As we got past Dome Island, going at a speed of approximately five miles per hour, our engine stopped and we found ourselves plumb on the regatta course, stalled, while two of the contestants, Baby Speed Demon II, and the Buffalo Enquirer were bearing down on us. One of those speedsters passed us on one side and the other on the other side, and after they had long gone by us, a patrol boat approached us and hollered, ‘Get off the course!’ We finally got the engine started again, and headed for the Sagamore dock, to watch the rest of the race. We did not see the Ankle Deep in action as it had broken down at the beginning of the third heat.”

When the scores of each boat were calculated after three days of racing, the Ankle Deep was in third place, behind Baby Speed Demon II and Buffalo Enquirer.

Gold Cup boats did not disappear from Lake George, of course. Albert Judson of Bolton Landing, a president of the American Power Boat Association, which sponsored the Gold Cup Races, owned the Whipporwhill Jr. That boat raced in Minneapolis, the Thousand Islands, Detroit, Lake Ontario, and in 1920, in England, where it competed for the Harmsworth Trophy. The driver in that race was George Reis. Reis himself brought the Gold Cup races to Lake George in 1934 ,35 and 36. Melvin Crook had the Betty IV built as a Gold Cup boat, but did not race her, although she achieved a speed of 111 miles per hour in a qualifying trial for the Hundred Mile Per Hour Club.

The Ankle Deep, however, retains pride of place as our first Gold Cup boat. As the editor of the Lake George Mirror noted after it was learned that she had been destroyed by fire on the Niagra River, “To Count Mankowski and the Ankle Deep belongs the honor of creating a new epoch in motor boatdom, and no matter how fast the boats may go in the years to come,Lake George will always remember with pride the name of the beautiful queen that carried her flag to victory on the St. Lawrence.”

Photo: Count Casimir Mankowski, center, on Lake George in 1914.


Friday, December 10, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories

Each Friday morning Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers the previous week’s top stories. You can find all our weekly news 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.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Current Conditions in the Adirondack Park (Dec. 9)

This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to sometimes drastic changes.

Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Report Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional Forest Ranger incident reports which form a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Be aware of the latest weather conditions and carry adequate gear and supplies.

SPECIAL NOTICES FOR THIS WEEKEND
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lapland Lake Ski Center’s Olavi and Ann Hirvonen

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Benson, near Northville. Olavi competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team., and in 1978 he founded Lapland Lake, which he and Ann have built into one of the East’s foremost cross country ski centers.

Jeff: What events led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 1960?

Olavi: Well, it’s a long story… I was born in Montreal and was brought to Finland when I was eight months old. I was raised there by my grandmother and learned to ski as a youngster. I came to this country in 1949 after serving in the Finnish Army. After being here a couple years and married for a few months, I received greetings from the U.S. Army with special orders to go to Alaska as an instructor in the Arctic Indoctrination School. In the wintertime I taught skiing, snowshoeing, and Arctic survival, and in the summer it was mountain climbing, rock climbing, glacier travel.

Jeff: Alaska must have been an incredible place in the 1950s.

Olavi: I liked Alaska, yes. Good fishing and good hunting, and lots of lingonberries in the woods! [lingonberries are a Scandinavian food staple].

Jeff: Your service in the Army led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team?

Olavi: After the Army I had a ski lodge in Vermont that I was leasing. I had an invitation to go to the U.S. Olympic training camp in Colorado, but we were adding on to the ski lodge in ’59 and early ’60, and I couldn’t take the time to go because of all the work that I needed to do at home. So I trained by myself, until a week before the tryouts, and then I went out to meet up with the team in Winter Park, Colorado, which is at 10,000 feet. I had headaches night and day and didn’t do very well at all. On the fifth day, at a race in Aspen before the tryouts, I came in 26th and I thought I’ll never make it. The day after that we drove up to Steamboat Springs, and I went out to check the course for the first race of the tryouts. All of a sudden I felt like somebody turned the power switch on, like my old self. I came in second in the tryouts.

Olavi: Well, there’s more to the story. Because I hadn’t been trained by the Olympic coaches I was something of a black sheep. I didn’t get to race my best distance, the 30K, which was the first race. I found out the night before the race, and I was very disappointed. Instead I raced in the 15K and the 50K.

Jeff: Which event did you do better in?

Olavi: Well, the 50K, but I had never skied 50K in my life. I didn’t medal, but I ended up being the second US finisher, after breaking my ski. I had to ski on a single ski for more than a mile. I got a ski from a spectator and finished the race. That happened in the first 10K.

Jeff: That’s an incredible story, how did that happen?

Olavi: I stepped out of the track to make way for a Finnish competitor and that’s when I broke my ski. That was Veikko Hakulinen, and he won the silver medal. We became good friends after the Olympics. In the 40K team relay, he came from 20 seconds behind in the last leg to win the gold medal by just one meter. [Veikko Hakulinen was the only athlete at the Squaw Valley games to win three medals. The third medal was in the 15K].

Jeff: And what led you to eventually found Lapland Lake?

Olavi: We were living in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s, and I had seen Trapp Family Lodge, the first cross country ski center in the United States. My late son worked there as an instructor in the 1970s, and it had been in my mind since the Olympics to one day start something like that.

In 1977 I had built two houses, one that we were living in and one that I was still finishing, and they were both for sale. I thought one of them might sell, but they both did, and so in the spring of 1978 we were homeless and we headed out. My plan was to head into upstate New York, but farther north than here. Driving north on Route 30, I saw the sign for Benson and I thought “I have to make that left.” It was like a magnet, I had not planned to come here. Eventually we found this place. It had cabins, lots of land and a lake, and it was for sale.

When we finally made the deal to buy the property, the lady who sold the property to us, the former owner, wanted to take us out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant she asked me what sports my late son had been involved in [Olavi lost his son Esa in an accident in 1977]. I said biathlon and cross-country skiing, and she said her nephew was on the U.S. biathlon team. So I asked her what’s his name, and she said John Hall. Well, I could hardly believe it because John Hall had been my son’s good buddy in college. That connection must have been the magnet that pulled me here.

Jeff: What were the early years like? Did you operate Lapland Lake as both a touring center and a vacation resort right from the start?

Olavi: Originally, this place was a farm. The lodge was a barn, for cows. In the 1930s, the owner put up some summer cottages but they weren’t winterized. We closed on the property August 3, 1978 and we had the first ski race December 15. There wasn’t much time to work on the trails that first year. We had to jack up all the cottages and put in foundations. I got a backhoe and I dug all of the water lines underground. We worked round the clock to get the place ready.

Jeff: Last year was a really tough year for snow. How did you do?

Ann: We average 117 days of skiing and over 11 feet of snow per year. Last year was our lowest snow year ever (80 inches), but we had over 100 days of skiing. We worked the snow and we were lucky with what we got.

Jeff: How much snow do you need to open?

Olavi: Well it depends on what type of snow. The best is a wet snow, and then cold after that. We can ski with just 2 inches on the lake trail. But six inches of wet snow lets us open just about everything.

Jeff: What’s involved in the trail grooming?

Olavi: At this time of year before the snow comes there’s clearing limbs and trees that have come down, and clearing drainage pipes. In the summer we mow the trails. It’s continuous maintenance. In the winter we groom every day. I’ve got a new 2010 Prinoth Husky Snowcat groomer, I think it’s our fourth snowcat groomer, plus a couple snowmobiles.

Jeff: Do you do all the grooming yourself?

Olavi: Yes, I still do. I have a young man who just started who I hope I can get to groom with the snowmobile, so at least I’ll have a backup if I get sick or hurt. It depends how good he is.

Jeff: How has the grooming evolved?

Olavi: When we first started I just had a snowmobile and track sled. We used mattress springs to break up the snow if it got hard or there was freezing rain. The trails were narrow, and groomed with tracks for classic skiing. Then people started skating, and I complained that people were destroying my tracks. So I widened the trails, bought our first snowcat, and started grooming for both skating and classic.

Jeff: Has anyone taken you up on your “Groomer’s Challenge?”

Ann [explaining to Olavi, who apparently hasn’t seen this on the website]: That’s online. We checked with the Cross Country Ski Association, and we don’t think there’s anyone who has more hours of grooming experience than Olavi in North America. One gentleman said he had been grooming as many years, but he was from downstate where the seasons are short. So in terms of total number of days grooming, we haven’t heard of anyone who’s got the depth of experience that Olavi has. It’s been on the website for three years now.

Jeff: The grooming and the design of the trail network seem to have given Lapland Lake the reputation of being a skier’s ski center.

Olavi: From the start I had the idea of making the trails all one-way loops, other than some connecting trails. We have a limited amount of acreage, and I wanted to get as many kilometers of trail as possible and take advantage of the natural terrain. We also get lots of beginners. We have a great ski school and we do a lot of lessons.

Jeff: Olavi, do you still ski?

Olavi: I don’t ski much anymore. I work days, and usually when I do ski it’s in the evening with lights on the Lake Trail or the easier trails with a headlamp. But I find my balance is nothing like what it used to be. I’ll be 80 on December 26. You know your limitations.

Jeff: A number of cross country ski areas have installed snowmaking: Trapp, Mountain Top, and others. Is that something you’d consider here?

Olavi: No, I think it’s too much of an expense to be worth it for us, it wouldn’t pay. So far we’ve been very lucky with our natural snowfall.

Jeff: Where do your customers come from?

Olavi: We get day skiers from the Capital District, Johnstown and Amsterdam, even Kingston and New Paltz. Overnight guests from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. We get lots of Canadians and Europeans. About 65% of our skiers are experienced skiers. We get racers early in the season, but later they travel to races. We also have a great volunteer Ski Patrol.

Ann: On weekends we’ll have 300 to 400 skiers. We hit 1,000 once, but it was just too many: people were elbow-to-elbow in the ski shop.

Jeff: How does this winter look?

Ann: Our reservations and our season passes are up. People seem to feel more comfortable spending money.

Jeff: Do you think a ski center can exist on its own as a viable business, or does it need to be paired with an inn or lodging business to be successful?

Olavi: I think it works best with lodging. It gives you something to fall back on, something for the summertime. And lodging in the winter without the skiing doesn’t do very well either. You have to have that combination.

Jeff: One thing that has always stood out is your website and the way you communicate with skiers.

Olavi: That’s Ann. When we met she was a PR person at Ellis Hospital. She doesn’t want to miss a ski report, and quite often she’ll update it more than once during the day. I’ll give her a report while I’m grooming. We try our best to be honest, but sometimes you still get it wrong.

Ann: At the time, I thought I was taking a big gamble spending money on the website, but it’s really paid off.

Jeff: How do you two share the work: the ski trails, the retail shop, the cottages and the restaurant?

Olavi: Ann is really the manager, and I do most of the outside work, the trails. In the winter, after the trail grooming, I come in and work in the ski shop selling skis and doing repairs. Ann gives me a to-do list.

Ann: Olavi may say I am the manager, but he’s really the heart and soul of the operation. He puts so much of himself into the trails and the grooming… Olavi says “I groom it the way I want to ski it.”

Jeff: Thanks very much Ann and Olavi for your time, and congratulations on your continued success with Lapland Lake. Olavi, congratulations on your upcoming birthday, and your Olympic anniversary. Kudos!

Photo of Olavi and Ann courtesy the Finland Center Foundation.

Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.



Thursday, December 9, 2010

A New Contributor: Ski Sports Writer Jeff Farbaniec

Please join me in welcoming Jeff Farbaniec as the newest contributor here at the Adirondack Almanack. Jeff is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures. This winter, Jeff’s emphasis will be on the ski sports – everything and anything related to Adirondack skiing.

His first piece for the Almanack runs at noon today, an interview with Olavi and Ann Hirvonen founders of the Lapland Lake ski touring center in Benson (near Northville). Olavi is a former Olympian (1960 Squaw Valley) and at age 80, may be the most experienced groomer in the country.

For now, check out Jeff’s blog. He recently took a look at the pre-season ski movie ritual, took the snowmaking media tour at Whiteface, and spent opening weekend at Gore.

Jeff Farbaniec lives in Wilton, just south of the Blue Line in Saratoga County, with his wife and their 2 young children.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

World Cup Bobsled, Skeleton Returns to Lake Placid

Next weekend (December 17th-19th) world class bobsled and skeleton racing will return to Lake Placid for the FIBT World Cup Bobsled/Skeleton Lake Placid.

The event is the final event in the North American portion of races; the previous North American races have been in Whisler, Canada; Calgary, Canada; and Park City, Utah.

The competition will start with men’s and women’s skeleton events on Friday, followed by Saturday’s two-man and women’s bobsled event. The four-man bobsled event is scheduled for Sunday.

This year’s World Cup event is not the only World Class Bobsled and Skeleton competition coming up; Lake Placid was recently awarded the 2012 World Championships. Although the event was expected to return in 2013, it was moved to one year earlier because of travel considerations; originally the 2012 World Championships were to be held in St Moritz, Switzerland.

But since the team will be in Sochi Russia training during the 2013 season, it is easier to travel from Russia to Switzerland than to Lake Placid. So the years were switched, and Lake Placid will be hosting the World Championships in 2012.

One of the most memorable moments in the last Lake Placid World Championship in 2009 was when US pilot Steve Holcomb led his four-man bobsled team to the first United States four-man title since 1959. Lake Placid has hosted world-level bobsled and skeleton racing since 1949, when it held the first World Championships outside of Europe. Lake Placid will also be hosting more World Cup events in 2013 and 2014.

For more information about the FIBT World Cup Bobsled/Skeleton Lake Placid visit http://www.whiteface.com/events/bobskel.php.]


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DEC: Be Prepared For Winter Conditions

Visitors to the backcountry of the Adirondacks should be prepared for snow, ice and cold, and use proper equipment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) advised today. Winter is an opportune time to take advantage of all that the Adirondack Park has to offer, however, the season can also present troublesome – even perilous – conditions to the unprepared.

Snow cover in the Adirondacks is now several feet deep at higher elevations. Visitors to the Eastern High Peaks are required to use snowshoes or cross-country skis for safety. It is strongly recommended that visitors to other parts of the Adirondacks do the same.

Snowshoes or skis prevent sudden falls or “post-holing,” avoids injuries and eases travel on snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy mountaintops and other exposed areas. In addition, backcountry visitors should follow these safety guidelines:

* Dress properly with layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!) clothing: a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots.

* Carry a day pack complete with: An ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, a map and compass, a first-aid kit, a flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.

* Drink plenty of water — dehydration can lead to hypothermia.

* Eat plenty of food to maintain energy levels and warmth.

* Check weather before entering the woods — if the weather is poor, postpone the trip. The mountains will always be there.

* Be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.

* Contact the DEC at (518) 897-1200 to determine trail conditions in the area you plan to visit.

Visitors should also be aware that waters have begun freezing over, but are not safe to access. Ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person.

Adirondack trail information can be found on the DEC website and the Adirondack Almanack provides weekly local conditions reports as well each Thursday afternoon.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

RGGI Carbon Auctions Not Meeting Expectations

The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has released the results of their 10th auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances, held Wednesday, Dec. 1. According to a press release issued by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC): “As with previous auctions, states are reinvesting the proceeds in a variety of strategic energy programs to save consumers money, benefit the environment and build the clean-energy economies of the RGGI states.”

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first government-mandated carbon dioxide control program in the United States. It requires power plant emissions reductions in New York and nine other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States. Over a period of years, the 10 states are hoping to reduce their power plant carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” program. There are indications however, that the carbon cap may be too high to have any impact. Additionally, environmentalists hopes to retire significant numbers of carbon credits have also proved limited. » Continue Reading.


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