Thursday, June 17, 2010

John Brown Lives! Honors Juneteenth With Event

June 19th commemorates “Juneteenth”, the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, and is observed in more than 30 states. It is also known as Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day. Join us in honoring “Juneteenth” with an author reception for Scott Christianson, author of the critically acclaimed book Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War (University of Illinois Press, 2010).

Scott will speak about the life and dramatic rescue of a captured fugitive slave from Virginia, Charles Nalle, who was liberated by Harriet Tubman and others in Troy, NY in 1860. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Phil Brown: Paddling Another Posted River

Over the past year, the Adirondack Explorer has published several stories on paddlers’ rights, including an account of a canoe trip on Shingle Shanty Brook through posted lands. As you can see from this earlier post on Adirondack Almanack, not everyone applauds our work.

We hope the stories will spur the state to clarify the legal status of Adirondack rivers. For the July/August issue of the Explorer, I paddled the Beaver River from Lake Lila to Stillwater, another stretch of river that passes through posted land. Click here to read the story.

The Beaver is shallower than Shingle Shanty, with many shoals and rapids. As a result, I had to get out of my canoe on several occasions to carry around obstacles or free the boat from rocks. I imagine the river would be even more boney in midsummer.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not “navigable-in-fact,” a legal phrase that describes waterways open to the public under the common-law right of navigation. The experts I spoke with said courts recognize that paddling sometimes requires portaging or lining a boat and that a river may not be navigable year-round. And the time I spent portaging or lining accounted for just a small fraction of the journey.

I’ll mention two other points in favor of the argument that the Beaver is navigable-in-fact.

First, this stretch of the Beaver connects two popular canoe-camping destinations in the public Forest Preserve. Thus, it is part of a canoe route from Lake Lila to Stillwater. Moreover, you could extend the route on both ends to create a multiday canoe expedition. You could start in Old Forge or Saranac Lake and paddle to Lila, thence to Stillwater, and then continue down the Beaver below Stillwater. If you’re looking at a hundred-mile trip, a few sections of shoals and rapids are not that daunting.

Second, the Beaver was used to float logs in the nineteenth century—which is evidence of the river’s navigability. Coincidentally, a week before my trip I received a letter from George Locker, a New York City attorney who canoed the Beaver a few years ago. In his historical researches, Locker found that William Seward Webb—the ancestor of the current landowners—asserted in 1893 that the Beaver was “a natural highway” for transporting logs.

“If the original Webb told a New York court in 1893 that the Beaver River was his commercial highway beginning at Lake Lila, then it is a settled matter that the Beaver River is navigable-in-fact and accessible to the public, no matter what any subsequent owner (Webb or not) may claim,” Locker wrote us.

Nevertheless, the landowner I spoke with contends the public is not allowed on the river.

Apart from the rapids and shoals, the legal ambiguity is probably enough to deter most paddlers from traveling down the Beaver.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is talking with the owners of Shingle Shanty Brook. Let’s hope this will result in public access. Perhaps the department could talk to the Beaver’s landowners next.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: Phil Brown on the Beaver River shortly before crossing into private property.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Natural History Field Work: Value of Repetition

It seems that in today’s world, most of us are focused on achieving goals, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. Goals are good; goals are important. But in the world of nature study and outdoor appreciation this goal-oriented mindset can get in the way of the bigger picture. More and more I see Park visitors who are only interested in bagging peaks, and not just any peak, but the highest peak, or adding a certain bird to their life lists. Once these items are checked off their lists, they forget about it and move on. I submit for your consideration that there are times when we should slow down while reaching some of these goals, and stop to smell the roses along the way.

Although I work in the Adirondack Park, admittedly the largest park in the continental US, the bit of the Park that is my work place is fairly small. We have three short trails, a total of about 3.5 miles. After ten years of walking these trails, one might think that they would get boring. How much more can there be to see? In truth, if I take the time to really look, each time I walk the trails I am liable to see something new. Last week, for example, I “discovered” a native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) I’d never seen before. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Safe Paddling Alternatives on Lake George

Two recent paddling fatalities on Lake George show that the Adirondacks’ most crowded lake may not be the safest place to take a canoe or kayak.

On May 31, Stephen Canaday drowned only a few yards from shore when hie canoe was capsized by the wake of a passing boat. On June 9, Peter Snyder of Troy was run over by another power boat while in his kayak on the lake. His neck was broken, but the cause of death was ruled drowning. Neither men wore life preservers.

Even on low traffic days Lake George is not necessarily a friendly place for paddlers — strong winds often blow through the channel between the mountains, causing tough headwinds and choppy waters.

Still, one can see the appeal. Lake George is truly a highlight of the park, with its clear waters surrounded by high peaks, and its dozens of islands just begging to be camped on. So if you must paddle here, do it wisely.

The first plan to avoid traffic is to avoid the summer. Spring and fall are terrific times to come, especially in October when the foliage is at its peak. I’ve on the lake several times after September, and we always had it to ourselves. Islands in the Narrows that are chockablock with campers in the summer are nearly deserted in the fall.

Another plan is to avoid high traffic areas — and that means any spot south of Bolton Landing. Both deaths this year occurred in this busy zone.

The Narrows, located between Tongue Mountain to the west and Shelving Rock and Black Mountain to the east, is another high-traffic area. But with all the islands there it’s possible to choose a narrow path between land masses that will avoid the main channels.

Other ideas would be to launch in places other than Bolton Landing or further south. Northwest Bay, which is accessible via a parking lot near Tongue Mountain on Route 9N (a few miles north of Bolton Landing), offers a terrific paddle. First you glide through a narrow channel filled with wildlife. Eventually, you exit onto the bay, but because this is a nautical cul-de-sac, it gets very little boat traffic compared to the rest of the lake. You can paddle all the way out to the point of the Tongue peninsula and see very few boats.

The remote, quiet Huletts Landing on the lake’s east shore also provides a nice way to visit some of the lesser-known islands north of the Narrows. It’s also right near Black Mountain, one of the best peaks to hike on the lake (accessible from the road or the water).

Finally, the far north has some nice spots that are a little quieter. If you put a boat in at Roger’s Rock State Park, you can enjoy a view of the lake’s biggest cliff (and maybe even see some rock climbers on its slabby face). Or launch from the Baldwin Road dock in Ticonderoga to explore the rarely-visited northern tip of the lake.

Whatever you do, remember to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Power boaters don’t see canoes and kayaks as easily as paddlers see them. And remember to wear those life preservers.

* * *

Photos by Lori Van Buren of Albany.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lake Placid Institute Announces Roundtable Series

The Lake Placid Institute for the Arts and Humanities welcomes prominent professionals to speak at the annual Adirondack Roundtable series. Taking place on Saturday mornings, these breakfast lectures are open to the public and offer a diverse array of speakers. Throughout June, July, and August, the Roundtable takes place at 8:30am at the Crowne Plaza Lake Placid Resort.

On June 26th, Actor Chris Noth will begin the Roundtable series by discussing “An Actor’s Life.” A graduate from the Yale School of Drama, he has had a successful career in film, television, and on stage. Noth is most well-known for his role as Detective Mike Logan on Law and Order: Criminal Intent and as Mr. Big on HBO’s Sex and the Cityopposite Sarah Jessica Parker, a role for which he received a Golden Globe Nomination. He can currently be seen in the movie Sex and the City II, a movie based on the television series and also on CBS’ show The Good Wife.

July 10th, Jim Burrows, a successful director and producer, will discuss “Maintaining a Private Life in Show Business.” He has directed many successful shows includingThe Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Friends, Will & Grace, and Two and a Half Men. He has been nominated for an Emmy Award 24 times in 26 years, winning 5 times.

July 17th, John Cooney, a prominent writer, will discuss “News Without Newspapers.” A former reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal,Cooney has worked in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe and the Middle East. His work in Cuba was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He has also written non-fiction books, in particular, The Annenbergs, for which he received the University of Missouri Journalism School’s Research award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. His fiction works include A Better Place to Die and Acts of Contrition.

August 14th, the Roundtable will conclude with Howard Stahl discussing “Saving Historic Properties: Economic, Aesthetic, & Practical Considerations.” A trial attorney and a partner in the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, he is a member of the Litigation, Business Solutions, and International Departments. His work led to his listing in Leading Lawyers 2007. In addition, Stahl has purchased, restored, opened for public viewing, and sold a number of historic homes. He also is knowledgeable about tax and easement incentives for preservation initiatives.

The Adirondack Roundtable begins at 8:30am, with registration starting at 8:00am at the Crowne Plaza Lake Placid Resort. Each event is $30 with a reservation or $35 at the door and includes a breakfast buffet. Please call the Lake Placid Institute at 518-523-1312 for advance registration.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Father’s Day Frog Jumping Contest

Forget the pancake breakfast and undercooked bacon. For the 38th year fathers and families will gather in Old Forge at noon on June 20 and find use for those past father’s day gifts and compete in the ugliest tie contest.

A tie picked out by a child is like my closet dedicated to those bride-maid dresses that I was promised could be shortened and worn again. The issue, without insulting too many of my friends, is that some of the dresses shouldn’t have been worn the first time as with a few of the ties my husband (and perhaps yours) has hanging in the back of his closet.

In the same philosophy that spandex is a privilege and should not be considered formal wear, neckties should not be bedazzled with the belief that glitter makes everything better.

If a rhinestone tie won’t win a family trophy then the frog-jumping contest just may. Annually over 30 frogs compete in a series of categories like weight, speed and jump at the Old Forge Lakefront.

According the Cindy Beckley of the Town of Webb Publicity Department in Old Forge no frogs are harmed during this event.

“We have a garden hose available to keep the frogs wet so they are not under any undo stress. All frogs are released back to their natural habitat,” says Beckley.

Though this isn’t the setting of Mark Twain’s 1865 tall tale, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, about life in a “Gold Rush” town, there are ample trophies and opportunities to have your own Daniel Webster perform, unless someone fills the frog up with buckshot.

For those unable to attend but would still like to find ways to celebrate the brilliance of Mark Twain, the Saranac Lake Historical Society has a series of summer events commemorating Mark Twain’s Adirondack connection and the 100th year anniversary of his death. The mantra surrounding schools, libraries and book groups is “rediscover Huckleberry Finn.” There will also be a non-stop reading on July 21 at the Keene Valley Library from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. as well as lectures and boat tours to the Mark Twain camp in August.

For more information about the tie or frog-jumping contest please call 315-369-6983. Happy Father’s Day.

Disclaimer: Nothing is more precious than the look on my children’s faces when they have found the perfect gift and I am honored that so many of my friends have wanted me as part of each special day, even the second time around. Sadly even that second go-around hasn’t been an opportunity to wear those dresses again though the thought did occur to me, more than once.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Short History of the Moose River Plains

The Moose River Plains Wild Forest, sitting between Route 28 and the West Canada Lake Wilderness in Hamilton and Herkimer counties, is a bit of an Adirondack political and natural history wonder.

The gravelly, flat, grassy “plains” of the Moose and Red Rivers are a significant contrast to the rest of the Adirondack Park and one of it’s more unique (and popular) features. Although it’s hard to know for sure, indications from various studies and permit requests suggest that about 50,000 people use the plains each year (not including the some 500 campsites bordering the area, and the incidental use generated by those in the hamlets of Inlet, Raquette Lake and Indian Lake). “The Plains,” as the area is known, was also the site of one of the region’s legendary environmental conservation fights of the last 100 years. » Continue Reading.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Exotic Wildlife: Gators in the Adirondacks

In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.

It was hard to tell which was less believable: that Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, and the legendary Betty White would sign on for such a project; that a movie based on such a far-fetched concept could make money; or that a member of the order Crocodilia could be found on any lake within 700 miles north of the Carolinas. If you’re a betting person, which is/are true?

The answers: Yes—Fonda, Pullman, and White (plus Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson) played the major roles in the movie. Yes, it earned money—nearly $32 million, enough to spawn Lake Placid 2 in 2007, and Lake Placid 3, scheduled for release on June 26, 2010. And yes, members of the order Crocodilia have lived recently in the north woods. All bets are winners!

The gator of Mirror Lake existed, appropriately enough, in the village of Lake Placid, and it scared the heck out of some very surprised tourists. I was once an avid fisherman, and before you take a fisherman’s word on something as ridiculous as this, it’s probably best to seek a higher authority, say, the New York Times. In 1903, they ran a story titled “Alligator in Lake Placid.”

That was two decades before “Lake Placid South” (Lake Placid, Florida) came into existence, so rest assured, the story applied to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. The tale in the Times began in early 1903 when the Stevens brothers, proprietors of the famed Stevens House, learned the answer to that age-old question, “What do you give someone who has everything?” The obvious answer: a reptile from the tropics, given to them as a gift by a friend who was returning from Florida.

A young alligator became the newest addition to the hotel’s amenities (deterrents?), housed temporarily in a bathtub. Around May, when ponds were open and the snow was melting, they made a decidedly non-tropical decision, releasing the gator into Mirror Lake. Frigid nights brought ice to the lake’s shallows, leaving only the slightest hope for the gator’s survival.

A few weeks later, on a warm, sunny day, appeared the oddest of sights at Mirror Lake—an alligator catching some rays on the beach. Because of its size, the gator posed little threat to humans, and the Stevens had a new attraction for patrons and curious northerners who, in the summer of ′03, hoped to glimpse the elusive newcomer.

Imagine the surprise of visitors a year later, innocently walking the shoreline of Mirror Lake in early summer, and stumbling upon an alligator! They reported their amazing find to management, who explained it was merely the Stevens’ family pet. (We can assume the Stevens housed it for the winter, but in warmer climes, gators can survive the cold in underground dens. Lake Placid’s temps would have provided a stern test of that system.)

Though the whole story seems like a once-in-a-lifetime tale, especially for those of us familiar with Adirondack wildlife, the Mirror Lake gator was not as unusual as you’d think. Similar incidents have occurred from Malone to Keeseville, and Ausable Forks to Ticonderoga. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became fashionable to have exotic pets, and many small alligators were among those carried home from Florida to the Adirondacks. Most of them were less than two feet long. Some escaped from their owners, while others were released into the wild.

It’s unclear what became of the survivors, like the Mirror Lake alligator or the many pets kept by private individuals. Or the one at the Lake Placid Club in 1933. That’s another story that defies belief. George Martin, the swimming instructor at the club, captured (with help) a seven-foot alligator from southern Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. They wrapped the reptile’s huge jaws in wire and prepared to take him north.

How do you transport a 7-foot alligator 1,000 miles? By George’s reckoning, you crate it, lay the crate on the car’s running board (most cars had them back then), lash the gator’s tail to the car’s rear fender, and hit the road. Though the wires around his jaws were snipped, the animal refused to eat, but they did make frequent stops at gas stations to water him down. He was christened “Mike,” and the club made plans for a facility where the animal could spend the winter. In the meantime, he was kept among Jacques Suzanne’s menagerie about a mile south of the village.

On a few occasions in the North Country, folks have unexpectedly stumbled upon alligators, and it’s hard to imagine the shock of the moment. Unfortunately, the reaction was uniform: kill it. A young boy from Malone, startled with his find (an 18-inch gator), dispatched it with a rock.

Another alligator’s death begs the question “Why?” The story was reported in the Wells area in late October 1957. Two bow hunters were hoping to bag a buck, but they spied a 32-inch alligator treading water near a beaver dam. One of the men put an arrow into the gator just behind the head, killing it. It was assumed to have been a released pet surviving on its own. No one knew how long it had been there, or if it had denned and somehow weathered the previous winter. (Not likely.)

Back in 1924, a young gator in Keeseville survived as a pet for three years until a couple of barn cats settled a longstanding feud, dragging it from its tank, killing it after an intense battle, and partially devouring the carcass before the owners drove them off.

But not all the alligators in the Adirondacks met tragic ends. Some were part of a traveling show associated with the Seminole Indians of Florida. Virtually every Florida carnival and sideshow featured alligator wrestlers, and among the best was George Storm. In the 1950s, a complete Seminole village was set up at Michael Covert’s hotel in Wilmington, and part of the daily show that summer was Storm performing his specialty.

Considering the unknown fate of Lake Placid’s alligators, their known proclivity for longevity, and the movies by the same name, it might be a good idea during the Ironman Triathlon to count swimmers going into Mirror Lake as well as those coming out. Just in case.

Photo Above: Poster from the first Lake Placid movie.

Photo Below: The Stevens House as it looked when it hosted the alligator.

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tourism Officials Optimistic Heading Into Summer

The Adirondack region relies heavily on tourism to support local economies – and if early returns are any indication, there’s good reason to be optimistic as the summer season begins picking up.

Two reports released in recent weeks show more people are packing their bags and heading out for mini-vacations – a good sign for hoteliers and restaurant owners in popular destinations like Lake Placid and Lake George.

The first report came from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Numbers for Memorial Day weekend this year showed a 17 percent increase in attendance over last year – and that’s with 41 parks opening at the last minute due to the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

The second report – a survey conducted by the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association – backs up the state’s numbers. NYSHTA is a not-for-profit trade organization representing some 1,300 businesses in the lodging and attractions industry. The survey found that 70 percent of hotel managers and lodging owners reported better business this year for Memorial Day weekend than in 2009.

Kim Rielly of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) says more people are taking unplanned vacations this year.

“These reports are consistent with our findings,” she said. “We’re looking forward to a good year, because there’s pent-up demand. People haven’t been traveling as much due to the economic downturn.”

Rielly also notes that recent negative press for the airline industry (see: volcanic ash and strikes) has more people looking for drive-to destinations.

“That’s the Adirondacks,” she said.

“Our proximity to millions of people in the New York metro area and the Montreal area works to our advantage,” Rielly added.

Rielly says that in Essex County, occupancy rates are already up over last year.

“And, from what we’re hearing from the area lodging industry, people are making a lot of last-minute travel plans,” she said. “Consumer confidence seems to be up, so we’re optimistic.”

Now for the part that may – no pun intended – dampen some of that optimism:

The weather.

The warm temperatures throughout the Adirondack and North Country regions in April and May flirted with the record books on several occasions. And, of course, most travelers to the area are here for outdoor activities.

“I was on my bicycle in February,” Rielly quipped. “But in all seriousness, we’ve been blessed with some fantastic weather. That’s absolutely going to play into that last-minute decision making and hopefully it will continue into the summer.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Adirondack Almanack Welcomes Chris Morris

I’m happy to announce that local journalist and WNBZ news director Chris Morris will be the newest contributor here at Adirondack Almanack.

Chris was born and raised in Saranac Lake and got his start in journalism as a stringer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s sports department. He graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2006 with a degree in English writing and religious studies and covered the Malone beat for the Malone Telegram.

Chris then moved to Vermont and took the editor’s position at the Vermont Times Sentinel, a weekly paper distributed throughout Chittenden County. From there, he went on to take the news editor position at Denton Publications and later joined Chris Knight at Mountain Communications as assistant news director of WNBZ radio.

When Chris Knight left WNBZ to join the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Chris took over as news director – a position he currently holds. At WNBZ, Chris reports on Tri-Lakes and Adirondack region news and occasionally contributes at North Country Public Radio and for other upstate publications.

If the Morris name sounds familiar to regular readers, it should. Chris’s dad Don Morris has been a contributor on Adirondack paddling here at the Almanack for some time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rain, Colden Trap Dyke, 1962

Rain usually accompanied our hikes out of YMCA camp at Pilot Knob, on Lake George, in the late fifties and sixties, sometimes hard rain. We camped without tents, lying on the bare ground under the sky if the lean-to were occupied or none availed. Often we got wet. Mosquitoes and no-see-ems dined on us at their will. It gave me both a taste for and an aversion to discomfort.

The camp transported us, cattle-like, to Crane Mountain, Sleeping Beauty, the High Peaks, Pharoah Lake, the Fulton Chain and points as distant as the White Mountains, in the back of an ancient Ford ton-and-a-half rack-bed truck with benches on the sides that looked like something out of a WWII movie. We loved that truck, the open-air freedom and daring of it, its antique cantankerousness, though as often as not we huddled together in ponchos against the cab out of the wind and the cold rain or sleet biting our cheeks.

After my first climb up the Colden Trap Dyke when I was 12 or 13 we came down the Lake Arnold trail after summiting, picked up our gear where we had left it at the outlet of Avalanche Lake, and continued down to Lake Colden and the big lean-to across the footbridge over the Opalescent. This would have been 1961 or 1962. Soon after we got there the rain started and continued through the night.

In the morning it kept going, cancelling our climb up Marcy. Trip leaders, Harvey Eakins and Fuzzy Fazzone, from Schenectady, fried Spam and brown sugar all day on a paraffin stove. The campers played cards and made occasional poncho-clad forays to check out the rising waters. By the following morning the river was lapping at the lean-to and the bridges upstream and down had washed out, stranding us. The trail coming down from Lake Tear was a torrent.

Poking around Flowed Land, Harvey and I found an old wooden skiff in the alders, and nearby two boards that would serve as paddles. The skiff floated, as long as you kept bailing. Flowed Land looked like its name: a wide unpredictably boiling eddy where the Opalescent and the overflow of the broken down Colden dam came together. To make it out to Heart Lake and meet the truck for the ride back to camp, the boys would need to be ferried across one at a time, while two people paddled with the boards.

The campers packed and assembled at the edge of Flowed Land. You wouldn’t do this today. Every trip across was touch-and-go—the craft not quite worthy, the load too precarious, the waters too nasty. It would have been easy to capsize at any moment. Campers had to pass a quarter-mile swim test to go on the hike, but these were bad conditions with no lifejackets. It took an hour to get everybody over. In the end, though, nothing bad happened, and the rain continued.

The trail was mud, the balsams closing in on either side soaking us more than the rain as we brushed through them. We ate drowned peanut butter sandwiches on the porch of the Colden interior cabin and reported in to the ranger, who had people out there in worse shape than we were. Then we made our way back over Avalanche Pass to spend the night at the lean-tos there or at Marcy Dam. By now we were completely drenched to the bone but getting along fine, thinking our way from point to point, beyond caring.

We got to Avalanche to find the lake water high and most of the Hitch-up Matildas floating free from the granite cliffs. We clambered where we could and waded deep or swam with our rucksacks on where we had to, and eventually got around the lake. Across the lake, the dike, the great gash in Colden’s steep slides, which we had climbed so excitingly the day before, had become a crashing waterfall fifteen or twenty feet wide, plunging a thousand feet straight into the lake. Not a scene you would ever choose to miss for the sake of a little comfort and safety.

It always stayed with me, that scene and the feeling of being completely soaked, a little at risk, and surrendering to the sensations that came with it—your skin cold and tingling in the raw elements, your resistance dissolved along with the suffering it caused. You wouldn’t have had these images or sensations in a suburban high school, for instance, nor the lawns of the usual subdivision—even though a wise person would have used that “wild” experience back in the normal world to deal with similar sensations of discomfort and resistance.

I wasn’t wise. But the same feeling did come back to me twenty years later on the Hudson Gorge, which I have written about before: a day of rain, mist and high water, when I regarded the multiple white cascades pouring off the amphitheater of Kettle Mountain straight into the river, as in a Tang painting, and felt my flesh dissolve into water, a total immersion in the “flow of concrete experience,” as William James had called it.

Everything was water, inside and out. Mind was water. Sitting there becoming water beside the Hudson I remembered the water crashing through the Colden Dyke on that saturated day back when I was a stuttering gawk in the High Peaks. Certain themes always followed you, I saw. It made sense to pay attention.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Upper Saranac Cookbook Sales Fight Milfoil

A hardcover cookbook containing more than 500 tried-and-true recipes from residents of Upper Saranac Lake and their families and friends is on sale in Tri-Lakes museums, gift shops and book stores. All proceeds will benefit the fight against invasive milfoil on Upper Saranac Lake.

The Upper Saranac Cookbook: An Adirondack Treasury of 500 Recipes was created by volunteers from Upper Saranac who worked for nine months to produce the approximately 500-page book as a charitable project. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adirondack Plants: Indian Cucumber Root

Now is the time to hit the woods if you want to find Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), for not only are its two-tiered leaves quite visible, but it is now bursting into blossom, and these are flowers you simply have to see.

Indian cucumber root is a member of the lily family, which to many of us seems odd, since lily leaves look rather like green tongues sticking out of the ground. However, if you look closely, you will see that the veins on the leaves run parallel to each other on the cucumber root as well as the other lily family members. This is a trait to look for when you are out botanizing.

When the plant is young, or when it lacks the energy to reproduce, it produces only one whorl of leaves. At this point in time, it is easily mistaken for starflower, although the latter’s leaves vary in size from less than an inch to almost three inches, and the leaf veins are not parallel to each other (it is not a lily). When conditions are right, however, stand back and wait to be impressed.

In some areas where it grows, Indian cucumber root can reach heights upwards of two feet. About half way up, it sports a whorl of five to nine leaves, all the same length. From the center of this whorl, the stem continues its skyward journey, ending in a second set of about three smaller leaves. There is nothing else out there that looks like this.

From now until the end of the summer, when you find one of these plants, you should look beneath the upper set of leaves for the yellowish-green nodding flowers. Take a close look at these flowers, for they are quite intriguing. The pale petals fold back, like a Turk’s cap lily, and from the center emerge three long reddish styles (part of the female reproductive bits) and several purple stamens. The color combination is striking, and the styles almost give the flower a spidery appearance.

Once fertilized, the flowers slowly convert into fruits. During this conversion, the flowers lose their droop. The pedicles straighten so that the purple-blue berries stand erect above the top tier of leaves.

Many people are most interested in this plant’s edibility. Historically, the native peoples of eastern North America dug the rhizomes* for food as well as medicine. The small white rhizomes, which measure only one to three inches in length, are reputed to have a cool, crisp, cucumbery taste, and are good eaten raw or lightly cooked with other vegetables. Doug Elliot, who is famous for his wildcrafting, writes that he took first place at the Fryeburg Fair for his Indian cucumber root pickles.

Today, however, the plants are not terribly common, and in Florida and Illinois they are listed as endangered. Because most of us do not need to wildcraft for our food, it is best to simply file away the information about the edibility of this plant under the category of interesting plant lore rather than actually harvesting it for a meal. Also, we should keep in mind that plants growing on state land are all protected by state law, so it is not legal to harvest them.

Edibility aside, this is still a spiffy plant, and one that is very easy to identify in the moist woodlands of the Adirondack Park. A quick jaunt down any of the VIC’s trails will likely yield at least a half-dozen of these plants. Stop on by and take a gander at them.

* Rhizomes are essentially horizontal stems, which usually grow underground. Stolons are also underground stems, but they sprout off from the main stem. Tubers, which the edible part of Indian cucumber roots are often called, are the swollen tips of rhizomes or stolons and are used by the plant for storage (eg: potatoes).

Friday, June 11, 2010

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lobbyists Gut Phosphorus Fertilizer Legislation

A bill that would have limited the sale of phosphorus-based fertilizers linked to algae blooms has been gutted by lobbyists’ pressures on legislators.

Among other things, the new version of the bill would prohibit municipalities from enacting stronger regulations without the authorization of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“This was a compromise; the industry did not want local governments passing more restrictive laws once a statewide law was enacted,” said a source within the DEC. “The agriculture community is freaking out about the bill as it stands now,” the source added.

Dan Macentee, a spokesman for Betty Little, Lake George’s representative in the State Senate, confirmed that additional amendments were being drafted to address the concerns of the New York State Farm Bureau. Those amendments are likely to weaken the bill even further, a Senate source said. “The bill’s sponsor, Senator Antoine Thompson, is amenable to amending even his own bills,” said the Senate source. A spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau did not return calls seeking comment before press time.

The current version of the bill restricts the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus within twenty feet of a water body, rather than prohibiting the sale of fertilizers with phosphorus throughout the state, as last year’s version of the bill did.

Prohibiting the use of fertilizers with phosphorus is a crucial step in protecting Lake George’s water quality, said Peter Bauer, executive director of the Fund for Lake George. “Legislation to control phosphorus pollution from household cleaning products and lawn fertilizers is critical to help manage and reduce water pollution. Lake George is enormously important to the local economy. Lake George’s high property values, robust tourism season, sport fishing and boating industries, all require clean water,” said Bauer. If the current version of the bill is enacted, New York State’s regulation of phosphorus would be far weaker than a town-wide ban proposed by Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy, said Bauer.

The Town of Lake George will consider the proposal as early as June 14, when it is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on the proposed ban. If the ordinance is adopted, Lake George will not only be the first town within the watershed to limit phosphorus, but the first community within the Adirondack Park to take that step.

Lake George Town officials officials have posted a survey on the Town’s website to solicit comments about the proposal. The survey will be found on the left side of the site under the heading “Give us your opinion,” along with a conceptual description of the proposal. Opinions submitted through the website will be presented at the public hearing, said McCoy.

Illustration courtesy Lawn to Lake, a program of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

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