Monday, August 15, 2011

Scaroon Manor and Accessible State Lands

During the opening ceremony of the new Scaroon Manor Campground and Day Use Area on Schroon Lake, State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward told a short story. Standing at a podium under a newly built pavilion on the sweeping grounds of the former resort turned DEC Campground, Sayward told a small crowd that when she was young, she “couldn’t afford to come here.” Once, she said, on a school field trip she had come to the Scaroon Manor resort by bus for the day and was amazed by what she saw.

Sayward’s story gets to the heart of the issue of accessibility in the Adirondacks. Standing on the grounds of what was once the most extravagant resort on Schroon Lake, with its beach, small boat basin, and greek style outdoor theater, Sayward seemed to realize for a moment the importance of state land.

The Assemblywoman, a vocal opponent of state land purchases, wasn’t the only one who could not previously enjoy the grounds at Scaroon Manor. Although it was once called Spirit Point after the Native American community who assembled there, for more than 200 years they were essentially barred from the property. When Taylor’s on Schroon was established in 1865, the resort, among the largest and most well-appointed on Schroon Lake, barred Jews. Although the Taylors advertised the warning “Gentile trade solicited,” there was no need to remind visitors that African-Americans were also excluded. In an ironic twist Taylor’s was sold in the early 1920s to Joseph Frieber and became the Jewish summer center of the Adirondacks – Scaroon Manor. The status of African-Americans remained essentially unchanged, as did that of gay and lesbian people, and those with disabilities.

All that changed in 1967 when the state acquired the property. Although it took too long (for a variety of personal, political, and economic reasons) a new campground, the first new state campground in 30 years, is now open to all.* Most notably, the campground is universally accessible to those with disabilities.

Carole Fraser, DEC’s Statewide Universal Access Program Coordinator, told me that while the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that 25% of new facilities be accessible to those with disabilities, the new Scaroon Manor Campground is 100% accessible. “The designer really went crazy,” she told me “this is one of the most accessible campground in the country, maybe the world.”

Despite the drum-beat of opposition to state land on the grounds that it somehow closes off access, the Adirondacks are now more open and accessible than ever before. The state’s facilities are open to everyone, regardless of race, class, or gender and more than 65 DEC facilities now feature access for people with disabilities.

Not only have state land purchases opened the Adirondacks to all, the more recent transition to universal access facilities is spawning a new adaptive recreation industry. Adirondack Adaptive Adventures offers guide services to those with disabilities and the number of adaptive sporting events and camps is growing. Plans are already in the works for a free “introduction to camping weekend” next year at Scaroon Manor for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout.

DEC recently updated its Adirondack map to include universally accessible facilities [pdf], and maintains a online list of facilities. The state also allows the use of cars, trucks and all-terrain vehicles by permit on routes already designated for ADA access, and issues permits on a case-by-case basis on routes that are not currently open.

Questions about access for people with disabilities should be directed to Larry Nashett (DEC Region 5 in Ray Brook) and Blanche Town (DEC Region 6 in Potsdam).

* It should be noted that the grounds have been open since 1967, though facilities were limited.

Photos: Above, (l-r) State Senator Betty Little, Schroon Lake Supervisor Cathy Moses, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, Chester Supervisor and Local Government Review Board Executive director Fred Monroe, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, DEC Region 5 Regional Director Betsy Lowe; Middle, one of a half dozen historic interpretive panels (none mention the segregated history of the site).

 

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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