It is easy to get discouraged when our village leaders lead us in the wrong direction, as they have by allowing a grotesquely oversized hotel to take over Lake Flower. But despite their inability to appreciate what makes Saranac Lake unique, they cannot alter an irreversible trend.
The fact is, Saranac Lake probably has more going for it than any other community of similar size anywhere else. On what is this optimistic observation based, you may ask? It’s based on the driving and biking trips my wife and I have taken in recent years through much of rural America. It’s also based on walking around Saranac Lake Village, our home for the past two decades. “Unique” is an overused word, but it clearly applies in this case.
To begin with, where else can you find such a setting for a village this size? Everywhere around us are mountains, lakes, forests, streams. Only minutes away is Dewey Mountain for cross-country skiing and mountain biking, Mount Pisgah for downhill skiing, Baker Mountain for hiking and snowshoeing. Waterways are everywhere for paddling, swimming and fishing. And soon we’ll have a safe, scenic, peaceful trail for bicycling, jogging, strolling, bird-watching, dog walking, you name it — on the old rail bed that once connected us with the outside world.
A walk tells the story
A walk around town tells the story. After years of virtual abandonment, the Hotel Saranac, once the center of community life, is being lovingly restored by a man whose wedding reception was held in this same hotel years ago. Across the street is our thriving public library — now preparing for a book sale of some 20,000 titles, which says something about the literacy level of this mountain village of 5,000 souls. Next door is the Community Store, created by local residents who saw a pressing need and then filled it.
Beyond Berkeley Green, another community accomplishment, we continue down Broadway over the storied Saranac River, with a popular French bistro on one side of the street and another, newly opened bistro on the other. The crumbling eyesore known as Dew Drop Inn will soon be renovated as the third riverside restaurant in the cluster, a long-awaited revitalization that will also allow the River Walk — another achievement of recent times — to reach completion. Then past the only daily newspaper in the entire, Vermont-size Adirondack Park, a journal that’s been racking up Associated Press awards as if there’s no tomorrow. Beyond that is Mary’s Little City barbershop and, near the intersection, our popular Saranac Lake Lanes bowling alley.
As we retrace the route, it’s hard to ignore the empty storefronts here and there, an indication that the Saranac Lake Renaissance still has a way to go. We pass two more restaurants across from each other on Main Street, both lively gathering places, along with more galleries that attest to the flourishing art scene and the growing identity of Saranac Lake as a center of creativity. Past Mark Coleman’s well-equipped (and always welcoming) music store, past our classic town hall to Riverside Park on Lake Flower, where farmers’ markets and concerts are regularly held. Then home to the Santanoni Apartments, a former TB sanitorium and architectural landmark that has been renovated and repurposed and, for the past 20 years, has also housed the Adirondack Explorer magazine. Before turning up the driveway we pass our foot doctor, dentist and friendly neighborhood funeral home.
Revisiting our history
Farther up Church Street is the former laboratory of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, the visionary physician who turned Saranac Lake into a world center for the treatment of tuberculosis. On aptly named Church Street (and nearby) are houses of worship for almost every persuasion. At the end of the street is the historic train station, renovated two decades ago and now poised for new life as a stopping and starting point on the aforementioned rail trail. Nearby is yet another community attribute — our lovely village carousel.
What more do we need? A theater company? We’ve got a stellar one in Pendragon. Good schools? We’ve got those, too, including a high school with an enviable record of college admittance for its grads, plus a well-established community college. Health-care facilities? We’ve got the best in the Adirondack Park and beyond, thanks to the health-care tradition established by Dr. Trudeau.
Is there anything we don’t have? Yes, we need more employment opportunities. More young families would surely gravitate here if there were more ways to make a decent living. Which brings up more reasons for optimism. The future of the tourist economy as a job creator and money magnet has never looked better. We have two first-rate canoe and kayak outfitters at each end of the village, and a busy bike shop in the center. As the Adirondack Park grows in popularity as a mecca for outdoor recreation, this “industry” should also grow and prosper, including the hospitality business.
Reason to cheer
The greatest economic promise, however, stems from the Internet. More people can now earn a living in a place they prefer to be, thanks to digital technology that enables them to communicate with cities and markets many miles away. Think of all the people out there who would jump at the chance to live in a friendly village, amid superb natural surroundings, with almost everything within an easy walk or short drive — if they could find a way to do so. Well, here’s the good news. Modern technology is making this possible.
So, all in all, there’s a lot to cheer about. Despite a lack of vision by elected officials who don’t seems to understand what makes our community unique, who failed to require the hotel developer to come up with a properly scaled project that enhances (rather than overpowers) Lake Flower, our self-proclaimed “Capital of the Adirondacks” has a very promising future.
Photo: Downtown Saranac Lake historic district, courtesy Adirondack Architectural Heritage.