Our Covid-19 socially distanced excursion last week took us to the Debar Tract on NYS Route 30, north of Paul Smith’s College and south of Malone. I wanted to see this area for myself after reading about the controversy over removal of the historic buildings on the shore of Debar Pond. (Click here for the latest article from Adirondack Explorer.)
The New York Constitution and the State Land Master Plan require all structures on Forest Preserve land be removed after New York State takes possession. In compliance, the Department of Conservation (DEC) proposed actions for the Debar Tract that have resulted in varying opinions and suggestions. Steven Engelhart, Executive Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) calls for preserving the main landmark, Debar Lodge; David Gibson, Managing Partner of Adirondack Wild, and Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks, call for the removal of all the structures on the Debar property, including the Lodge.
The roads less taken
Bruce and I decided to explore less traveled roads to the Debar Tract from our home in Keene and bypass the villages of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. We took the routes north of Whiteface Mountain from Wilmington passing by Silver Lake and Union Falls Pond. At Alder Brook we headed to Loon Lake, wanting to revisit this historic town, having learned about its history on an AARCH tour years before. The best part of this northern route, however, was the winding road through old forests as we left Loon Lake and drove toward Duane Center.
Finding the DEC sign to Debar Pond, we maneuvered our sedan on the gravel road for less than a mile – with caution, as potholes along the route were the size of small ponds. A pickup truck would have been a much-preferred mode of travel.
“We wanted to visit the Debar Lodge before it is torn down,” I said to the ranger at the parking lot entrance. “It will be awhile,” he replied, referring to the call for the removal of this historic lodge. “It is just down the road,” he said, pointing to the iron gate that restricts access to vehicles.
It was an easy walk to the lodge from the parking area. I marveled at the scene when we descended a knoll overlooking the lodge, Debar Pond, and the mountains in the distance. I was reminded of the scene at Camp Santanoni with the main lodge sited near Newcomb Lake. Engelhart suggests using Camp Santanoni as a model for preserving Debar Lodge, operating it as an historic site. He urges the state to slow down its process and explore alternatives to current proposals, encouraging us to treat this valuable cultural resource the way we treat our natural resources – with great care and stewardship. Debar Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
A comment on social media reinforces this stance: “I would consider myself an environmentalist and supporter of forever wild, but I think there should be more ‘room’ for historic structures like these to remain in place. These great camps are part of the Adirondack’s historical DNA…some could argue as much as the flora, fauna, and crusty peaks.”
A video shot by Northern Perspectives offers one a good view of the buildings, the pond, and views from around the tract. https://vimeo.com/476751727
Gibson knows that the State Constitution and the laws require the removal of the structures. He suggests, however, that “its historical story and significance should be exhibited without overdeveloping the site or transforming its wild forest character.”
I agree. Minimize the facilities proposed. Perhaps expand and upgrade what is now at nearby Meacham Lake and downsize what DEC proposes at Debar, i.e., “an extensive day-use area at the site of the lodge including “two pavilions, picnic tables, grills, fireplace, parking…” I find it difficult to imagine how any sense-of-place would remain with this type of development.
The public comment period on the department’s proposal came to an end on Nov. 12. The next step in the planning process is for the state Adirondack Park Agency and DEC to review public comments prior to proceeding further with the project, according to APA Public Information Officer Keith McKeever. (Click here to see the submitted comments.)
In its comment letter to the DEC, Protect the Adirondacks supports the proposal to remove the buildings but adds another dimension to the management of the Debar Tract. Bauer calls for Debar Pond to be managed as a motorless lake, stating “Launching should be provided for “car top” boats only… The public needs more motorless lakes and ponds that are easily accessible in the Adirondack Park.”
Big selling point: the pond
The State owns the entire pond. Almost a mile long, this narrow glacial lake is surrounded by several mountains, two above 3,000 feet – Debar and Loon Lake. I read it has great fishing, specifically for brook trout and landlocked salmon. Paddling on Debar Pond without the continuous background noise of the motors would be a gift for those of us who love quiet waters.
The best part of my visit that day was Debar Pond. I walked on a path across a short bridge catching glimpses of the pond from different angles. I imagined coming back next summer to explore the bays, sitting in my canoe in the middle of the pond, surrounded by the mountains. Can’t get better than that.
Photos by Lorraine Duvall