Sunday, December 6, 2020

Paying a visit to Debar Pond Lodge

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. 

First impressions

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.

Other viewpoints

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

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Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She writes of her paddling adventures in the book "In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks." Some experiences from her memoir, "And I Know Too Much to Pretend," led her to research a woman's commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, "Finding A Woman's Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks." Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.

26 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    sounds like a beautiful place. Thanks for checking it out and reporting.

  2. Peter says:

    When NYS takes possession of property in the Forest Preserve they loot, burn and gate off to keep residents out. This is their way of saving money.

  3. Connie Gerow says:

    Thank you for taking the ride from your home to gain a perspective of Debar Pond and Lodge. This place is absolutely gorgeous and should be preserved. We canoed this pond and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings. There are buildings that are not in great shape but the lodge looks like it has value.

  4. Ellen Gordinier says:

    What a terrible shame to destroy a landmark like the bar pond Lodge I lived in the Adirondacks for 32 years my husband was the resident engineer of Hamilton county and attended Paul Smith college all these places are so dear to my heart and I feel a lost losing a structure like this

    • Tim-Brunswick says:

      I can appreciate that Ellen….take some pictures!

      Seems like every old building in the Adks is somebody’s special memory….we’re going broke “preserving”…time to move on and worry about the future of the Adks!

  5. Kevin Tremmel says:

    This is a great property to preserve. Why would NY which is broke spend more money on tearing something down. This can have many visitors from our state as well as other states to see it’s beautiful historical value. How about we fix our roads and our infrastructure before tearing something apart that is fine and just in need of some maintenance.l

    • Cheryl says:

      There would be maintenance costs so that it doesn’t fall on its own, but ways to address that without hitting up taxpayers should be considered.

  6. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Great post. Thank you.

  7. DOUGLAS KERR says:

    great information…paradise in our backyard

  8. Rita Bevington says:

    The historic lodges/buildings in the Adirondack Park are a beautiful piece of its history!
    It is important to preserve them for future generations to enjoy, appreciate and explore. We have already needlessly destroyed too many historical landmarks in the Adirondack Park.

  9. sharon forrest says:

    Lorraine, Just read your article on Debar Lodge and pond. I am anxious to read your books now. I have just finished all of Anne LaBastilles books and you seem to share her philosophy.

  10. TStuart says:

    If your going to tear down Debar Lodge because the State Constitution and laws say so, then tear down Camp Santanoni. You can’t have it both ways. Most
    people can’t visit Santanoni anyway especially the handicapped. If the state can’t use it for the big wigs, oh, tear it down. This would be a great place and easy to
    repair and construct a walk way for the handicapped to visit and take in the natural

    • Boreas says:

      “A horse and accessible wagon may be reserved to travel the Newcomb Lake Road Trail between the Gate Lodge Complex and the Main Complex. Qualified persons with disabilities can ride for free. This service is provided by Newcombe Farms (518-480-1743) through a contract with DEC. Others can ride for a fee.

      Accessible vault toilets are available at the Gate Lodge Complex and the Main Complex.

      12-foot wide covered porches around the Main Lodge are accessible by ramp.

      Accessible horse mounting platforms are available at the Gate Lodge Complex and the Main Complex.”

  11. Boreas says:

    No one likes to see solid structures torn down. The question is, if every parcel the state buys requires taxpayers to maintain and open up every existing structure to the public, then it is not adhering to the requirement to remove non-compatible structures from its Forest Preserve holdings. Yes, it has made exceptions, but they have been just that – exceptions. Every structure is “historic” to someone.

    These decisions are typically made prior to purchase, with the removal of existing structures being agreed upon. I don’t know for a fact, but I would assume every landowner has a period of time to dismantle and move their structures, lest they be razed by the state. It sounds like what we need is a more robust process PRIOR to state purchase agreements determining the existing structures. If it is determined that the structure(s) are too historic to lose, then plans should be made to exclude those in-holdings from the parcel and come up with a private entity to possibly purchase and/or maintain those structures, similar to the Camp Santanoni work-around with AARCH and the Town of Newcomb. But I personally don’t believe adding parcels to the Forest Preserve should automatically include taxpayers paying to restore and maintain existing structures.

  12. rb says:

    Error in article. The Constitution does NOT require structures to be removed.

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      Article XIV, Section 1. The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.

  13. Jeanne says:

    DeBar is awesome! It meets the three crieria. Santononii has met the criteria
    and so does DeBar, Please allow it to stay.

  14. Robert Williams says:

    How old are the structures? We have a family cabin off rt. 99. Spent a lot of time in that area. Would be nice to preserve this historic property.

  15. John Marona says:

    It’s a beautiful place and a great log structure, I visited this summer, but I will leave it for others to decide what to do with what is there now.
    BUT, ““an extensive day-use area at the site of the lodge including “two pavilions, picnic tables, grills, fireplace, parking…” WHY???
    So we will tare down existing structures and build up all kinds of new development and maintenance including storage sheds toilets etc.? This is an out of the way place, who does the state thing is going to flock to these new facilities? If you are going to remove all that is presently there than leave it “Forever Wild” !

  16. Bob says:

    If the camps have to be removed instead of burning them why not get in touch someone like Barn wood builders an let them relocate them.

  17. kattie rock says:

    It’s no wonder today’s generation have no history.of any adirondack life…..just tear it ..really the apa should be ashamed of them self …there always a way to preserve history…Leave it be..

  18. Ellie says:

    Has anyone heard anymore about status of keeping structures at debar pond since approval of land swap in February by the county I believe. I tried to look debar pond institution but came up empty. Ellie wall

  19. Michael Dodds says:

    Dear Lorraine – Thank you for the pictures and glad you enjoyed your visit. My family was close friends with Cliff Thomas, care taker in the 70’s. We stayed in the Camp in the upper bedrooms during the deep winter while snowmobiling. We snowmobiled across the lake over to the bird preserve then back through the eastern side woods. There used to be another residence up in that area that was only accessible through the Main Cabin road. I remember it had a grand circular stair case in that building. In the summer we would visit during the day as we stayed at a minor camp several miles down the road that was also consumed by the state acquisition (which was burnt right away-which is when we put in a camp up Deer River Flow as a hunting group – which was also consumed by the state after International Paper logged it and gave it up too – South side of Twin Ponds Mountain to the falls). The great hall was amazing with the pool table, nickle slot machine and we had the fire going – 4ft logs! I caught my first rainbow trout off the dock of the boat house at 11 yo. We stored my 46 Willys and our dunebuggy in the garage one winter -1977?. No electric service – so there was generator there. During Barry’s time it was sealed off to public. My father loved the area and finally resided in Duane next to the fire hall, Mac Dodds. I really miss the area as I am now downstate.

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