Thursday, September 9, 2021

Those cedar logs

“Adirondack lean-tos are so much more than simple cedar log structures built in the woods.”


 The Bull Rush Bay lean-to is scheduled some time later this month to be demolished and replaced.”

     This news hit me like a heavy weight title fight sucker punch in the gut. I’ve been barely able to catch my breath since I first heard this news in a reader comment to my most recent Adirondack Almanack story, “Smoke on the Water,” posted just last week.

My parents first introduced my brother & me to the lean-to at Bull Rush Bay shortly after we moved to Saranac Lake, circa 1972. I was 9.  Our family has camped there every year since.  Next summer’s camping trip would have represented our family’s fifty year anniversary camping in that lean-to. Now that will not happen, because that cedar log home I grew up in has been scheduled for demolition.

That special cedar log lean-to, so perfectly placed and oriented. It catches each day’s sunrise, sunset and wailing call of every Middle Saranac Lake loon just right. It’s angle and distance from the stone fireplace that serves it is, whether by purposeful measure or simple happenstance, spot on exact. The breeze off the lake blows bugs & wood smoke right on by, while those cedar logs catch and hold for its occupants the evening’s flickering flame fed warmth firelight.

Those cedar logs have provided me solace, comfort and shelter as I grew from a boy to a man. My brother and I recently calculated that we have each, individually, camped and slept for over two full years of our lives under the roof of that lean-to. I have spent many a night camped alone in that lean-to, just me, those cedar logs and my private thoughts by the light of night’s fire.  Now, just like that, without warning, someone has arbitrarily decided it is time to destroy and replace it.

Those cedar logs have stood strong these many years, sheltered untold numbers of families, fishermen, canoers, hunters and campers.

Those cedar logs have weathered many winters and storms. Our family, like so many others, has been in camp during some of them, sitting under the shelter that lean-to provided, as the heat from the fire in its rustic stone fireplace dried rain soaked shivers and warmed many a damp, weary bone.

lean-to writings

So many memories are etched into those walls:

“The He- Man Group was Here”

“Wind Rain Fish”

“SHABOOM” (Whatever that means)

“Wind is Good for You”

“Smith family ’77”

Now all the memories those cedar logs hold will soon be demolished.

My dad taught me the trees from that lean-to, how to split wood, tie a fisherman’s knot, clean & scale a northern pike, how to paddle a canoe. Right there, from that lean-to, those same skills passed through three generations to my own son.

Our family’s children were all almost literally born in that lean-to. I remember when playpens, baby bottles & pack-n-plays were standard camping equipment. Now our children are all grown and our family had all been looking forward to raising our next generation within the familiar comfort of those same cedar logs. Now that shall rather arbitrarily and abruptly forever not happen.

I recall the day thirteen summers ago when my brother Ray ferried me across the lake to that Bull Rush Bay lean-to for what I feared might well be the last time. I was headed for Sloan Kettering in NYC for last-ditch-effort, life-saving-attempt cancer surgery. I hid private tears as we crossed the lake that day, but found the strength I needed to survive that ordeal within the cloak of that familiar Bull Rush Bay friend and its sturdy cedar log walls.

We’ve admittedly both grown a bit grey together through these many years, that bull Rush Bay lean-to and I. Our hair has thinned, the soles of our hiking boots have become well worn. We could use a new roof, and some flooring perhaps, but our cedar log life force frames are still solid and strong.

lean to memories

“Your house needs a new roof and some new floor boards, so we’re simply going to destroy it and build a new one.”

“Wait! Excuse me? What did you just say? Who made that decision?  Why…What!?!”

But alas, all that will very soon be gone, vanished forever, “demolished & replaced” in one perhaps well intentioned, but thoughtlessly cavalier moment.  However, I want whoever is in charge of such things to realize, understand and know:

While they may have the power and authority to “demolish and replace” that Bull Rush Bay lean-to with a simple wave of a few saws and hammers, they can never fully replace the lifetime of memories those cedar logs hold. Every protesting creak, groan, and snapping grain of that lean-to’s destruction shall echo forever through my family’s life, heart, and soul.

Dick Monroe

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A veteran north country writer & story teller raised in Saranac Lake, Dick enjoys “Living in the Day I Am In”, and then writing about it. A severely speech impaired 3x cancer survivor, his pen is his voice. He shares many of his Adirondack Outlaw adventures & tales here. Read the rest on his blog @

19 Responses

  1. Ray Mainer says:

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

  2. James Marco says:

    Yeah, sorry for the uproar, but the lean-to will be salvaged, as far as whatever is still good and not rotted (well, I guess rot is a living thing too, a fungus.)The DEC has not determined a new home for it.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      To any and all who are actually listening and care-It does not need a new home! It has a perfectly good home already! Right where it is. All it needs is a little TLC, a new roof, and some floorboards.

  3. Richard Monroe says:

    My response and offer To the DEC. My father, Tom Monroe, former DEC Region 5 Regional Director, passed away several years ago, so I have no direct line to any current Regional decision makers. However, I’ll keep trying, I hope this comment reaches them. It seems from Mr. Marco’s comment that a complete assessment of that lean-to may not actually yet have been done. I will personally pay for an onsite assessment and any needed remediation and repairs to the existing Bull Rush Bay lean-to in it’s current location, as it sits right now. Personally, from having camped there twice this past summer, I think all it needs is a new roof and some floor planks. Additionally, I am willing to stay on site and work until all necessary renovations are complete, and I’m pretty sure I can enlist some able bodied Adirondack help. I’ve already had several volunteers. I hope my offer reaches the current DEC Regional Director’s desk. I am available 24/7. Almanack Editor Melissa Hart has all of my contact info. Please, let’s discuss how we can work together to save and repair/renovate our existing Bull Rush Bay lean-to instead of simply demolishing and replacing it. Let’s work together to make and execute a plan that will benefit everyone for many years to come. Tank you.

  4. Ruth Gais says:

    All things perish from under the sun. Thank you for sharing your memories and your loving tribute.

  5. JB says:

    It is often said that “the more people who share in the beauty of a place, the more protected that it will be.” I think that history has shown that this is incorrect. It is the people who form meaningful, lasting relationships with a place who ultimately end up advocating for those places. Such connection to place has become increasingly rare in our modern world, and now the passions of the topophile are seldom heard above the drone of the motor engines, social media, businessmen and bureaucracies. Forgive me for drawing comparison to the outlaw Edward Abbey, but I cannot resist ending with a pertinent excursus from him: “Anyone who takes this book seriously will be shot. Anyone who does not take it seriously will be buried alive by a Mitsubishi bulldozer.”

  6. Penn L Hoyt says:

    Richard – A beautiful tribute! You spelled out the fear that I have for a lean-to on Calkins Creek, a trip our group has been taking for over 50 years! Many memories reside at that lean-to. I am encouraged to know that there is a great group in the ADK that restores lean-tos and I am hoping that “my” lean-to gets on their list soon!

  7. Joel Rosenbaum says:

    Once again, a marvelous nostalgic article by Richard Monroe.
    Thanks for this,
    Joel R

  8. Richard Monroe says:

    Cedar Log Update: First off- thank you everyone, for all of your reads, great compliments and comments. My brother Ray called me a couple of hours ago. He had just finished an hour long phone conversation with a Region 5 DEC Operations representative, one of the head on the ground decision makers regarding lean-tos. My brother said it was a very positive, productive conversation. I was thrilled at that news. Could not ask for more at this point. More to follow in the next few coming days. I’ll keep folks posted. Thanks again everyone for your interest. Stay tuned!

  9. Richard Monroe says:

    Updated Cedar Log lean-to report: Well, after extensive ongoing phone discussions (between my brother Ray & DEC staff), and a planned joint onsite Bull Rush Bay cedar log lean-to replacement assessment that (for whatever reason) ended up not happening jointly and instead being two individually conducted assessments, I am happy to report that regardless of that, it appears our voices and concerns have been heard and incorporated into DEC plans going forward. If the end result even closely resembles what I have been led to believe is now the planned outcome, I am eagerly looking forward to the results! I guess I’m glad I kept my brother around all these years, defended him from all those bullies, & never (well, at least not completely) ditched, abandoned, or actually sold him to that weird guy who lived at the end of our road. Turns out it’s looking like little brothers just might be good for something other than taking the blame from Mom for all of his big brother’s crimes after all! Fingers Crossed. Knock on wood. Please stay tuned! More to follow.

  10. Rich says:

    I understand perfectly!! I 1st visited this beautiful area in ‘72. Since then, I have shared many of sites with both family and friends, including your bull rush lean to. Our ‘summer home’ is the lean to at Rice Point. We were there last year when the DEC showed and casually informed us it was going to be replaced. ‘Oh no’ we said, what will happen to all our memories. Well, we were pleasantly surprised with the results. We enjoyed another wonderful trip in the new leanto. They did a great job. I’m sure bull rush will be just as nice.
    We learned our old log friend had been repaired on placed on Kiwassa so we made plans to add a visit to our trip. It was great to see our old cedar friends.
    Maybe yours will be relocated too.

  11. Richard Monroe says:

    Hello Rich, Thanks for sharing your positive thoughts & experience. They give me hope. Many of our primary concerns had/have to do with with the Bull Rush Bay lean-to orientation, footprint, and proximity to the ever essential fireplace. Folks who do not camp there regularly might not fully understand or appreciate the critical importance of those things in light of factors like rain, snow, cold temps & the ever present off the lake wind. However, after extensive conversations between DEC reps & my brother, I am now cautiously optimistic that our concerns have been heard, and the most important of them will be incorporated into DEC plans going forward. If the outcome even closely resembles what we have now been led to believe they will be-I will, while sad at losing my old cedar log friend, at one and the same time, also be thrilled. I’m praying hard. Knock on wood-knock on wood-knock on wood. I have booked the first camping reservation after the pending DEC Bull Rush Bay lean-to replacement project is completed next week. So, thanks for your Interest. Please stay tuned. More to follow.

  12. Richard Monroe says:

    Another Cedar Log Update: It was our understanding from my brother’s phone conversations with the DEC that whatever was going to happen at Bull Rush Bay was going to happen this past week. However, since we’ve seen no recent signs of activity indicating any impending lean-to replacement activity at The Bull Rush Bay site, my brother again called the DEC rep to inquire. It appears that now whatever plans they may have for “Those Cedar Logs”, at this point, have been put off at least until after Columbus Day. No further details, information, or plans were provided. I was there yesterday with my wife enjoying a fall day on the lake. I’ll be back in tomorrow for 2 nights of early fall reservation camping time with my old friend. No further info to share at present, but my brother and I are generally in and out of there fairly regularly all fall, so as we see or know more, I will keep posting updates.

  13. Richard Monroe says:

    Cedar Log Update: The New Bull Rush Bay Lean-to is finished! The DEC’s crew must have JUST completed it this past week. Spoiler alert- It’s absolutely amazing! They did a great job, listened to our input& concerns… I LOVE it! Stay tuned! Hopefully full story & photos may soon follow(?) in the near future. Right now I’m exhausted from a long weekend of “Adirondack Monsoon” survival (BARELY!) canoe paddling.

  14. Richard Monroe says:

    Another Cedar Log Update! Per my brother Ray, it appears the DEC may have gotten clearance to move forward with plans to rehabilitate the old Bull Rush Bay Lean-to and re-locate it to a new home somewhere on the Saranac Chain of lakes, a-la Martha Reben, which ended up getting a facelift and being rebuilt down on Kiwassa. If that WERE to actually happen (which would be awesome!), my (unsolicited, but pretty well experienced, I think) suggestion would be to erect it on Middle Saranac’s site #70. All 3 other lean-to’s currently on that lake are on the far side. Site #70 sits on the NEAR side, right across from Shaw Island, 1st DEC site to the right coming out of South Creek. It’s not walk in accessible, as are the lower sites near the Ampersand Walk In on that side, so it’s not vulnerable, like the old 1970’s walk in site lean-to was, to partiers. It would provide an awesome lean-to site for canoers and kayakers coming in via South Creek, and also provide a storm safe haven, or rescue jump off point, on that side of the lake. Anyways, for whatever it’s worth, that’s my input. I hope my small voice once again reaches the same DEC supervisory ears who oversaw the construction of the fantastic new Bull Rush Bay lean-to. Once again- to the NYSDEC-Thanks!

  15. joe fantasia says:

    I too have spent many weekends in that lean-to with my nephews on our ‘annual trek’ to the Adirondacks. that lean-2 was my favorite in the entire park and reserve it at least once a year. i had the opportunity for a quick canoe trip to the site last fall and saw the beautiful job that was done on the replacement. i understand that the Saranac Lake BOCES wood products class built it and assisted putting it into place.
    A great learning experience for them.

    i brought a bag of mortar mix with me and did what i could to help stabilize its inevitable degradation.. wish i had brought two bags with me… maybe the next time i’m in there….

    love that spot and look forward to staying there again….