Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Phoenix Rises! Celebrating a restored lean-to

new leanto

From the ashes of our beloved Bull Rush Bay lean-to’s old cedar logs, life rises anew!

Meet “The Phoenix”


Thanks to the DEC crew’s most excellent efforts. Bull Rush Bay’s new cedar log home.

new Bull Rush Bay lean-to

As most folks who’ve been following my stories by now well know, my family has long loved the lean-to at Bull Rush Bay. For the past half-century we have long looked forward to shared camping trips there. It has been our summer home.

When my brother Ray and I recently became aware, through comments in the Adirondack Almanack, that DEC plans were afoot to “destroy and replace it,” we immediately became quite distraught.

Feeling somewhat desperately like “Who’s from Who-ville” we each reached out with our respective voices, loudly expressing our concerns, praying one of us would be heard.

I wrote a story for the Adirondack Almanack entitled “Those Cedar Logs”. Many folks saw it and commented.

My brother Ray called the DEC Operations office and shared our concerns and questions directly with them.

Then we both watched, waited, worried, shed more than a few quiet tears, hoped and prayed. Watched and waited.  Worried some more.  Shed and shared a few more tears. Watched and waited.

I booked one more fall camping trip near the end of September. Based on what the DEC told my brother over the phone, I had made the reservation believing that I would be the first one to experience the new lean-to.

However, that did not happen. Instead, I got to spend one last fall farewell camping trip with my loyal old cedar log friend. The opportunity for one last long goodbye hug did not at all hurt my feelings.

My brother called the DEC again, their schedule had changed. Now they were going to wait until after Columbus Day weekend and the end of the reservation camping season. The water on the lake was quite low, so we began to think it might not happen until next spring, if at all. So, we just kept on waiting and watching, hoping and praying.  Had the DEC actually heard our small Who from Who-ville voices? We did not know.

My brother lives locally, keeps his boat docked at his property on Lake Flower. He boated in to Bull Rush Bay and checked periodically. It appeared nothing was happening.

Then this past weekend, my son and I had our annual father/son fall duck hunting trip planned. Last year we were amongst the first to camp in the new Martha Reben lean-to. However, given the weekend’s wet weather report, this year we had opted for the conveniently comfy accommodations of Tupper Lake’s Park Hotel.

Early Saturday morning we worked our way down the shore of the lake in our trusty canoe. Storm clouds, winds and whitecap waves became increasingly ominous. The ducks sere far smarter than us. They had correctly read the incoming weather and made themselves quite scare.

As we came to the mouth of the river, we looked skyward. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to forgo any upper river hunting plans, and instead pay one more visit to our favorite lean-to.

inside the lean-to

We knew something was amiss the minute we pulled ashore. There were several neat stacks of lumber, shingles and boards that had not been there before. We looked up towards these beloved cedar logs. Much to our surprise, instead of that familiar weathered greyed longbeard cedar log hue, we were staring at what appeared to be shiny new brown stained cedar!

Long story short, we were most pleasantly surprised!  The new lean-to had been built! The DEC’s team of lean-to elves must have snuck in sometime during the middle of the night to do it. Judging from the immaculate condition inside and out, the fresh sawdust and neatly stacked piles of wood debris all around, the stacks of unused lumber by the lake, and the tarp over the freshly mortared fireplace, they could not have finished more than a few hours before our arrival.  Sneaky devils, those lean-to elves. They must practice some secret form of little-known mountain magic.

The winds picked up. The clouds grew dark. It began to rain. So, we decided to take an early rest break and unloaded our gear into the lean-to to ride out the storm.

As rain sprinkled down through the cedars and pines, we examined the new lean-to.  About the same size as its predecessor, it sat up nice and high on some carefully placed and impressively large boulders. I would recommend treating whoever was responsible for placing them thusly with a fair degree of respect.


It had more head room inside than the old lean-to had, the overhand towards the fireplace was larger, which was nice, and it looked like it had been moved about a foot forward, both small but strategic improvements that immediately met with our hearty approval.

The DEC crew that had built it had clearly taken great pains. It was beyond a professional job. Handcrafted interior cedar branch hooks and sturdy cedar log shelves. It was beyond my wildest expectations, a true masterpiece. Beyond words perfect. A real work of art.

Most importantly though, the DEC had listened! Our voices had been heard. It sat in the same orientation footprint in relation to the lake and fireplace as our beloved old cedar log friend.

richard monroe

My son had a quick snack and took a short nap while I snapped photos, called my brother Ray and my wife to share the news, and take in my first tube fed cancer survivor’s meal, sheltered from wind and rain in the perfectly oriented confines of the new Bull Rush Bay Lean-to.

Thus, this story’s chapter ended more than happily. Unfortunately for my son and I, we still had the rest of a stormy day on the lake to weather. An Adirondack Outlaw adventure in canoeing survival. But that’s a separate chapter in the tale, to be dealt with another day, elsewhere.

For now, in this moment, my brother Ray and I, my son RJ, and our family, just wish to give heartfelt “Thanks”.  To the DEC crew who constructed this magnificent woodcraft work of art, and to the supervisory hands who direct them. Beyond a job well done. It’s truly a work of art. Beyond words magnificent. I love it.

From the ashes of our beloved Bull Rush Bay lean-to’s old cedar logs, rises “The Phoenix”.

father and son

Our children’s grandchildren will enjoy this for generations to come, as part of the fabric of life, Adirondack.

Our family will celebrate our 50th  Bull Rush Bay summer camping season next year in it.

To the DEC from the very depths of my cedar log heart soul;


“Thank You!”


All photos provided by Richard 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 @

16 Responses

  1. Dave Greene says:

    Aha, great — I *love* happy endings!

  2. James Fox says:

    Wonderful story from the heart!

  3. Bushwhack Jack says:

    I believe the local BOCES played a major role in its construction.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      If this lean-to is an example of the skill set our next generation is prepared to bring forth to carry forward our heritage, life Adirondack shall be in good hands. I am truly impressed and most thankful for their efforts.

    • Kevin Cafaro says:

      Boces Students absolutely had a big part in building it.

      • Richard Monroe says:

        Well, I certainly hope they all got an A+ for their work. It was excellent. Any BOCES student who contributed towards completing this lean-to is more than welcome to use this story as a job reference.

  4. Mark says:

    Looks great! My favorite spot in the North Country. Spent many a night camped out there. Great sandy beach, with breeze that helps keep bugs and campfire smoke away. My last trip up was Sept ’19. Too long to be away.

    • John Davis says:

      Try the lean to @ Williams Island, Stillwater and the Rapshaw club as our guest. John Davis 10 Crownwood Lane Queensbury N Y 12804

  5. Nancy Phillips says:

    Wonderful story about a beloved spot in the Adirondacks.

  6. JB says:

    Thanks for what I know will not be the final chapter of this story. Last weekend was brutal, but I’m sure you had the place all to yourself, you and the elves and the other mad outlaws out there.

  7. Mary says:

    So great to hear your beloved lean to has been replaced and done so in the best way.

  8. Tom Hart says:

    So glad to see that the new lean-to work is well-received. Here’s some background on how the “sneaky elves” built it under DEC’s direction.

    The Lean2Rescue crew arrived Thursday, labeled, carefully dismantled and stacked the old lean-to, set a new foundation using nearby rocks, and assembled the new lean-to up to the rafters. Friday morning, the BOCES students arrived by DEC barge courtesy of Brendan Hayes and crew. Students completed the roof planks, shingles and final touches, wrapping up by noon so they could get back to school. Last Wednesday, the final coat of stain was applied.

    Saranac BOCES students have built 5 lean-tos from scratch under the direction of Bob Liseno (Lean2Rescue) and Chris Wissler (Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES). See the full BOCES Lean-to story at The lean-to was built at the BOCES campus as part of their natural sciences class.

    This is rescue #104 by Lean2Rescue (out of 235 lean-tos in the park). Passing on the knowledge of how to build lean-tos is one of our greatest and most rewarding accomplishments. We hope the students will be able to tell their grandchildren how this lean-to was built by them! For more information on lean2Rescue, including who we partner with, see

    As you say Richard, here’s to the “fabric of life, Adirondack”!

  9. Richard Monroe says:

    Mr. Hart, My sincere apologies for not replying sooner. I’ve been on a bit of a hunting hiatus. Once again, thank you, and everyone who contributed to this endeavor, for a magnificent new lean-to that will be enjoyed for generations. My understanding is that the DEC has gotten clearance to rehab The old Bull Rush Bay lean-to and re-install it back up there somewhere. If that is indeed the case, I might recommend considering the Middle Lake’s site 70(pretty sure that’s the site #), on the near side of the lake, facing Shaw Island. All the other lean-to’s up there are on the far side of the lake. It’s not walk in accessible, so protected from partiers. 1st site to the right coming out of South Creek, a great spot for canoe & kayak campers. Also would be a great staging area for any rescue work needed on those waters. Just my unsolicited input, for whatever it’s worth. Thank you all for raising this new lean-to, “The Phoenix”, and your excellent work.

  10. Dave Bier says:

    Thanks for sharing your story of your family history of stays at the Bull Rush Bay lean-to. You rekindled memories of many wonderful camping trips to Middle and Lower Saranacs over the past 40+ years. I have passed by the lean-to many times and visited by canoe a few times. Once seeing a couple of mink playfully enjoying the lake shore during the fall.

    My only stay there was in late February about 6 or 7 years ago with two of my regular camping buddies. During one of our fall stays on the lake, we decided it would be a “good idea” to camp on the lake during the winter. We carefully considered our options, so we could snowshoe in to a lean-to from Rt. 3. Since the Bull Rush Bay lean-to allowed us access by staying relatively close to the shoreline, we thought it to be perfect choice.

    You might get a kick out of the snowshoes I used, as they appear to be similar to the ones I saw in the photo of your Dad’s. I too used mine in Wanakena while at the RS. After our trek out, we removed drifted snow from inside the lean-to, from in front of and from in the fireplace. We were able to scavenge enough wood to enjoy the evening, which eventually got down to about -25. Needless to say we were slow to get started the next morning! Once we got going, we enjoyed a beautiful day visiting the nearby islands in their winter splendor and another slightly warmer night (-14 I recall) before heading home.

    It was one of our most memorable stays on the lake and your favorite lean-to was a huge part of it! I thought you’d enjoy hearing from someone who also has some great memories of a stay at the Bull Rush Bay lean-to and so many beautiful spots on Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes. I hope like you, that the new lean-to will bring the coming generations as much enjoyment of the Adirondacks as we have enjoyed!

    • Richard Monroe says:

      1st & foremost- Thanks for sharing your memories & story! I have always had on my to do list a midwinter camping trip there. The latest I’ve done so has been mid November. It always seems like a great idea…in July. It is also interesting that you have a pair of snowshoes like my Dad’s. Did you guys by chance make them while in Ranger School? I for some reason always had that impression that my Dad’s, at least in part, were made while he was there. I just love it up there on that lake. It’s a very special place. You should make a point of visiting that new lean-to some time. It is simply amazing.

  11. David Bier says:

    In deed winter camping seems like a great idea in the warmer months! Although we ran into slightly colder weather than anticipated, we were comfortable due to our gear. I graduated from the RS in ‘76. I did not make my snow shoes, but would not be surprised that some of my predecessors may have made them. The school definitely instilled a can do attitude and ingenuity in every one, so it’s quite possible some made snow shoes while there. It certainly a special part of the Adirondacks with so much beauty and history to take in.

    It’s unlikely I’ll make it this fall, but I will certainly try to get back to Bull Rush Bay soon! Again, I really enjoyed reading about your stays and the new lean-to. Thanks!!!

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