Tuesday, February 8, 2022

A trip to a historic lodge


I confess to being a groupie of the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike, a 19th century transportation artifact that ran from Lake Champlain 75 miles inland to an outpost in the northern Adirondack foothills.

A lonely ribbon through the wilderness, significant mileage exists today exactly as it did in 1833 when it was completed. It tiptoes through the lovely community of Loon Lake and bobs and weaves its way past the underappreciated Loon Lake Mountain trailhead.

North of that, it passes the entry to Debar Pond Lodge, a site of consequential history and, over time, three major lodgings, the last of which, built in 1940, still stands. Perhaps most notably, the land in the late 1800s was owned by the son of a German brewer who planted a record-setting 300 acres in hops.

Wanting to see it in winter, Beth and I picked a gray but blessedly temperate day, called up Debar Pond Lodge on the navigation system and headed north.

It sent us on a route that I was less familiar with, but the spectacular winter scenery was distracting and I was robotically turning as instructed. Long story short, even though the destination clearly said “Debar Pond Lodge” it took us directly to, wait for it, the boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the popular Little House on the Prairie series. I swear this is true — who could make that up? I only mention it as a caveat emptor to anyone who tends to excessively rely on technology.

Anyway, not being a man to allow contempt of court on the part of some Adirondack sodbuster, I left Almanzo’s home behind and swung the truck back south.

Lodge aside, this part of the park, between Paul Smith’s and Malone, is remote, splashed with plenty of water, and relatively rugged, its higher mountains topping out well in excess of 3,000 feet.

The sprawling log camp, a little worse these days for wear and tear, is in the crosshairs of the DEC and environmental groups, but for different reasons. The state wants the lodge torn down, with 41 acres being converted into a high-intensity day-use area, with pavilions, picnic tables, grills, restrooms and trails up the nearby mountains and around the pond.

Some environmental groups want the lodge torn down as well, but rather than a day-use facility, they want to see the land returned to its natural state to accentuate what they believe, with reason, is one of the classic Adirondack naturescapes.

A third idea is to carve out the lodge and six acres around it for preservation in exchange for 400 acres on Meacham Lake that would be transferred from private to public ownership.

If there’s a bright side to the debate, it’s that attention has been drawn to a breathtaking setting. Debar Pond is a glacial finger of water nestled between two muscular mountains, Debar and Baldface, with the Loon Lake mountains rising in the distance. The lodge itself is rustically artful, on a small rise studded with grand white pines.

Looking past its present warts of neglect, the lodge is interesting and attractive enough to be a good candidate for preservation. But it’s when you turn away from the hand of man and face the soaring mountains, the tapestry of evergreens with white-birch piping and the glistening sheet of snow and ice that you get an idea of what’s truly valuable here.

debar pond lodge

Photos by Tim Rowland

Editor’s note: This first ran in the Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” column. Click here to sign up.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

12 Responses

  1. Beverly Stellges says:

    It’s so frustrating that the DEC wants to build another huge facility when they don’t maintain the ones we already have. Buck Pond was listed on a five year plan for upgrades and nothing has happened. The 1950’s bathrooms are disgusting! Keep the lodge, put out a few picnic tables and enjoy!

    • JB says:

      I agree! DEC’s reasoning–that a sprawling, 40 acre high-intensity day use area will be more “compatible” with forest preserve than an abandoned building (less than 1/10th of an acre)–is a prime example of wide-spread state mismanagement of the Forest Preserve.

    • Boreas says:

      Perhaps the land-swap plan will gain traction.

  2. D. Mark Osta says:

    Would love it see the structure rehabed with 10 ackers
    I rest is fine .who ownes I t now..?

  3. Ellie wall says:

    Right now Dan Stec our New York State senator is Presenting the amendment that will save debar lodge and have the land swap. Dec has done work to preserve the lodge from further deterioration and vandals. This has been an ongoing process which is finally coming to fruition. AARCH has been very involved. It is currently owned by nys and will be transferred to debar pond initiative to mange..

  4. Paul Czyzewski says:

    Leaving the debate behind, I have a fond memory of our day at DeBar. We had a summer program for Deaf students which included,over 17 years, a number of trips into the Adirondacks. A nurse who served our program told us about the estate where her husband, a retired NYPD detective, found interesting work. The trip from Plattsburgh that summer day was long, but we were rewarded with a beautiful log lodge on a picturesque body of water surrounded by ADK peaks. Accompanying our class that day was an older lady in her 80’s who was severely visually-impaired. I remember we all tried the swing that hung from the large trees facing the lake. I’ll never forget her comment as she gently swung back and forth. She said “This is just wonderful…..just wonderful”. All of a sudden she had the heart of a child again. DeBar was good to all of us that day. Who could ask for anything more. It was…. “just wonderful”.

  5. Alan Lagonegro says:

    Looks absolutely beautiful.

  6. Magdalena Tabor says:

    Preserving the lodge and the natural beauty surrounding it seems the perfect solution, as it was intended.

  7. Looking forward to finding new opportunities for us to explore.