Monday, March 18, 2024

Cranberry Lake: Giving is our nature

Aerial shot of Cranberry Lake.

By Susan Sweeney Smith

I live in a very small town in the northwestern Adirondacks – the hamlet of Cranberry Lake.  Year rounders are an increasingly small percentage of the population here — at last count 136 folks live here year round.  The population swells in the shoulder season of spring and grows again over summer… abating in the fall and dropping off dramatically back to our 136ish year rounders come winter.

We have an abundance of natural beauty from lakes to ponds to rivers to waterfalls to mountains to bogs to nature trails.  We all talk about the natural beauty as defining for this place.  And, of course, it is….

But there is something human happening here that is really amazing.  

In this little town, the revitalization is driven by a human factor unaccounted for in the oft repeated story of community decline.



Giving Time.

Giving Precious Financial Resources.

Giving Love.

I think this is true of all towns across the Adirondacks — the natural beauty defines us but something else is happening that keeps these little human outposts alive and even vibrant.

We know there isn’t much we can do to combat the loss of industry here over the last hundred years – from lumber companies to iron mines to paper mills.  All are gone.  And with them, many of the small businesses that thrived when the economy was thriving.  And it was, once.


The economy may not be thriving.  

But our community is thriving.   

By any human measure this place is remarkably thriving.


I can point to a wealth of projects that have happened and many that continue to thrive because the people here truly care….  and give.


My list:

The Cranberry Lake Fire and Rescue Department still finds a way to answer calls with a certified EMT  and rarely needs to call for mutual aid from another district.  All volunteers.  The Fire Department Auxiliary runs annual events to support the department and also provides gathering space and a community meal when a community member passes and the family wants to gather together with friends to celebrate life.  All volunteers.

Cranberry Lake Fire Department sign.

When the Fire Department wanted a digital sign to better share news of the community, the community came together and bought that sign.  Giving.

The library is open year round with a plethora of enrichment opportunities.  The Board of Directors are all volunteers and have stewarded this little library to a point of excellence. 

The Community Center hosts the Post Office, The Town Clerk, The History Collection, the Town Judge, the aforementioned library and community space.  The building itself was a gift to the town from the family who ran the Emporium Lumber Company back in its heyday during the first part of the 1900s.  A human gift that still serves us.

Clifton Fine Community Center – Sykes Family gift to the town.

The Cranberry Lake Boat Club (CLBC) was once a social club for boat owners that has turned into a community revitalization power house. 

They invest every year in permanent bricks and mortar projects in the community – including this off the top of my head list:

  • Interpretive History Panel at the dam site
  • Oswegatchie River Walk
  • Playground and long term parking 
  • Veteran’s Memorial
  • Beach pavilion and shed housing seasonal porta-potties and equipment
  • The Cranberry Lake North Shore HUB docks (and other projects on the grounds)
  • Pavilion

Community pavilion built by the Cranberry Lake Boat Club.

Free community docks at the HUB in collaboration with the CLBC. Here is the Farnsworth family installing the docks, which they do annually.

The CLBC sponsors the annual loon count, invasive species education and identification and monitoring, along with beloved events including a 5k/10k run/walk; a Poker Paddle, a Canoe/Kayak race – among other events that have come and gone including a Cardboard Boat Race.

Halsey Bagg and Deb Roberts, Cranberry Lake Boat Club at the 5k/10 Annual Race/Walk.

The CLBC also invests in region wide projects including supporting the free community meal and the hospital.

The Cranberry Lake Boat Club is run totally by volunteers and gives to this community.

The Cranberry Lake North Shore HUB is now a community gathering space – it was once a Presbyterian Church that served the community for over 100 years. 

Historic postcard of the Church pre-HUB.

Lakeside view of the HUB / restored church with lakeside vista and picnic chairs and tables.

The church came up for sale in 2018 and the community came together to purchase and restore and repurpose the historic structure.  It is now a not for profit run by a fully volunteer board that works with the CLBC to provide free community docks.  The board has stewarded the building restoration with new siding, roofing, septic and wiring. 

Man cleaning windows

Scott Bigelow, HUB Volunteer cleaning the original stained glass windows.

This year the HUB will offer free wi-fi to residents, boaters and travelers compliments of a partnership with SLIC – our regional wi-fi and phone provider.  The HUB hosts summer events free of charge from concerts to educational presentations in partnership with the SUNY ESF Biological Station on the far end of Cranberry Lake.

The Damoth Fund was created through the estate of long time resident Bob Damoth.  Stewarded by the Adirondack Foundation, the fund provides $15,000 each annually to the library, the fire department, the school, the hospital and in an unrestricted fund that accepts applications every year for projects in the region.  This fund serves the greater region of Clifton Fine and has funded many many projects in Cranberry Lake.  The application and grants process is totally run by volunteers.  Most of the projects funded are run totally by volunteers.

The Clifton Fine Community Fund, created by the gifts of residents around the region and matched and stewarded by the Northern New York Community Foundation, provides grants to regional projects each and every year.  The process is highly competitive and the requests annually far exceed the capacity of the fund.  This fund also serves the greater region of Clifton Fine and has funded many many projects in Cranberry Lake.  The application and grants process is totally run by volunteers.  Most of the projects funded are run totally by volunteers.

The Grasse River Railroad Trail – an ongoing volunteer effort to turn the former bed of the Grasse River Railroad into a viable mountain biking trail.  The trail will allow access to miles and miles of natural beauty – from lakes to rivers to bogs that are often inaccessible by other means.

The Cranberry Lake Art Show developed and organized by volunteers annually showcases the work of regional artists the 2nd weekend in August. It’s a celebration of art and community.  Of art makers and art lovers.  They run an auction as part of the event where participating artists take a base (it’s been Packbaskets, fish decoys, Adirondack chairs) and make them into unique works of art.  This year it will be canoes.  The proceeds from the auction provides scholarships to students at Clifton Fine Central School.

Cranberry Lake Art Show/Pack Basket Auction 2023.

Marc Chagal a very famous painter spent time here in Cranberry Lake.  A few years back a seasonal resident wrote a play about his time here called Chagal.  The play was produced by a volunteer corps of actors, set designers and community volunteers managing promotion etc. It was a joyous celebration of a hidden bit our our history.

Pat Peterson, Author, Chagall: The Play

The late Pat Peterson, Author, Chagall: The Play.

The cast of Chagall: The Play.

The Cranberry Lake Mountaineers Snowmobile Club grooms and clears and maintains miles and miles of snowmobile trails.  They apply for and get grants for trail improvements and host an annual ride in.  Tons of hours of work and love in action.

The Cranberry Lake 50 – a very successful volunteer driven effort – that has created a 50 mile hiking trail that circumnavigates Cranberry Lake.  It’s a beautiful challenge to seasoned and novice hikers alike and hundreds of hikers have completed the hike and registered their success on the CL 50 website.

Five Ponds Partners trail markers.

Residents do all kinds of unsung works of community love.  Senior citizens get rides to their doctors appointments.  Meals are brought to the sick and lonely.  When a local family faces a cancer journey, the community rallies with donations of money and time to help them. When the power goes out, we all check on each other and on occasion welcome neighbors who need a safe warm place for a few days into our home.  Groceries are purchased.  Clothes are dropped off.  Kids are loved and enjoy the benefit of a few extra eyes on them.

If I peer beyond the hamlet limits into Star Lake, Wanakena, Newton Falls, and Fine – the other hamlets in the Clifton Fine region, their story is the same.  

If I look broadly over the Park and talk with friends in other communities, I hear the same story.

Giving is our nature.

Photo at top: Aerial shot of Cranberry Lake. Photo by Tom French/Explorer file photo.

All other photos provided by the author.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

20 Responses

  1. This sounds like one of THE most beautiful (externally by nature, internally by you all as the residents) places to live anywhere. Hope to visit on our next trip up!

  2. Helga Frick says:

    What a most fantastic and delightful story! Thank you!!
    I will visit Cranberry Lake and look at it ALL with “brand new eyes”!
    Don’t you wish the whole world would live like that?

    • Susan Smith says:

      Thank you. Writing this made me see it with brand new eyes. I think that a lot – if not most – of the world does live like this. It’s just not the story we hear.

  3. Marge Villanova says:

    What an exceptional community! I loved this article and have promised myself a drive to Cranberry Lake this summer.

  4. Suzanne Doin says:

    This is such an inspiring example of what the spirit of giving can accomplish, a wonderful example of what humans can do and the important influence of cherishing and preserving the beautiful natural world of the unique Adirondacks.

  5. Susan Sweeney Smith says:

    Thanks Suzanne. I appreciate the kind comment.

  6. Rob says:

    Great article. Maybe a place to look at when I retire!

  7. RLBennett says:

    I absolutely loved reading about all the wonderful things going on in the Cranberry Lake and the environs! When our daughter was growing up we went to many places in the Adirondacks. But camping at Cranberry Lake was one of the best things she enjoyed doing! We would paddle in the lake, do lots of hiking and climbing and we were always sad when it was time to head home. She is now in her 40’s and she is strong, loves the outdoors and
    stays healthy and goes out to hike with friends and family. I am going to do the 50 mile trip around the lake this autumn and will also enjoy many new things this story.

  8. Guy Clark says:

    What an inspiring message. The Adirondacks are truly special. Even with all of the natural beauty they have to offer, it’s really the people who make it so special. We are part of the reason why the population swells as we come up each summer for a week or so to Cranbury Lake, Inlet, Raquette Lake or many other small communities that never let us down. They all have their own identity and offer so much for us visitors. We really, really appreciate all that everyone does to make their communities thrive. We have visited many state and national parks throughout the country but the Adirondacks are where it’s at for us. No place offers us the true peace of mind that we get from our camping or hiking trips to the Adirondacks. I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Thank you again for all who do so much make the Adirondacks unique.

  9. Susan Sweeney Smith says:

    Thanks so much for this comment!

  10. Lucy Wilson says:

    Thank you so very much for sharing about your beautiful community, its people and the beauty God bestowed. I truly enjoyed reading your wonderful article, it is truly a place I would absolutely love to live,spend the rest of my life.
    I remember my very first visit to the Adirondacks,
    There was something about the mountains, nature and the heavenly skies at night that overwhelmed me. I knew immediately my heart belonged here. I felt at home within,peaceful, happy, a place I wanted to stay forever.
    Its been many years since then, my feelings still remain the same about wanting to live in the Adirondacks, however financially it’s impossible.
    If I were younger, there would be Nothing stopping me from loading up my vehicle and moving up North. I try to visit every year when I’m able to and enjoy every moment. When it comes time to leave my heart is broken. To be a part of your lovely community family would be truly a dream come true.
    I love to be involved in community,especially the artistic part,volunteer,etc. I do some projects with woodworking, canvas & wood painting, sculpting, creating Old World Santa’s, stain glass projects and a bit of photography. These are the things that bring such enormous joy to me.
    I always imagined myself in a small cabin up North creating these amazing things, like a Santa’s workshop.
    Oh! what ones heart desires from life. You made me think of just how much I wanted to live in the Adirondacks with a community filled with caring folks. Thank you so much.
    Lucy Wilson
    Williamson, N.Y.

    • Susan Sweeney Smith says:

      Lucy – Your comment touched me. I know how blessed I have been to be able to create a life here and I know it’s not easy for many to do so. I’m so glad you have had the Adirondack experience in your life. Blessings. Susan

  11. Don Therre says:

    As a long time visitor to Cranberry Lake, I truly enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area. I started coming when a toddler with my parents. My mom and and dad came yearly in the fall and stayed at Frawley’s cabins. They belonged for many years to the Cranberry Lake Fish & Game club. I still travel through and stop in Cranberry a couple times a year. I go on a solo deer hunting tent trip in the fall down the lake. This place holds a special place in my heart. I still feel melancholy in its seemingly standstill or loss of what the town can afford visitors. It does have a great campground. Last I knew the motel and diner were closed. I had stayed and ate there in years past. I pray for a resurgence in amenities that would inspire others to visit. Something like what appears to have happened with Tupper Lake. Like every year, I will continue to hike, hunt and visit Cranberry Lake. It’s a part of my life and always will be. I have great memories from those experiences.

    • Susan Sweeney Smith says:

      Don – thanks for your kind comment. We do have much revitalization to still address… we’ll keep after it.

  12. Brett Blackmer says:

    Great article Susan. You and Andy are 2 more reasons we continue to thrive!

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