In the summer of 2015, while driving my beat-up Toyota truck through the back roads of northern Clinton and Franklin counties documenting the Great Dannemora Prison Break, I kept thinking that I had been swallowed whole by a tabloid news story, or maybe a trashy pulp novel, that refused to end. The setting was the rainy, gloomy Gothic woods of the northern Adirondack foothills. The characters all seemed to come straight from central casting.
There were the two brutal killers, David Sweat and Richard Matt, who had pulled off an escape that instantly drew comparisons with the film The Shawshank Redemption, digging and cutting their way out of one of the toughest prisons in the world. There was a brash, swaggering Governor Andrew Cuomo, who barnstormed through an active crime scene with a film crew in tow. There was the sad-sack, defeated-looking prison warden Steve Racette, the poor bastard on whose watch the impossible had occurred. » Continue Reading.
Last winter, the massive Adirondack Club and Resort proposed for Tupper Lake cleared its final major hurdle. After more than a decade of debate and controversy, environmental activists and a handful of local property owners who fought to block the project were dealt a sweeping defeat by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.
The December 2014 ruling, upholding permits issued by the Adirondack Park Agency two years earlier, appeared to open the way for the $500 million project to move forward. It was hailed as a historic moment for the community. “I think the pieces are now in place to do what Tupper Lake and the Adirondack Park need,” said Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun.
But nearly five months later, ACR developers, local pro-development activists, and business leaders acknowledge that considerable uncertainty remains about the timeline for construction and about the broader viability of the resort’s ambitious business plan. » Continue Reading.
It’s a Saturday afternoon and a really rare bluebird day in the Adirondacks, so mild that I have my gloves off. I’m riding up the T-bar lift on Mt. Pisgah, one of the most beloved ski mountains in the North Country. There’s a smattering of kids and grown-ups on the slopes. This is a place where my own son grew up learning to ski and we’ve spent many happy hours here, so it’s kind of a great spot.
Up at the top, I find myself looking over a great little tangle of trails. Pisgah’s not a huge mountain, but there’s a surprising amount of terrain – fun little choices, small crowds, and perfect snow. After pulling on my gloves, I launch. » Continue Reading.
Drive through Lake George, and you can see evidence that tourism is booming. Traffic is heavy, especially in summer when Lake George runs full-throttle. There are plans for a major hotel and a reinvention of downtown that includes an easing of building-height restrictions. A wave of construction is underway, with new shops, outlet malls, restaurants, and attractions.
“We’re extremely fortunate in the Adirondacks that our principal industry is tourism,” says Lake George Mayor Robert Blais. “No smokestacks, no getting up in the morning and reading the paper and finding out [the major employer] is going to close in six months. We’re part of the picture I think of the great Adirondack Park where families can come and find so many things to do.”
Lake George isn’t alone. Other thriving tourism towns, such as Lake Placid and Old Forge, have seen an increase in visitors, often drawing travelers year-round. In addition, a second tier of resort communities, including Inlet, Keene, North Creek, Saranac Lake, and Schroon Lake, seem to be enjoying the fruits of a visitor-based economy.
Economic data for specific towns are hard to come by, but a 2012 state report found that tourism accounts for roughly 12.4 percent of jobs inside the Adirondack Park, roughly thirteen thousand positions altogether. And in a 2013 progress report, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council says Essex County experienced an increase of 9 percent in visitors from 2012.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has made tourism development in the region one of his top priorities, launching a new ad campaign—including TV and radio spots and banners on New York City buses—while also establishing a new $2 million revolving loan fund to foster investment inside the Blue Line. “It’s not just about fun,” Cuomo said during a visit to the Adirondacks in March. “It’s about economic development and jobs.”
Two years ago, when Governor Andrew Cuomo revived the massive Finch, Pruyn land deal, first engineered by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy in 2007, he shifted the terms of a long-running debate over big land-conservation projects in the Park. Funding for open-space conservation had been under attack in Albany for years, including a moratorium on new spending. Even many Democrats were questioning the value to taxpayers of protecting more “forever wild” land in the Park.
The governor turned that debate on its head, arguing that vast tracts of new public lands would be a boon to the state’s tourism economy—rather than a costly burden—and would give struggling Adirondack towns a long-needed boost. “Today’s agreement will make the Adirondack Park one of the most sought-after destinations for paddlers, hikers, hunters, sportspeople, and snowmobilers,” Cuomo declared in August 2012 as he committed the state to spending $47 million on sixty-nine thousand acres of timberlands over five years.
Cuomo pointed to “extraordinary new outdoor recreational opportunities” that he asserted would spark investment and help revitalize the tourism economy in struggling mountain towns. » Continue Reading.
For more than two years, rail-trail activists have been pushing state officials to end decades of financial support for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and convert a ninety-mile rail corridor between Old Forge and Lake Placid into a year-round multi-use recreational trail.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) has argued that the tourism train has been a financial failure, requiring too much taxpayer support, and claimed that a rail trail would provide a bigger tourism draw. » Continue Reading.
This summer, a Canadian company called Scotia Investments has been auctioning off parts of the old Newton Falls Paper Mill in the northwestern Adirondacks. It’s the latest painful chapter for a region of the Adirondack Park that has fought for years to maintain its old industrial economy.“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” said Sherman Craig, an Adirondack Park Agency commissioner who owns a woodworking shop in Newton Falls and lives in nearby Wanakena. “After they cut up the paper-making equipment, it’s just a shell.”
Craig joined a half-dozen men in late July in the lobby of the mill’s mostly empty main headquarters for a public auction of roughly four thousand acres of timberland owned by Scotia. The company has declined to say whether the property found a buyer. That means more uncertainty for Terrance Roberts of Canton, president of the Trail’s End hunting club on paper-mill land for decades. “It’s a heartbreak,” he said. “My brother worked here for thirty-something years.” » Continue Reading.
In May 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed two controversial laws that would change life in the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan, which the governor pushed through the state legislature, established new zoning rules for private land that aimed to protect open space and limit residential development. The other law set minimum prison sentences for drug users and pushers.
“I have one goal and one objective, and that is to stop the pushing of drugs and to protect the innocent victim,” the governor insisted, promising that the harsh new penalties would stem the epidemic of cocaine and heroin addiction in New York City.
As it turned out, the Rockefeller drug laws—which also included tough penalties for marijuana use—would rival the land-use regulations in their impact on the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
So here’s the sad truth about my life as a journalist working in the Adirondacks. I wake up pretty much every day here in Saranac Lake wanting you – scratch that, needing you – to do three contradictory things at once. First, I need you to care about what I do. Whether I’m reporting on environmental issues, paddling down a river, or pulling together a year-long investigative series about America’s vast prison complex, I need you to share my conviction that these things matter. In a world of Kardashians, infotainment and blink-and-you-missed it Twitter feeds, those of you who filter past this first step are already the rarest, purest gold.
The second thing I need you to do is put up with the fact that it’s part of my job to be kind of a jerk. Not always, and not unnecessarily, at least I hope. But kind of a lot of the time, it’s important for me to be pretty unlikable. Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor at the Washington Post, was asked once about the backlash he faced for his reporters’ work on Watergate. He said that their job wasn’t to be liked, but to scrap and dig and prod until they found the truth. I’m not in Bradlee’s league, obviously. I’m a small town reporter in rural Upstate New York. » Continue Reading.
The battle over use of a historic railroad corridor through the heart of the Adirondacks escalated this fall, with a growing number of local government leaders questioning the value of an excursion train that would operate from Old Forge to Lake Placid.
Regional development officials, meanwhile, affirmed their support for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, describing it as an important tourism attraction and suggesting that the entire line could be back in regular use within two years, carrying visitors from as far away as New York City.
As of press time, six towns and villages along the line—along with St. Lawrence County’s legislature—have passed resolutions raising doubts about that vision. Some have urged state officials to reopen a unit management plan, written in 1992, that governs use of the state-owned corridor. Others have simply urged the Department of Transportation to tear up the tracks. “To keep the snowmobilers, that’s a key thing for Tupper Lake,” said Supervisor Roger Amell after the town board voted in October to ask the state to revisit the plan. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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