Almanack Contributor John Warren

John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.


Monday, July 25, 2011

John Warren: The Art of Making Enemies

A small group of the usual opponents of smart development have raised another ruckus with the help of some local media. It was reported in the local daily press (“APA hears citizens’ rage“, “APA critics blast board“), and followed up by Denton Publications, (including video!). It was one of a regular stream of media campaigns orchestrated and carried out by some of the same folks who have opposed smart development planning for the Adirondack Park since it began 40 years ago.

As if on cue, the Glens Falls Post-Star then launched another of its – this time particularly vicious – attacks on the Adirondack Park’s regional planning board, the Adirondack park Agency (APA). That nasty editorial ran on the same day some 120 people from all perspectives and sectors of the Adirondacks were meeting in Long Lake to find ways to set aside their differences and work together for a better Adirondacks.

It started July 15th with what appears to have been an organized protest at an APA business meeting, and may have been result of leaked information that APA Chairman Curt Stiles would step down the next day. The usual suspects were on hand, including Salim “Sandy” Lewis, Carol LaGrasse, Frank Casier, Mike Vilegi, Howard Aubin, and Bob Schulz. Insults were hurled at the “un-American”; cries for “liberty” and an end to “tyranny” and “repression and fear” were heard – Lewis and his entourage stormed out. Here’s a quick look at those who were there:

Salim “Sandy” Lewis is the former Wall Street trader who recently won a $71,600 settlement from state taxpayers after arguing that the APA had no jurisdiction over farms (he had sought close to a quarter million). “You are hated by a significant portion of this community,” he told the APA’s commissioners. Lewis believes the APA restricts local farming operations, despite the fact that local farming is up considerably amid a national decline (1, 2). [He believes there are two kind of farmers: “real farmers” who have capital to invest in their farms, and “phony farmers” who don’t]. Apparently, Lewis’s Wall Street experience has led him to believe that no none should have a say in the impacts large businesses have in the Adirondack Park. During a litany of threats against a variety of enemies, Lewis claimed he was asked to attend the APA meeting by the Governor’s Office. “I’ve been asked to name five new board members to this group by the Governor’s office,” he said.

Carol LaGrasse is the leader of the one-woman Property Rights Foundation who has called the APA “anti-family”. Among her more ridiculous assertions was the prediction that massive forest fires would follow the blowdown of 1995 if the state didn’t allow logging on Forest Preserve land (1). She was wrong then, but continues to appear regularly in local media reports whenever they need to trot out a rabid anti-environmentalist, Adirondack Park or Forest Preserve opponent.

Frank Casier is a former real estate developer. Now 92, Casier was a co-founder of Tony D’Elia’s Adirondack Defense League, described by Kim Smith Dedam as “an early order of resistance to the institution of the APA Act in 1973.” Casier, who said “The APA destroyed three of my housing projects,” was on hand with a 12-page pamphlet entitled The Theft of the Adirondacks. According to LaGrasse, Casier hasn’t been to an APA meeting in decades, but he said he has a new anti-APA book forthcoming. Casier was once the publisher of the anti-APA Adirondack Defender, funded by Alpo Dog Foods founder and Lake Placid summer resident (now deceased) Robert F. Hunsicker. The first Adirondack Defender was published as an supplement insert in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (then led by Will Doolittle‘s dad), and subsequently run in the Tupper Lake Free Press, Ticonderoga Sentinel, and Malone Telegram. The Denton newspapers, then numbering ten weeklies and owned by William Denton, refused to run the Defender.

Mike Vilegi was a passenger in the truck James McCulley drove down Old Mountain Road in an effort to have the long-abandoned wilderness road reopened to motorized vehicles. Vilegi is a Lake Placid builder who was leader of the “Adirondack Porn Agency” effort to taint the reputations of APA staff and commissioners. According to the Press-Republican, Vilegi once attended an APA meeting “wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Adirondack Porn Agency’ written across the chest and a less polite phrase written on the back”. Vilegi has a flair for the dramatic; he’s a producer of YouTube videos showing how damaging hikers are.

Howard Aubin is a businessman who found his way to the Big Tupper Resort hearings to proclaim that 100 percent of Tupper Lakers support building the Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest residential development ever proposed in the Adirondacks. In an affidavit in support of the Lewis case, Aubin claimed “There is a general fear among the Bar in the North Country that participation in a dispute against the Agency will harm their practices.” Twenty years ago Aubin helped organize the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the folks who brought us the 1990 “freedom drive” which attempted to block Northway traffic between exits 20 and 28.

Bob Schulz, now in his 70s, is the Queensbury founder of We the People Foundation who launched the “Revolution Project” in 2008. Schulz is a longstanding proponent of the idea that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Before that, he was the subject of several federal investigations, including his alleged failure to file Federal income tax returns for years 2001 through 2004. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice successfully sued Schulz to stop the sale “of an alleged tax fraud scheme reported to have cost the U.S. Treasury more than 21 million dollars.” Last year the Internal Revenue Service revoked We the People’s tax exempt status.

Trying to force logging of the Forest Preserve, subverting the APA Act for financial gain, blocking traffic, wearing obscene t-shirts to public meetings, promoting the refusal to pay taxes – these are the folks who enjoy standing with the local media.

Meanwhile, 120 private citizens, business, education, and nonprofit leaders, environmentalists, state and local economic development professionals and government leaders, and anti-APA property rights advocates were joining together in Long Lake to try and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. What coverage did that get? None that I can find.

Instead, we’re treated to a malicious anti-APA diatribe by the Glens Falls Post-Star that includes a number of personal attacks on APA staff and commissioners, all civil servants doing their job to help protect the Adirondack Park, a park for all the people of the state.

Unfortunately we need to constantly rehash the wrong-headed arguments expressed by the Post-Star‘s editorial board, even though they’ve been shown time and again to have no basis in fact. They claim, for example, “In its zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization, real or imagined, the agency has tipped the balance against the interests of individual rights and against economic development.” How any reasonable person can make that claim is beyond me – but they repeat it again and again.

First, the APA regulates about 40% of new buildings and 20% of total development activities. Second, the APA has declined just .8% of the projects that have been brought before it since 1973. And while we’re at it, there is also no basis whatsoever for the argument that the APA somehow coerces people to withdraw their applications – there simply aren’t that many withdrawn applications. There is no need to withdraw an application because the APA approves nearly all of them. This is what the Post-Star calls a “zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization”.

It is simply ludicrous to continue to argue that an agency that has power over just 20% of development activities and only 40% of new buildings, and has blocked only the tiniest fraction of those, is responsible for “overzealous enforcement of state regulations and an unwavering support of restrictive environmentalist policies over reasonable economic growth and development in the Adirondacks.”

The Post-Star‘s editorial board, which includes Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant, should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to divide Adirondackers, especially on the same day those of us with an actual stake here were trying to make efforts to come together.

One final issue which really gets to the heart of the Post-Star‘s project to discredit reasonable environmental protections and smart growth planning in the Adirondack Park. The entire tone of their editorial is couched in terms of government openness, yet they don’t expect the same from the Local Government Review Board (LGRB). To my knowledge the paper has never once investigated the LGRB despite the fact that the APA-funded body is headed by Fred Monroe (and its one employee, his wife), who until very recently collected a paycheck from New York State, Warren County, and the Town of Chester (more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded salary).

The LGRB, which frequently meets at private restaurants on the public’s dime, issues no notices that a meeting is being held, no agendas before the meeting, no meeting minutes, and no online audio or video recordings of meetings. I signed up for the LGRB’s e-mail newsletter several years ago, I’m still on the list, but I’ve never received any information from them whatsoever. By the way, the APA does all these things and more.

When was the last time anyone had a say in who is on the LGRB? They are county backroom appointments, not elected, and there is no public discussion whatsoever. At a meeting I attended recently it was not even clear who was on the board and who wasn’t. They have never held a public forum or public hearing that I’m aware of. And despite the LGRB’s budget of over $110,000, it appears they haven’t produced anything in a full year.

It’s time these folks stop constantly disrupting our mutual progress for their own personal gain. As Adirondack Daily Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore and Managing Editor Peter Crowley wrote this week in an editorial about their community’s recent division over the Adirondack Club and Resort:

“We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn’t be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don’t go looking for enemies – that’s our advice.”

And mine too.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Short History of Johns Brook Lodge

Johns Brook (the apostrophe fell away long ago) is said to have been named for John Gibbs who lived at (or at least owned) the spot where the brook enters the East Branch of the Ausable in about 1795 (about where the Mountaineer stands today in Keene Valley).

The trail from the Garden Parking Area to Mount Marcy, on which Johns Brook Lodge sits, is said to have been laid out by Ed Phelps, son of legendary Keene Valley guide Old Mountain Phelps. Known primarily as the Phelps Trail (but also called the Johns Brook or Northside Trail), the route also serves as the northern boundary of the Johns Brook Primitive Area. The Primitive Area is one of four DEC management units (the High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Canoe Route, and Ampersand Primitive Area are the others) that make up the High Peaks Wilderness Complex [UMP pdf]. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Remembering Anne LaBastille’s Environmental Record

Author, environmentalist, photographer and former longtime Adirondack Park Agency commissioner Anne LaBastille died in Plattsburgh on Friday, July 1st; she was 77.

LaBastille was an outspoken proponent of environmental conservation whose book Woodswoman reached a national audience and served as inspiration for legions of women interested in the outdoors. At the same time she was a controversial Adirondack figure who served as Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioner from 1975 to 1993, a tenure that showed her to be a tenacious defender of the wild character of the Adirondack Park.

Born in Montclair, NJ on Nov. 20, 1933, she attended Cornell University and received a B.S. in Conservation of Natural Resources in 1955, long before environmentalism began to emerge as a force for natural resource protection. She left Cornell to attend graduate school at Colorado State University where she received an M.S. in Wildlife Management in 1961. Her Masters Thesis was An Ecological Analysis of Mule Deer Winter Range, Cache la Poudre Canyon, Colorado.

As the modern environmental movement began to take shape following the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1967, LaBastille was already immersed in ornithology and wildlife ecology. During the 1960s her field work produced a number of papers on Guatemalan birds and fish including the Atitlán Grebe (Podilymbus gigas), also known as Giant Pied-billed Grebe or Poc. The flightless upland water bird began to decline precipitously following the introduction of invasive large and smallmouth bass into its home waters of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala in the late 1950s. LaBastille’s “Recent census and observations of the Giant Pied-billed Grebe” (published with C.V. Bowes in 1962) set her on a 25-year project that tracked the decline and eventual extinction of the Poc.

LaBastille’s thesis “The life history, ecology and management of the Giant Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus gigas), Lake Atitlán, Guatemala” was accepted in 1969, the year she received a doctorate degree in Wildlife Ecology from Cornell University. She helped establish a refuge for the Poc in 1966 (the first national wildlife refuge in Guatemala) and while their numbers rose through the early 1970s they were reduced to only 32 by 1983. The last two birds were seen in 1989. LaBastille’s Mama Poc (1990) recounted her experience with the Giant Pied-billed Grebe and its extinction. Her first book, Bird Kingdom of the Mayas, was published in 1967.

In 1974 she helped build her own small cabin at the northeast end of Twitchell Lake, near Big Moose Lake. While her academic work in the 1970s focused on conservation in South and Central America, particularity Quetzals and Giant Pied-billed Grebes, LaBastille wrote a series of children’s books about wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation and Adirondack related works for a general audience. She had three pieces in Adirondack Life in 1972, including “Canachagala and the Erie Canal,” “The Adirondack Museum” and “Canoeing through time: The Eckford Chain.” She continued to contribute regularly to Adirondack Life and other publications for the next several years, most notably “The endangered loon” and “Across the Adirondacks” for Backpacker Magazine in 1977.

LaBastille was part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s DOCUMERICA Project which hired freelance photographers to document environmental problems, EPA activities, and outdoor recreation. The National Archives has digitized and placed online 370 of her photographs.

Her autobiographical sixth book, Woodswoman, in which she relates her Adirondack experiences in a back-to-the-land Thoreau style, was published in 1976. It drew some critical acclaim, but more enduring was the envy and respect of followers of her adventures in the woods and on the waters. Subsequent volumes included Beyond Black Bear Lake (1987) and Woodswoman III (1997). Her most recent book was Woodswoman IIII, published in 2003 by her own West of the Wind Publications of Wesport.

LaBastille wrote in Woodswoman that she came to the Adirondacks to “sit in my cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by the swaying spruces from the outside world.” In an obituary this morning, long time Adirondack guide and outdoors writer Joe Hackett described LaBastille:

“Following the publication [of Woodswoman], LaBastille became an instant role model for thousands of young women all across the country. Her story offered evidence that a lonely life in the forest can foster great confidence.

“Her story proved to be an inspiration for a generation of female outdoor enthusiasts, and it empowered them to be more independent and self-reliant in their enjoyment of the outdoors.

“In the process of paddling, hiking and camping throughout the Adirondacks, she became an icon of the mountains she wandered. Undoubtedly she cultivated her image, and it didn’t hurt matters that she had blonde hair, a fit figure, a bright smile and a tangible sense of independence. She exuded an air of confidence, and whether she was walking into a diner or paddling across a pond, her presence turned heads. She recognized it and enjoyed it.”

LaBastille received her first (an interim) appointment to the Adirondack Park Agency in 1975 during a time when, as writer David Helvarg has noted, “one of the most militant Property Rights movements in the United States… escalated from protests to punches to vandalism and an organized campaign of terror involving death threats, arson, and gunfire…”. LaBastille became a prominent target.

On August 7, 1992, during the debate over the findings of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century, LaBastille’s barns at her home in Wadhams were destroyed in a fire she believed was an act of arson by residents opposed to the APA (the Adirondack Council’s offices were vandalized on several occasions around the same time).

“I’m a woman alone, so I’m a great target” she said at the time, “What’s happening in the Adirondacks reminds me a lot of the death squad stuff in Central America [where the game warden she worked with was murdered].” Although she claimed at the time that she was doing so out of the demands of her career, she stopped regularly attending APA meetings and resigned the following year.

“Anne became a symbol to these people,” former APA Director Bob Glennon (the man who captured arsonist Brian Gale in the act of torching an APA building in 1976) later remembered. “They’d point to her as a world conservationist and say she didn’t represent the Adirondacks’ point of view, meaning theirs.”

During her tenure at the APA, LaBastille’s predicted many of the issues that would come to the fore in later decades. She argued against the proliferation of towers as early as 1976 [pdf], even opposing the location of the 1980 Olympic ski jumps [pdf]. Her work in Guatemala influenced her early warnings about the endangered loon (which she wrote about for Adirondack Life in 1977) and the dangers of invasive species such as Coho salmon [pdf]. In 1982, she voiced concerns about building an Adirondack economy around prisons [pdf].

LaBastille took an early interest in the impact of acid rain on the Adirondacks and wrote
“Death from the Sky” for Outdoor Life in 1979, the first of a series of articles she wrote about the problem for popular audiences in National Geographic, Garden Journal, Sierra, and other publications. Her work contributed to the greater awareness of the problem which precipitated the 1980 Acid Deposition Act. The law established a 10-year US government research program that produced with first assessment of acid rain in the United States in 1991. LaBastille’s Beyond Black Bear Lake is considered one of the first accounts of the impacts of acid rain written for a popular audience.

LaBastille was the first woman awarded The Explorers Club Citation of Merit in 1984 and the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s Jade of Chiefs Award in 1988. In 1990 she recieved honorary doctorates from Ripon College, Wisconsin and the State University of New York at Albany. She was given the Society of Woman Geographers Gold Medal in 1993 and the following year the Roger Tory Peterson Award for National Nature Educator. In 2008 she received the Howard Zahniser Adirondack Award given by the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and also the the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Adirondack Center for Writing.

In the late 1990s LaBastille began spending less time at her lakeside cabin, and more time at her home in Wadhams near Westport. In 2008 the Almanack reported that she had became too ill to remain at home and her pets were put for adoption. Adirondack Council Conservation Director John Davis later confirmed that “Dear friend and Park champion for decades, Anne LaBastille is for the first time in memory missing a summer at her beloved cabin north of here, due to health concerns.”

Photos: Anne LaBastille with her constant companions at her Twitchell Lake log cabin in 2004 (Courtesy Cornell University); “Rain and Mist on Twichell Lake” (Anne LaBastille, EPA Photo); Souvenir Village Old Forge c 1973 (Anne LaBastille, EPA Photo).

UPDATE: Anne LaBastille’s birth date and age of death were corrected in the this story from 1935 to 1933, based on information discovered by Valerie Nelson of the LA Times.


Monday, June 27, 2011

John Warren: How Gore Mountain Abandoned North Creek

There were radically different stories being told last week in two Adirondack communities located below state owned ski resorts. In Wilmington, residents were talking about their community’s newly recognized esteem in the bicycling world. With the help of ORDA’s Whiteface Mountain, the DEC, local bicyclists, bike businesses and local officials, Wilmington is on the verge of becoming one of the premiere mountain biking destinations in America. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Major Flooding Across the Adirondacks (Updated 6 PM Thurs)

This winter’s deep snow pack combined with heavy rains this week have left lakes and ponds brimming, and rivers and streams swollen with cold and fast water. All major rivers are above flood stage and major flooding is occurring and expected to continue through Friday. More than 75 roads around the region have been reported closed, several roads and bridges have collapsed, and major flooding has forced, or may soon force evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, and Raquette Rivers, and along Mill Brook in Moriah, which has been hard hit.

One of the worst hit areas was in Moriah, where Mill Brook Dam overflowed after one of the steady line of storms in the region this week. The Broad Street railroad bridge and the Titus Road Bridge collapsed, undermined by flood waters. Water and sewer lines have been broken and the Mineville-Witherbee fire chief was hospitalized after a road collapsed under his vehicle.

There were evacuations in Keeseville, and major flooding in Keene Valley and AuSable Forks where the Ausable River has reached four feet above flood stage, and those in Jay are trying to hold back flood waters with sandbags. More than 10 roads were closed in Jay alone, including Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay and Jay and Au Sable Forks. Route 73 is closed at the bridge over the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene, and at the ski jumps in North Elba, but at 11 am, one lane remained open through Chapel Pond and Cascade passes. The Bouquet River topped its banks and closed Route 9 from Elizabethtown to North Hudson and Route 9 near Split Rock Falls.

The Saranac River system has left officials struggling to try and regulate tremendous flow and communities from the Saranac Lakes to Lake Champlain are experiencing flooding. The gates on the Lower Locks, between First Pond and Oseetah Lake, are closed and waters are threatening to overtop the locks, which could damage them. In consultation with the Village of Saranac Lake, DEC has opened the sluice gates to prevent water from overtopping the dam. High waters and a large amount of debris are blocking the Upper Locks from being opened and both locks are closed until further notice. The Village has been gradually opening the floodgates on the Lake Flower Dam to reduce pressure on the dam. There have been evacuations along the river, including in Bloomingdale, and in the towns of Harrietstown, St. Armand and Franklin. Lake Flower has flood homes, businesses and roads above the village dam.

Hudson River topped its banks in North Creek Wednesday stranding some residents along Old River Road and requiring evacuations. Water is at the steps of the North Creek Train Depot and the river has risen to a record level, but the most dire threat is now below The Glen toward Luzerne and Hadley. About ten roads were closed in Johnsburg including Thirteenth Lake Road, which was washed out in two places after culverts clogged. Hudson River flooding is ongoing or expected in North Creek, Riparius, Chester, Warrensburg, Thurman, Stony Creek, Hadley and Moreau. Storms earlier this week temporarily knocked out a communications tower limiting Warren County emergency communications, and taking North Country Public Radio temporarily off the air.

The Schroon River jumped its banks above Schroon Lake, but more serious flooding is expected below Schroon Lake toward Chester and Warrensburg. Riverbank, near Northway Exit 24, is flooded with the Schroon River approaching nearly 3 feet above flood stage. Trout Creek, which flows into the Schroon River in Pottersville, left its banks and the operators of Natural Stone Bridge and Caves are reporting the worst flooding there in 15 years [photos].

In Hamilton County, Lake Abanakee has crested its dam adding water to the already swollen Hudson. There has been serious flooding in Long Lake, where water has covered Route 30, and also in Indian Lake where at least one road was reported washed out [photos]. Route 10 in Arietta and Route 30 in Hope are still open, but being watched carefully.

Numerous major highways and secondary roads have been closed due to flooding and washouts. Any bridge over a major stream or river, and any road running near open water currently has the possibility of closure. Roads that have been recently or are now closed include: Route 28 north of North Creek; Route 28N between Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake; Route 30 at the bridge over Long Lake and at the bridge over the Cedar River north of Indian Lake; Route 86 in Wilmington Notch between Wilmington and Lake Placid; Route 73 at the bridge over the West Branch of the Ausable River near the ski jumps outside of Lake Placid; Route 73 at the bridge over the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene; Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay; Route 9 where it crosses the South Branch of the Boquet River and near Split Rock Falls between Elizabethtown and Exit 30 of the Northway; Thirteenth Lake Road in Johnsburg; Route 28N between Long Lake and Tupper Lake; Schroon River Road at Riverbank; Route 8 between Route 28 in Poland, Route 12 and Route 28 in Deerfield, and Route 10 in Piseco; Route 28 over West Canada Creek between Route 29 and Route 169 in Middleville; Route 5 between Route 5B and Route 233 in Kirkland; Route 922E (River St) between Route 49 and Route 69 in Whitestown and Marcy and the village of Whitesboro; and Route 315 between Route 12 and County Route 9 (Shanley Rd) in Sangerfield. DEC has closed most roadways for mud season. Gates on roads designated for motor vehicle traffic will be reopened when conditions warrant.

Along the Raquette River, Brookfield Renewable Power is releasing water from the Carry Falls Reservoir in Colton and has told officials in Colton, Pierrepont, Potsdam, Norwood, Norfolk and Massena that flooding was possible.

Luckily, most river ice went out over the past few weeks, so the threat of ice jams had ended, but waters were already high and the ground saturated before heavy rains and warm weather came this week.

DEC is discouraging the public from entering the woods or accessing the waters of the Adirondacks due to closed roads, impassable river, stream and brook crossings, flooded trails and campsites, and the High Wind Warning that has been issued for Thursday afternoon and evening. Saturated soils could result in numerous trees being toppled and tails and campsites may be covered and blocked by fallen trees and other blowdown. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes is currently high.

Docks, boat launches, and low-lying waterfront property across the region’s lakes and reservoirs are submerged by high waters. Lake Champlain set the highest level ever recorded on the USGS gage at almost two feet above flood stage. Fields are flooded in Crown Point and major flooding has been reported in Rouses Point and Essex [photos].

Most DEC boat launches in the region are flooded, making it risky to launch and retrieve boats. Boaters and paddlers should be aware that waters are cold and swift and may contain logs, limbs and other debris. High waters also conceal navigation hazards such as boulders, rock shelves, docks and other structures that normally are easily seen and avoided. Paddlers consult the latest stream gage data and use extreme caution.

This post will be updated periodically throughout the day as new reports come in. The full weekly Adirondack Conditions Report will run this afternoon here at the Almanack, and Friday morning on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.

Photo: Trout Brook at Pottersville’s Natural Stone Bridge and Caves Park . Photo courtesy Natural Stone Bridge and Caves.


Monday, January 17, 2011

John Warren: Teresa Sayward’s Pay Day

Back in 2003, in a classic Glens Falls Post Star puff piece about one of their favorite local politicians, Teresa Sayward pined about moving to Georgia when she retired. “It may be years away, but Sayward said she and Ken have started discussing their retirement, perhaps buying a condo someplace warm for the winter months,” Stacey Morris wrote. Turns out – Sayward retired a few weeks ago.

Well, retired might not be the correct description, because Sayward won’t be leaving her job. She’ll be collecting her retirement AND her salary. That’s about $90,000 in annual salary for a six month job plus her new retirement benefit of about $30,000. From here on out, Teresa Sayward will be collecting about three times the median income per HOUSEHOLD of her constituents, for half their work.

What makes this all the more offensive is that Sayward has claimed to be a big opponent of such pensions. Just three months ago, she completed a questionnaire for the League of Women Voters. “Political appointments and benefits are way too rich, Albany needs to lead by example… retirement benefits are unsustainable,” she said, knowing full well she was about to take advantage of a loophole (along with 11 other state legislators including Janet Duprey) that would would line her own pocket. Her idea of leading by example? Get as much as you can, while you can.

I know, it seems crazy. I mean, how can it be that three months ago Sayward says that the retirement benefits of legislators are unsustainable, and now she takes advantage of a loophole that allows her to collect those same “unsustainable” benefits early? What changed? The answer is nothing. The retirement benefit she started taking now is a loophole. It’s not meant to be the actual retirement benefit, which is why just 11 legislators are taking it and Betty Little is not. It’s not a legitimate benefit as some would argue, it’s an unethical loophole and she’s scamming the system. The state closed this retirement loophole in 2005, but she’s still one of the few who are eligible and thinks they deserve it.

Just a year ago, Sayward was crowing to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about how she was saving taxpayers money:

Another idea Sayward has is to privatize some of the golf courses, swimming pools and campgrounds. She also said cutting the number of mailings that senators and assembly members send out will save money. And, she said, both the governor’s political appointments and legislative staff could stand to be reduced. Sayward said she is already doing this herself and has one less staffer this year than last.

Did you get that? Sayward laid off one of her staffers to save money – money that is going into her own pocket. Last week Sayward gave the Post Star two reasons she deserved that money more than her employee. The first was that her husband would have to live on social security alone if she died.

“This decision did not come easily for me,” she said. “But my husband and I, as you know, are farmers. And so my husband has nothing for his retirement other than Social Security, which is not a lot.”

The second, was that she drives a lot. “Sayward said she travels a lot of miles on rural roads representing the 113th Assembly District, the largest geographically of any Assembly district in New York,” the Post Star reported, “That places her at a higher risk than average of getting in a car accident, she said.”

These excuses are outrageous – no dairy farmer expects a retirement, that’s why the average age of principal farm operators in Essex County is 54 years old. Like most Americans, local farmers work until they die, or can’t work anymore and are forced onto the public dole by the costs of their own healthcare.

Driving too much Teresa? That’s laughable to folks who live in rural areas like the Adirondack Park. The fact is, despite repeated claims to the contrary, Sayward lives outside the Blue Line in Glens Falls – maybe that’s why she drives so far.

Another item she called for, just three months ago, was term limits: “4 year terms, three terms max.” Forget for a minute that she has just started her fifth term, because she wants to extend the current two-year terms anyway, and has run unopposed the last two times around. Focus instead on the fact that Sayward thinks 12 years is enough for any one politician to be in office.

Sayward was elected to the Assembly in 2002, and before that spent many years as a politician in Willsboro. Now that she’s made her pay day, certainly she must believe her time in the job is over?

I haven’t heard her “this is my last term speech” yet, but I suspect it’s not coming.

“I’m not proud of doing this but I’m not going to hold my head down,” Sayward told WYNT.

So she knows it unethical, she just doesn’t care. The message she sends is that her family is more important than yours.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Commentary: Open Space Helps Local Communities

I want to address another of the primary criticisms over my recent commentary on protecting our open forests, from those who claim that more open space damages local communities. “They should just be honest and stop pretending that they care about the people and ‘culture’ of the Adirondacks,” one regular anonymous commenter said, echoing the criticism of others.

Even Brian Mann, who offered an otherwise thoughtful critique, titled his response “A vision of an Adirondack wilderness, with people.” The supposition there is that seeking to expand open space in the Adirondacks means excluding people. Not only is that supposition wrong-headed, it dehumanizes those who support wilderness protection. “They don’t care about people” the argument goes, as if we’re not people ourselves. This kind of argument appeals to the basest nature of some and draws a stark dividing line between “us” and “them.” It does nothing to address the concerns I raised about the development pressures we’re facing. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Commentary: Adirondack Development, Population Growth

I heard some harsh criticism over my last commentary on protecting our open forests. “There are far too many who are willing to buy into the idea that we have enough, or that what open forests we have should be opened to every purpose under the sun, essentially no restrictions except on houses and highways,” I argued, suggesting that the proposed 409,000 acre Bob Marshall- Oswegatchie Great Wilderness Area was a good idea.

One theme that seemed to emerge from the detractors was the imminent death of Adirondack communities in the face of more wilderness. “The problem is yet down the road and the end is coming shortly I fear,” one wrote. What end? “The end of the communities and the livelihood of the most endangered species in the park; the year-round resident.” Another decried “The end of sustainable communities” and “The end of multi-generational, year-round residents.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Warren: Protecting Our Open Forests

Taking a look at the discussion on Phil Brown’s piece yesterday – largely a debate over whether we should open roads in wilderness areas to mountain bikes and other uses – I found myself thankful that there are still a few people like Dan Plumley and Adirondack Wild who have a larger and deeper understanding of what wilderness is and why it’s important. Here’s some of what Plumley had to say in that discussion:

“It is all too easy for us to think of our own recreational desires first and forget about the long term goals of gaining, over time, truly wild conditions of relatively intact wilderness protected by law and our state constitution. Given the biodiversity values, the potential for moose, possibly wolf and mountain lion recovery eventually, watershed preservation and truly remote – by foot and paddle – experiences without mechanized vehicles (including like it or not, mountain bikes), these rare opportunities are too important for the future to short cut.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Commentary: The Truth About Property Rights

They’re at it again. A small number of so-called “property rights advocates” are spreading falsehoods about development in the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), and our local economy to further their wider anti-conservation political agendas.

This time it’s a column by Karen Moreau, a Hudson Valley attorney who is president of the newly-formed Foundation for Land and Liberty. You remember them, the group Plattsburgh Press-Republican reporter Kim Smith-Dedam called “a new legal resource founded to protect one of the oldest American rights.”

It turns out that Karen Moreau, and apparently her Foundation for Land and Liberty, has no hesitation about misleading the public when it comes to the Adirondacks. Take a look at her commentary at the NY Post (surprise, surprise, Fred Monroe’s go-to tabloid). It’s full of lies, obfuscations, and what NCPR’s Brian Mann calls “goofy” accusations. Pull up a stool and let’s review a few:

Claim 1: There is a “de facto ban on development in the Adirondack Park.”

On what planet does one have to live on to make this claim? Most of the men I know have spent the last ten to fifteen working in the housing construction industry. Until the last year or so they were busy building thousands of first and second homes. NCPR’s Brian Mann, who called Moreau’s commentary “full out flat out errors,” offers a more accurate perspective: “Over the last decade, in-Park communities have seen a massive influx of private capital, investment and development to the tune of billions of dollars. Investors have built and bought their way to one of the most robust second-home markets in the US. Literally thousands of homes have been built, many with APA permits and many more in parts of the Park where no permits are required.”

Claim 2: “Approval for nearly any kind of land-based investment in the “park” lies chiefly with a single agency — the Adirondack Park Agency.”

As Brian Mann indicated in the quote above, the APA is responsible for oversight of a small portion of development in the Adirondack Park. The APA reviews applications on only about 20 percent of permit-requiring development activities in the park. Not to mention the fact that the APA overwhelming approves those projects, and by that I mean the APA approves nearly every single application it sees. In other words, the APA simply works to keep development activities in some general bounds of good environmental stewardship (and not very effectively at even that). The APA very rarely reject projects – almost never.

Claim 3: “APA enforcement actions, with the threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens, has literally ruined lives and contributed to a stagnant and declining upstate economy.”

I challenge Moreau to provide the evidence that our economy is anymore stagnant or declining than any other rural area around the state. To the contrary, as Brain Mann noted, “the state of New York spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the Adirondacks — far more per capita than in any other part of the state.” The single case she uses to back her “threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens” claim is the Sandy Lewis case. A millionaire financier who fought tooth and nail and won his case against the APA, including legal fees – no life ruined there. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000 – that is the fact. Enforcement is down overall from 496 cases in 2008, to 467 in 2009, and just 392 cases as of the end of October this year. And by the way, the APA has won against more than 100 lawsuits, and has lost less than five.

Claim 4: An alliance of green groups, the DEC, and the APA “has delayed for seven years the approvals to develop the Adirondack Club and Resort [ACR] in Tupper Lake, which would create hundreds of jobs.”

Apparently our great defender of property rights doesn’t care to mention that the ACR developers have won the right to SEIZE the private property of others for their own profit. Forget for a minute the “hundreds of jobs” nonsense, according to Brian Mann: “A significant part of that delay (not all, to be sure) was caused by the developers, who asked repeatedly for the permitting process to be delayed, took long periods to respond to requests for information, and then asked that the process be diverted into alternative mediation.”

Claim 5: “The notorious bureaucracy has deterred anyone from even bidding on Camp Gabriels.”

This is an unbelievable assertion, and frankly, laughable. The APA has nothing to do with the sale of Camp Gabriels. This claim really makes me wonder just how woefully misinformed Moreau and the Foundation for Land and Liberty are about the Adirondacks.

Claim 6: “The state’s been fueling the APA’s power by buying up land and rewarding the wealthy and powerful Nature Conservancy with millions in profits for their role in facilitating the transactions.”

This has already be shown to be a baseless assertion, one that even the editorial board of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (ADE) couldn’t accept. Repeating it shows Moreau to be dishonest and clearly not interested in the facts. As the ADE editorial put it, that assertion “smacks of gossip.” I second their call: “if it’s true, prove it with a credible source.” Moreau won’t because it’s not true. Just ask Fred Monroe, who told the ADE: “I don’t know if that’s true at all.”

All that aside, you’d think a “property rights” advocate would accept that people have the right to sell their land to whoever they like – including the state and the Nature Conservancy. If you think the state shouldn’t acquire more land, fine, but don’t make up lies to bolster your opinions.

We deserve more honesty from those who oppose outright, or seek to scale back, the Forest Preserve system and Adirondack Park conservation. Considering the track record lately, I don’t think we’ll get it.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Commentary: ORDA Needs A Climate Plan

Ice Fishing Season has begun around the North Country, meaning you can now legally catch fish with a tip-up from the ice. The problem? No ice.

Thin ice is just one of the climate related impacts we have come to expect in this era of declining Adirondack winters. According to a 2000 article in Science, over the past 150 years in the Northern Hemisphere lake “freeze dates averaged 5.8 days per 100 years later, and changes in break-up dates averaged 6.5 days per 100 years earlier.” Those numbers are born out in the Adirondacks where the warmest years on record have nearly all occurred since 1990. A 2009 study of Mirror Lake showed ice now forms “14-15 days later and melts 3-4 days earlier than it did in the early 1900s, thereby reducing seasonal ice cover duration by slightly more than two weeks.”

What does that mean for us? If you are among the estimated 20% or so of Adirondack residents employed in climate sensitive business, it means a lot. According to Jerry Jenkins, author of Climate Change in the Adirondacks, “No town can really prosper without a year-round economy, and no Adirondack town can have a year-round economy without winter recreation.” Jenkins provides an overview of our winter economy:

Area skiing takes place on over 300 miles of groomed trails at 29 different ski areas. Backwoods skiing uses several hundred miles more. Snowmobiling uses 800 miles of groomed trails on state land and several hundred miles of trails on private land. Ice climbing takes places on over 100 routes on 13 major cliffs. Ice fishing… is done locally on most lakes. To support this activity requires several hundred businesses to run facilities and feed, house, and equip participants.

Jenkins looked in detail at the Old Forge area and found that the Town of Webb issues about 10,000 snowmobile trail passes a year alone and benefited from an additional three local ski areas. He found that 78 of the 94 restaurants and inns were open in winter, six businesses sell, repair, or rent snowmobiles, 20 more sell equipment and other merchandise. Jenkins believes that 500 to 1,000 people are employed by the winter economy in the Old Forge area alone.

One thing seems clear now about climate change. Leaders in the climate sensitive sectors of our local economies should already understand the temperature change our region faces and be planning ways to lessen the impacts of local warming.

During the recent Wintergreen event it became clear to me that the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) fails to appreciate the impact of warming on our winter sports economy.

What convinced me that ORDA was behind the ball? Considering the state’s budget woes that seem to threaten ORDA’s very existence, I would have thought the agency’s president and CEO Ted Blazer would have come to the Wintergreen conference armed for bear. I would have thought he’d be rolling out numbers showing the economic importance of local winter sports and ORDA’s important role in perpetuating them. Instead participants at Wintergreen were offered a litany of energy saving projects, mostly at Whiteface, that left a number of participants I spoke with concluding that Blazer just didn’t get it – that ORDA had no plan.

During a break I found Blazer at the back of the room with Whiteface General Manager Bruce McCulley, the brother of vocal motorized access advocate James McCulley, who was sitting in for a representative of the Ski Educational Foundation. I asked Blazer if ORDA had a plan. “We’re using common sense and internal initiatives,” he said. The plan? No plan.

Mount Van Hovenberg and Gore Mountain, ORDA’s oft-forgotten stepchildren, were not even represented at the meeting, the first to offer hard numbers on what climate change will mean to our winter economy. Repeated requests to ORDA’s press office inquiring whether the agency’s facilities even tracked snow cover, temperature and other climate change phenomenon went unanswered.

ORDA has a uniquely important leadership role in addressing the challenges we face from global warming. ORDA’s national and international role in winter sports and winter sports culture represents a significant investment, not just by locals, athletes, and their organizations, but by all taxpayers. Forget for a minute ORDA’s $20 million Olympic Conference Center project, think of ORDA’s “continued decline in revenues” according to WNBZ Jon Alexander, that “shows no prospects of the authority getting out of the red anytime soon.”

ORDA’s operating budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 is $32.4 million, which anticipates a $600,000 decline in facilities revenues. According to Alexander, “the operating losses balloon to $13.4 million once $7.5 million in depreciation is included.” About half of that shortfall is expected to be recouped with $7.14 million in state taxpayer-funding.

ORDA seems to understand that their revenues are in steady decline, but it’s not clear whether ORDA leadership knows whether or not the shortened natural snow season, and the additional costs of snow-making and grooming, has anything to do with that decline. “The 2010-2011 budget anticipates a continued revenue decline at Whiteface, with the facility making $1 million less than this year, but also projects a $200,000 increase at Gore,” Alexander reported. Those numbers include increases in ticket prices and advertising revenues.

Attendees at the Wintergreen conference learned some startling numbers about the impact of our winter sports economy, among them that fact ORDA has about 1,200 local employees. According to five year old report [pdf] ORDA contributes about $300 million to the local economy. In 2006, Lake Placid’s sports and tourism venues received more than $40 million in state subsidies according to a report by NCPR’s Brian Mann (about $15 thousand for resident of the Village of Lake Placid). Those are significant investments in our winter economy, investments we need to safeguard.

I can’t forget what Blazer told me when I asked him about a plan to deal with warmer winters impact on ORDA’s bottom line: “We’re using common sense and internal initiatives.”

Common sense tells me that with so much at stake, ORDA needs a thoughtful plan to address the impacts of climate change on its – and one of our region’s – core businesses.

Photo by John Warren: Whiteface Mountain on November 12th.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Adirondack Ice: Cultural and Natural History

Adirondack residents know ice. They shovel it, sand and salt it, fish through it, skate and snowmobile on it, carefully craft sculptures out of it, run Zambonis over it, but mostly, they probably slip and fall on it, or fret over its disappearance. Today ice is more inconvenience, than local convenience; more of a hazard, than a habit.

Caperton Tissot’s Adirondack Ice: A Cultural and Natural History (2010) recalls a time when life was more intricately entwined with ice. It wasn’t long ago that much of wintertime work and play was dependent on thick natural ice. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Adirondack ice industry was substantial. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Almanack Says Goodbye to Ellen Rathbone

Did you miss something yesterday? I know I did. Ellen Rathbone, our dedicated naturalist for more than a year and a half has left the Adirondacks, and so too the Adirondack Almanack.

Those who have been following Ellen’s writings know that she contributed (twice a week!) out of the love of nature education and as part of her job as an interpretive educator and naturalist at the Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Newcomb. Despite her ten years at the VIC, when the Adirondack Park Agency faced cutbacks this past year, education and Adirondack visitor services were the first to go. Ellen had hoped to find a position here in the region but alas, ended up Education Director at the Dahlem Conservancy just outside Jackson, Michigan.

The Dahlem Conservancy is an environmental education / nature center which also has a farm, at which they’ve just put in an acre of community gardens. She’ll be doing all sorts of public and school based nature, gardening, and environmental ethics programming. You can check them out at http://www.dahlemcenter.org/.

Ellen has been working as a naturalist or environmental educator almost steadily since she graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology. Her work has taken her from NY to NJ to VT but she had a special affection for what she called her “beloved Adirondacks.” Ellen incredible insight to our natural world and defense of the smaller (some would say creepier) creatures of our woods and waters will surely be missed here at the Almanack. (We’re currently in search of someone to fill her boots, no one could replace her.)

I thought in honor of Ellen’s departure I’d link to some of her work here at the Almanack. Of course you can always still follow her adventures in Michigan at her own blog.

Ellen’s Recent Several Part Series on Bats

Knowing Your Local Watershed

Flights of Fancy: Featuring Feathers

On Mice

Adirondack Crows, Ravens, and Jays

Adirondack Development: A Naturalist’s View

Ellen on Insects

You can find all of Ellen’s writings at the Almanack here.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Big Blowdown of 1950

The Adirondacks is prone to powerful windstorms, isolated tornadoes, and occasional hurricanes, derechos, and microbursts. Perhaps the second most destructive of these in modern Adirondack history (next to the 1998 Ice Storm) occurred in November, 1950.

The Big Blowdown brought heavy rains and winds in excess of 100 mph. In a single day – November 25th – more than 800,000 acres of timber was heavily damaged. The storm caused a complete shutdown of the roads and trails across large swaths of the park, a historic suspension of the State Constitution, a temporary glut in the spruce market, and a political impact that continues to this day. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Rebirth For The Warren County Fair?

Warren County once had one of New York’s most well-attended county fairs. In 1877, the Pottersville Fair (also known as the Glendale Fair) was established by the Faxon family, one of the Town of Chester’s leading families and owners of Chester’s largest employer, a tannery.

The fair was immediately popular, not so much for its agricultural exhibits – there generally weren’t any – but for its gambling opportunities. For thirty years gambling was the main attraction at the fair, and horse racing the main event. In 1897, the fair advertised “a fine program of races consisting of trotting and pacing, running, bicycle, and foot races in which liberal purses and prizes are offered.” 7,000 people attended the Pottersville Fair on a single day in 1913. Now there is a move afoot to revitalize the Warren County Fair (since moved to Schroon River Road in Warrensburg), which has suffered a series of setbacks that have made it one of the poorest attended County Fairs in the state. » Continue Reading.



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