Almanack Contributor Mary Thill

Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Family, Adirondack Land Trust conserve 107 acres in Keene

land trust KEENE, NY — A family and the Adirondack Land Trust have conserved 107 acres and a third of a mile of shoreline on the East Branch of the Ausable River upstream of the Keene town beach.

Chris and Audrey Hyson donated the land to the Adirondack Land Trust, which will pass the gift to New York State as an addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

The tract includes floodplain and the forested lower south face of Baxter Mountain, a prominent part of the vista from Route 73 and Marcy Field between the hamlets of Keene Valley and Keene. The tract is contiguous with New York State Forest Preserve on two sides.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Start with Place

Photo by Susie Runyon. Mary Thill at the Adirondack Land Trust’s Glenview Preserve, town of Harrietstown. It can be overwhelming to get a handhold on climate change and the extinction crisis. Really, what can I do to stop smoke from distant forest fires, or to put bats and birds back into in the sky? Extreme weather finally has people focusing on solutions. But if you’re not one of the few attending COP26, where to begin?
» Continue Reading.


Monday, December 23, 2019

The Longest Adirondack Rivers

Hudson River near the Blue Ledges by Paul Schaefer, c. 1968How many times have we seen the Adirondack mountains ranked by height, the tallest 46 separated into a revered category of their own?

There’s a club and way of life dedicated to hiking the 46, and a Lake Placid restaurant offers 46 different sandwiches named for the peaks.

For a change, today we list the largest streams in the Adirondack region.* » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 15, 2014

New Report Considers Future Of Lake Trout

Spawning-Lake-troutSince the retreat of the glaciers, lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have been the top native predator in Adirondack waters. These northern fish require true cold (less than 55°F) and move downward when surface waters warm in late spring and summer. Consequently, they are isolated to the largest and deepest Adirondack lakes – most of them deeper than 30 feet – where they stay in the dark chilly depths all summer and early fall. The species name namaycush is believed to be an Algonquin term for “dweller of the deep.”

This need for very cold, clean, high-oxygen water can bring to light otherwise invisible changes beneath the surface. Water quality in the Adirondack interior, where we don’t have much industry or farming, can be  abstract. You usually can’t see it, touch it or even taste it. But lake trout make the health of our coldest lakes real and tangible. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hudson River Rafting: Pat Cunningham’s Rocky Ride

On March 30, 2012, Hamilton County Court gave Patrick Cunningham a second chance. It came with conditions and a warning.

Judge S. Peter Feldstein told the defendant: “My goal in this matter, as I said at the beginning, was to affect how you do business. Now, I understand, Mr. Cunningham, through your attorney, that you do not feel that you’ve committed any crimes and you’re perfectly within your rights and you’re innocent before this court, but I want to be sure you understand that if you engaged in the behavior alleged in the indictment, I have no doubt that you committed crimes.” » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Scene from Kateri Tekakwitha’s Fonda Shrine

As I was leaving St. Peter’s Chapel Friday, a white van with New Jersey plates pulled up. Nine young, smiling nuns filed out. They were dressed in the white and blue-striped saris of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order. They opened an off-kilter screen door and entered the dusky chapel. I followed, conspicuously tall, pale and bareheaded at the end of the line. The sisters walked to the front of the church, knelt before a cross and sang “O What Could My Jesus Do More.” I listened for a minute then left them alone.

I had come to the National Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha, south of the Adirondack Park in Fonda, expecting signs of anticipation. Pope Benedict XVI canonized the Mohawk-Algonquin woman this morning, the first Native American saint.

But until the nuns arrived I had the place to myself. The chapel occupies the second story of a red clapboard building housing a Native American exhibit on the first. I put $2 in the slot of a box and went to light a votive by a wooden statue of Kateri in buckskin and long loose braids. There were no matches, no holy church-candle smell; the votives were electric—push down on a plastic covering and a light clicks on. I knelt and realized that nothing from childhood religious instruction prepared me for what prayer to say before this most proximate yet entirely new kind of saint.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Man’s Experience with Hudson River Rafting Company

Tomorrow there will be a hearing in Hamilton County Supreme Court (convening in Fulton County, in Johnstown) as the New York State Attorney General’s Office seeks a formal court order requiring Hudson River Rafting Company to cease operations until a list of safety concerns can be addressed.

As one of the company’s guides remains jailed on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a customer who drowned last month, Hudson River Rafting Company and its owner Patrick Cunningham also face a Hamilton County District Attorney motion to reinstate two 2010 charges of reckless endangerment. The DA argues that Cunningham violated the terms of a dismissal agreement by sending passengers down the wilderness whitewater of the upper Hudson River this summer in unguided boats.

Following are verbatim excerpts from one affidavit, an account by Richard Belson, from Pennsylvania, who says Hudson River Rafting Company launched him and a friend in an unguided inflatable kayak even though they had no paddling experience. To read the full affidavit, click here.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Night of Art, Skiing and Music in Saranac Lake

Dewey Mountain is the subject and beneficiary of a show opening Friday at the Adirondack Artists Guild, in Saranac Lake. The exhibit is inspired by the 2,050-foot mountain southwest of the village. I’m eager to see what the artists come up with.

The north side of Dewey hosts a cross-country-ski and snowshoe center by winter. The rest of the year it’s an in-town place to walk, hike and mountain bike. The Saranac River flows around the mountain as it enters the village. Like Pisgah and Baker, two other low peaks bounding the village, Dewey defines Saranac Lake’s topography as well as our love of mountain sports.

Everyone is welcome to a reception hosted by Dewey Mountain Friends at the gallery 5–7 p.m. Friday, February 3. Then please visit Dewey Mountain Recreation Center to ski and hear the Blind Owl Band play at the free Friday Night Ski Jam. Food for the jam is being donated by Blue Moon Cafe.

Each of the Artists Guild’s 14 contributors is donating an original work celebrating Dewey and winter sports. Their show, called “Artés Ski,” will be in the gallery February 3–27. Oils, watercolors, pastels, fiber art, jewelry, ceramic art and photographs will be available for bid in a running silent auction. Seventy-five percent of the proceeds will be donated to a Dewey Mountain Friends capital campaign to construct a new base lodge (disclosure: I’m a shamelessly enthusiastic member).

Dewey is one of my favorite places on earth. In just a few minutes’ walk I can sneak away from it all and be alone on the trail. But I also love how Dewey brings people together–in this latest event, our local artists have found a creative way to celebrate what Dewey means to them. But musicians, civic organizations, schools, local government, restaurants and other businesses—-all work together every year to make sure this little mountain is more than just part of the scenery. The breadth of generosity is inspiring and a hallmark of Saranac Lake.

So if you can, please stop by the gallery, at 52 Main Street, to explore a mountain as muse. The Adirondack Artists Guild is a cooperative retail gallery representing a diverse group of artists in the Tri-Lakes region. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 12–3 p.m. Sunday. For more information see adirondackartistsguild.com or call (518) 891–2615.

Dewey Mountain Recreation Center is owned by the Town of Harrietstown and is located on State Route 3, one mile west of downtown Saranac Lake. Trails (16 km cross-country-ski and 5 km snowshoe) are open daily, and lower trails are groomed for skate-skiing and lighted for night skiing. For more information see deweyskicenter.com or call (518) 891-2697.

Photograph taken during a Friday Night Ski Jam by Burdette Parks, Adirondack Artists Guild.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Adirondacks Waited Decades for Mercury Limits

It was immensely satisfying to watch EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson announce today that power-plant mercury emissions will be reduced 90 percent.

We in the Adirondacks have waited more than two decades for this. You would think limiting a toxin such as mercury, which harms the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb, would not be subject to protracted debate. But coal- and oil-fired power plants resisted the regulation shamelessly for decades.
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Autumn is Warming at the Fastest Rate

WPTZ meteorologist Tom Messner reported a record high (65°F) in Montpelier Monday. The low (46°) in Saranac Lake yesterday was higher than the average high for November 14 (43°), according to Weather Underground. Last week, on November 9, Saranac Lake broke a record when the temperature reached 67°.

As much as the odd warm fall day seems to take us by surprise, temperature fluctuations are a normal part of the transition to winter. But it is strange to see fresh sprouts in the garden, which is ordinarily frozen by now.

Autumn is warming more rapidly than any other season locally, evidenced by records kept between 1975 and 2005. Paleoclimatologist Curt Stager, of Paul Smith’s College, last year analyzed data averaged from eight U.S. Historical Climatology Network stations throughout the Champlain Basin. He found that the most significant warming occurred in the fall, with an increase of 3.6°F in average temperature; year-round temperatures rose 2.1°F.

Adirondackers tend to fixate on ice-out, but Stager points out that ice-in is having a greater impact on lake cover duration. “For example, freeze-up at Mirror Lake [in Lake Placid] now comes 12 days later than it did in 1910, but spring ice-out arrives only two days earlier, and that smaller change is not statistically significant,” he concluded in Climate Change in the Champlain Basin: what natural resource managers can expect and do, a report sponsored by the Adirondack and Vermont chapters of the Nature Conservancy (and co-authored by me) in 2010. See page 10 of the report for more detail on temperature trends.

Graphs by Curt Stager, from Climate Change in the Champlain Basin. Caption: Temperatures averaged from eight USHCN weather stations in the Champlain Basin 1976–2005. The only statistically significant linear warming trends were in the annual, summer and autumn records.

You can also follow Curt on his FastCompany blog


Friday, September 2, 2011

Hobofest: Fun Despite Its Name

If you are hobophobic or festival-averse Hobofest may not sound like the way to spend your Labor Day Sunday. But it’s actually pretty much free of hobos and absolutely free of the fakery that accompanies a lot of events cursed with the suffix fest.

What Hobofest does have is a lot of really good musicians playing for free in a low-key setting on the lawn between 7444 gallery and the train depot, in Saranac Lake. Bands include Brooklyn-based Frankenpine, among a well-chosen roster of local talent. This year Monsterbuck, an understated, intense quartet from Upper Jay, tops the night, taking the stage around 9 p.m.

There are also trains and grill food. The event starts at 11:45 a.m. and goes late.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bill McKibben, Christoper Shaw Arrested in Climate Protest

Writers Bill McKibben and Christopher Shaw were arrested Saturday in front of the White House as they took part in a demonstration trying to persuade the Obama administration to deny construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry Canadian tar-sands oil to American refineries.

McKibben, Shaw and approximately 65 others were being held in a DC jail over the weekend pending a court appearance Monday. Both McKibben and Shaw are former Adirondack residents who maintain strong ties to the region. Shaw is a contributor to Adirondack Almanack; McKibben is a climate change activist who co-organized the tar sands pipeline demonstration; both teach and lead an environmental journalism program at Middlebury College, in Vermont.



In addition to the risk of oil spills along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path from Alberta to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian tar sands could be North America’s largest “carbon bomb,” McKibben says. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature,” he wrote last month in an op-ed on TomDispatch.com.

The Department of State will decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit for a pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border, so McKibben says the decision lies solely with the Obama administration and will be a test of the president’s commitment to the environment.

Protest organizer tarsandaction.org issued a press release Sunday stating that 2,000 people are expected to participate in the sit-in before it ends, September 3.

Photograph courtesy of Tar Sands Action. Christopher Shaw is third from the right.


Friday, July 1, 2011

DEC Claims ADK Supports Frack Plan

In a letter today complaining to The New York Times about its coverage of a new Department of Environmental Conservation study on fracking, commissioner Joe Martens lists the Adirondack Mountain Club as one of three environmental groups who support its move toward partially ending the freeze on the controversial gas-drilling technique.

Except that’s not the case. In fact, the Mountain Club (ADK) supports only the DEC’s decision not to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing on state-owned forests, parks and wildlife reserves.

“This is great news and a major victory for the 28,000 members of the Adirondack Mountain Club who use these lands for outdoor recreation,” ADK director Neil Woodworth said in a statement released Thursday.

“Like our many environmental allies, we share a deep concern about the potential environmental impacts of fracking on drinking water, rivers, streams and other natural resources,” ADK’s statement continued. ADK plans to read and analyze the DEC’s study before making further comment. The report is scheduled to be released at 5 p.m. today. (Happy Fourth of July weekend, reporters.)

Hydraulic fracturing would affect mainly the Southern Tier of New York State, which is underlain by a massive shale formation containing natural gas pockets. The Adirondack Park is not expected to be affected.

Here is a link to the New York Times story


Friday, June 24, 2011

Yellow-Yellow: Still Keeping Campers Sharp

Yellow-Yellow, a shy black bear with a yellow tag on each ear, became famous in 2009 as the one bear in North America who could open a food canister specifically designed to baffle her kind. She’s still at large, still popping the occasional can, but a truce seems to have settled over the Adirondack High Peaks.

The 18-to-20-year-old bear came out of hibernation this spring and continues to roam near South Meadow, Klondike Notch and thereabouts, reports Ben Tabor, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wildlife biologist. Tabor will discuss black bears in a free lecture at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks Information Center in Lake Placid. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Long Lake Graduates a Class of One

This is the Long Lake Central School class of 2011, Stephen Pitcher. According to a school newsletter Stephen is an honors student who plans to attend Onondaga Community College to study electrical engineering. He was a member of the student council, played varsity basketball for the Long Lake/Indian Lake Orange, and helped build an electric race car, which his school team drove to second place at Watkins Glen. The school will not hold a graduation ceremony this year, at the Pitcher family’s request.

People in this Hamilton County town of 800 are exploring the feasibility of a magnet school, mainly to draw new students to their district. The school board has begun to research three specialties: the environment, the arts and “safe haven” schools, which provide alternatives for students in chronically violent city schools.

Many Adirondack schools struggle with low enrollment, and they share proms, sports teams and other resources with neighboring districts. Raquette Lake Central School closed in 2005, busing its last three students to Indian Lake. Hamilton County will celebrate only 52 graduates this week, according to the Hamilton County Express.

Some isolated districts are trying unorthodox things to keep their schools from closing. The New York Times last week profiled Newcomb Central School’s recruitment of students from 19 countries over the past four years. Schools are often an Adirondack town’s largest employer and social core as logging and other traditional economies decline or transition.

Long Lake Central School’s superintendent did not respond to telephone calls from the Almanack.



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