Almanack Contributor Mary Thill

Mary Thill

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


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cool Map: Lakes and Ponds in Forest Preserve

An Almanack reader who likes maps called our attention to one posted last week in the Adirondack Park Agency’s online map room. It shows lakes and ponds encompassed entirely by Forest Preserve. (Click here to see larger map.)

The tally of those lakes and ponds is 1,838, and a series of clickable sidebar charts sorts them by variables. The largest? Lake Lila, at 1,461 acres. (Little Tupper Lake at 2,305 acres would’ve been the largest but there are a couple of small private inholdings. Follensby Pond, at 1,000 acres, would become third largest when New York State acquires it.) But most Forest Preserve waters are little: 1,728 of them are between 1 and 250 acres in surface area. A pie chart shows that there are almost exactly the same number of lakes fully within Wild Forest (862) as Wilderness (860) state land classifications. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Leg-Hold Traps Criticized: UPDATED

Wildlife rehabilitators who helped rescue a bald eagle last week say trappers and state regulators should reconsider use of leg-hold traps.

This bald eagle became ensnared near Moffits Beach, on Sacandaga Lake in Hamilton County, but was able to fly off with the trap still attached. The five-foot-long chain it was dragging then snagged in the branch of a tree 16 feet above the ground. The bird was discovered by the trapper on December 6 hanging upside down.

The trapper contacted the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, which called Lake Pleasant–based Forest Ranger Thomas Eakin, who used a pole to bring the bird safely to the ground. He then wrapped the bird in cargo netting from his pickup truck and kept it warm until wildlife rehabilitator Wendy Hall, of the Wilmington refuge Adirondack Wildlife, arrived. She transported the eagle to two Saratoga-based North Country Wild Care rehabbers.

Hall said that the eagle is perching and appears to be mending well from superficial wounds. She thinks its chances of release back into the wild are high. However, the prospects of a red-tailed hawk whose leg was severed this fall in a leg-hold trap in Brushton are not as good. Most raptors brought to wildlife rehabilitators have been hit by cars, Hall said, and most cannot be released. Many captives then become part of educational programs.

The trapper broke no rules and acted responsibly by reporting the injured eagle, those involved in the rescue said. But these two birds prompted Hall to write an essay, “What’s wrong with leg-hold traps?”, for her Web site, adirondackwildlife.org. She respects hunters and says they are wildlife rehabilitators’ best allies. “However, we will never understand why New York continues to permit the use of leghold traps for wildlife. They banned the use of snares and toothed leghold traps, but this does not really address the two main problems with the non-toothed clamp traps which are still legal in New York.

“The first problem is that any wildlife so trapped is going to suffer unimaginable agony, and in many documented cases, the animal will chew off its own leg to effect its escape. These traps do not legally need to be checked by the trapper more than once every 24 hours, which means the captive animal not only may suffer for long periods, but runs the additional risk of drawing in predators attracted by the noise of the creature’s struggles, and who will naturally take advantage of the creature’s inability to flee. Some folks say that’s nature. We call it interference.”

Others say the problem is not the traps themselves. There is movement to change the regulation to prohibit use of “exposed” bait, which can be seen from the air by raptors, which are sight hunters. The Moffits trap was baited with a beaver carcass with the intention of trapping a coyote. Pelts are a source of income for many Adirondackers.

Photograph by Thomas Eakin, NYS DEC


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Museum Seeks to Acquire Boreal Paintings

A series of paintings of Adirondack animals and trees affected by airborne pollutants may find a home at the Adirondack Museum, in Blue Mountain Lake.

The collection, entitled “Boreal Relationships,” comprises seven watercolors by Rebecca Richman. Richman made the paintings between 2003 and 2006, and wrote narratives on how acid rain and mercury deposition affect each subject: brook trout, red-backed salamander, red spruce, Bicknell’s thrush, common loon, sugar maple and mayfly.

The artist says she hopes the paintings will encourage people to think about connections between places and species—and lead to action to stop Midwestern pollutants from destroying habitats downwind in the Northeast. She has always hoped the originals could  “remain together as an educational force, helping to abate the threat of acid rain to the Adirondacks, a land I truly love.” Richman lived in the Adirondacks from 2000 to 2006, much of that time working for the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. She now lives in Colorado, where she works as a seasonal park ranger and continues to paint. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 30, 2009

A Saranac Lake Christmas Story

On Sunday December 13 Historic Saranac Lake will present “A Franklin Manor Christmas,” a tea hosted by Ann Laemmle and author Paul Willcott at their home, a former cure cottage and monastery on Franklin Avenue in Saranac Lake. The house is the centerpiece of Paul’s book, A Franklin Manor Christmas.

This novella was published last year too close to Christmas to get the attention it deserves. So here goes: it’s an old-fashioned, tenderhearted, improbable and snowbound tale, everything a Christmas story should be. The book is also true to Saranac Lake and its people. Many of the characters are based on real folks who share some history with the erstwhile nunnery, having either lived there or attended Mass or helped the sisters maintain the rambly building on a prayer.

Paul Willcott is a wonderful writer, but even better than reading him is listening to him read from his own book in his honest Texas drawl. The Historic Saranac Lake gathering begins with mingling, from 3 to 5 p.m. Ann, the most gifted baker in town, will provide holiday cookies, tea biscuits, homemade marshmallows with hot chocolate, and teas. Then Paul will present a history of the house, followed by a reading from his story. The session ends with a carol or two around the tree.

Tickets are $25. A limited number are available. Call Historic Saranac Lake (518) 891-4606 to reserve.

The book and audiobook A Franklin Manor Christmas are available here and here or in local bookstores.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Adirondack Cookbook for Fall & Winter

There’s a new cookbook tailored for the season, Northern Comfort: Fall & Winter Recipes from Adirondack Life. Edited by food writer Annette Nielsen, it includes more than 100 traditional and contemporary dishes gleaned from the magazine’s 40-year history. It focuses on regional flavors, including wild game, maple, apples, hearty vegetables and hearth breads. Paperback, 142 pages, $15.95.

Click here to hear an interview with editor Annette Nielsen by Todd Moe, of North Country Public Radio.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Biofuels and Adirondack Forest Jobs

The Adirondack Research Consortium will sponsor a biofuels market development conference Wednesday, February 17 in Saratoga Springs.

The day-long meeting will focus on the potential of this emerging industry in the Adirondacks and North Country, with an emphasis on business creation. Topics include biomass market supply and demand, policies affecting biomass energy markets, project finance perspectives, and technology. Experts will discuss these issues from a developer’s perspective.

Several Adirondack institutions, including the Wild Center, Paul Smith’s College and a few schools have announced intentions to switch from oil to wood-based heat and/or power. The weak economy and lack of start-up capital has stalled some initiatives, however. Paul Smith’s College trustees this year tabled a proposal to build a wood-chip co-generation plant as cost projections came in millions of dollars higher than initial estimates.

Biofuels are derived from plants, sometimes corn and switchgrass; in the Adirondacks biomass almost always means wood. Although this region still identifies forest products as a mainstay of its economy, in reality very few people work in logging anymore. Select hardwood and spruce logs are exported, often to Canada. Paper mills that ring the Adirondack Park have either shut down or no longer get pulp from local logs, with a couple of exceptions.

Foresters say biofuels have the potential to revive Adirondack logging if a critical mass of demand can be established. Low-quality trees that once went to pulpmills could be ground into chips or pellets instead. (Forest ecologists are also weighing the benefits of the carbon neutrality of wood fuels vs. the ability of uncut forests to store greenhouse gases.)

The conference program, registration, and accommodation information can be found on the Adirondack Research Consortium’s Web site, adkresearch.org.

Wood chips photograph from Wikimedia Commons


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Adirondack Turkey Gives Thanks

This is George, a turkey who lives down the hill. She’s so cute and sociable she’s been granted a Thanksgiving reprieve. She was hatched this summer in Standish and brought to Saranac Lake by a family who intended to fatten her up for a November feast. George endeared herself so much that she’s the one who’ll be feasting.

She lives with eight peacocks and probably thinks she is one. Have a happy Thanksgiving, George.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moby Dick and the Adirondacks

Long ago there were whales at the edge of the Adirondacks, but it wasn’t till last year that I saw one myself—the same day our trail was blocked by a bull moose, another creature I’ve yet to see here. This wild kingdom was on Gaspe peninsula, Quebec. The whale left a huge impression, as did Moby Dick. I can’t pretend to have read this engrossing however longass 1851 book, but I listened to it on tape during that trip, and it took another week to finish it. So it was as unexpected as a water spout to spy a poster announcing that Pendragon Theatre, in Saranac Lake, is staging the story this weekend.

Pendragon’s Web site has an explanation. “Moby Dick Rehearsed is a play that attempts to turn the 800-page novel into a two-hour play,” says director Karen Kirkham of Dickinson College. “That in itself is a feat to admire. Orson Welles’s 1955 play is little known. Even less known is Welles’s repeated opinion in interviews later in life that the play ‘is my finest work—in any form.’”

The show is at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21, at and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 22. Tentative performances in December are Dec. 4 at 7:30 and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. The production will tour schools and arts centers around the region until March. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for seniors and students; $10 for age 17 and under. Pendragon is at 15 Brandy Brook Avenue. For information and reservations, contact Pendragon Theatre (518) 891-1854 or [email protected]

A 1930 edition of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent, who lived in Ausable Forks, is credited as a factor in the novel’s rediscovery. You can see Kent’s powerful pen and ink drawings at this link to the Plattsburgh College Foundation and Art Museum, to whom many of Kent’s works were bequeathed by his widow, Sally Kent Gorton. The 1930 printing was first offered as a limited edition of 1,000 copies in three volumes held in metal slipcases. AntiQbook is offering a set for $9,500—something for the Christmas list.

Cover of the 1930 Chicago, Lakeside Press edition of Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cross-Country Ski Centers of the Adirondacks

These aren’t little rascals, they’re good Dewey Mountain kids, helping get their cross-country ski trails ready for winter. The Harrietstown ski area, run by Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, hosts a volunteer work day 9:30–3:30 Saturday to build a bridge and finish drainage work that’s been ongoing all autumn. (All welcome!) Dewey’s just one of many Adirondack ski centers preparing for opening day.

The park of course has limitless free backcountry skiing on Forest Preserve, but a midwinter thaw can reveal the beauty of more civilized gliding. Most x-c ski centers pack the base so it holds up better after rain or heatwave. For races and growing legions of skate-skiers, trail grooming is a must. Plus, it’s just nice to have a hut when kids are learning to ski—a warm place to change boots or have a cup of cocoa. At night the lodges become the hub of ski parties.

Alan Wechsler gave us the rundown of downhill areas earlier this month, and we featured Tug Hill ski destinations this morning. So below are links to Adirondack cross-country ski centers. Some have lodging, some have food, some link to larger trail networks; no two are alike but each has something to make it worth the price of admission.

Garnet Hill Lodge, North River, 55 kilometers of trails

Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, Northville, 38 km

Dewey Mountain X-C Ski and Snowshoe Recreation Center, Saranac Lake, 15 km

Cascade Ski Touring Center, Lake Placid, 20 km

Mount Van Hoevenberg Verizon Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, 50+ km

Whiteface Club and Resort, Lake Placid, 15 km

Lake Placid Crown Plaza Resort, 25 km

The Jackrabbit Trail is a town-to-town trail linking all the way from Keene to Paul Smiths. Definitely not a ski center, but we love it, and volunteers take great care of the trails. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council, the donor-supported organization that maintains it, reports up-to-date trail conditions for the Jackrabbit, the High Peaks backcountry and several Lake Placid-area ski centers.

The Paul Smiths and Newcomb Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) have well-kept trails as well as warm buildings, and they’re free.

Time to bookmark the snow-depth map!

Photograph taken and enhanced by Jason Smith, co-manager of Dewey Mountain


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Few Ways Snow Makes Tug Hill Different

Tug Hill, the 2,100-square-mile uplift west of the Adirondack Park, gets so much snow that camps are said to have entryways on the second floor in case the first floor gets snowed in. Tug Hill gets so much snow that driving through can be like traveling into a snow globe while skies remain clear north and south of the bubble. Tug Hill gets so much snow that plow drivers “plant” ten-foot-tall saplings every fall so they can see where the side of the road is.

And last week was planting time throughout Lewis County, when the “whips,” as the young limb-stripped hardwoods are called, were spaced along windswept roadsides. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WWI Exhibit to Be Open Free on Veterans Day

Tomorrow, November 11, Historic Saranac Lake will open its exhibit on World War I in Saranac Lake to the public 2 – 4 p.m. to commemorate Veterans Day. The community is invited to a free viewing in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory at 89 Church Street. Light refreshments will be served.

Following is a press release from Historic Saranac Lake describing the origins of Veterans Day:

Veterans Day marks the date of the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany. On this date in 1918, WWI, the “War to end all wars” finally came to end. It was a war that took the lives of over 9 million military men, and left an indelible mark on the Village of Saranac Lake. Almost 300 residents of Saranac Lake served in some capacity in World War I.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words (quoted from the website of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs).

“Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

“Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday:

“Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

Photo: WWI officer John Baxter Black, provided to Historic Saranac Lake by his family.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 7: Hoffman Concedes

Doug Hoffman conceded at 12:10 a.m., thanking “every single person out there who joined my team and fought for America. This was the biggest hill I’ve ever faced, and I’m a 46er, so I’ve faced plenty of them.”

The crowd at the Hotel Saranac had thinned but was enthusiastic, especially when the Conservative talked about an unlikely campaign that grew into a phenomenon. They cheered lines like, “We have to remember that a government that serves us everything takes away our freedoms.”

“We gotta fight back!’” members of the audience yelled. And they might, in a year, but Hoffman did not get into that tonight.

Hoffman said he called to congratulate Congressman Elect Bill Owens, who will be the first non-Republican to represent the district since the 1850s, and offered to help him to bring jobs to the area. “Let’s work with him together, but let’s make sure we get the message out there: we can’t spend money we don’t have.”

He closed with, “You don’t have to be polished, you don’t have to be poised, you don’t have to be a rock star to be a politician, so let’s all step up to the plate.”


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Adirondack Park Re-emerging on Google Maps

The Adirondack Park has not quite returned to Google Maps, but something is taking shape: the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

On October 8 we noticed that the green shape representing “Adirondack State Park” was reduced to a little slice over the Cranberry Lake area. Users let Google know about the error through its “Report a Problem” link. As it incorporates user data, Google is apparently trying to restore the park, but it’s not all there yet.

One commenter suggested that the map distinguish between public and private land, which Google is now doing. It’s good to see state land shaded green, though not all tracts are labeled and Google apparently can’t tell Wilderness from Wild Forest. Also missing is the park boundary and the words “Adirondack Park.” (The boundary in the image above was drawn by Adirondack Almanack for context.)

This is a complicated place. Some private landowners and Adirondackers say the “park” label makes the uninitiated think that nobody lives here, or that all land is open to the public. Niki Kourofsky of Adirondack Life had some funny anecdotes in this fall’s Collector’s Issue (“Your Place or Mine?”) about residents who’ve found people picnicking on their lawns, and visitors who ask rangers, “What time does the park close?” Even though it’s not all government land like Yellowstone, this region is still distinct and has been designated a park for 117 years. Tourism-dependent businesses that promote the Adirondack name and conservationists who have invested more than a century in the ecological integrity of both private and public lands would surely like to see “Adirondack” somewhere over this part of the map.

It was also suggested that Google show conservation easements, as this Adirondack Park Agency map does. Conservation easements are voluntary restrictions on use of private land, usually preventing development to retain natural conditions. But since every easement is different and public access is determined tract by tract, another land designation might just confuse things even more. The state and private conservation organizations have acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of easements in the Adirondacks over the past three decades. While so far the legal agreements seem to be keeping timberlands intact and are working well for landowners, from a public recreation standpoint they are a tangle. The writer Neal Burdick put it well a few years ago when he said that instead of the old metaphor of a “patchwork quilt” of public and private lands, the Adirondack Park might better be called a “bowl of spaghetti.”

Map from a Google screen capture; park boundary drawn by the Almanack


Monday, October 26, 2009

Public Meetings This Week on Lake Champlain Bridge

NYS DOT has announced a schedule of public meetings about repairs to the Crown Point Bridge and interim lake crossing options. The first meeting is tomorrow on the Vermont side. There will be a meeting in Moriah Wednesday. Details are available at this Web site the state established to provide updates about the bridge, and in a DOT press release, below: » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Downhill Ski Centers Get Ready to Open

Skiers can get a preview of improvements at Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg at an open house November 8. Click on the graphic for details. Also, Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, launched a beautiful new Web site last week. Opening day there and at Gore Mountain, at North Creek, is tentatively set for Friday, November 27.

The resurrected Big Tupper, in Tupper Lake, is getting its permits and has posted season rates at its Web site. Opening day is expected December 26. McCauley Mountain, in Old Forge, has also posted season rates. Royal Mountain, in Caroga Lake, has just completed three years of snowmaking and grooming upgrades and will have an open house Sunday, November 1. Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake is in the midst of a capital campaign to replace its T-bar.



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