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, September 22, 2009

"Artist At Work" Studio Tour This Weekend

Gabriels-based artist Diane Leifheit sent us a note about this weekend’s self-guided Artist at Work Studio Tour in and around the Tri-Lakes. “More than 36 artists in their ‘natural habitat’ will be working on and showing their work,” she wrote. “If you have not picked up a year-round Artists Guide, they are available at the Adirondack Artists Guild, 52 Main Street, Saranac Lake, and at many sponsor storefronts in the Tri-Lakes area. You can also log on to adirondackartistsguild.com for information. Look for the signs this weekend. Now I have to go clean up my studio! Yikes!”

The open-studio event begins Friday and runs through Sunday.

Raven photograph by Burdette Parks, one of the participating artists


Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Book: Adirondack Wildflower Portraits

A post script to our series on wildflower bloom dates: we’ve received a copy of a new book by Chestertown-based photographer Curtiss M. Austin called Adirondack Wildflower Portraits. Last year, over the course of a single spring-to-fall season, he photographed flowers within a mile of his home and organized 60 of them chronologically, by the date he found them in bloom.

The book is more album and almanac than field guide, though Austin provides Latin names and a few facts about each species. It won’t help you key out a flower but it might surprise you. The photographer pays as much attention to the diminutive and ignored blooms of plants like common mullein, cow vetch and curly dock as he does to blue flag irises and day lilies. “Many wildflowers are very small, but close-up they are just as interesting and beautiful as larger flowers,” he writes.

The 130-page 8″ x 8″ paperback will be available soon at Amazon.com and at Austin’s website for $19.95.

Photograph of crooked-stemmed aster taken September 22, 2008 by Curtiss M. Austin, from Adirondack Wildflower Portraits


Monday, September 14, 2009

Adirondack Fall Foliage Seen from Space

In the Random Stuff We Like category: NASA has a great satellite photo of the Northern Forest and parts of southeastern Canada taken several years ago at the peak of fall color. You can see the full photo here.

Full disclosure: we saw this photo first in Canadian Geographic and Adirondack Life.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Canoe Rights Advocates Go On the Offensive

The Sierra Club—the same people who thought they had re-established canoe rights once and for all in New York State with a lawsuit-baiting paddle down the South Branch of the Moose River in 1991—wants to make sure that private landowners and state officials recognize what that trip accomplished.

In a letter sent last month, the Sierra Club’s Adirondack Committee asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to enforce public navigation laws by making an Adirondack landowner remove cables and signs strung across Shingle Shanty Brook.

“This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth [Park Association] for many years,” an August 27 letter to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis states. “DEC should order the Brandreths to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.”

Four canoeists and a kayaker affiliated with the Sierra Club were sued for trespass nearly two decades ago when they attempted to paddle the Moose River through the Adirondack League Club near Old Forge. The test case worked its way through the courts for seven years before it affirmed the right of recreational paddlers in New York not only to float through private land via rivers but to use the banks to portage around obstacles (for background see this Almanack article, or this brochure on the history and status of navigation rights).

The Moose River ruling said streams that are “navigable in fact” are open for public passage. There’s room for disagreement about the definition of “navigable in fact” on rivers such as the Beaver between Lake Lila and Stillwater Reservoir, which is really only passable for about a week after ice-out.

Other waterways, such as the East Branch of the St. Regis River and Shingle Shanty, seem to meet navigability criteria, yet landowners continue to post them. Paddlers could use the disputed section of Shingle Shanty on a traverse from Lake Lila to Little Tupper Lake with a short carry around a dam at Mud Pond. Here’s a recent account of that trip by Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown.

A June 2008 article in the DEC magazine The Conservationist by agency attorney Kenneth Hamm states, “[A]ttempts by landowners to interfere with the public’s right to freely navigate violates the State’s trust interest in the waterway. Either the State or the public can sue if a landowner tries to interfere with the public’s right to navigate on navigable waterways.” In the late 1980s DEC was still arresting paddlers for trying to access rivers involving private land. Its enforcement policy shifted, to uphold paddler rights, in 1991.

Nobody has sued a landowner yet. Charles Morrison, a retired DEC official who co-signed the Sierra Club letter as the group’s public navigation rights coordinator, has been focused on codifying riparian-rights case law and common law in statute. A bill has an Assembly sponsor but has been stymied in the dysfunctional state Senate. If the legislature and the DEC don’t take up the issue, we might see a paddler as plaintiff rather than defendant in the next navigation rights lawsuit.

Here is the Sierra Club letter to DEC:

Dear Commissioner Grannis:
 
We are writing to request that DEC take action to remove the blockage of the State-owned public right-of-way on Mud Pond and a segment of Shingle Shanty Brook between the outlet of Mud Pond and the downstream Forest Preserve boundary. This blockage, where these navigable waterway segments flow on private land adjacent to the William C. Whitney Wilderness, is maintained by the Brandreth Park Association. It consists of a cable strung across Shingle Shanty Brook by Brandreth at the downstream Forest Preserve boundary and a number of posting signs, all erected by Brandreth. (For general location, see sketch map of the Mud Pond-Shingle Shanty Brook through-segment and vicinity, Attachment 1.)
 
This blockage forces paddlers to use a very rough one-mile carry trail through the Forest Preserve instead of this easy waterway route.
 
As discussed and documented in the attached“Illegal Blockage of Shingle Shanty Brook and Mud Pond in the Whitney Wilderness Vicinity,” these impediments to public navigation violate both State public nuisance law and the public’s right under State law to freely navigate on navigable waterways. They are infringements on the navigational easement that the State holds in trust for the public. This also is a critical link between Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila in the heart of the proposed 500,000-acre Great Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness (GOCW), whose creation has been advocated by the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations. (See map in enclosed GOWC brochure showing this larger area, Attachment 2.) The GOWC includes Lows Lake and the Bog River, the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area, all of which are accessible from the Whitney Wilderness by paddlers.   

We actually are asking DEC to do several things. First, with regard to the case at hand, enforce existing State public nuisance and public navigation rights law in accordance with the 1991 DEC enforcement guidance memorandum on this subject. This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth for many years in the name of their deeded recreation rights.  DEC should order the Brandreth to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.
 
Second, DEC should ensure that Brandreth’s surrogate, Potter Properties LLC, amends its 2007 deed concerning its illegal claim to navigation rights on the waterway segments at issue, to reflect the State’s ownership of these rights. This is discussed below.

Third, we ask DEC staff to honor the several commitments made during the Sierra Club’s December, 2007 meeting with them, which were to:

—revise, update and reissue the 1991 DEC enforcement memorandum for public navigation rights as soon as possible.
 
—remove the text on navigation rights in the black bordered box on page 3 of the DEC Whitney Wilderness brochure. This text erroneously states that a court decision is needed to find that a waterway is navigable in order for it to be truly navigable-in-fact, which is incorrect.
 
—help to educate the public about their lawful rights and obligations by issuing a statewide flyer or brochure that combines and expands on  the information that is in Kenneth Hamm’s article and the John Humbach-Charles Morrison article, both of which are described below. The flyer would be widely disseminated through all DEC Regional Offices and via DEC’s website.   

Fourth, DEC needs to let paddlers know, in DEC’s brochure for the Whitney Wilderness, that the vital Mud Pond-Mud Pond Outlet-lower Shingle Shanty Brook link is open to the public for navigational purposes, for through travel.
 
It is particularly important to follow through with these committed actions in view of the delay in getting a bill (A.701) passed in both houses of the Legislature to codify the public right of navigation in a single statute and give DEC specific authority to issue regulations, including a list of navigable waterways that would be subject to amendment based on field investigations. We appreciate DEC’s collaboration in drafting this legislation.
 
Please let us know if we can provide any other information to aid DEC’s pursuit of this enforcement case, or if we can help with any of the agenda items to which DEC committed itself in 2007. Thank you for your attention to the abuse of the public’s rights on Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook.
 
Sincerely,
 
Roger Gray, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee
John Nemjo, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee
Charles C. Morrison, Adirondack Committee, Public Navigation Rights Project Coordinator

Encl. Main attachment and eleven (11) numbered attachments

cc: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
     Judith Enck, Deputy Secretary for Environment, Executive Chamber
     Stuart Gruskin, Executive Deputy Commissioner, DEC
     Allison Crocker, General Counsel, DEC
     Michael Lenane, Deputy Commissioner, DEC
     Christopher Amato, Assistant Commissioner, Natural Resources, DEC
     James Tierney, Assistant Commissioner, Water and Watersheds, DEC
     Robert Davies, Director, Division of Lands and Forests
     Kenneth Hamm, Associate Attorney, DEC Office of General Counsel
     Christian Ballantyne, Director, Legislative Affairs, DEC
     Elizabeth Lowe, DEC Region 5 Director
     Christopher LaCombe, Regional Attorney, DEC Region 5
     Brian Huyck, Enforcement Coordinator, DEC Region 5
     Katherine Kennedy, Director, Environmental Protection, Depart. of Law
     Lisa Burianek, Environmental Protection, Department of Law
     Curtis Stiles, Chairman, Adirondack Park Agency
     Terry Martino, Executive Director, Adirondack Park Agency

Photograph of the East Branch of the St. Regis River


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

90-Miler Canoe Race Begins Friday

The second weekend in September is quiet. Mornings are cool, still and misty. Soft maples put out the red flag, making a fall statement as other trees pretend summer isn’t over. But a swim is not yet out of the question, and the biting bugs have given way to the singing bugs. Good canoeing weather.

On a northeasterly diagonal across the Adirondack Park, this weekend belongs to the Adirondack Canoe Classic, better known as the 90-Miler. From the day the ice goes out, every other race is practice for this one, a three-day tour of lakes and rivers, and a test of endurance as well as marriages.

The 27-year-old event attracts serious athletes and boatsmen, but it has remained fun for duffers and people who don’t have the latest gear, though I learned from experience—one year of paddling and several more-arduous years of pit-crewing and volunteering—not to skimp on the boat: buy or rent one designed to move fast over flatwater.

The 90-miler is a traveling carnival, and the 500 or so racers are only part of the troupe. Support teams and volunteers double the ranks. If you’re driving through you can track the race’s progress by where cars are parked along the roads between Old Forge and Saranac Lake as family and friends stop to cheer boats on or to hand paddlers food and drink on the carries.

My favorite place both to paddle and to watch is at the bridge where Browns Tract meets Raquette Lake, just off Route 28 at the hamlet of Raquette Lake. Racers have to go single file on the winding little stream and under the bridge in the midst of Day 1, Friday, the longest day. Most of Saturday they will be out of sight on Long Lake and the Raquette River, though the early morning view from the Long Lake Route 30 bridge of 250 colorful guideboats, canoes and kayaks moving north in bunches is a once-a-year spectacle. On Sunday they do the Saranacs and finish at Lake Flower in Saranac Lake village.

This is the 27th year of the Canoe Classic and the 25th that the Department of Environmental Conservation has helped stage it. Terry Healy, a DEC employee who died in 1993, had an “enthusiasm, sense of fun and commitment to the 90-Miler” that’s remembered every year through presentation of a Terry Healy Award to a participant, support team, volunteer or staff member who exemplifies the spirit of the event.

The 90-Miler on Long Lake, 2008, by photographer Mark Kurtz of Saranac Lake


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Two Small Steps in Adirondack Wired Work Infrastructure

This summer two Adirondackers embarked on pioneering ventures in park connectivity and shared their stories today at a Forever Wired panel on infrastructure development.

In Paul Smiths, Mark Dzwonczyk’s family spends six weeks of every summer at his wife’s family’s camp on the St. Regis Lakes. As president and COO of a Web conference call company, Dzwonczyk has had to return to work in California while his family stayed here. A few years ago he decided to figure out how to work from the Adirondacks so he could stay too. Verizon customer service told him they’d send somebody out to hook up DSL, but the local linemen knew better: the phone cable runs two miles under the water so it’d be daunting and prohibitively expensive to set up all the relays needed to connect the camp that way.

Dzwonczyk tried a satellite connection. Dinner guests due at 6 started showing up at 4:30 with their laptops, he says, and boats would float offshore at night as neighbors tried to tap into the signal.

Finally Dzwonczyk decided to establish a wireless network for 25 of the 50 or so seasonal camps on the St. Regis Lakes. The businesspeople were the ones most enthusiastic about it, he says, thinking they could stay in touch with work, but it turns out that they use only about 5 percent of the bandwidth. Families—especially those with teenage kids—are by far the biggest users.

“The good news is I was here seven weeks this summer, still running my company in Silicon Valley,” Dzwonczyk says. He paid to establish the wireless network “as sort of a friends and family” gesture (each participating camp plays a flat rate usage fee), he says, but he is looking into expanding it as a business venture.

Stephen Svoboda, executive director of the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain Lake says the facility opened a business center July 4 to provide Internet access as well as office conveniences such as printing, copying and teleconferencing. Residents of Blue Mountain Lake come in to check e-mail and to shop online, Svoboda says, and hotel guests and other visitors will come in for an hour or two to catch up on work while their families are canoeing “or doing something fun.” [UPDATE: Clarkson University is applying for stimulus funding to host eight to ten similar centers with partners around the Adirondacks. The ALCA business center is something of a pilot project.]

Svoboda recently took the arts center job after working as a playwright and theater arts professor at the University of Miami. He was concerned that a move to the north woods might limit his writing work. He has found that through the Internet he is able to stay active in the larger theater world. “I just finished having a show in Soeul, South Korea, and I never left the Adirondacks to do that show . . . while working in Blue Mountain and living in Tupper Lake,” Svoboda says.

There was a lot of interest in an exchange at the end of the panel, during a question and answer session. David Malone, a corporate sales manager from Verizon, was asked to quantify just how much of the Adirondack Park the company covers. After explaining that Verizon has been putting a lot of attention and investment into erecting 13 cell towers on I-87 (at $550,000 per), and after being asked the question again, he owned that he has no statistics on how much of the Adirondacks Verizon covers. There will be “more buildout” soon in the Malone and Plattsburgh regions, he says, and in Paul Smiths and Keene.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Forever Wired: Small Adirondack Business 101

Here at the Forever Wired Conference at Clarkson University there are a lot of folks in suits and sporting bluetooth. Aside from some of the workers building what Clarkson President Tony Collins called “our stimulus project”—a new student center—there are few beards, and fewer bluejeans than an Adirondacker would normally like to encounter. Is it a mark of a changing local economy?

I just got out of a session with about 60 attendees entitled “My Adirondack Business 101” led by Marc Compeau, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship programs here at the university. Compeau’s presentation is designed to be given over four weeks but he covered the basics in about 45 minutes.

Compeau noted that even though the Adirondack region has limited access to the Internet, limited marketing channels, and mostly seasonal brick and mortar businesses, the Big Three of building a sustainable business are still important: building market share, maintaining growth / sustainability, and accessing capital.

Compeau stressed the importance of laying out a plan, marketing (even if you don’t have the Internet at home, your customer does), good people management (through building a workplace culture) and managing change.

I think the big lesson at the session was that just because we are not as wired as the rest of the state (or country, or developing world!) doesn’t mean that we should forget about the wired audience. According to Compeau, 78 percent of homes in the Untied States have a PC and 79 percent of adults use the internet.

www.helpmysmallbusinesstoday.com is Clarkson’s portal for local business people to get free help from the university to help sustainably grow their enterprises.

I’ll post again later today.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Status of Broadband in the Adirondack Park

If you live in one of the larger Adirondack communities like Old Forge or Lake Placid, chances are you can hook in to some form of high-speed Internet, broadly called broadband. If you live in a small-to-middling hamlet like Cranberry Lake—or if you live in between, on a lakeshore or in the woods—you might be among the nine percent of Americans still using slow, shaky dial-up, or one of a handful using expensive and unreliable satellite, or you just don’t bother.

There are no solid numbers on how many Adirondack Park residents have the option of high-speed Internet. Even local officials often don’t know who can wire to what and where in their towns. (These county maps provide the most complete picture, but an official with the state Office for Technology cautions that the Adirondack data are incomplete.)

Most Adirondack broadband users tie in via DSL (digitally enhanced phone line) or cable modem. But a handful of places like Keene have isolated ganglia of fiber-optic cable, the fastest option by far. Fiber optic is called “future proof”: odds are against a better technology replacing it. The hairlike glass strands offer more bandwidth than we’ll ever need, and they’re not far away, literally. The Adirondack Park is surrounded on the east, south and west by major fiber optic cables. They are buried along the Northway (I-87) and the Thruway (I-90), and they run roughly parallel to I-81 from Syracuse to the top of the state.

The reason we’re not hooked in to these trunk lines is that it’s just not profitable enough for Verizon and other private Internet service providers to lay miles and miles of secondary wire to the relatively few, dispersed customers that populate the Adirondacks. That’s why North Country economic- and technology-development organizations are applying for some of the $7.2 billion in federal stimulus plan funds earmarked to bring broadband to rural and low-income areas.

In the northeastern Adirondacks, CBN Connect, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY Plattsburgh, is seeking $22 million in government money in hopes of starting work this year stringing 420 miles of fiber across Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties. The open-access line would run from the Canadian border to Ticonderoga and from Lake Champlain to Tupper Lake. CBN is also designing a network and applying for permits to bring fiber to Hamilton, Warren and Washington Counties.

West of the park, the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) has already built a model of rural Internet-ification, having strung 750 miles of open-access fiber by 2003. However, the line penetrates the Adirondack Park only as far as Newton Falls, where a paper mill needed high-speed to stay in touch with its Canadian owner. DANC officials say they would also like to apply for stimulus funds to expand broadband service in the western park.

These government-funded lines would not be the ones that attach to your house; these are more like main roads. It will still be up to private Internet service providers to step in and use these fiber backbones to offer service to homes and businesses—and connection fees will presumably drop since the really costly part has been subsidized and there will be competition among providers. What connects your house won’t necessarily be fiber, either, though the technology is well-adapted for towns like Keene where houses can be miles apart and mountains block airwaves. A lot of population centers will stick with cable or DSL, though linked to faster, fatter networks. Some will supplement with wireless; officials in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Cranberry Lake, for example, are looking at sending signals from towers to reach far-flung residents and shoreowners at minimal cost.

They are hoping that seasonal homeowners and vacationers will stay longer and spend more money here if they can work lakeside from an Adirondack chair. This is where the Why comes in—the economic and other rationales for wiring the park—and that is a subject for another post.

Map of DANC’s fiber-optic Open Access Telecom Network (OATN), west of the Adirondack Park. Maps of the Northway and Thruway fiber-optic lines are not available because they are considered “critical state infrastructure.”


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Commentary: Birding And Climate Change

An ornithologist visiting Oseetah Lake this summer thought he heard the call of a fish crow. Being a scientist he is a careful person, and when I contacted him he said he really couldn’t confirm his observation—there may be hybrids of fish crows and American crows out there.

The common American crow has been in the Adirondacks at least since colonization, in the mid 19th century. Fish crows, which are smaller and voice more of an awh than a caw, reside primarily in the coastal southeastern United States and were once restricted in New York State to Long Island and the tidal Hudson River, according to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (2008) and John Bull’s Birds of New York State (1974).

I was curious about the possibility of a fish crow near my home, but in a different way than I would’ve been a decade ago. If one were here as an “accidental,” a bird blown off territory by a storm, it would be a novelty, occasion for birders to go out with binoculars and add it to their lists. If, however, fish crows were establishing themselves near Saranac Lake and even breeding here, it would mark a milestone in a northward and inland expansion that began in the last third of the 20th century. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Odd Outposts in the Forest

In keeping with yesterday’s noontime post on cairns, today a word on other random structures in the woods, what for lack of a better term I’ve come to call hider huts.

People who spend time off-trail in the Adirondacks occasionally stumble across signs that others have walked there before them: old bottles, fire rings, chewing gum wrappers. Maybe a hunter kept watch in that spot years ago or as recently as last fall. A few people I know have also found simple structures in the middle of nowhere, usually on Forest Preserve. Maybe some of these were left by hunters too and used as shelters or blinds. Some are clearly kids’ forts constructed of downed branches. But others have more permanence.

The cabin in this picture is on Blood Hill, within earshot of downtown Saranac Lake traffic. The ground is littered with beer cans and a mildewed old blanket. As hidden huts go, this is one is detailed, with planed floorboards and a glassed door, easily imported because of its proximity to town. Probably just a party spot, but a sturdy one and startling to come across on a bushwhack.

On nearby Dewey Mountain a freshly built cabana, I guess, appeared this spring, walled and camouflaged with logs and balsam. The door was a bedspring woven with evergreen branches. The structure was notable for its size (big enough to garage a truck) and for a David Lynchian sparsity of amenities: a blue tarp, two tubs of Vaseline, and a fire ring beneath a central ceiling hole. It’s falling down now.

Last summer between Blood and Dewey there was a bivouac next to a log in the forest where some poor guy (?) was sleeping out nightly. He kept his sleeping bag and clothes in a trash bag and hung other accessories on a tree. He got up early each morning, maybe to go to a job, and I never saw him. He’s not there this year.

Here is a Flickr photo album of the Blood Hill and Dewey Mountain huts, shot this summer.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Meaning of Cairns

Cairns, the rock pyramids that hikers amass to show the way across treeless summits, are turning up in other Adirondack settings — as memorials, as anonymous art, and as markers of unknown significance.

When Howard “Mac” Fish II died on a trail by Lake Placid on a summer day a few years ago, his family piled stones at the place where he fell. Today the mound stands taller than ever, thanks in part to the superstition that it’s bad luck for a hiker to pass a cairn without adding at least a pebble. Every time I set a new stone I remember the Reverend Fish, who married and blessed many friends in his lifetime and still seems to give guidance through this monument. Ancient cultures are said to have used cairns similarly, to mark burial sites.

At the Wild Center’s opening ceremony in Tupper Lake in 2006 the staff asked attendees each to bring a stone to start a cairn at the entrance to its trail system. “So many people helped make the Wild Center a reality and we want everyone to have a part in the monument,” then executive director Betsy Lowe said at the time. The Wild Center’s cairn is atypical in that it includes rocks not just from the immediate area (one came from the Great Wall of China), and the foundation was built by a stonesmith, Mike Donah of Tupper Lake. Most trail cairns are more haphazard and assembled by many hands over many years.

The cute stone statues that popped up beside Route 73 between the Ski Jumps and the Adirondak Loj Road this year are little more than sand paintings, sure to be knocked over by snowplows if they haven’t toppled already.

On a trip around Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula last fall we saw inunnguaqs: cairns in human form for miles along the coastline near the Irish Memorial national historic site. Adirondack granite breaks rounder than the rock up there and is not so well suited to simulating arms and legs, so our cairns are usually pyramidal.

This spring Adirondack Life ran a beautiful photo feature on summit cairns, by aptly named photographer Stewart Cairns, followed shortly by an essay on “Zen and the Art of Cairns” in the July Adirondack Explorer by publisher Tom Woodman. Woodman wonders about the unnamed makers of rock-piles in a field near his Keene home as well as the sculptors whose work guides the hiker: “Even the simple trail-marking cairns embody values worth reflecting on. We place our trust in them and whoever stacked them as we scramble from one to the other. Maybe we can feel a sense of community and solidarity with those who came before us. Surely, if through mistake or mischief, a set of cairns would lead us over a cliff, someone would have set things right by the time we got there. We look out for each other.”

Photograph of children adding stones to the Wild Center cairn in Tupper Lake.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Saranac Lake Artists as Art

Photographer and author Phil Gallos has a show of 120 portraits at BluSeed Studios, in Saranac Lake. Known for documenting various aspects of life in his community, Gallos photographed 25 local artists — visual, literary, performing, musical and other — over the past three years. The exhibition includes more than just faces; the artists are depicted at work, or fiddling while the sap boils or floating on their backs in crystal clear water. The show opened Thursday and runs until September 12. If you are curious to see some of the people making art in the area but can’t make it to BluSeed, visit Phil’s Web site here.

In the 1970s Phil shot some fascinating black & white street scenes in Saranac Lake, seen here. So many buildings, bars and people gone. It’s amazing how fast things go from contemporary to historical.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Bill McKibben on Why 350 is the Most Important Number

In the past month Bill McKibben has been in India, the Maldives, Lebanon, Oman and Dubai. And last weekend he seemed delighted to be in Newcomb, population 472, catching up with Adirondack friends. The writer told Nature Conservancy members gathered at the Newcomb school for the Adirondack Chapter’s annual meeting how new information on atmospheric carbon has made him a global activist, and why he’s spreading the message that we must do more than install low-watt bulbs if we are to keep climate change from spiraling entirely out of control.

Two years ago arctic ice began melting dramatically faster than computer models had predicted, McKibben said. Scientists had projected that the natural systems that gave rise to civilization and the current array of life on earth would be disrupted when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 450 parts per million. A recent paper by NASA scientist James Hansen and others puts that tipping point at 350 parts per million. The planet is already at 390 parts per million.

McKibben referenced several places where life as people know it is changing, perhaps irrevocably: Glaciers that feed rivers supporting hundreds of millions of people in Asia are melting. The Maldives, a nation of coral islands preparing to be swallowed by the Indian Ocean, is essentially shopping for a new homeland. “Hundred-year” rainstorms are becoming routine. A problem that McKibben thought would manifest in the time of his children and grandchildren appears to be unfolding now.

“We need to make [the transition away from fossil fuels] happen quicker than is economically or politically comfortable,” McKibben said. And that means more than reducing personal carbon emissions; citizens must pressure government and industry to change, he argued. “We all need to play a role of some kind in that solution.” Action taken in the next couple of years will determine “whether we get out of it at all,” he said.

McKibben is trying to engrain the number 350 in the minds of policymakers and citizens worldwide. As director of 350.org, he’s organizing a day of global activism on Saturday, October 24, encouraging people to go public in support of the 350 ppm goal. So far, 1,323 actions in 91 countries are planned, including some in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Council, based in Elizabethtown, is looking for 350 or more people who will commit to an alternative commute to work or school the week before Oct. 24. Paul Smith’s College, which coincidentally will have an incoming freshman class of 350, is organizing an event, details still to come. The Adirondack Green Circle in Saranac Lake is planning to do something as well, and other communities are early in the planning stages. You can visit 350.org to find an action near you or to register your own.

If you missed McKibben’s talk last week and can’t catch him tomorrow at a Protect the Adirondacks benefit in Olmstedville, you can watch him surviving this interview on the Colbert Report Monday.

Also, here’s a little of what Bill had to say about the Conservancy’s Finch lands purchase, and here is an excerpt from his Newcomb talk, broadcast earlier this week on North Country Public Radio.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Book on Paul Smiths: the Hotel, College and People

Appollos Austin “Paul” Smith was born on this date in Milton, Vermont, in 1825. A new book from Arcadia Publishing‘s “Images of America” series provides a pictorial history of Paul Smiths, the place, which is also largely the history of Paul Smith, the man.

Smith came to the Adirondacks in his early 20s to pursue a love of hunting and fishing and to work as a guide. He convinced his family to move to Loon Lake and start a guest house. A wealthy visitor was so impressed with his managerial and guiding talents he financed Smith’s purchase of land on Lower St. Regis Lake to establish a new resort for the enjoyment of families, not just hunters.

As author Neil Surprenant details, Paul Smith’s Hotel was a huge success, and the charismatic owner became famous for his hospitality, entrepreneurism and bonhomie. Surprenant, who is also library director at Paul Smith’s College (on the site of the former hotel), has assembled a well-chosen, well-captioned collection of more than 200 photographs showing the opening of the hotel in 1859 through its heyday and expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century, to fire and hard times during the 1930s, to its conversion into a college specializing in resort management and forestry in 1946, to the present-day four-year institution offering a variety of related degrees.

Surprenant also shows less-historical moments of life in Paul Smiths, including how big lawns were mowed before motors (see page 61 for the answer) and how students pass time in their dorm rooms.

The 127-page book costs $21.99 and is available at local stores, online bookstores and through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Questions for Dr. Edward Hixson:Weight and the North Country

Dr. Hixson is medical director of Adirondack Medical Center’s Bariatric and Weight Loss Program, based in Saranac Lake, which has facilitated loss of 100,000 pounds over the past ten years. The Adirondack Almanack sat down with him to discuss a Centers for Disease Control report that found Northern New Yorkers are heavier than their counterparts elsewhere in the state.

AA: Please tell us about the bariatric/weight program’s history and its goals.

EH: This program was founded in 1999 and is devoted to weight loss, no matter how you do it, surgically or not. We have two thoracic surgeons, a bariatric nurse/nurse practitioner/coordinator, a physicians assistant, plus we have two doctors, David Merkel and myself, who started the program, and we do administrative work and see patients. We also have a nutritionist and we developed a weight-loss program that is potentially as effective as surgery for those who stick with it — one of our previous operating room nurses is running that.

We’ve done it now for ten years and have had over a thousand people have surgery. Our surgical doctors have been responsible for more than a hundred thousand pounds of weight loss.

A year and a half ago we were designated as a Center of Excellence by the Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, which is the gold standard in the country today.

We are dealing with a chronic disease, treatment for life, and it really demands commitment and a lot of effort. The reward, when you see somebody lose 120 pounds — it’s a big difference. The average weight loss among people who have had the surgery, we found, is 117 pounds. Not everybody reaches their desired weight, but most people become healthier and less susceptible to weight-related diseases like diabetes, high-blood pressure and high cholesterol.

AA: When you founded the program, were you responding to a need in the community?

EH: Yes, Dr. Merkel and I had been talking about it. Weight was becoming a problem. We knew the need. When we became aware that there was a good solution for it, then we felt that it should be available up here, and that of course was surgery. We started with a few patients in 2000, and now we get about a hundred a year.

AA: Are they all North Country residents?

EH: We have a few from Canada, but most are from here. And there’s a basic premise of any critical treatment for weight anywhere, and that is: if you’ve got the problem you need treatment for life, whether it’s medical or surgical. There is no cure. The goal is control. And if you get control you have to make sure you keep control. Our rule from the beginning is follow-up for life.

AA: Were you surprised to see the Centers for Disease Control statistics that North Country residents are on average heavier than those elsewhere in the state?

EH: Well, I knew that, I had preached this ten years ago. The statistics are there. They’re not really new. We know that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of those are morbidly obese. And this has been a problem of increasing magnitude for ten or twenty years. The fastest growing group of those who have a weight problem are children, which is discouraging because very heavy children grow into heavy adults. The other rapidly growing group are the morbidly obese. This is worrisome too because they are the ones with the most severe problems. About 4 percent of the country are morbidly obese; in Franklin County it’s 7 percent— there may be newer numbers than that, but that was a few years ago.

The heaviest state in the country is Mississippi, and the best state in the country as far as weight is Colorado.

AA: I was going to ask, is there something about the rural way of life that encourages weight gain?

EH: No not really. If anything it’s good for you. To a certain extent the rate is related to your population mix; obesity is more a problem among Native Americans, for instance, but really it’s related also to poverty and income level. It’s more of a problem to the people who can least afford to get out of the problem. This is not an affluent area, and I think that’s largely responsible.

AA: Do you see any signs the trend is reversing?

This is getting a lot of publicity. But on the other hand look at the huge amounts of money spent by the food industry on advertising. Then you look at the amount of money that is spent on health in schools or advertising; you are talking thousands-to-one.

The morbidly obese generally live a decade or decade and a half less than their normal-weight counterparts. The problem is getting worse quicker than we are solving it. More people are becoming obese than we are helping.

Shakespeare really hit it right on the nail: “Diseases desperate grown are by desperate appliance oft relieved, or not at all.” And that often applies to obesity. Surgery is often the most effective tool for controlling weight. And that’s why we started the bariatric surgery program.

My goal was, hey, can we do what a major medical center has trouble doing, in a small community hospital out in the woods, and I think we’re the smallest most rural place in the country that has this certification.

[He pulls a framed photograph of a woman on top of Hough Peak off the shelf.] This is one of our patients. She just gave me that the other day. She was morbidly obese, and here she is completing her 46 [High Peaks]. She doesn’t look like she’s unhealthy or heavy, does she?

If there’s a goal, we have a lifestyle up here that’s active physically, and there’s a movement to buy local food. Our environment is great, it’s healthy. If we could go from a 7 percent morbid obesity — one of the highest in the country and the highest in the state — if we could turn that around and be right up there doing better than Colorado, and to do it in a rural area, with very little monetary resource, if we do it on our own, grass-roots work, then that to me is a good goal.

I don’t think we’d do it with everybody having surgery, but if we can change things for the kids, time will change that. You can correlate the weight problem with the kids to the number of hours they spend in front of a computer and a television set. Chances are if you can drag kids away from a computer, there’s something outside they like to do.



Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.