Almanack Contributor Mary Thill

Mary Thill

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


Friday, July 10, 2009

ANCA Head Named APA Head

Adirondack Park Agency Chairman Curt Stiles announced today that Terry Martino will become executive director of the state land-use oversight agency in August.

Martino, a resident of Onchiota, has been involved in economic and community development projects throughout the park as director since 1991 of the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA), an independent agency that helps obtain grants and build networks for woods-products businesses, farmers, artisans, tourism entrepreneurs and related municipal infrastructure. The APA has operated under the interim staff leadership of Mark Sengenberger and Jim Connolly since the retirement of Richard Lefebvre, of Caroga Lake, two years ago. Martino will earn a salary of $90,800.

Following are details about the Martino appointment from an APA press release:

“Terry Martino brings an incredibly rich background and understanding of the Adirondack Park, its people and its needs,” said Chairman Stiles. “We are extremely fortunate to have someone with Terry’s established management abilities, leadership skills and demonstrated success in the key leadership position at the Agency,” he concluded.

Terry Martino said, “I would like to thank Governor Paterson, Chairman Stiles and Agency Commissioners for this opportunity to work with them, Agency staff and all stakeholders to address the future of the Adirondack Park. Throughout my career I have recognized the tremendous value of balancing economic and community development with environmental stewardship inside the Park.”

Since 1986 Ms Martino has worked for the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA). She served as Program Director before her promotion, in 1991, to ANCA’s Executive Director. As Executive Director she managed the regional non-profit organization that is committed to economically viable communities, environmental stewardship and protecting a rural quality of life.

Ms Martino’s responsibility included oversight of personnel, programs and finances with annual budgets ranging from $600,000 to 2.5 million dollars. She provided community outreach, public communications and developed strong partnerships with numerous municipalities, agencies and organizations including providing administrative support to initiatives such as the Common Ground Alliance. She was also responsible for securing and managing millions of dollars in investment in the Adirondack North Country including; USDA Forest Service Ice Storm Recovery Program, Scenic Byways Marketing Programs, USDA Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and the Heifer Project International.

Ms Martino was a delegate in Saranac Lake’s successful selection as an All American City in 1998 during the National Civic League Competition in Mobile, Alabama. In 2004, she was appointed as a member to the Northern Forest Lands Council 10th Anniversary Forum. She has been a member of the NYSDOT Scenic Byways Advisory Board since 1992.

She has numerous professional affiliations including:
NYSDOT Scenic Byways Advisory Board
Director Adirondack Railway Preservation Society
Northern Forest Strategic Economy Initiative
Adirondack Energy Smart Park Initiative
NYSDEC Adirondack Park Advisory Committee
Core Team Member – Adirondack Common Ground Alliance
Project Manager Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project
Director CBN Connect

Ms Martino received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Carleton University and a Master Degree in Professional Studies from The NEW School, Graduate School of Management.

The New York State Adirondack Park Agency was created in 1971 by the State Legislature to develop long-range land use plans for both public and private lands within the boundary of the Adirondack Park. With its headquarters located in Ray Brook, the Agency also operates two Visitor Interpretive Centers, in Newcomb and Paul Smiths. For more information, call the APA at (518) 891-4050 or visit www.apa.state.ny.us.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More From the Frontier: Largest Northern New York Drug Bust Ever

Things have changed along the Northern New York border over the past decade. People have always smuggled things across — alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, immigrants, guns, depending on cycles in the underground economy — but marijuana, once mostly a southern border import, now streams into the U.S. from Quebec.

And there are more federal law-enforcement officers on this side of the line than ever, trying to stop it and other contraband.

A phalanx of officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs and Border Protection Office of Air & Marine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), other Homeland Security personnel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office joined with local and state law enforcement Tuesday at the DEA’s newly built two-story Plattsburgh headquarters to announce they had broken a billion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring, wrapping up the largest drug case in the North Country ever, the DEA says.

Police are charging 13 men, from Montreal to Boston to Florida, with felony drug offenses for allegedly conspiring to import and distribute tons of weed across the eastern United States over the past few years.

“Eleven years ago when I first became involved in criminal prosecutions on the northern border, DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were two essentially unknown federal agencies in Franklin County,” said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. “Today they’re partners in dismantling a 300-pound-a-day marijuana operation, an operation which led to movement in excess of $250 million a year in marijuana over the past four years.

“What I’ve seen is we went from one DEA agent, who I was really happy when he would come over and work a case with us, to this building we’re in today,” Champagne continued. “And I think back then, yes, was there smuggling? Absolutely. But what’s occurred is we’ve gone from an intelligence-gathering stage to fully executing something like this, something that takes out an entire network. It’s really a growth that I could only have dreamed of ten years ago for the North Country.”

DEA and local law enforcement joined Champagne in Franklin County last week to announce arrests in a different, $25-million marijuana importation ring.

“Although all the locals knew what was going on for years and years, and I remember as a kid everyone talking about the smuggling in Malone and the area, now there are the resources to assist,” Champagne said.

Police say the marijuana came across the border in two places. The first has been implicated in smuggling since boundaries were established: Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that overlaps the U.S./Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, including several islands. Police say 35-year-old Richard Todd Adams, aka “Frank,” coordinated shipments across the river to his compound in Snye, Quebec, which is on the reservation and contiguous to New York tribal land. Adams is indicted but remains at large. Asked by a reporter how police plan to deal with perennial smuggling via Akwesasne and related sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith was vague, stating, “We are very vigilant when it comes to the exploitation of that area.” Investigators don’t give many details of their surveillance methods, but the Customs aviation unit provided high-aerial photographs of the Snye compound, and officers on the ground kept tabs on couriers, who traveled with “blockers,” drivers of other vehicles who intentionally broke traffic laws to distract police.

The second point of entry was described as a “secluded wooded area” just north of Churubusco, near the Clinton/Franklin County line in the vicinity of Frontier and Lost Nation Roads. Police would not comment on who owns the land or how drugs were moved across the border. Twenty-eight-year-old Anthony Plata of Montreal was in charge of smuggling through that point, they allege.

Police did not offer many details about how the bust actually went down, and whether any of the marijuana was distributed in this region. But they said they arrested the alleged ringleader, 23-year-old Steven Sarti of Montreal, in Vermont on June 17. They executed warrants in the arrest of eight other people today. In addition to Adams, two other indicted suspects have not yet been arrested.

Officials Tuesday seemed to prefer to focus on sending a message.

“It’s easy to forget in these idyllic surroundings and friendly communities and with our close relationship with our Canadian neighbors that there are people who wish harm or who are so interested in lining their own pockets that they don’t care what harm they cause others — and exploit this area to move large quantities of narcotics throughout the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith said. “We hope this collaboration will stand beyond this tremendous success in bringing the curtain down not only on this drug trafficking enterprise but also on all who follow in their footsteps.”

The DEA said that money confiscated in previous drug cases helped build their new Plattsburgh office building, and money from this and future cases will go to strengthen local agencies that work hardest to break them. Police charged ten men with money-laundering conspiracy and seized $7 million in cash and drugs in this sweep. Prosecutors are also seeking “a money judgement in the amount of $25 million,” according to a press release.

Map of an alleged marijuana importation base at Snye, Quebec, on the Akwesasne Reservation, provided by federal law enforcement officials. You can see more images here.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Adirondack Music Scene: Fourth of July Fix

Shamim Allen is away this week, at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, so I offered to cover for her and she e-mailed me some live music suggestions.

If Shamim is there, the Jazz Fest is obviously the place to be, only about two hours from the northern Adirondacks and featuring a 12-day schedule so ridiculously packed it might be easier to list who’s not playing. The price of entry to various venues ranges from free to about $80. On the Fourth of July Dave Brubeck, who is 88, will perform “Take Five,” which is 50.

Closer to home, there’s an open mic tonight at Grizzle T’s in Saranac Lake. It starts at 7:30 p.m.

On Friday, July 3, the holiday weekend gets rolling with Lake Placid’s annual I Love Barbecue festival, featuring amazing local musicians all weekend, including Stoneman Blues Band, Sven Curth and Lowell Bailey. If you like the Ramones, you’ll especially appreciate Loud and Stupid, which takes the stage at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The first concert of the season at Meadowmount School of Music will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Meadowmount is boot camp for classical music’s future string stars, and the location is remote, pastoral and camplike, complete with screens and mosquitoes. The summer school is located at 1424 County Route 10, in the town of Lewis. There’ll be another concert Sunday July 5. $7 adults, $4 seniors/students. See www.meadowmount.com for a full schedule.

Also Friday a trio from the Celtic band Inisheer will be playing at O’Reilly’s Pub in Saranac Lake 8-10 p.m.

SATURDAY, July 4

There’s free music pretty much anywhere you can find a parade or fireworks. Here are just a few suggestions:

From 1-3 p.m. Inisheer plays the bandshell at Mid’s Park on Mirror Lake, in Lake Placid.

Long Lake will be hosting an open acoustic jam at the town beach at 2 p.m. (The North Country Preservation Jazz Band will play in the evening.)

Atlantic Crossing, a Vermont-based band playing Celtic roots music of New England, Canada and the British Isles, will perform at Bolton Landing’s Rogers Park at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Puttin’ on the Ritz plays pre-fireworks in Raquette Lake, at the school.

Shamim will return to play with the Dust Bunnies in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Bandshell at 7 p.m., before the fireworks. The Bunnies’ friends Big Slyde are playing the Waterhole patio, about 100 yards away, at the same time.

There’ll be square dancing in the North Country Squares Building of the Clinton County Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. in Morrisonville.

If you like your Fourth of July fix of patriotic marches, the 45-piece Floyd Community Band will be playing at the waterfront park in Old Forge at 7 p.m. Saturday, before the fireworks.

The heavy (in a good way) blues trio Crow Party will rock the annual boogie fest at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, starting at 8 p.m.

Mathematicians, a band with a strong Adirondack following, will be playing at HOTSHOTS on South Street in Glens Falls on the Fourth of July with Beware the Other Head of Science. It’s an 18+ show, doors open at 9 p.m., and show starts at 10 p.m.

Aiseiri is playing at O’Reilly’s Pub after the fireworks over Lake Flower, in Saranac Lake.

SUNDAY, July 5

Inisheer plays at 6 p.m. on the Peru Village Green.

Artwork: Mathemeticians


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Adirondacks: Gateway for Quebec Hydroponic Marijuana

Quebec, with its cheap hydropower and proximity to a porous section of the U.S. border, produces massive amounts of warehouse-grown high-THC marijuana.

A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.

Adirondackers are mostly oblivious to this traffic, with its high stakes and organized crime, including the Russian mob, Irish mob and Hell’s Angels. But the lure of big money has attracted some North Country residents to sideline in the business, including a store owner/construction contractor from St. Regis Falls, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Every other week for at least the past two years, a hundred or so pounds of marijuana valued at around $500,000 per shipment would leave northern New York and be transported by car to Cleveland, Ohio, authorities say. At first, police in the Cleveland area identified Daniel Simonds, a 31-year-old resident of Stockholm, in St. Lawrence County, as the deliveryman. But then Simonds was shot and killed in his home a year ago.

Investigators continued to watch Cleveland drug-ring suspects believed to have connections with the Russian mob. They got in touch with North Country law enforcement, confirming that shipments were still coming from this region, specifically from Franklin County. Police would not give details on their surveillance methods, but they say that suppliers from Cleveland would rent a car every other weekend and drive to their pick-up spot, a rustic camp on the St. Regis River in St. Regis Falls belonging to Harold Fraser, a 43-year-old St. Regis Falls resident who also owns the Hill Top Stop market and construction business in that Adirondack hamlet and whose arrest on drug possession charges was announced Wednesday.

The Cleveland drivers would wait at Fraser’s camp for a shipment of Quebec marijuana, which would cross the Canadian border via several entry points, but usually through the Akwesasne Reservation, according to David Leu, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s resident agent in charge for Northern New York. Jurisdictional ambiguities inside Mohawk nation land, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, have fostered a smuggling economy. After a few hours at the St. Regis Falls camp, the drivers would receive the hydroponic, hand over the cash (hidden inside a computer hard-drive shell in at least one instance) and be on their way back to Cleveland, sometimes supplying other areas in New York State and the Northeast, Champagne says.

“In this case, in a one-year period, in excess of 18 loads were confirmed between Franklin County and Ohio with the average load having a street value in excess of $500,000. The organization has been operating in excess of 2-3 years allowing for an approximate street value of 18 to 27 million dollars during the known period of operation,” a press release states.

Eight operators described as “mid-level” have been arrested, five in Northern New York and three in Ohio so far. Leu says, “There are definitely going to be other arrests.” St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duve says the drug network is linked to the killing of Daniel Simonds but she would not elaborate because an investigation is ongoing. She says seven defendants are under indictment in the homicide case, two of them in Canada, and one remains at large.

The arrests resulted from search warrants executed June 15 in Cleveland and at three North Country residences and at the Hill Top Stop. Police would not comment on the convenience store’s role in the case. The warrants netted $1.3 million in cash as well as a pound of cocaine and another $700,000 in assets, including 14 vehicles, two utility trailers, three ATVs, a snowmobile and a boat. Leu says any day police take $1.3 million in cash out of the illegal-drug loop is a good day, and he expects the money to support further North Country drug interdiction efforts.

Champagne says marijuana-importing networks on this scale are not unusual in the North Country anymore. “Unfortunately we know a dozen groups that move that kind of volume,” he says.

Photo: The St. Regis Falls camp where marijuana transfers allegedly took place – the photo was supplied by law enforcement officials. To see more of their photos click here.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Senator Betty Little and a Prelude to a Coup

“How are things in Albany? They’ve probably never been worse,” Betty Little said at an early morning breakfast in Saranac Lake Friday.

Making no attempt to mask her frustration with the Democrats’ ineffectual five-month-long reign over the New York State Senate, the Republican who represents much of the North Country was pessimistic as she gave an audience of Saranac Lake’s political, health-care, education and economic-development leaders her take on the situation in state government. She did not allude to any plans for a Senate takeover, but the candor of her remarks made Monday’s news of Republican blowback in the Capitol a bit less of a surprise.

Little was joined by Republican assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward. All three represent Saranac Lake, which straddles two assembly districts.

The impending closure of Camp Gabriels minimum-security prison is draining a hundred jobs from the area. The inmates are moved out, and only a dozen or so guards and administrative staff remain on duty to shutter the place by July 1. The village got little encouragement on a reuse strategy for the facility.

“I mean there really is no money. We’ve got to face that,” Little said, complaining that the $132 billion budget passed by Democratic governor David Patterson and both Democrat-controlled houses of the State Assembly failed to reduce spending.

The three said executive-branch staff are in such flux that’s it’s difficult to know who the go-to people in state government are. Even things like the senate’s schedule are hard to divine, Little said. There are two weeks left in the session, but she doubted the Democratic leadership would stick to the deadline. Now it looks like the session might be prolonged no matter who is in charge.

“We’re spending a lot of time now trying to correct what was done in secret,” Little said, citing changes to Empire Zone rules and a new law that would allow drug offenders to seal drug-crime records if they feel that they have been rehabilitated of an addiction. “The new process seems to be put forth a proposal, vote on it and correct it because nobody has had a chance to look at it.”

Inevitably Senator Little was asked what she thought of New York’s 23rd District congressional seat, being vacated by Republican John McHugh, who is nominated to become Secretary of the Army. There are only three Republicans representing New York State in Washington, Little noted. “It could have been four. I have to say I know I could have won that seat,” she said, referring to the 20th District, where Democrat Scott Murphy just won a special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been appointed to the U.S. Senate. Saranac Lake is split between the two districts.

In an acknowledgement of dysfunction in her own party, Little called for an “open process” and polling as GOP leaders begin choosing a candidate to replace McHugh. The Republicans must pick a person who can win the seat, not just a person who wants it, or else the party could be redistricted out of the state, she warned. In the 20th District party leaders reached over Little to select James Tedisco, the opportunistic former assembly minority leader, who did not reside in the district.

Congratulating St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center in Saranac Lake for being named one of the top 20 places to work in New York State, Assemblywoman Duprey added, “Where we’re working is not.”


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Bloom Index, Part II

It’s a fresh new month and time for an update to our bloom-dates table. But first, my friend Gerry Rising, Nature Watch columnist for the Buffalo News, reports that phenologists are asking regular jamokes to share their observations of trees and wildflowers. You can become a citizen scientist by noticing when chokecherries or even dandelions bloom in your back yard.

Two Web sites collect this information: the National Phenology Network and Cornell University’s Project Budbreak. Plant and animal life cycles can be susceptible to climate variations, so phenologists (the people who study seasonal patterns) are interested in your observations.

Following are median bloom dates for June from Mike Kudish’s Adirondack Upland Flora. Mike says the dates are most accurate for 1,500-to-2,000-foot elevations (the “Adirondack upland”).

June 1: Jack-in-the-pulpit, chokecherry, Solomon’s plumes
June 2: Low sweet blueberry
June 3: Wild sarsaparilla
June 5: Clintonia, bog rosemary
June 6: Bunchberry and white baneberry
June 7: Canada mayflower and bog laurel
June 9: Starflower and black chokeberry
June 10: Fringed polygala, three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, nannyberry
June 12: Labrador tea, Indian cucumber, small cranberry
June 13: Pink lady’s slipper
June 14: Hooked buttercup (Earliest sunrise, 5:13 a.m.)
June 15: Blue-eyed grass
June 17: Wild raisin, common cinquefoil
June 20: Sheep laurel
(June 20-23: Longest days of the year, 15 hours, 41 minutes)
June 26: Bush honeysuckle and tall meadow rue
June 27: Wild iris
June 29: Wood sorrel

The late naturalist Greenleaf Chase made a list for the Nature Conservancy of rare blooms on some of its Adirondack protection sites. On alpine summits he found Lapland rosebay aflower in early June, Diapensia, Labrador tea, bog laurel and mountain sandwort in late June. Greenie would visit the Clintonville pine barrens in early June to see Ceanothus herbacea (prairie redroot). Viola novae-angliae (New England blue violet) also flowers in early June on the Hudson River ice meadows near North Creek; Listera auriculata (a native orchid called auricled twayblade) blooms there in late June.

Lastly is a list of plants that amateur botanist and hall-of-fame pitcher Christy Mathewson identified around Saranac Lake in June 1922: wild carrot, bunchberry, mountain laurel?, sheep laurel, wintergreen, trailing arbutus, labrador tea, star flower, moss pink, forget-me-not, heal-all, ground ivy, bluets, ox-eye daisy, dandelion, hawkweed, Canada hawkweed, spring beauty, yellow pond lily, live-for-ever, horsetails, blueberry, twin flower, red berry elderberry, hop clover, harebell, yellow wood sorrel, sundrop, dewberry, wild red raspberry.

Boys, take note: being good at sports is nice. Being good at sports and knowing your wildflowers? That’s hot. Special thanks to Adirondack Daily Enterprise columnist Howard Riley for finding Mathewson’s handwritten list in the Saranac Lake Free Library archives and sending me a copy.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer Reading, Rugby and Mushrooms

Only weddings have kept me from watching the Can-Am Rugby tournament in Saranac Lake, held this year Friday July 31 to Sunday August 2. It’s so huge it spills into Lake Placid. Both towns are overrun with happy jock energy as a hundred teams of serious amateur ruggers from all over the Northeast and Canada converge in one of the largest rugby gatherings in the world.

It’s a bracketed tournament culminating in a championship match watched by as many as 3,000 people. There are men’s and women’s divisions, and this summer for the first time in the event’s 35-year history kids will have their own scrums. It’s a fantastic game, and the teams play hard. The best way to watch is to pack cold drinks, put on sunscreen and bicycle among the half-dozen fields in either town. Look for the black-and-red jerseys of the Saranac Lake Mountaineers.

I’ll miss the last day of rugby this year because on Sunday August 2 my friend Kelly and I will attend mushroom class at the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondak Loj near Lake Placid. First, experts teach us which fungi are safe to eat, then we go into the woods to find them, then we have them for dinner. The Loj offers a series of educational programs all summer.

This is also the season for slipping silently into the woods. The man who wrote the book on slipping silently into the woods is James Fenimore Cooper. His Last of the Mohicans, set in the French-and-Indian War southeastern Adirondacks, is my choice for a summer re-reading assignment. North Country Public Radio holds an annual summer reading call-in program, scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Thursday July 9. Readers are welcome to send titles to station manager Ellen Rocco beforehand at [email protected] She’ll include them on a list on the station’s Web site.

Artwork: Uncas, Hawkeye and Chingachgook, an N.C. Wyeth illustration for The Last of the Mohicans


Friday, May 22, 2009

Town of Keene Getting Wired for Broadband

Five years ago only a third of the 1,000 households in the town of Keene had broadband Internet service. By the end of this year John LaFountaine, lineman for Keene Valley Video (KVVI), the town’s locally owned Internet service provider, expects to string high-speed fiber-optic cable to 90 percent of the homes in the hamlets of Keene, Keene Valley and St. Huberts.

If you live inside the broadband bubble it can be hard to grasp that there are still people out there whose service disconnects or grinds on for ten minutes if someone tries to e-mail them a photograph. But a lot of Adirondackers are still in a dial-up world (there is no parkwide estimate of the number).

A few years ago a coalition of Keene residents, school officials, parents and KVVI teamed up to try to figure out how to keep school enrollment strong, how to keep KVVI in business despite a small customer base, and how to wire the town. Their thinking was that with broadband access, more families with school-age children would be able to move to Keene and work from home, and that their own kids wouldn’t have to leave to find work.

Senator Betty Little helped obtain a $100,000 state economic development grant to purchase equipment, and yesterday townspeople and a selected handful of Keene Central School students thanked her in a little ceremony at the Keene Town Hall.

Because of its mountainous topography Keene chose to run state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable house to house, and some other Adirondack towns are looking at using towers to beam wireless signals to far-flung homes. Keene organizers hope their project might serve as an example for other mountain communities trying to expand network access. “We’re ahead of the curve on this,” volunteer Jim Herman said. “This is Keene at its finest. So many people worked together to make this possible.” The first phase of the project will cost about $300,000; $200,000 of that amount has been raised privately, much of it from seasonal residents, and KVVI has donated labor.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

WWI Exhibit Opens for Memorial Day

The restored Trudeau Laboratory, at 89 Church Street in Saranac Lake, will open its first museum exhibit Saturday, May 23, “The Great War: World War I in Saranac Lake.”

“The lab” houses the office of Historic Saranac Lake, which curates the new exhibit and has been renovating the 1894 structure for more than a decade. This summer the group will also open to the public the actual laboratory of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who did early research into tuberculosis there.

Following are details about the WWI exhibit from Historic Saranac Lake’s press release:

World War I, also known as The Great War, left an indelible mark on the people of Saranac Lake, especially those who served or helped out on the homefront. Many servicemen came home injured or shell shocked, having endured horrific conditions in the trenches. Some of Saranac Lake’s citizens were among the 15 million men who lost their lives in the war.

Servicemen who had contracted tuberculosis came to Saranac Lake for the fresh air cure. One of those men was original hall-of-fame pitcher Christy Matthewson. Another was John Baxter Black, for whom the addition to the Saranac Laboratory was named in 1928.

Historic Saranac Lake worked with designer Karen Davidson of Lake Placid to create panels that tell the story of how World War I impacted Saranac Lake. A number of panels were acquired thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth McAuliffe and the Windsor Connecticut Historical Society.

Several of the bookcases in the John Black Room will display uniforms and other artifacts loaned for the exhibit from families of local soldiers Ralph Coleman, Dorchester Everett, Elwood Ober, Percy Bristol and Olin Ten Eyck.

Historic Saranac Lake invites families of veterans to share their stories, letters, photographs, or artifacts Saturday. The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Memorial Day. It will remain open to the public through the summer months. Historic Saranac Lake requests a $5 donation to help defray costs for the exhibit.

The “Great War” Exhibit is a lead-in to the opening of Saranac Laboratory Museum this summer. On July 18, the new exhibit “125 Years of Science” will open in cooperation with the Adirondack Museum and Trudeau Institute.

For more information contact Amy Catania, program manager, (518) 891-4606, [email protected]

Photo: WWI officer John Baxter Black, courtesy of his family.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saving Fruit Trees from the Frost

The forecast says the low temperature tonight in Saranac Lake will be 22 degrees. The apple tree we share with a neighbor decided to bloom yesterday. What to do?

Since the tree has thrived at an elevation of about 2,000 feet for longer than anyone living in this neighborhood can remember, it must be a pretty cold-hardy variety. But a deep freeze at blossom time really threatens to thin the crop. So we called Bob Rulf, who owns Rulf’s Orchards, in Peru. He said it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to light charcoal in a couple of grills beneath the tree (this is a pretty big tree) and keep the smoke rising. Between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the coldest part of the night, Rulf said.

The temperature is only supposed to get down to about 29 degrees in Peru, the more-temperate apple basket of the Adirondacks. Cornell Cooperative Extension advises that when an apple blossom is tight and in the pink it can stand 30 degrees F for an hour; when it’s wide-open white it can stand 28 degrees for an hour, which seems counterintuitive, Rulf said.

His orchard is not equipped with wind machines or any large-scale equipment for dealing with frosts, so he’ll take his chances with the apples. However Rulf does plan to tow a furnace around the strawberry patch tonight with helpers riding along to blow hot air on that crop.

Photograph: Our apple tree in bloom


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Opinion: Hiking, Drinking and News at Adirondack Papers

Why, in a time of newspaper shrinkage — in circulation, ads, staff, content — are local papers creating new vehicles for fluff? The Adirondack Daily Enterprise this month launched an outdoor-oriented bimonthy (it’s possible some stories were missed by one, two, three or four of the park’s other outdoor-oriented bi/monthlies). The 16-page tabloid is called Embark. Now we hear that around Memorial Day the Glens Falls Post-Star will begin publishing a new weekly called the Edge, for the Lake George area. 

Here’s what an Edge staffer blogged that the thing (not magazine, not quite shopper, not newspaper) will be covering: “It will be around 16 pages of light-hearted feature stories such as weekly Q and As with bartenders.” The dailies are not hiring new reporters or investing in high production values for these throw-away publications. They take staff away from covering issues and redirect them to hike Mount Marcy or flab about how crazy their friends got at Lemon Peel the other night. That’s not news. It’s killing trees to put the most trivial of blog content to paper. 

Admittedly blogs should have better things to do than dogpile on print media in a time of hardship (here, here, here and here are some of the dailies’ own accounts of budget cuts). I don’t aim to join that pack. Most online news sources would be nothing without the hustle and dig that real reporters give them to link and amplify; herein should be the strength and future of newspapers. Anyone with an opinion and a laptop can have a blog, but it takes a business plan, structure and a good staff to provide timely, well-edited coverage of courts, cops, public policy and yes sports on a multicounty level.

I subscribe to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and depend on it for a lot of information. It needn’t care what I think, but the fact that only two out of sixteen pages of Embark are covered with ads while the front page of the paper has been filling space with photographs of tree branches and worms should tell the publisher something.

I also like the Post-Star. It has some of the best journalists in the North Country and Capital Region and did especially solid reporting on the Lake George Ethan Allen tragedy. The paper gets competition from the alternately interesting and weird weekly the Chronicle, whose publisher’s personality comes through loud and clear, giving it kind of a bloggy voice. But the Chronicle is nowhere near as informative. It’s unfortunate to see the Post-Star moving in that direction. Edge, a crayon-font attempt to take ad share away from the excellent but shoestring real community newspaper Lake George Mirror, seems ill-advised at best, mercenary at worst, wasteful either way. If the Post-Star will be editorializing about how important the existence of newspapers is to our democracy, I hope it will then explain why it’s squandering diminishing resources to cannibalize a colleague. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NYSEG Ordered to Open Ausable Chasm to Paddling

Serious whitewater boaters are frothing at the prospect of access to a Class IV multidrop stretch of the Ausable River along Upper Ausable Chasm. Word on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ordered New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) to develop a plan to enable kayakers to cross its land to reach the river for the period between Memorial Day and October 31.

But patience: paddlers are saying it’s doubtful NYSEG will be able to comply in time for this season.

The Adirondack Mountain Club and American Whitewater, a national organization, have battled for years for the right to use NYSEG’s land to get to a 3.4-mile stretch of the Ausable, from the NYSEG powerhouse below Rainbow Falls Dam to the Route 9 bridge. “BOO YAH. That thing runs ALL SUMMER,” comments one paddler on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board, which has more information. The run is expected to draw boaters from around the Northeast because of its consistent water.

NYSEG and the Ausable Chasm Corporation, which operates a tourist attraction at the gorge, had argued against boating access because the steep and narrow canyon, 150 feet deep in places, makes rescue difficult. Ausable Chasm Co. also offers tubing and rafting for paying guests on the lower portion of the chasm. But ADK and American Whitewater countered that FERC had a duty to maintain public access to a public waterbody that had become obstructed by the power dam.

This YouTube video offers a preview of the drops and rapids.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Know Your Rights: Canoe Passage

I’m accustomed to setting out on an article knowing less about a subject than the people I interview. A recent assignment went the other way, to a surprising extent.

The topic was navigation rights in New York State. The editor of the Adirondack Explorer, Phil Brown, and I wanted to know why, ten years after a state high-court decision affirmed canoeists’ rights to carry around obstacles, paddlers rarely test rivers that flow through private Adirondack land (you can see the article here).

Out of five riparian landowners I spoke with, three stated that their rivers were “closed” because bridges, dams or downed trees block the streams and paddlers are prohibited from carrying around them. That’s a pre-1999 view. Obstructions have not been grounds for denying canoe passage for a decade, I explained, no matter who owns the riverbank.

All three landowners then responded that the rivers were probably impassable anyway and who would want to paddle them. (A sixth landowner who in the past claimed that passage is closed between Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook did not return phone calls or e-mails; I have no doubt from a trip through that property myself that it is a navigable stream with one quick carry.)

Frankly I expected landowners on disputed rivers to know the law because they have the most at stake. I expected to find the confusion on the paddlers’ side of the issue, and there is plenty among that group too. This first page of the 2008 Paddlesports Press guidebook Adirondack Paddler’s Guide states: “Most private lands, however, are just that — the public is not allowed.” Zero effort to explain the river access that paddlers fought decades to earn. The next sentence: “In fact some private reserves are patrolled and huge lawsuits have ensued for trespass.” There was one lawsuit, and it changed everything: A group of four canoeists and one kayaker provoked a test case on the South Branch of the Moose River in 1991, and the ensuing trespass suit sought $5 million in damages, which a judge dismissed. One of the defendants says the dollar figure never weighed on the group. It did take seven years and three courts to reach a final ruling, which contains vague language that only rivers proven to be “navigable in fact” are open. Nuanced, but not a blanket ban and not a reason to monger fear.

These examples prove a point made by Charlie Morrison, a retired Department of Environmental Conservation official. Morrison is lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill that would make the 1999 Moose River decision statutory. He says he does not want to change the law, just to codify it so it doesn’t get lost again.

Navigation rights are not new; they derive from common law and interpretation of that law by courts. The late canoeist and author Paul Jamieson pointed out that travelers crossed the Adirondacks freely by small craft in the early 19th century. Gradually, transportation became land-based, landowners began posting rivers, law enforcers began upholding the land-posters, and rights of passage faded. The 1999 ruling restored them.

Jamieson and the Moose River paddlers righted a century-old wrong, which is not to say the landowners’ instinct to protect their privacy is wrongheaded. Some told me off the record that members of the public who have passed through their land left fire rings and litter. If a paddler gets hurt — and these are generally tricky rivers, not flatwater cruises — landowners are the ones who’d have to come to the rescue. The Moose River case affirmed the right to travel through, but they do not give paddlers the right to stop, picnic, fish, hunt, camp, even take a pee. If you can’t run a river through somebody’s property in a day, then that river is not navigable, at least under existing state law. The West Branch of the St. Regis River below the St. Regis Canoe Area probably falls into that category.

One obstacle Morrison faces in Albany is the disorganization of the state Senate. Assembly sponsor (Democrat Sam Hoyt of Buffalo) needs to find a counterpart in the next week or two. Another obstacle is the passive resistance of the Adirondack Landowners Association, which seems to prefer the inhibiting effect of the reigning confusion: if the law is not spelled out, canoeists will stick to publicly owned waters where they don’t have to decipher access rights.

And over the past 15 years the state has acquired miles of new public waterways, so the situation on the ground is relatively peaceful. But keep an eye on the Beaver River connecting Lake Lila to the Stillwater Reservoir: The landowners and guerilla padders I interviewed agree it’s really only runnable after snowmelt, and then for a week at most. Whether that makes the Beaver “navigable in fact” may take another court to decide.

Photograph: The Beaver River near Lake Lila; by MWanner, from Wikimedia Commons


Friday, May 8, 2009

2009 Adirondack Paddling Calendar

Eager boaters have been on the water since ice-out, but the Adirondack canoe-and-kayak social season really gets cruising this month. We offer a chronological calendar:

The first two get-togethers are really commercial affairs, aimed at selling canoes and kayaks, but hey we enjoy new gear as much as anyone: Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters holds Demo Days this weekend, May 9–10, by the state boat launch on Lake Flower, in Saranac Lake, (518) 891-7450. And Adirondack Paddlefest is May 15–17 at Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co., in Old Forge. The Fest is billed as “America’s largest on-water sale.” $5 admission for adults, (315) 369-6672 » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Adirondacks and the Long Emergency

James Howard Kunstler will speak about The Long Emergency at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Paul Smith’s College. The event, in the auditorium of Freer Hall, is free and open to the public.

Kunstler’s 2005 book, subtitled “Surviving the converging catastrophes of the 21st Century,” has received international attention, but the Saratoga Springs resident has long had an Adirondack following. In 1987 he wrote one of the funniest things ever to appear in Adirondack Life: “The Man Who Would Be King,” a profile of Roger Jakubowski, in which he let the megalomaniacal then-owner of Great Camp Topridge bury himself under pronouncements about his plan to amass an Adirondack empire. (That empire has been whittled to a dormant water-bottling plant in Port Kent.)

The author’s humor is intact even though his subject now is sobering: the implosion of oil-based economies and a transformation of day-to-day life. Kunstler tells the Almanack that the Adirondacks will probably lose population under the new world order.

MT: Have you given any thought, in light of the system failures you foresee, to how well people in the Adirondacks will fare?

JHK: Well it seems to me the Adirondacks have always basically been a resource economy, with a recent overlay of mass tourism; before the Second World War it was mostly elite tourism. And that’s what your economy has been. It’s a pretty poor resource area for what it is. And my guess is that the Adirondack region will contract in population a lot.

MT: What do you think will cause that? The collapse of the tourism economy, the lack of a resource economy?

JHK: Not just tourism but motor-based tourism in particular. It’s conceivable that the Adirondacks would remain a retreat for wealthy people, if we continue to have wealthy people. If you don’t get trains running back into the region you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble.

MT: I’ve read a lot of your writing, and I know that you feel that people in the big cities won’t be able to turn to the land, just won’t have the resources that people in the country will have . . .

JHK: Well, I’m often misunderstood about that. I don’t see it quite that simply because there are many forces swirling around in that picture, some of them counterintuitive. For instance, people assume that when I say the big cities will be troubled places, that everyone would move to the country in one form or another, and let’s remember there are several very different kinds of rural landscapes. At the same time people assume when I say the suburbs will fail that I mean everybody will simply leave and move elsewhere. This is not what I mean at all. There will surely be big demographic shifts, but they will occur in ways we may not expect.

For instance, I see the probability that our small towns and smaller cities will be re-inhabited and reactivated because they are more appropriately scaled to the energy realities of the future. In the meantime our rural landscapes are likely to be inhabited quite differently than they are today. For one thing, in the places that can produce food, farming will almost certainly require more human attention. These are the broad outlines that I see. But we don’t know exactly how this might play out.

MT: I live in Saranac Lake, and I see this as a great small town but one with maybe a 90-day growing season and a seven-month heating season. How does that fit into your picture?

JHK: I think places like Saranac Lake will contract while they re-densify at their centers. One thing you’ve got going in all these places like Saranac or Lake Placid, despite the Adirondack Park Agency, is a suburban overlay that just isn’t going to work after a certain point. Despite the APA rules, the basic template of highway development and strip development that became normal all over the rest of the United States was not so different in the Adirondacks, [in terms of] where most of the new business after 1960 located. At the same time, the postwar car culture allowed people to spread their houses out in the landscape in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before the car and won’t be possible after the car.

To clarify, what you’re seeing really is almost nothing could defeat these habits and practices of suburbanization even in a place as rigorously controlled as the Adirondacks. All that stuff on the highway between Placid and Saranac, all the people living 14 miles out of town making a living running front-end loaders or whatever they do, they’re gonna run into trouble with these living arrangements. That’s apart from the issue of how the economy functions.

The guy running the front-end loader living in Rainbow Lake, he’s basically living a suburban life although he thinks he’s living in the country. The issue of how does he make a living now now that he isn’t doing site preparation for other people building houses in Rainbow Lake and places like it — an awful lot of the economy in the Adirondacks, just like the economy in the rest of the U.S. for the last 30 years, has been based on building more suburban sprawl. Up in the Adirondacks you guys have sort of put a sort of lifestyle dressing over it. But it’s still suburban, and it functions very differently from the pre–World-War II towns.

Now even if the population goes down in the Adirondacks it certainly doesn’t mean your towns will die; in fact they may be more lively as they re-densify. All the spread-out stuff is going to lose value and incrementally be abandoned, in my opinion.

MT: I’m actually encouraged because I was wondering whether you think the towns themselves were just too isolated?

JHK: Well they are isolated and that’s a big problem, and that’s why I say if you don’t get railroad service back there you’re going to have enormous problem. You’re basically going to be stuck in the same situation that you were in in 1840, where nothing really got past Lake George or Warrensburg and it was nothing but horse and wagons from there on.

It’s desperately important for the nation as a whole to rebuild the railroad system, but it’s particularly critical in a place like the Adirondacks. I think we fail to appreciate how swiftly the car system could collapse.

MT: Have you ever put a timeline on it?

JHK: It is really pretty hard to predict. But I would say within ten years we’re going to have serious problems, and probably within five.

MT: I love the “Eyesore of the Month” department on Kunstler.com, and I wonder if you have any favorite Adirondack eyesores.

JHK: Like most of America, you could plunk down in any county in the USA except maybe the desert and you wouldn’t have to turn 60 degrees to see something really horrible.

MT: In the 1990s I went to a talk you gave at the Adirondack Park Agency — in your Geography of Nowhere days — and what you said about the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid really stuck with me.

JHK: It’s really f*****g horrible.

MT: You didn’t say that, you said something more like, “It says, ‘We don’t care about you.’ It’s a big wall facing the road.”

JHK: Actually that’s more succinct. Every time I go by I just marvel at it, that we’re a society that can’t even imagine putting up a building that has any generosity.

Probably 90 percent of the buildings anywhere in the USA now, including Saranac Lake, were either built with no thought or have been cobbed up so badly that they’ve destroyed their original value. We’re seeing in part the diminishing returns of technology. The more cheap crappy building materials you make available the more people will use them. The more easily they can be assembled the more universal they’ll become.

The good news is that we’ll have far fewer cheap synthetic modular building materials in the future. What we’ll see all across the nation is we’ll have to return to using regional materials. . . .

MT: Do you have a theme for your talk at Paul Smith’s College?

JHK: Generally addressing the themes of my 2005 book The Long Emergency, which is now under way. And I try to focus on intelligent responses to this predicament. I tend to be suspicious of the word “solutions.” I don’t use it myself because I notice when other people use it that they mean to suggest that there’s some way we can keep running American life the way we do, and I don’t subscribe to that. I think that we have to live a lot differently, and we’re pretty poorly prepared to think about that.

It’s not that surprising to me because the psychological investment in our current arrangement is so huge it’s just difficult for people to think about doing things differently — the investments we’ve made in everything, the automobile structure. Think of the Adirondacks: the fact that over the last 50 years the Adirondacks has based its economy on building houses and servicing the arrival of ever more people — that’s not going to be happening anymore. You’re going in the other direction now. And you’re not going to be building more houses in Rainbow Lake and other distant places.



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