Almanack Contributor Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson's editorial cartoons - under the pen name MARQUIL - appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady and regularly chimes in here at the Almanack, particularly at election time and during the annual Adirondack Bracket. Mark lives in Saranac Lake.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Mark Wilson: Where Budgets Overlap, Redraw The Map

With the legislative season over, and as the Big Ugly and same sex marriage debates drift off into memory, and Senators and Assembly members scurry home to their Independence Day parades and summer vacations, a word or two of sanity and frugal budgeting in the quiet wake of the dysfunction that is New York State Politics.

For years now, politicians across the state have promoted cost savings through consolidation of services and the resulting efficiencies: neighboring school districts here, a coterminous village and town there, adjoining public works departments somewhere else. In the vast landscape that is our ongoing fiscal crisis (state, county & local budgets combined), these kinds of economic savings are small potatoes. Any legislator (or governor, for that matter) who is really serious about saving money and eliminating redundancy through consolidation needs to think bigger. Way bigger.

In short, it is time for our state leaders to throw away their microscopes and pick up their surveyors’ transits. It is time to redraw the map of entire counties and regions across New York.

By way of example, consider the Village of Saranac Lake, the poster hamlet for upstate geopolitical dysfunction: one village which overlaps two counties, three towns, two congressional districts, two State assembly districts, nestled high within the Adirondack Park. The inefficiencies are numerous, the taxes redundant, and governmental gridlock over almost any cost-saving measure is guaranteed.

Much of Saranac Lake’s overlapping political chaos dates to 1822, a time when the minds of Albany power brokers conjured up an Adirondacks populated by Wolverattlers, Grizzelopes and general outcasts from polite society. It seemed far easier to determine boundaries from the comfort of a down-state office using a straight edge on flat maps than to take into account more meaningful topographic boundaries such as watersheds, rivers and mountains. The region’s eventual settlement quite naturally followed these more practical constraints and the stage was set for the village’s perpetual governmental tug of war.

Quite recently, the mayor of Saranac Lake declared his village “the capital of the Adirondacks.” For all the scorn and derision this boast brought on, it might just be that he had a point. After all, like Saranac Lake on a grand scale, the Adirondack Park’s geography comprises two whole counties and parts of ten others. Portions of six congressional districts overlap the park. Likewise the park is partially represented by four state senators and six members of the assembly. The population and therefore power centers of all the overlapping political divisions lie outside the blue line, making it the political equivalent of a maple tree dangling a dozen sap buckets.

Attempts have been made over the years to redress the boundary chaos. As far back as 1913 Dr. Lawrason Brown of Saranac Lake proposed an eponymous county for the Adirondacks. Echos of this call for an administrative restructuring have been heard as recently as 2007. More recently a commission in the village of Saranac Lake has looked into changing the hamlet’s designation to a city, thereby seceding from its component township administrative zones. All these efforts have run athwart of deeply vested interests lying outside the proposed frontiers. It is abundantly clear that any change in the wasteful status quo will need to come from less subjective offices in Albany.

Part of the solution will soon rest in the hands of state legislators as they redraw congressional and state legislative districts. This is a prime opportunity to create representation more along lines of common interest and less along lines of political expediency. While this will not end the redundancy of the current county maps, in the Adirondacks at least it will guarantee that the interests of an important cultural, environmental and economic region is at the top of at least a few leaders’ agendas.

A far more productive solution to bureaucratic redundancy and a guarantee of long-term budget savings would be to redraw New York State’s county boundaries from scratch to more accurately reflect over three hundred years of settlement since westerners first began dividing the map. Such a plan is hard to imagine in a state that last saw a significant boundary change nearly eighty years ago. But in the age of GIS and Google Earth, there is less and less defense of lines that were drawn in the middle ages of manual cartography with little or no connection to the real world.

This Commentary first appeared in the Sunday Gazette of Schenectady


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nora Flaherty Debuts as Host of All Before 5

For listeners to NorthCountry Public Radio, today marks the return of the afternoon news broadcast, All Before Five, as well as the debut of its latest host, Nora Flaherty. All Before Five (which airs at 4:45 pm) has been off the air since the show’s last host Jonathan Brown moved on; previously the show was hosted by Gregory Warner.

According to her NCPR bio, Flaherty recently moved to the north country from downstate, where she has been a producer and host at Fordham University’s public radio station WFUV since 2005. She started her career in broadcasting while studying at the University of Michigan. For a radio personality, Flaherty has a very familiar face. You’d almost swear you’ve seen it somewhere before. . .



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spencer Boatworks Fire [UPDATE]

The building destroyed by fire Early Saturday morning at the Spencer Boatworks compound on Route 3 north of the Village of Saranac Lake was the large converted barn set back off the east side of the road (photos adapted from Google maps).

No full assessment of the damage has yet been released, though the Plattsburgh Press Republican cites a loss figure in the $2 million range. Spencer Boatworks hosts the annual Runabout Rendezvous, a classic boat show on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. This summer’s gathering is still scheduled on the Spencer web site for July 9th.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spencer Boatworks Fire Recalls 1919 Blaze

The fire that claimed Spencer Boatworks’ storage building on the Bloomingdale Road north of Saranac Lake early Saturday morning destroyed an untold number of antique boats from around the Tri-Lakes region.

The monetary loss at a storage facility renowned for its restoration of and care for rare wooden motor boats—Fay & Bowen, GarWood, Hacker Craft, Chris-Craft, as well as their own designs—could be incalculable. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sketchpad: Governor Cuomo in Lake Placid


Governor Andrew Cuomo came to the new Lake Placid Conference Center on Wednesday to promote three initiatives he wants the State Senate and Assembly to pass before the end of the legislative session.


Village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, fresh from Daffodil Festival, made a rare appearance in Lake Placid. The Governor notably referred to the Mayor as “my good friend.” Impressed by the abundance of meeting facilities available in the neighboring village, Mayor Rabideau returned home determined to bring the Olympics to Saranac Lake.


Mayor Rabideau handed off the introduction to “Lake Placid Supervisor Roby Politi.”
North Elba Supervisor Politi thanked Mayor Rabideau for “the sincere introduction,” receiving the biggest laugh of the afternoon.


The capacity crowd at the mint conference center gave Governor Cuomo a warm welcome. The governor’s PowerPoint presentation, refined over recent weeks at locations across the state, addressed the issues of a property tax cap (popular among realtors in the audience), government ethics reform, and gay marriage (popular among local event planners).


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: The Winner

Loggers win the 2010 Adirondack Bracket. The legendary industry that defined life in the Adirondacks during the boom period of American expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century was dominated by that era’s vertically integrated corporate giants like International Paper and Finch, Pruyn & Co. In contrast, today’s landscape is a vast horizontal tangle* of protected lands, timber investment management organizations, environmental regulations, industry mechanization, international tariff wars, and a deep economic recession, set in motion by the swift currents of global economic trade. In this environment, as on the massive log drives one hundred fifty years ago, survival favors the smaller more agile operator: the independent logger.

Eric Fahl is an independent logger from Franklin Falls whose down-sized business model was profiled in Adirondack Life in February 2003. No employees, no capital-intensive equipment, no big jobs, Fahl focuses on small lots, often the result of large parcel residential subdivision:

There’s more than enough work if you’re willing to stay small. . . There are no employees here and there will be no employees here. As soon as you start cutting high volumes, you have to find high volumes to cut.”

True to the mantra of flexibility, Fahl has, for the past five years, served as forestry consultant to North Country School/Camp Treetops, where he also instructs students in the principles of sustainable forestry.

*To place the Adirondack’s in the proper context of global timber/lumber/pulp trade, consider the following comparison:The province of Quebec has 207.3 million acres of timberland, about 120 million acres of that softwood. The entire six million acres within the Adirondack Blue Line—forest and non-forest, public and private—is one twentieth of this fraction of a fraction of Canada’s entire timber reserve.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Finals

And so the 2010 Adirondack Bracket arrives at the ultimate match, with loggers shrooming their way to a showdown with backyard sugarin’, an upset victor over the moldering remains of John Brown.

For those unfamiliar with the delicate balance between the iconic Adirondack industry and the constitutional safeguards put in place one hundred sixteen years ago in reaction to some of its worst excesses, this video from PBS offers an excellent primer. And if you have any question as to the fitness of these contestants. . .

As for backyard sugarin’ what more can you say about this tenacious force of nature? Margaret and Forrest Hartley’s stand of a dozen mature trees had a late run, and is expected to produce about two gallons of syrup (from 80 gallons of sap) before the trees bud and the sap turns bitter.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Final Four

It is the moment for which many fans of random attrition, aleatory contraction, exponential decay and half-lives have been waiting: the rollout of the 2010 Adirondack Bracket Final Four. The victor of the upper left division, those asexxy darlings of deliquescence, mushrooms, will take on the sunderers of silvic virtue, our arboreal bunyons, fellers of the upper right division, loggers. Of note to tournament followers and grammarians: loggers advanced to the tournament’s semifinal round following the official disqualification of Low’s Lake for fielding an ineligible punctuation mark.

The lower left division has been dominated from the start by Old Osawatomie Brown (whose 20 offspring could fill an entire final four lineup). For the best rundown on arguably the Adirondacks’ most historic permanent resident (it’s where you’re buried and not where you were born that counts), Almanack editor John Warren’s 16-part series on the last days of John Brown may be found here. Brown will face off against the surprise underdog finalist, Backyard Sugarin’ (punctuation mark, though cheesy, has been deemed eligible by tournament officials). Easily the best accounts of turning your sap into our region’s trademark sweetener come from southern Adirondack journalists Forrest Hartley, whose New American Gothic column was, until recently, one of the best features of the Glens Falls Post-Star, second only to the affordable fifty cent price of daily editions. Forrest’s spouse, Margaret edits the Sunday Gazette of Schenectedy, and authors their Greenpoint blog.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: The Round of Eight

A few surprises to report as the 2010 Adirondack Bracket winnows itself down to the round of eight.

First off, mushrooms topped pond hockey. Actually, not too much of a surprise with ice-out at hand and the damp woodland floor being exposed by receding snow drifts. If you are new to identifying mushroom varieties in the Adirondacks, there’s probably no better place to start than Mushrooms of the Adirondacks. It’s a start because the book covers only a relatively small portion of the hundreds of varieties to be found (go chanterelles!). And do we really need to remind you that it is always a wise move to double and triple-check the edibility of some mushroom varieties before trying to impress your friends with your outdoor culinary skills. Mushrooms will now take on Triclopyr, vanquisher of Black Brook, for a chance at the final four.

John Brown got by birders—a surprise to nobody—becoming the only individual person to advance (Au revoir, Sammy Champlain, see you in 2109!). The craggy-faced insurgent will now face the even craggier cairns of Krumholtz and cairns. They caught Yellow Yellow still hibernating.

And the team that lived by the upset, Talk of the Town were out of talk and/or out of town (always a risk during spring break), getting sunk by Lows Lake—that deep Adirondack treasure and essential destination for canoe campers. Lows now faces the only endangered species to survive into the round of eight: the Adirondack logger. Which, of course, is our way of saying buh-bye to the Bicknell’s thrush. With breeding season approaching, it is best you stay focused, anyway. This little bird was beaten by Planning Boards, who will meet Backyard Sugarin’ as it looks to extend its run a little longer (with the help of cold nights). Given recent moves by local Adirondack planning boards to outlaw small flock poultry raising (Backyard Chickenin’) and outdoor wood boilers, this next round might not be all that sweet for these sugarin’ saps.

Join us later in the week as we reveal the final four and work toward the thrilling conclusion of the 2010 Adirondack Bracket this coming weekend.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: The Round of Sixteen (Part 2)

The round of sixteen match-ups continue. The upper right division of the Bracket saw a stunning upset of our Adirondack Olympians by the opinionated crew from WNBZ radio’s Talk of the Town. No doubt threatened cuts to the Olympic Regional Development Authority annual budget from the New York State Senate rattled the concentration of the younger, more athletically inclined, better-dressed, more polite, and far less gloomy team. Way to go, talkers, you move on to face Low’s Lake, an issue you have often argued into submission. Low’s Lake bested road salts, a perennial threat to the health and beauty of our waterways through the excessive application of State DOT crews and local plow fleets.

Loggers left Adirondack movies (a squad with a storied past and promising future, and here) on the cutting room floor.

Loggers now face the sole surviving 2009 final four contestant Samuel de Champlain, who made short work of timber rattlesnakes to advance.

In the lower right regionals, the return of sub-freezing temperatures has extended the run for Backyard Sugarin’ (a former regional magazine editor insists that the title of this useful how-to guide sounds dirty). They brought a premature end to the impressive run of special congressional elections in Adirondack Districts which stemmed from President Obama’s nominations of Hillary Clinton and John McHugh to federal posts. It is worth noting that the third and last special election will be held this November, as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand officially defends her appointment.

Backyard Sugarin’ now confronts ANCA, one of the least identifiable acronyms within the Blue Line (Adirondackers Need Clearer Acronyms!). ANCA has made an impressive show under rookie coach Kate Fish. Established in 1953 to promote community, cultural and commercial development within the park, the organization, known as the Adirondack Park Association changed its name in 1983 after a dozen years of exchanging misaddressed mail with the Adirondack Park Agency and the Association to Protect the Adirondacks. They defeated the APA’s proposed boathouse regulations.

Planning boards—who most recently lost rookie talent when the northern Adirondack Town of Franklin abolished its newly formed board—made it past another 2009 final four contender, Warrensburg’s World’s Biggest Garage Sale. They now face the most enduring summer residents: Bicknell’s thrush (who are looking to a possible final four match with birders). This should be interesting, as the planning boards might have something to say about these little critters’ habit of building summer homes at high elevations.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: The Round of Sixteen (UPDATE)

Adirondack Bracket fans, welcome to the Benzene-Toluene-Ephedrine-Iodine-Phenylpropanolamine-Crystal methamphetamine-Sweet-Sixteen. The field is narrowing and the narrative is coming into focus. Chris Kowanko, the Renderer bros. and the whole crowd at Upper Jay Upholstery and Furniture —home to the Recovery Lounge—got the stuffing knocked out of them by a handful of bad mushrooms. They could have benefitted from a class in basic mycology. The mushrooms now face pond hockey, which put those cougar sightings on ice, and is said to be making a real comeback (beats waiting for the peewees to clear out of the rink).

The town of Black Brook, coached by Howard Aubin and LeRoy Douglas, displayed their unique style of environmental sensitivity with a proper burial of Jenks swamp, the state-protected wetland bisected by the Adirondack Northway, that nobody in their right mind would have built on anyway. Their pep squad of attorneys chanted from the sidelines, “make a federal case out of it!”

UPDATE: Black Brook now faces an equally potent wetlands menace in Triclopyr. This APA-sanctioned herbicide will be applied to Eurasian watermilfoil beds in Lake Luzerne. The public has been assured that this chemical will not harm grasses in areas where the lake water is used for irrigation. Studies have yet to be conducted, however, on its effect on municipal commitment to preventing invasive species from entering our lakes in the first place. One thing is for certain, however, in the Adirondack Bracket, it proved toxic to frankenpines. Strong stuff.

The lower left regionals witnessed an upset in the contest between birders and—the latest salvation of struggling hamlet economies and declining school populations—broadband. The unexpected outcome of this mismatch between fast and powerful telecommunications and what by any measure must be considered a rag-tag (though incredibly patient) bunch, turned on a simple miscommunication. The birders turned out in vast numbers, flocking to the Bloomingdale Bog, expecting to catch a rare glimpse of the broadbanded boobyhatch. Their tweets alone crashed the fledgling broadband network.

Birdiers go on to face the very ostrich-like John Brown. The martyr of Harper’s Ferry, perhaps boosted by a New York Senate reprieve on the possible closure of his Historic State Park, took 2009 Final Four contender Northville-Placid Trail in stride on his way home to the Plains of Abraham.

The second match-up in this region features the enduring pate-fluff of the Adirondack high peaks, Krumholtz and Cairns (not to be confused with the legal firm, Crumhorn and Korn) who were just too much for some of this area’s art centers to surmount.

They will face the legendary Yellow-Yellow, vanquisher of bear-proof canisters, and most recently of Moriah Shock and Lyon Mountain correctional facilities. In fairness to Moriah Shock and Lyon Mountain, they were both put on New York State Senate’s endangered species list before being devoured.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Blue Line 32 (UPDATED)

We enter the second round of the 2010 Adirondack Bracket with a few upsets to report. Here are the headlines:
Bad News for Nuisance Species: Watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, rock snot, Realtors, skunks and porcupines all went down to defeat.
Good News for Threatened Species: Bicknell’s thrush, timber rattlesnakes, and proposed APA boathouse regulations prevailed (though tender rattlesnake root, Prenanthes Boottii—correct spelling—proved no match for the heavier boots of Black Brook). » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Adk 64ers Preview II

Equally as engrossing as the 64 stories of those who made it into the Bracket this year are the names and stories of the many more who didn’t make the initial cut. Here are just a few of the unchosen many: leeches, municipal consolidation, Sandy Lewis, the Northway “Hello” sign, snodeo, NCPR fundraisers, TB, “farmers'” markets, Rocky’s Box, gloomy outlooks, and (our perennial favorite) the dump. Better luck next year, guys.

Back to our preview of match-ups in quads three and four of this year’s Adirondack 64er round (after the jump). » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Adk 64ers (UPDATED)

The Adirondack 64er round is set. Play-in victories by Frankenpines, Lawnchair Ladies, Peter Hornbeck and Backyard Sugarin’ have filled first-round pairings for the second annual Adirondack Bracket.

In general, it seems as though invasive species and related issues have established a beachhead this year. Spiny waterflea, rock snot, Realtors, and watermilfoils (some varieties of which, it must be said, are native to these parts) have joined the dance, as has Triclopyr (the chemical herbicide recently approved by the APA to kill Eurasian watermilfoil on Lake Luzerne), and DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries (whose failure to mount adequate protections at state boat launches is chiefly responsible for the spread of these invaders—with the exception of Realtors, who mostly plague the shorelines).

Click through for some featured match-ups from the first and second quads of this year’s first-round (check in tomorrow for featured matches in quads 3 and 4):

In the first quad, light pollution—an excellent photo essay on the topic by photographer Mark Bowie is featured this month in Adirondack Life Magazine—is going up against the incredibly diverse galaxy of Adirondack mushrooms (our favorite, Ganoderma applanatum, a.k.a. shelf fungus, or—appropriately—bracket fungus, or artist’s conk, is its own natural artistic medium with numerous gifted practitioners throughout the Adirondacks and upstate New York.)

Cougar sightings are a recurring meme in Adirondack lore and blogging. These sinewy felines are going up against real maple syrup. Of the syrup it can be said that the sap runs hard throughout the month of March and is known to dribble furiously. Its chief vulnerability: the tendency to look too far ahead to potential pairings in the sweet sixteen round.

Frankenpines, having gotten past the century-deceased master watercolorist Winslow Homer by virtue of their height and period uniforms and three-point game, find themselves facing the Moodys—early and prolific Adirondack settlers whose members include Jacob Moody, founder of Saranac Lake. The legendary guide Martin Van Buren “Uncle Mart” Moody so impressed President Chester Alan Arthur (One of his two Presidential “sports”) with his guiding chops that the president established the eponymous Moody’s Post Office at Moody’s Mount Morris House in Tupper Lake (the present location of Big Tupper Ski Area, and the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort).

Axe-fodder is the leitmotif of the Bracket’s second quad. John Brown (who just last year “celebrated” the sesquicentennial of his hanging, only to return home to his North Elba farmstead to find that the state park has an appointment with the chopping block in the 2010 State Budget) will meet the magisterial eastern white pine, the object of logging desire since the first european settlers arrived on the continent. This section of the Bracket also features Moriah “Shock” Incarceration Correctional Facility and Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility, both slated for closure in this year’s state budget. They will face last year’s Bracket powerhouse Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops of Greenville, NY. Depending on the outcome—not so much of this contest, but of budget negotiations in Albany—Stewart’s might consider a new flavor: Moriah Shocolate, or Moriah Shock-full-o’-nuts, or something like that.

Our personal favorite in this corner of the Bracket is Yellow Yellow, who’s ability to crack the defenses of DEC bear-proof canisters proved that he is definitely smarter than your average bear. Yellow Yellow will meet Wells Olde Home Days.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Selection Day

In limited areas of the Adirondack Park, an understated excitement built gradually throughout the day yesterday as selections were made for the 2010 Adirondack Bracket.

Bracket pairings were made by combining the top 28 randomly selected entrants from two lists (a longer list of general Adirondackiana, and a shorter list of 2009’s Adirondack headliners). Four more slots were reserved for last year’s final four, including 2009 Bracket champion Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops. The remaining slots will be filled later this week by a play-in round which sets four randomly selected entrants from a list suggested by our readers, against the Bracket judges’ “Hand o’ God” choices (our favorites that somehow missed the first cut). A preview of the play-in round follows the jump. . .

So here is how things stack up for this week’s play-in round:

Game one pits late 19th/early 20th Century painter Winslow Homer (who spent time throughout his career at the North Woods Club in Minerva—his last visit to the Adirondacks occurring one hundred years ago this summer, shortly before his death), against the frankenpine: that towering synthesis of artifice and nature, and itself a subject of contemporary Adirondack painting (not to mention inspiration for an excellent band).

Saranac Lake’s doyens of drill. . . the Idas of March. . . those angels of aluminum and mesh—the incomparable Lawnchair Ladies—sashay into the Bracket against an equally formidable lineup of local adirondack ski hills. This squad of impressive topography (talking about the ski hills, now), once thought to be heading downhill, fast, has made a strong comeback this winter led by Big Tupper and Hickory. The list also includes a couple cross country ski mountains, one of which boasts the only ski mountain palindrome in the Adirondacks: “O! Dewey. Aye, we do!” This match up could go either way, but one thing you can count on: Chairs will certainly be lifted, and might be thrown.

Game three features perhaps the most interesting play-in pairing, with Olmstedville’s Pete Hornbeck and his fleet of featherweight canoes taking on Lake George’s Winter Carnival, the village’s annual string of wintertime events held every weekend throughout the month of February. Any other year this would have been no contest as canoes are not much use on a solid lake surface, especially with a lot of cars and snow machines and dog sleds racing around. This year, however, warm weather forced cancellation of some carnival events, premature demolition of the ice palace and relocation of the dog sled races from the slushy lake top to safer ground inland. The Fund for Lake George reports that the lake failed to fully freeze over this winter (the first time since 2002). Though this might be an advantageous climate for a naval assault, Hornbeck will have his work cut out for him if he is to make it to a much anticipated confrontation with Senator Betty Little in the “Upstate Great Eight” round next week.

The final play-in contest throws New York State’s official fish, the brook trout, into the mix with back yard sugarin’. Not a whole lot to say about this one except: that is some mighty fine eating.

Join us later this week for play-in results and a preview of the first round.