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.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Adirondack Bracket: The Big Dance


Yowza, Yowza. The stage is set for the final showdown of the 2009 Adirondack Bracket. And we could not have scripted a better narrative for the ultimate contest within the Blue Line. Monday’s championship will pit Stewart’s Shops against the Northville/Placid Trail. In a tournament determined by coin toss what could be more appropriate than a climactic face-off between paragons of the Adirondack Park’s two principal (and often opposing) faces.

Headquartered in Saratoga Springs, Stewart’s shops have spread across the park since the company’s early years in the 1940s. Today, the shops have become a major social and commercial focus for more than twenty Adirondack communities: their bulletin boards and picnic and cafe tables a wellspring of local information, gossip, lore, and right-of-center opinion. Stewart’s employees own one third of the privately-held company. But the pride of Stewart’s Shops is their award-winning fresh and local dairy products: gathered from 50 farms around its Greenfield plant, bottled the same day and available to customers within 48 hours. As well, the company’s many inventive ice cream flavors remain popular year after year, despite the ill-advised discontinuance of lemon meringue in 2002. Finally, as an economic engine, the gas pumps at Stewart’s provide a critical link in the Adirondacks’ carbon-based tourism.

The famed Northville-Placid Trail is a ten day, 120+ through-hike into the Adirondack’s wild soul. Starting in Northville, where the Sacandaga River flows into Great Sacandaga Lake, the trail winds through the towns of Northampton, Benson, Wells, Lake Pleasant, Arietta, Indian Lake, Long Lake, Newcomb, Harrietstown and North Elba. The scenery traces a path upward, northward and backward in time, shedding layers of culture from village to hamlet to the hermit haunts of Noah John Rondeau. It offers neither the crowds nor the high-altitude thrills of the 46 High Peaks, but the rewards for the bold and the fit are a feast of the finest land and waterscapes the Adirondacks offer.

Will the Northville-Placid Trail leave Stewart’s Shops blistered and exhausted, hitchhiking home? Or will Stewart’s simply walk all over the NPT? Come back Monday at 3:00 to find out.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Adirondack Bracket Final Four (part 2)


The second pairing of the 2009 Adirondack Almanack Bracket is set, pitting two popular Adirondack institutions against each other. Warrensburg’s “World’s Largest Garage Sale” advanced by vanquishing white nose syndrome. It will meet Stewart’s Shops, victor over Canadian drivers.

From its humble origins 30 years ago this fall, the World’s Largest Garage Sale is the youngest competitor to reach the Final Four. Still, it boasts some impressive stats, including its draw of 500 to 700 vendors and countless customers annually. Sue Marthins, WLGS coordinator for the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce, touts the community-wide bazaar’s credentials as a paragon of Adirondack culture with particular emphasis on the event’s economic importance. “People come from literally all over the country,” she said, pointing out that many shoppers will spend a day bargain-hunting and the balance of the colorful October 3-4 weekend exploring deeper into the Adirondack Park. Enthusing about the range of activities and cuisine available to Garage Sale visitors, Marthins was not above engaging in a little trash talk: “Stewart’s just cannot compete with our variety.”

With 22 locations within the park, and countless outlets just beyond the Blue Line, Stewart’s Shops is relying on its full-court coverage and will bring a high-octane, high-energy game to the contest. Marketing manager Tom Mailey guaranteed that Stewart’s would break “lightning fast with a couple cups of coffee,” and display a passing game “sweet as a make-your-own-sundae.” In sum he predicted Stewart’s would lick their opponent, adding a personal message to the World’s Largest Garage Sale: “Bring it on.”


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

20th Congressional District Results Inside the Blue Line

UPDATED @ 1:00 PM
In the cliffhanger race for New York’s 20th congressional district seat, sixty-five votes separate Leader Scott Murphy from James Tedisco, with between six and ten thousand absentee votes yet to be counted. In the northern block of the district, inside the Adirondack Park boundary, conventionally regarded as reliable conservative turf, order was somewhat upended by yesterday’s vote. In Essex, Warren and Washington counties, Scott Murphy took 51.5% of machine votes cast in towns inside the Blue Line.

Murphy found strongest support up north where he won Keene and North Elba by 69% and 60% respectively, and the town of Dresden on the east shore of Lake George where he took over 55%. Jim Tedisco’s best showing in this region came in the towns of Schroon and North Hudson where he garnered 59% of votes cast, and Stony Creek where 57% favored the Republican/Conservative. Turnout across Essex County was 26.5% of registered and active voters.

Saratoga County was the only Adirondack County in the district for which town-by-town results were not available.

* All votes for the town of Fort Ann, which straddles the park boundary, were included in our count.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NY 20th CD Special Election: April Fool’s Day Surprise


Candidates for New York’s 20th congressional district battled to a draw last night, extending the month-long special election campaign by two weeks at the very least. With 100 percent of the voting precincts reporting from the tripod district that covers portions of ten counties, Democrat Scott Murphy led Republican James Tedisco by 65 votes, out of a total of more than 154,000 votes cast by machine. The results do not include write-in votes or paper and absentee ballots. Absentee ballots will be counted on April 7, with ballots received by overseas military personnel to be counted April 13. The bottom line of this election, as viewed on this April Fool’s Day: Expect a recount that is longer and more expensive than the original campaign.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Adirondack Bracket Final Four


The first of the 2009 Adirondack Bracket final four pairings is set. The tournament’s sole remaining top seed is the Northville/Placid Trail, wending its way through the third quad past state prisons, the ORDA Board of Trustees, moose, and Theodore Roosevelt’s midnight ride.

When called for comment, Neil Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club—the organization which established the trail in the early 1920s—betrayed no surprise whatsoever at the fortunes of this iconic Adirondack hike.

“The Northville/Placid Trail was NY’s first long-distance backpacking trail,” said Woodworth, in establishing the trek’s bona fides as a contender for the 2009 Adirondack Bracket championship. “As a hiking experience it traverses a wide range of ADK landscapes from its largest rivers [Sacandaga] through some of the most beautiful lake country [the Canadas and Cedar Lake].”

Woodworth has hiked all but some of the highway portions of the trail in segments over the years. His favorite stretch leads from Long Lake to Shattuck Clearing to Duck Hole to Wanika Falls and on to Lake Placid. “The Cold River Country offers an incredible wilderness feeling.” With civilization 15 to 16 miles away in every direction, “you really get a sense for how Noah John Rondeau and some of the early explorers felt,” Woodworth said.

This empathy for early explorers may come in handy for the 133-mile-long pleasure hike as it goes up against none other than Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer and warrior who traced the eastern flank of the park by birch bark canoe nearly three hundred years before there even was a Blue Line.

Champlain’s journey south from Quebec was not motivated by natural beauty or the health-restoring exertions of outdoor recreation. His game was pure offense, taking war deep into the home court of the Mohawks, who had been interrupting potential European trade routes through the lake valley. Denounced in many quarters today for his extremely brutal tactics, his introduction of gunpowder to the contest near what is now Ticonderoga on the morning of July 29,1609 changed the game—and by extension Adirondack settlement and culture—forever. With one shot from his harquebus Champlain killed two Mohawk chiefs and gravely wounded a third, claiming a quick victory (and perhaps the invention of the three pointer).

In a September 2008 New York Times article Adirondack author and canoeist Chris Shaw retraced Champlain’s 2009 journey down the Adirondack shoreline. We leave you with his takeaway on Samuel de Champlain’s claim to a berth in the 2009 Adirondack Bracket final four:

“Champlain’s 1609 incursion into our neck of the woods marks one of those moments after which everything changed, whether we agree with the outcome or not. And who’s to say how it might have been different? He was a navigator and a pirate. He had high ideals of unifying the cultures of North America, yet he spent years dividing them for profit. The journal of his trip on Bitabagw (the Abenaki name for Champlain’s eponymous lake) is evocative if vague on details, except for one thing. When challenged by medicine men to mind his dreams, and despite his deep skepticism, he produced a perfectly prophetic dream of their victory over the Mohawk. This shows us that meaning abides more deeply in geography than we normally allow, and we can still tap into that reality though the preservation of species and habitat.”

If you missed our preview of the Bracket tournament and recaps of the first rounds you may find them here, here, here and here.

Come back tomorrow for the final match up of the final four.


Monday, March 30, 2009

The Special Election: Politics as March Madness


On the eve of tomorrow’s special election to represent New York’s 20th congressional district, there seems no better metaphor for much of what is wrong with our dysfunctional political system than the sort of hysterical ambivalence embodied by our culture’s obsession with team sports, on full display this week in the beer-belching economic machine that is March Madness. Whether it is the NCAA tournament, the Stanley Cup, World Series, or the Tyrannosaurus Rex of all contests, the Super Bowl, Americans seem pre-disposed toward 2-sided SmackDowns. Put any of these spectacles up against, say, Track and Field’s 4X400 meter relay, or the Iditarod for market share and you have, well, no contest. Judging from the cable listings alone, one could easily conclude that the American mind cannot readily grasp concepts which stray too far from the basic formula of one protagonist versus one antagonist.

In a similar vein, our political culture, as determined by the two dominant parties (with the solid backing of the same media that profits from sports spectacles) has decided it is not in the best interest of the American body politic to stray too far from one donkey mascot versus one elephant mascot. Nowhere in recent memory has this proscription against political outsiders been more crassly played out than in the special election for New York’s 20th congressional district seat. Given its 30-day duration—a calendar that reduced the importance and influence of big money donations—this race should have been wide open to any registered party that could field a qualified candidate. Instead, in a race where the major party candidates were picked by handfuls of party operatives behind closed doors, the only registered third party candidate in the race was held to the standard used for a regular cycle election, the collection of 3,500 meticulously recorded signatures of registered voters from within the district.

This sort of princess-and-the-pea standard invariably leads to the predictable farce of a political sideshow where the handmaids of one of the two major parties launch salvos of legal challenges to the third party petitions and the Board of Elections (comprising—you guessed it—Republicans and Democrats) eliminate enough signatures to disqualify the candidate. Genuine Banana Republic electioneering.

Perhaps it is time for our elected representatives, who claim to represent a constituency of which a full third identifies with neither major party, to remove their heads from their respective caucuses and vote for substantive electoral reform, and restore the free market of political ideas and speech that should be the aspiration of any true democracy.

In the meantime, the best any of us can do as citizens is take time to inform ourselves of the issues and the candidates positions, and take the time to hold up our end of the democracy contract. Cast your ballot.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tedisco’s Adirondack Endgame

There is an opportunity in the last days of any close, high-stakes political race to gain a clear view of the strategies and, by inference, the internal polling of each campaign. The professional political consultants attached to each candidate reveal their cards on the final weekend when they announce the campaign appearances for the closing days. That moment has arrived in the race to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand in New York’s 20th Congressional District. And the schedule for Republican James Tedisco will interest voters in the district’s Adirondack lobe.

The Republican candidate will hold a rally today at 1:30 at the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid, followed by a walk down Main Street. From there he heads to the Noonmark Diner in Keene (3:30 PM). In a district stretching nearly 200 miles north to south, it is a matter of significance when a candidate invests precious time in the sparsely settled northern reach of the district.

The reason for Tedisco’s eleventh-hour Adirondack schedule may be found in the opinion poll released by Siena Research Institute on Friday.

While Democrat Scott Murphy holds a 2-to-1 lead over Tedisco in Essex, Warren and Washington Counties (combined), that breakdown includes Murphy’s hometown of Glens Falls where it is fair to infer support skews more heavily toward the Democrat. Also missing from the 2-to-1 statistic is the size of the undecided vote. While eight percent of voters across the whole district have not yet settled on a candidate, in Essex, Warren and Washington counties ten percent of voters remain undecided. As with the concentration of support for Murphy, quite likely fewer voters are undecided in the Glens Falls vicinity, leaving a larger percentage up in Essex.

The other area of concern for Tedisco in the north is the three percent of voters who backed the now withdrawn candidacy of Libertarian Eric Sundwall. This figure increased one percentage point since the last poll two weeks ago while Tedisco’s support has slipped by the same margin. In terminating his campaign, Sundwall threw his support to Murphy.

A footnote to Tedisco’s announced schedule: While he will be joined today by Freda Solomon (widow of the former Representative Gerald Solomon) on the stump at West Mountain Ski Center in Queensbury, he is scheduled to appear solo in Lake Placid and Keene. Conspicuously absent is popular State Senator Betty Little, who endorsed Tedisco despite reported dissatisfaction with his selection as the Republican’s standard bearer.

UPDATE: The Post Star reports that Senator Little did accompany Tedisco and Freda Solomon in Queensbury on Sunday.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Adirondack Bracket: Round Three Recap


If it looked as though seasonal residents just didn’t show up for their match against the Wild Center otters, it’s because they didn’t. Excuses ranged from new restrictions on use of corporate jets, to a few who were laying low, waiting to cash their TARP-subsidized year-end bonuses. It was an early present for otters Squeaker, Louie and Squirt, who will celebrate their birthdays on Sunday.

Speaking of anniversaries, quadricentennial explorer Samuel de Champlain showed off his skillet skills, making a 30-minute meal out of Rachael Ray.

In the second quad, home to a couple of southeastern Adirondack powerhouses, file this one under “just say nose.” Hard-riding, hard-partying Americade succumbed to white nose syndrome. We are talking about the mysterious fungus that’s devastating bat populations, aren’t we? And E-bay watch out: Warrensburg’s World’s Largest Garage Sale discounted, tagged and liquidated another cherished Adirondack icon, the lean-to.

In the third quad, two lopsided pairings in the round of sixteen has cleared the way for a classic showdown between endurance and speed. Moose were overrun by the Northville-Placid Trail, while TR’s Midnight Ride left hunting camp coffee cold. The 25th veep’s lightning-fast buckboard ride from Tahawus to the railhead at North Creek will now face the 133-mile-long recreation trail, which was laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in the 1920s. This match-up promises to be a rough ride, much more than a simple walk in the park.

In the final corner of the dance floor, the iconic Adirondack pack basket proved to be more decorative than utilitarian, getting stuffed by popular local hang-out Stewart’s Shops. And finally, nordic-combined golden boy Bill Demong could not find the right combination to defeat Canadian drivers. Work continues on what particular characteristics distinguish Canadian drivers from any other sort.

Coming Monday: The Final Four.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Adirondack Bracket: Round Two Recap


With play complete in the third round, excitement is building toward the crowning of Adirondack Almanack’s first annual all-park bracket champion. This year’s “purty few thirty-two” round jettisoned the third top seed of the tournament, as well as one major Adirondack icon and two—maybe three—of the greatest threats to the region’s ecology. Full coverage after the jump.

The big news in the first quad was the defeat of Senator Elizabeth O’C. Little at the webbed paws of the Wild Center Otters. The distinguished Senator from Queensbury was preoccupied over the weekend deciding whom to endorse in the 20th Congressional District race. In the tough tug-of-war between party loyalty (Republican Jim Tedisco) and family values (cousin-in-law Scott Murphy), party prevailed. In any case, Squeaker, Louie, and Squirt slid easily past Little and into the next measure where they will face the always well-endowed seasonal residents.

Cinderella or EVOO step-sister? You decide: Rachael Ray basted Ausable Forks’ painter/printmaker/dairyman Rockwell Kent. She moves on to meet Samuel de Champlain, who knew how to deal with cluster flies.

In the second quad, in two matches of interest to southern Adirondackers, Americade rolled past dude ranches while the world’s largest garage sale made kindling of Adirondack chairs.

One surprising upset in the third quad: logging trucks just couldn’t seem to get started. Moose trampled them on their way to meet the Northville/Lake Placid trail. And it must have been a bitter defeat for the scenic railways to the hot (and getting stronger by the day) hunting camp coffee. Next dance for the coffee, TR’s midnight ride. Count on this one to go late.

Quad number four. Choose your metaphor. Billy Demong simply capsized, murdered, executed Dreiser’s American Tragedy. Gracelessly. Demong must next negotiate the deceptively slow Canadian drivers. Essential training for next winter’s Olympics in British Columbia.

We should also note here the demise of acid rain and Eurasian watermilfoil in this round. It will now be hard to find something to root against in the sweet sixteen round. Next recap Friday afternoon.

Read the tournament preview here, and the first round recap here.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hacketts Puts Lake Placid Store on Hold

Friday’s Watertown Times reports that the plans to create a department store in Lake Placid have been put on hold.

Seaway Valley Capital Corp. of Gouverneur, owner of Hacketts Department Stores, has temporarily suspended its plans to establish a new outlet at the Cold Brook Plaza in the space formerly occupied by Tops Supermarket. The loss of a $5 million line of credit from Wells Fargo Bank was cited by Seaway Valley Capital officials as the cause of the suspension.

Since September of last year, Hacketts arrival has been the subject of much anticipation in a region that lost its last large department store in 2002, when Ames closed in neighboring Saranac Lake. Efforts by WalMart Corporation to establish a store in the Town of North Elba (which contains the Village of Lake Placid and a portion of Saranac Lake) were thwarted in 1996 and 2006. A group hoping to establish an independent community department store in the Village of Saranac Lake is approaching its third year of a capital campaign to raise $500,000 for the project.

Calls to Seaway Valley Capital to ascertain a new timeline for the Lake Placid site were not returned Friday. Hacketts also has a store in Tupper Lake.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Adirondack Bracket: Round One Recap

(click image to see full-sized bracket)
Well, the Adirondack Bracket contest is rolling. The first round was not without its moments of suspense (one time the coin we used to determine contest outcomes rolled under the sleeper sofa forcing a Logging truck/French and Indian War re-enactors rematch. An unforgettable moment). A few first-round highlights after the jump.

Few surprises in the first quad. Senator Betty Little (R-Queensbury) totally schooled the heritage strain brook trout, while our flaming Adirondack foliage fell to the preternaturally red Rockwell Kent. Senator Little will now face the Wild Center otters (will our wildlife creatures ever learn?), while Kent will face Lake Luzerne’s sweetheart of the garbage bowl, Rachael Ray. How good is that?!!

Perhaps reflecting the new hard times, eating bark upset the industrious and ubiquitous Eastern European waitresses in the bracket’s second quad. And in a bit of a turn-around, The Hochschild Award winners swarmed the black flies.

We have yet to discern a compelling narrative in the third quad.

In the fourth, the dreams of Old Forge’s Water Safari Enchanted Forest were invaded by Eurasian watermilfoil. Nineteen-foot-tall standout center Paul Bunyan seemed to just stand there for much of the second half. The second round pits nordic-combined skiing phenom Bill Demong against Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy. This one should be a classic.

Stay tuned. . .


Monday, March 16, 2009

The 2009 Adirondack March Madness Bracket


Well, it is that time of year again, when office worker productivity takes a dive as all thoughts and computer monitors turn to the NCAA basketball tournament. For those of you who could not possibly care less about “the dance,” but resent having to do something useful while your co-workers squander their afternoons and paychecks poring over free-throw percentages and betting pools, your friends at Adirondack Almanack offer this equally pointless alternative: Our first (and possibly last) annual Adirondack Bracket…

Since late last fall, bits and scraps of odd Adirondack trivia and associated miscellanea ranging from the obvious to the obscure have been floating around the desk, vying for recognition and publication in one form or another. This weekend we finally got around to putting them all into a feed-cap, jamming the feed-cap into the computer disk drive and and generating a random list. We then proceeded to select the top 64 items from that list (with a few minor alterations) and plug them into our tournament bracket. In the coming weeks we will post the randomly selected outcomes of each pairing after each corresponding round of the NCAAs. As our Adirondack Bracket reaches its thrilling climax, we hope you will share your thoughts on the pairings and your predictions of the outcomes. Let the random acts of Adirondack mud Season mania begin.


Friday, March 13, 2009

James Tedisco and The GOP’s 20th CD Hopes

National media have framed the race for New York’s 20th congressional district seat as the pivot point on the National Republican Party’s path to resurgence. However, recent opinion polls of likely voters show that this might not be the slam dunk the party wants or expects. In fact the numbers continue a trend which has already become well-established over the course of this decade. If the trend continues, the GOP — fresh off a well financed loss in the same district — may be fulfilling Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. And while New York Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco’s hijacking of the Republican nomination may have been more a reflection of personal ambition than of party strategy, The RNC has bought into his dream quite conspicuously. If Tedisco and state and national party leaders are unable to stem the momentum of the rising Murphy campaign, this race may well become a showcase not of a political movement making a comeback, but of one coming undone altogether.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Poll Shows Race for 20th CD Tightening

A new poll sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows a tightening of the contest for New York’s 20th congressional district seat. The survey of 400 likely voters, taken February 24-25th, shows Republican James Tedisco ahead with 44% followed by Democrat Scott Murphy with 37% and Libertarian Eric Sundwall with 4%. Fifteen percent of those surveyed had not yet made up their minds. Balloting is slated for March 31st.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Scott Murphy Visits Lake Placid

Democrat Scott Murphy, running in the special 20th Congressional District race, made stops yesterday in Schroon Lake, at Rivermede Farms in Keene Valley, at Whiteface Mountain, and in Lake Placid.
The Lake Placid event was billed as a reception for supporters and public party officials. The two dozen in attendance at Mr. Mike’s Restaurant included Lake Placid Mayor Jamie Rogers and Trustee candidate Jason Leon, both running in village elections on Tuesday, March 18.

The congressional hopeful kept his remarks general, reiterating his wish to serve the district on the agriculture and financial services committees. On environmental matters, Murphy said he would like to see more federal money directed to Adirondack Villages to help improve water supply and treatment infrastructure. While praising Lake Placid’s economic growth of recent years, he cited the residential development of open spaces which the village has experienced as a potential threat to the health of Adirondack waters.



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