Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Father’s Day Frog Jumping Contest

Forget the pancake breakfast and undercooked bacon. For the 38th year fathers and families will gather in Old Forge at noon on June 20 and find use for those past father’s day gifts and compete in the ugliest tie contest.

A tie picked out by a child is like my closet dedicated to those bride-maid dresses that I was promised could be shortened and worn again. The issue, without insulting too many of my friends, is that some of the dresses shouldn’t have been worn the first time as with a few of the ties my husband (and perhaps yours) has hanging in the back of his closet.

In the same philosophy that spandex is a privilege and should not be considered formal wear, neckties should not be bedazzled with the belief that glitter makes everything better.

If a rhinestone tie won’t win a family trophy then the frog-jumping contest just may. Annually over 30 frogs compete in a series of categories like weight, speed and jump at the Old Forge Lakefront.

According the Cindy Beckley of the Town of Webb Publicity Department in Old Forge no frogs are harmed during this event.

“We have a garden hose available to keep the frogs wet so they are not under any undo stress. All frogs are released back to their natural habitat,” says Beckley.

Though this isn’t the setting of Mark Twain’s 1865 tall tale, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, about life in a “Gold Rush” town, there are ample trophies and opportunities to have your own Daniel Webster perform, unless someone fills the frog up with buckshot.

For those unable to attend but would still like to find ways to celebrate the brilliance of Mark Twain, the Saranac Lake Historical Society has a series of summer events commemorating Mark Twain’s Adirondack connection and the 100th year anniversary of his death. The mantra surrounding schools, libraries and book groups is “rediscover Huckleberry Finn.” There will also be a non-stop reading on July 21 at the Keene Valley Library from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. as well as lectures and boat tours to the Mark Twain camp in August.

For more information about the tie or frog-jumping contest please call 315-369-6983. Happy Father’s Day.

Disclaimer: Nothing is more precious than the look on my children’s faces when they have found the perfect gift and I am honored that so many of my friends have wanted me as part of each special day, even the second time around. Sadly even that second go-around hasn’t been an opportunity to wear those dresses again though the thought did occur to me, more than once.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Exotic Wildlife: Gators in the Adirondacks

In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.

It was hard to tell which was less believable: that Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, and the legendary Betty White would sign on for such a project; that a movie based on such a far-fetched concept could make money; or that a member of the order Crocodilia could be found on any lake within 700 miles north of the Carolinas. If you’re a betting person, which is/are true?

The answers: Yes—Fonda, Pullman, and White (plus Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson) played the major roles in the movie. Yes, it earned money—nearly $32 million, enough to spawn Lake Placid 2 in 2007, and Lake Placid 3, scheduled for release on June 26, 2010. And yes, members of the order Crocodilia have lived recently in the north woods. All bets are winners!

The gator of Mirror Lake existed, appropriately enough, in the village of Lake Placid, and it scared the heck out of some very surprised tourists. I was once an avid fisherman, and before you take a fisherman’s word on something as ridiculous as this, it’s probably best to seek a higher authority, say, the New York Times. In 1903, they ran a story titled “Alligator in Lake Placid.”

That was two decades before “Lake Placid South” (Lake Placid, Florida) came into existence, so rest assured, the story applied to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. The tale in the Times began in early 1903 when the Stevens brothers, proprietors of the famed Stevens House, learned the answer to that age-old question, “What do you give someone who has everything?” The obvious answer: a reptile from the tropics, given to them as a gift by a friend who was returning from Florida.

A young alligator became the newest addition to the hotel’s amenities (deterrents?), housed temporarily in a bathtub. Around May, when ponds were open and the snow was melting, they made a decidedly non-tropical decision, releasing the gator into Mirror Lake. Frigid nights brought ice to the lake’s shallows, leaving only the slightest hope for the gator’s survival.

A few weeks later, on a warm, sunny day, appeared the oddest of sights at Mirror Lake—an alligator catching some rays on the beach. Because of its size, the gator posed little threat to humans, and the Stevens had a new attraction for patrons and curious northerners who, in the summer of ′03, hoped to glimpse the elusive newcomer.

Imagine the surprise of visitors a year later, innocently walking the shoreline of Mirror Lake in early summer, and stumbling upon an alligator! They reported their amazing find to management, who explained it was merely the Stevens’ family pet. (We can assume the Stevens housed it for the winter, but in warmer climes, gators can survive the cold in underground dens. Lake Placid’s temps would have provided a stern test of that system.)

Though the whole story seems like a once-in-a-lifetime tale, especially for those of us familiar with Adirondack wildlife, the Mirror Lake gator was not as unusual as you’d think. Similar incidents have occurred from Malone to Keeseville, and Ausable Forks to Ticonderoga. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became fashionable to have exotic pets, and many small alligators were among those carried home from Florida to the Adirondacks. Most of them were less than two feet long. Some escaped from their owners, while others were released into the wild.

It’s unclear what became of the survivors, like the Mirror Lake alligator or the many pets kept by private individuals. Or the one at the Lake Placid Club in 1933. That’s another story that defies belief. George Martin, the swimming instructor at the club, captured (with help) a seven-foot alligator from southern Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. They wrapped the reptile’s huge jaws in wire and prepared to take him north.

How do you transport a 7-foot alligator 1,000 miles? By George’s reckoning, you crate it, lay the crate on the car’s running board (most cars had them back then), lash the gator’s tail to the car’s rear fender, and hit the road. Though the wires around his jaws were snipped, the animal refused to eat, but they did make frequent stops at gas stations to water him down. He was christened “Mike,” and the club made plans for a facility where the animal could spend the winter. In the meantime, he was kept among Jacques Suzanne’s menagerie about a mile south of the village.

On a few occasions in the North Country, folks have unexpectedly stumbled upon alligators, and it’s hard to imagine the shock of the moment. Unfortunately, the reaction was uniform: kill it. A young boy from Malone, startled with his find (an 18-inch gator), dispatched it with a rock.

Another alligator’s death begs the question “Why?” The story was reported in the Wells area in late October 1957. Two bow hunters were hoping to bag a buck, but they spied a 32-inch alligator treading water near a beaver dam. One of the men put an arrow into the gator just behind the head, killing it. It was assumed to have been a released pet surviving on its own. No one knew how long it had been there, or if it had denned and somehow weathered the previous winter. (Not likely.)

Back in 1924, a young gator in Keeseville survived as a pet for three years until a couple of barn cats settled a longstanding feud, dragging it from its tank, killing it after an intense battle, and partially devouring the carcass before the owners drove them off.

But not all the alligators in the Adirondacks met tragic ends. Some were part of a traveling show associated with the Seminole Indians of Florida. Virtually every Florida carnival and sideshow featured alligator wrestlers, and among the best was George Storm. In the 1950s, a complete Seminole village was set up at Michael Covert’s hotel in Wilmington, and part of the daily show that summer was Storm performing his specialty.

Considering the unknown fate of Lake Placid’s alligators, their known proclivity for longevity, and the movies by the same name, it might be a good idea during the Ironman Triathlon to count swimmers going into Mirror Lake as well as those coming out. Just in case.

Photo Above: Poster from the first Lake Placid movie.

Photo Below: The Stevens House as it looked when it hosted the alligator.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Tourism Officials Optimistic Heading Into Summer

The Adirondack region relies heavily on tourism to support local economies – and if early returns are any indication, there’s good reason to be optimistic as the summer season begins picking up.

Two reports released in recent weeks show more people are packing their bags and heading out for mini-vacations – a good sign for hoteliers and restaurant owners in popular destinations like Lake Placid and Lake George.

The first report came from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Numbers for Memorial Day weekend this year showed a 17 percent increase in attendance over last year – and that’s with 41 parks opening at the last minute due to the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

The second report – a survey conducted by the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association – backs up the state’s numbers. NYSHTA is a not-for-profit trade organization representing some 1,300 businesses in the lodging and attractions industry. The survey found that 70 percent of hotel managers and lodging owners reported better business this year for Memorial Day weekend than in 2009.

Kim Rielly of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) says more people are taking unplanned vacations this year.

“These reports are consistent with our findings,” she said. “We’re looking forward to a good year, because there’s pent-up demand. People haven’t been traveling as much due to the economic downturn.”

Rielly also notes that recent negative press for the airline industry (see: volcanic ash and strikes) has more people looking for drive-to destinations.

“That’s the Adirondacks,” she said.

“Our proximity to millions of people in the New York metro area and the Montreal area works to our advantage,” Rielly added.

Rielly says that in Essex County, occupancy rates are already up over last year.

“And, from what we’re hearing from the area lodging industry, people are making a lot of last-minute travel plans,” she said. “Consumer confidence seems to be up, so we’re optimistic.”

Now for the part that may – no pun intended – dampen some of that optimism:

The weather.

The warm temperatures throughout the Adirondack and North Country regions in April and May flirted with the record books on several occasions. And, of course, most travelers to the area are here for outdoor activities.

“I was on my bicycle in February,” Rielly quipped. “But in all seriousness, we’ve been blessed with some fantastic weather. That’s absolutely going to play into that last-minute decision making and hopefully it will continue into the summer.”


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Adirondack Almanack Welcomes Chris Morris

I’m happy to announce that local journalist and WNBZ news director Chris Morris will be the newest contributor here at Adirondack Almanack.

Chris was born and raised in Saranac Lake and got his start in journalism as a stringer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s sports department. He graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2006 with a degree in English writing and religious studies and covered the Malone beat for the Malone Telegram.

Chris then moved to Vermont and took the editor’s position at the Vermont Times Sentinel, a weekly paper distributed throughout Chittenden County. From there, he went on to take the news editor position at Denton Publications and later joined Chris Knight at Mountain Communications as assistant news director of WNBZ radio.

When Chris Knight left WNBZ to join the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Chris took over as news director – a position he currently holds. At WNBZ, Chris reports on Tri-Lakes and Adirondack region news and occasionally contributes at North Country Public Radio and for other upstate publications.

If the Morris name sounds familiar to regular readers, it should. Chris’s dad Don Morris has been a contributor on Adirondack paddling here at the Almanack for some time.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rain, Colden Trap Dyke, 1962

Rain usually accompanied our hikes out of YMCA camp at Pilot Knob, on Lake George, in the late fifties and sixties, sometimes hard rain. We camped without tents, lying on the bare ground under the sky if the lean-to were occupied or none availed. Often we got wet. Mosquitoes and no-see-ems dined on us at their will. It gave me both a taste for and an aversion to discomfort.

The camp transported us, cattle-like, to Crane Mountain, Sleeping Beauty, the High Peaks, Pharoah Lake, the Fulton Chain and points as distant as the White Mountains, in the back of an ancient Ford ton-and-a-half rack-bed truck with benches on the sides that looked like something out of a WWII movie. We loved that truck, the open-air freedom and daring of it, its antique cantankerousness, though as often as not we huddled together in ponchos against the cab out of the wind and the cold rain or sleet biting our cheeks. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Upper Saranac Cookbook Sales Fight Milfoil

A hardcover cookbook containing more than 500 tried-and-true recipes from residents of Upper Saranac Lake and their families and friends is on sale in Tri-Lakes museums, gift shops and book stores. All proceeds will benefit the fight against invasive milfoil on Upper Saranac Lake.

The Upper Saranac Cookbook: An Adirondack Treasury of 500 Recipes was created by volunteers from Upper Saranac who worked for nine months to produce the approximately 500-page book as a charitable project. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adirondack Plants: Indian Cucumber Root

Now is the time to hit the woods if you want to find Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), for not only are its two-tiered leaves quite visible, but it is now bursting into blossom, and these are flowers you simply have to see.

Indian cucumber root is a member of the lily family, which to many of us seems odd, since lily leaves look rather like green tongues sticking out of the ground. However, if you look closely, you will see that the veins on the leaves run parallel to each other on the cucumber root as well as the other lily family members. This is a trait to look for when you are out botanizing.

When the plant is young, or when it lacks the energy to reproduce, it produces only one whorl of leaves. At this point in time, it is easily mistaken for starflower, although the latter’s leaves vary in size from less than an inch to almost three inches, and the leaf veins are not parallel to each other (it is not a lily). When conditions are right, however, stand back and wait to be impressed.

In some areas where it grows, Indian cucumber root can reach heights upwards of two feet. About half way up, it sports a whorl of five to nine leaves, all the same length. From the center of this whorl, the stem continues its skyward journey, ending in a second set of about three smaller leaves. There is nothing else out there that looks like this.

From now until the end of the summer, when you find one of these plants, you should look beneath the upper set of leaves for the yellowish-green nodding flowers. Take a close look at these flowers, for they are quite intriguing. The pale petals fold back, like a Turk’s cap lily, and from the center emerge three long reddish styles (part of the female reproductive bits) and several purple stamens. The color combination is striking, and the styles almost give the flower a spidery appearance.

Once fertilized, the flowers slowly convert into fruits. During this conversion, the flowers lose their droop. The pedicles straighten so that the purple-blue berries stand erect above the top tier of leaves.

Many people are most interested in this plant’s edibility. Historically, the native peoples of eastern North America dug the rhizomes* for food as well as medicine. The small white rhizomes, which measure only one to three inches in length, are reputed to have a cool, crisp, cucumbery taste, and are good eaten raw or lightly cooked with other vegetables. Doug Elliot, who is famous for his wildcrafting, writes that he took first place at the Fryeburg Fair for his Indian cucumber root pickles.

Today, however, the plants are not terribly common, and in Florida and Illinois they are listed as endangered. Because most of us do not need to wildcraft for our food, it is best to simply file away the information about the edibility of this plant under the category of interesting plant lore rather than actually harvesting it for a meal. Also, we should keep in mind that plants growing on state land are all protected by state law, so it is not legal to harvest them.

Edibility aside, this is still a spiffy plant, and one that is very easy to identify in the moist woodlands of the Adirondack Park. A quick jaunt down any of the VIC’s trails will likely yield at least a half-dozen of these plants. Stop on by and take a gander at them.

* Rhizomes are essentially horizontal stems, which usually grow underground. Stolons are also underground stems, but they sprout off from the main stem. Tubers, which the edible part of Indian cucumber roots are often called, are the swollen tips of rhizomes or stolons and are used by the plant for storage (eg: potatoes).


Friday, June 11, 2010

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, June 11, 2010

Lobbyists Gut Phosphorus Fertilizer Legislation

A bill that would have limited the sale of phosphorus-based fertilizers linked to algae blooms has been gutted by lobbyists’ pressures on legislators.

Among other things, the new version of the bill would prohibit municipalities from enacting stronger regulations without the authorization of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“This was a compromise; the industry did not want local governments passing more restrictive laws once a statewide law was enacted,” said a source within the DEC. “The agriculture community is freaking out about the bill as it stands now,” the source added.

Dan Macentee, a spokesman for Betty Little, Lake George’s representative in the State Senate, confirmed that additional amendments were being drafted to address the concerns of the New York State Farm Bureau. Those amendments are likely to weaken the bill even further, a Senate source said. “The bill’s sponsor, Senator Antoine Thompson, is amenable to amending even his own bills,” said the Senate source. A spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau did not return calls seeking comment before press time.

The current version of the bill restricts the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus within twenty feet of a water body, rather than prohibiting the sale of fertilizers with phosphorus throughout the state, as last year’s version of the bill did.

Prohibiting the use of fertilizers with phosphorus is a crucial step in protecting Lake George’s water quality, said Peter Bauer, executive director of the Fund for Lake George. “Legislation to control phosphorus pollution from household cleaning products and lawn fertilizers is critical to help manage and reduce water pollution. Lake George is enormously important to the local economy. Lake George’s high property values, robust tourism season, sport fishing and boating industries, all require clean water,” said Bauer. If the current version of the bill is enacted, New York State’s regulation of phosphorus would be far weaker than a town-wide ban proposed by Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy, said Bauer.

The Town of Lake George will consider the proposal as early as June 14, when it is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on the proposed ban. If the ordinance is adopted, Lake George will not only be the first town within the watershed to limit phosphorus, but the first community within the Adirondack Park to take that step.

Lake George Town officials officials have posted a survey on the Town’s website to solicit comments about the proposal. The survey will be found on the left side of the site under the heading “Give us your opinion,” along with a conceptual description of the proposal. Opinions submitted through the website will be presented at the public hearing, said McCoy.

Illustration courtesy Lawn to Lake, a program of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Friday, June 11, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Current Conditions in the Adirondack Park (June 10)

This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to change. For complete Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation conditions see the DEC’s webpage. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].

Fire Danger: LOW

Motorcycle Awareness
Warrensburg Bike Week and Lake George’s Americade will draw a large number of motorcyclists to Northern Warren County roadways and heavy traffic in the villages of Warrensburg and Lake George.

Weather
Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 67.
Friday Night: Chance of showers, low around 46.
Saturday: Mostly cloudy, chance of showers / thunderstorms. High near 68.
Saturday Night: A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Cloudy, low around 56.
Sunday: Chance of showers and thunderstorms. Cloudy, high near 70.

Biting Insects
“Bug Season” has begun in the Adirondacks so Black Flies, Mosquitos, Deer Flies and/or Midges will be present. To minimize the nuisance wear light colored clothing, pack a head net and use an insect repellent.

Firewood Ban
Due to the possibilty of spreading invasive species that could devastate northern New York forests (such as Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Wooly Adeljid and Asian Longhorn Beetle), DEC prohibits moving untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source. Forest Rangers have begun ticketing violators of this firewood ban. More details and frequently asked questions at the DEC website.

General Backcountry Conditions

Wilderness conditions can change suddenly. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.

Blowdowns: Due to recent storms and high winds blowdown may be found on trails, particularly infrequently used side trails. Blowdown may be heavy enough in some places to impede travel.

Bear-Resistant Canisters: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear resistant canisters; DEC encourages the use of bear-resistant canisters throughout the Adirondacks.

Local Conditions

Black Fly Challenge Bike Race: The 15th running of the Black Fly Challenge bicycle race will be held on Saturday. Affected roads between Inlet and Indian Lake include Routes 30 and 28, Cedar River Road, Limekiln Road in the Moose River Plains, and Otter Brook Road in Inlet.

Lake Placid: The 2nd Annual Lake Placid Adaptive Cycling Festival will take place in Lake Placid on Saturday, and will include a number of large group rides leaving the ORDA Ski Jumping Complex on Route 73.

Santanoni Historic Preserve: Part of the stone bridge on the Newcomb Lake Road to Camp Santanoni has collapsed in recent rains. Hikers and bikers can still pass, but horse trailers can not. DEC is working with the Town of Newcomb to repair the bridge, in the meantime use caution when crossing the bridge.

Moose River Plains Wild Forest: The main Moose River Plains Road (Limekiln Lake-Cedar River Road) is open. DEC, the Town of Inlet, and the Town of Indian Lake have partnered to make repairs to roads and campsites along the road. Gates to side roads, including Rock Dam Road, Indian Lake Road, and Otter Brook Road, remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic at this time.

Raquette River Boat Launch: The Raquette River Boat Launch along State Route 3 is closed at this time as DEC is rehabilitating the boat launch. See the press release for more information. It is expected to reopen in mid-June.

Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain: A peregrine falcon nest has been confirmed on The Nose on the Main Face of Poke-o-moonshine Mountain. All rock climbing routes including and between Garter and Mogster, are closed. All other rock climbing routes are open beginning May 12.

St. Regis Canoe Area: The carry between Long Pond and Nellie Pond has a lot of blowdown. Also beavers have flooded a section of trail about half way between the ponds. A significant amount of bushwhacking will be needed to get through the carry, so be prepared for a real wilderness experience.

Chimney Mountain / Eagle Cave: DEC is investigating the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats in Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Until further notice Eagle Cave is closed to all public access.

Giant Mountain: All rock climbing routes on Uppper Washbowl remain closed due to confirmed peregrine falcon nesting activity. All rock climbing routes on Lower Washbowl in Chapel Pond Pass are opened for climbing.

Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River Trail is out. The cable bridge over the Opalescent River on the Hanging Spear Falls trail has also been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.

High Peaks/Big Slide Ladder: The ladder up the final pitch of Big Slide has been removed.

Calamity Dam Lean-to: Calamity Lean-to #1, the lean-to closest to the old Calamity Dam in the Flowed Lands, has been dismantled and removed.

Mt. Adams Fire Tower: The cab of the Mt. Adams Fire Tower was heavily damaged by windstorms. The fire tower is closed to public access until DEC can make repairs to the structure.

Upper Works – Preston Ponds Washouts: Two foot bridges on the trail between Upper Works and Preston Pond were washed out by an ice jam. One bridge was located 1/3 mile northwest of the new lean-to on Henderson Lake. The second bridge was located several tenths of a mile further northwest. The streams can be crossed by rock hopping. Crossings may be difficult during periods of high water.

Duck Hole: The bridge across the dam has been removed due to its deteriorating condition. A low water crossing (ford) has been marked below the dam near the lean-to site. This crossing will not be possible during periods of high water.

Wilmington Wild Forest: All rock climbing routes on Moss Cliff in the Wilmington Notch are closed due to possible peregrine falcon nesting activity.

——————–
Forecast provided by the National Weather Service; warnings and announcements drawn from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Federal Regulators Stall on Providing Access to Ausable Chasm

After winning an important legal battle and a decade of waiting, paddlers expecting to finally be allowed access to one of the most intense whitewater opportunities in the Adirondacks are still waiting. This time for regulators to send a simple letter.

After the lengthy battle that pitted paddlers against the state’s energy monopoly, federal energy regulators, and private landowners, a year ago the Almanack reported that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)issued an order requiring New York State Electric & Gas Corporation (NYSEG) to permit access to the Ausable Chasm across its Rainbow Falls hydroelectric facility. The hydro dam is just upstream of the point where the Ausable River flows into Ausable Chasm, from there expert paddlers (many sections are Class IV, one route is Class V) could make their way the nearly three miles downstream through Ausable Chasm to the bridge at Route 9. Both banks of the river downstream to the take-out at Route 9 are private property, including portions owned by the popular tourist attraction.

The original order was appealed to FERC by NYSEG (and others), but upheld in September of last year. The standing order required NYSEG to develop a whitewater access plan from the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and required NYSEG to consult with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation (OPRHP), American Whitewater, and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) in the development of the plan.

With the help of its required partners NYSEG developed the plan [pdf] and submitted it to FERC in late November, but memorial Day has come and gone and the 4-foot-wide, 7-foot-high, galvanized steel pedestrian gate that was to provide access to the river has remained closed. NYSEG refuses to open the gate until it receives a letter accepting the plan and formally requiring them to grant public access.

American Whitewater (AW) has asked FERC to approve the whitewater access plan for the Rainbow Falls Project (Project # 2835), but received no response. AW is now asking paddlers send FERC a comment requesting access to the right away.

What Paddlers Are Missing

According to NYSEG’s plan, the gate will be open from sunrise to sunset from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through October 31; gate will be locked during the rest of the year.

Those who wanting to scout the river from above will need to use the Ausable Chasm Company’s private trails (their fees apply). Flow information is available via the USGS Ausable River stream gauge.

What follows is a description of the key feature provided by the NYSEG plan, and a response by the Almanack‘s own Don Morris about the safety of the route.

Key Features

All river descriptions and classifications are user-generated estimates based on limited
experiences at limited flows (173-576 cfs). All features have the potential to change.

Horseshoe Falls (III/IV): Visible from the Route 9 bridge, Horseshoe Falls consists of U-shaped,8-foot-high vertical ledge/waterfall followed by large eddies.

Unnamed Rapid (III): Immediately below Horseshoe Falls is a short rapid containing a several waves ending in a pool.

Diagonal Slide (III/IV): A long low angle slide with a diagonal wave stretching across it serves as the lead in to Devil’ s Oven.

Devil’s Oven (IV left line, IVN right line): The left channel, accessible at moderate and high flows, is a twisting series of small drops and waves. The river-right channel is a more challenging vertical drop of 6-8 feet with a steep entrance.

Unnamed Rapid (IV): A series of breaking waves terminating in a cliff wall at the base of the rapid. Paddlers have paddled left to follow the river, or eddied out to the right of the cliff wall and then ferried across the current to continue downstream.

Mike’s Hole (IV): Mike’s Hole consists of a series of waves and holes leading to a narrow constriction containing a final hydraulic. The rock wall on the river right side of the final hydraulic may be undercut. Submerged remnants of an old steel bridge are located in and at the base of the rapid and may pose a hazard to boaters. Portaging or scouting this rapid at river level is extremely difficult or impossible.

Table Rock (II): This rapid is characterized as a small wave train.

Concrete Wall (II): Concrete walls constrict the river and several pieces of an old steel bridge are submerged.

Whirlpool (II): Includes rapids and a large eddy where the river makes a sharp 90-degree righthand bend.

Below Ausable Chasm (I): Between Whirlpool and the Route 9 Bridge, the river is wide and
shallow and provides limited whitewater challenge.

Safety Concerns

Last year, Don Morris responded to concerns that the route was too dangerous. Here is what he wrote:

To me, safety is a relative term and absolute statements about safety are not appropriate. Safety is related to the skill of the paddler, the paddler’s judgment, water levels, and river features. I ran the Chasm at about 600 cfs as part of a feasibility study. It was a Class 4 run at this level and no one had any problems with the run as far as I know. At 600 cfs the river is safe for competent Class 4 boaters. In my opinion, people with only Class 3 skills should not be on this section at this level, though could probably paddle it safely at lower flows. At some point the Chasm becomes too high. I’ve heard people guess that 500-800 cfs is a good range and at least one paddler (who is better than I am) has guessed that 1,000 cfs is all he would ever want to tackle. Many Class 4-5 paddlers have done harder runs than this and have been in remote gorges where it would be even more difficult to get someone out. At 600 cfs, the biggest hazard in the Chasm is man-made: a large I-beam above Mike’s Hole. At higher water I suspect Mike’s Hole would be a bigger hazard. Bottom line–I think this is a safe run for competent paddlers at moderate flows. Strong intermediates could probably do fine at minimal flows and more extreme paddlers could paddle it safely at higher flows, but it’s up to them to decide what they can handle based on their skill and judgment.

Take a look at this video of a paddler running this section in 2006.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Update: Rural Broadband and the Adirondacks

Last year, Clarkson University launched its Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, known colloquially as Forever Wired. I’ve been following this with interest partly because it has the potential to change the economic and cultural dynamics of the Adirondack Park and partly because it’s an intriguing and ambitious way to more closely link my alma mater to the region.

The Almanack has offered some good coverage of the initiative, as well as pointing out the difficulty of finding concrete data related to broadband usage and access inside the Blue Line.

With the Park threatened by expected deep cuts to the public sector workforce on which the region’s economy is heavily dependent, expanded broadband access will become even more critical to boosting the region’s private sector.

In this context, it seems fortuitous that the Federal Communications Commission recently launched and has heavily promoted its National Broadband Plan.

The FCC views universal broadband access as critical “to advance national purposes such as education, health care, and energy efficiency.”

The plan “recommends that the FCC comprehensively reform both contributions to and disbursements from the Universal Service Fund to support universal access to broadband service, including through creation of the Connect America Fund.”

The Commission has recently put particular focus on increasing broadband access in rural areas. A 2009 FCC report described broadband as “the interstate highway of the 21st century for small towns and rural communities, the vital connection to the broader nation and, increasingly, the global economy.” The 2009 ‘Stimulus Package’ provided some $7.2 billion for broadband projects.

As with cell phone and cable television coverage, broadband access faces particular challenges in sparsely populated, often isolated rural areas. But it will be interesting to see if the FCC’s plan and Forever Wired can help expand this infrastructure many see as critical to expanding economic opportunities in the Adirondacks.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adirondack Entomology: Appreciating Jumping Spiders

I like spiders. They are clever, they are colorful, they are beneficial. Spiders come in a stunning array of sizes, shapes and colors. Some build webs to catch their food, others go fishing, while still others hunt by ambush. With the exception of a few truly venomous species, which most of us will never encounter, there is really very little about spiders to dislike. Still, many people find them creepy and go through life squashing any spider they meet. It’s a sad state of affairs, but some folks simply refuse to see anything beautiful in spiders.

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of our more interesting spiders: the zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus). This is a tiny spider, measuring 4-8mm if it is a female, 4-6mm if it is a male. It has black and white markings that make us think of zebras, and hence the name. But what really draws me to this spider are its eyes.

Like all jumping spiders, the zebra jumper has excellent vision. This isn’t just because it has eight eyes, but because two of those are huge, face forward, and have moveable retinas. What this all boils down to is binocular vision that can track moving objects.

If your head was held immobile, you could still move your eyes to watch what is happening around you. The jumping spiders cannot move their eyeballs, but they can move the retinas in those two large front eyes. This comes in very handy if you make your living stalking and pouncing on your food.

Jumping spiders, especially these little zebra jumpers, are famous for watching things, like those who are observing them. Give it a try the next time you see one of the little fellows. All you have to do it lean in close and it will turn its body and move its head so that it’s looking directly at you. You can tell when it’s looking at you by noticing the color of the eyes. As the retinas move, the eye color changes. When it is totally black, you are being watched.

Next, hold your finger a foot or so in front of the spider’s face. Move it around. Odds are, the spider will focus on your finger, tracking it with its eyes and moving its head to keep it within sight.

As mentioned, these spiders have eight eyes, which are arranged in a line around the spider’s head, kind of like Geordi LaForge’s visor. The two large ones on the front are flanked by two smaller ones that are also forward facing. The remaining two pairs are placed further back along the sides of the spider’s head (technically, this is the cephalothorax, which is a body unit that combines both the head and the thorax). The end result is that jumping spiders have peripheral vision that enables them to see all the way around their bodies. Sure wish I could do that!

Jumping spiders are diurnal, and you can likely find them near, or even in, your house. Look for them on sunny days hanging out on walls, fences or plants, where they will be hunting. When another spider or insect comes along, the jumping spider sizes it up. Most prey items are smaller than the spider, but the zebra jumper has been known to take down mosquitoes, which are up to two times its own size. Like a cat, these spiders slowly sneak up on their prey from behind and then pounce, immobilizing the meal with a quick bite. (Yes, they are venomous, as all spiders are, but their venom won’t hurt you, assuming they bit you, which they are highly unlikely to do since you are way too big for them to eat.)

Safety is always a priority, though, or it should be, and jumping spiders follow this rule, too. Before leaping after a potential prey item, a jumping spider will anchor itself to the surface on which it is standing. This is done by gluing a strand of silk to the surface. This is about the only time these spiders spin out silk, for they don’t build webs. (The other occasion which calls for silk-spinning is when the female makes her egg sac.) Now, should the spider miss its prey or tumble out into space, it is tethered to a solid object and need only climb back up its silken ladder to safety and a new attempt to catch some food.

Having spiders in our houses is really kind of nice, when you think about it, for they consume all the other insects that also live there. Don’t think you have insects in your house? Well, that could be because the spiders are doing their jobs. So the next time you see a spider in your house, think twice about killing it. Even evicting it isn’t a solution, for it will likely find its way back in. And, just in case you were wondering, most spiders found in your home are species that have evolved over thousands of years to live in human abodes. If you chuck them outside, they will just return, for su casa es mi casa is their motto. And really, for the services they render, they ask only for very little: a dark corner in which to set up housekeeping. It’s worth it in my book.

Photo: Zebra Jumper (Salticus scenicus). Photo by Olaf Leillinger for WikiCommons.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A NYC School Group Gets a Taste of the Wild

The group of students was heading to Lake George for a barbecue, and then rafting on the Hudson River. But before that, I had volunteered to take them caving near Albany.

It was the second year I would guide a group from this school. But these kids had never been in a cave before. Nor had they been to the Adirondacks.

They were a group of nine Orthodox high-school students from Brooklyn, led by a rabbi who was a friend of a friend. The boys were a combination street-tough wise guys and Yeshiva-trained scholars. Which meant they asked a lot of questions and they wanted the answer now.

When I met them at a local rock-climbing gym and introduced myself as their guide, the first one I met said: “About time. This place sucks.”

Not a patient crowd. But at least open-minded. When we arrived at the parking lot for the cave, they milled about, asking me questions: How wet would they get? How dark was it? Could they wear Crocs? Should they bring their cell phones? Should they wear a jacket?

And what about after the caving trip? Had I ever rafted the Hudson River before? Was it dangerous? Could they fall out of the boat? How deep was the water? I tried to keep up.

One kid pulled me aside: “Do we have to go through a deep section? How deep is it? I don’t want to go. Can I go a different way?”

Their comments continued as we began our descent, crawling through the entrance hole and tramping through ankle-deep running water. They turned to screams as they felt the cold water enter their shoes. “My feet are wet!” “Watch your head!” “My flashlight is broken!” “Hurry up!” “Wait up!”

Eventually, we reached the end of the passage, at a small underground pond. There Rabbi Fischer asked everyone to turn off their flashlights and be quiet. It took a while, for teen-age boys don’t like darkness and don’t like silence, and tend to fill it with light or noise.

Eventually, though, they settled down, and the rabbi spoke. “I want you to think about where we are,” he said, to the sound of dripping water. “I want you to think about the fact that we could only be here, in this amazing place, because we did this together, as a group. In September, we didn’t know each other, and today — I mean this sincerely — each one of you has a place in my heart.”

There was silence for a moment, and then one boy spoke up: “You guys are like family to me.”

They talked some more, and then it was time to go back to the van. Each boy shook my hand and thanked me for helping to give them such a great experience.

The rabbi took me aside. “The group you took last year? They talked about that caving trip for months. They still talk about it. This is something they’ll keep with them the rest of their lives.”

I thought about that, and the power of wilderness. The kids reacted to this new situation with the only tool that teen-age boys have — big talk, questions, audacity, brashness. They used loud talk to cover up their fear, but they did what was asked of them and came out smiling, if a little wet and muddy.

And tomorrow, when asked for the first time in their lives to step into a rubber raft and paddle down the Hudson River, they would probably be the same way. Perhaps their guide would be annoyed, or perhaps merely amused.

Either way, they would take a little taste of the wilderness back with them to the city, and keep it for the rest of their lives.



Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox