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.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Best Adirondack Books of 2009 Honored

Writers, editors, publishers, and book lovers gathered at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake last Sunday to hear the announcements of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s (ACW’s) annual Adirondack Literary Award winners.

The Adirondack Literary Awards celebrate and acknowledge the books that were written by Adirondack authors or published in the region in the previous year. All of the books submitted for consideration this year were on display, giving a visual sense of the scope of our Adirondack literary achievements, and many of the authors had signed copies of their books for sale.

This year’s winners were:

Best Book of Poetry: American Cool by George Drew (Tamarack Editions)

Best Children’s Book: Bug Boy by Eric Luper (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Best Memoir: American by Choice by Walter Kroner (Shires Press)

Best Book of Photography: The Adirondacks: In Celebration of the Seasons by Mark Bowie and Lake George by Carl Heilman (both published by North Country Books, who received special recognition from the judges for their books of photography).

The nonfiction category was divided into awards for collected works and general nonfiction. The award for collected works went to The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park, edited by William F. Porter, Jon d. Erickson and Ross S. Whaley and published by Syracuse University Press.

The award for best book of nonfiction went to Short Carries, Essays from Adirondack Life, Elizabeth Folwell (Adirondack Life, Inc) which also took home the People’s Choice Award, which is voted on by ACW members for the best book of the year, regardless of genre.

For the first time the nonfiction judges acknowledged a “sleeper of the year” award which went to Dog Hikes in the Adirondacks, edited by Annie Stoltie and Elisabeth Ward and published by Shaggy Dog Press.

Judges for the Adirondack Literary Awards were:

Nonfiction and memoir: Bibi Wein and Jerry McGovern

Fiction: Ellen Rocco and Joseph Bruchac (no fiction award was named this year, all entries will be considered next year)

Poetry: Stephanie Coyne-DeGhett and Maurice Kenny

Children’s Literature: Danielle Hoepfl and Nancy Beattie

For a complete list of the books considered this year, visit www.adirondackcenterforwriting.org.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Lake Placid Film Forum

Celebrating its 10th anniversary the Lake Placid Film Forum is showcasing women in the film industry, new directions in filmmaking and an environmental “green” focus in additional to its annual tribute to silent film.

Opening night on June 10th will be a bargain for families at $10 for two Buster Keaton movies and a foreign short “Salim Baba.” The Keaton films will show his career in reverse starting with the 1965 “Railrodder” with a Q&A with the film’s director Gerry Potterton then segue to the 1924 silent film “Sherlock Jr.”

Organist Jeff Barker will accompany “Sherlock Jr.” on the Palace Theatre’s 3/7 Robert-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ. The fully restored organ was originally installed in 1926 so only seems appropriate this 1926 gem will be in attendance to a 1924 classic.

We have been fortunate to see the Palace Theatre’s classically restored organ put to use. We watched the organist with as much enthusiasm as the film. He played without the benefit of sheet music; he just watched the screen, playing the score. It was magnificent to see the impact the live instrumental had on the film and the audience.

Though the Lake Placid Film Forum has a range of ratings, families can find plenty of reason to attend this cultural treat. All families can be entertained on Sunday, June 12 with the “Summer of Walter Hacks.” An older teen audience will garner insight to hardcore skaters through this Appalachian skate park film, “Skatopia: 88 Acres of Anarchy”.

A last minute addition for children ages 11 to 14 is an on-camera acting workshop conducted by Kevin Craig West. Held at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on June 12 from 9:00 a.m. – noon for a $40.00 fee. Interested parties should contact Lake Placid Film Forum Artistic Director Kathleen Carroll at 523-3456.

This year the Lake Placid Film Forum (July 10-13) will feature actor Parker Posey, well known independent film actor from numerous Christopher Guest films and other projects, as well as veteran actor Hal Holbrook. A range of filmmakers, producers and authors are scheduled through out the weekend for panel discussions and talk-backs.

In addition to the screenings, “Sleepless in Lake Placid” is back for the 4th year. This invitation only, 24-hour student film competition will pit students from RIT, Ithaca College, SUNY Purchase, Syracuse University and Burlington College against each other for the Robin Pell Emerging Filmmaker Award.

The film screenings will be taking place at a variety of Lake Placid venues. Film screening vouchers are $10 per show and available for purchase 45 minutes before show time. The scheduled “conversations” and panel discussions” are free and open to the public on a first come-first serve policy. Please call 518-523-3456 for more information.

photo used with permission from the Lake Placid Film Forum


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Let’s Eat: Adirondack Ginseng

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a perennial herb, once proliferated along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Alabama. It is similar to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and was one of the first herbs to be harvested and sold commercially. The name “ginseng” comes from the Chinese word “jen-shen” which means “in the image of a man,” a reference to the shape of the mature root, which resembles the human body.

Wild ginseng in China and Korea has been relatively rare for centuries, a result of over harvesting. It was discovered in central New York in 1751. By the late 18th century, Albany, New York had become a center of trade in ginseng. Most Adirondack ginseng was exported to China where it was (and is) used as a popular remedy.

By the middle of the 19th century, wild American ginseng was in danger of being eradicated by “shang” hunters, who dug up the brittle roots for sale to wholesale enterprises. Horticulture experts and private citizens alike experimented with cultivating the herb.

The September 5, 1906 issue of the Malone Farmer featured a front-page ad: “Wanted—People to grow Ginseng…Any one can do it and grow hundreds of dollars worth in the garden. Requires little ground.” F.B. Mills, of Rose Hill, NY, provided seeds and instructions (at cost) and a promise to buy the mature roots at $8.00 per pound.

Ginseng farming takes patience. It grows in cool, shady areas, in acidic soils such as are found in hardwood forests. The larger and older the root—which can live 100 years or more—the more it is worth. Ginseng is relatively easy to cultivate, but one must wait for the plants to mature over the course of 5-10 years before seeing a return on investment.

Nevertheless, by the turn of the 20th century, ginseng farming was common, and held the promise of great profit. The July 16, 1908 edition of the Fort Covington Sun ran a headline proclaiming “PUT GREAT FAITH IN GINSENG. Chinese Willing to Pay Fabulous Prices for Roots.” In 1904 a Plattsburgh paper reported that L.A. Childs of Chazy “will make an extensive exhibit of this product at the coming Clinton county fair, and this will be the first public exhibit of it ever made in Northern New York.” Three years later Miss Melissa Smith of St. Johnsville, “probably the only woman in America who grows ginseng for a living,” was reported to have roots valued at more than $10,000.

The actual medical benefits of ginseng have been disputed in Western medicine for centuries. The September 19, 1900 issue of the Malone Farmer expressed the opinion that “The ginseng trade is the most extraordinary in the world. American doctors believe it to be practically valueless as a medicine, or at the most about as potent as licorice.” Users claim it increases energy, prolongs life, and induces a feeling of wellbeing.

The Adirondack Museum’s permanent collection includes this ginseng root harvester, used in Franklin County during the late 19th century. Ginseng is never pulled from the ground. Whole, unbroken roots have the greatest value. This tool was used to dig the soil around the plant, some six inches away from the stem. Once the soil around the root was removed, the shang hunter could lift the root out and carefully brush away the dirt.

The market value of ginseng has risen and fallen over the centuries, but it remains an important forest crop. In 1977, the US Fish and Wildlife Service imposed restrictions on the sale of ginseng under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. New York State, as well as most states in the Northeast, tightly regulates the sale and harvest of ginseng. No wild ginseng may be harvested on state lands.

Photo: Ginseng Root Harvester Found in Tupper Lake, NY ca. 1850-1890. Courtesy the Adirondack Museum (2001.38.2).


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Art Galleries Surpass Bars in Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake has more art galleries than bars now, with the opening of the Upstairs Gallery, at 80 Main Street, and The Fringe, at 63 Main.

Peter Seward, of Lake Placid, in May opened Upstairs Gallery as a display space and painting studio; if he’s there working, it will be open. The Fringe is the creation of Saranac Lake High School art program graduates Jessica Jeffery (Class of 2001) and Eric Ackerson (Class of 2002). It features their work as well as that of other local artists.

There are now seven galleries in the village. The downtown anchor is the Adirondack Artists’ Guild, representing 14 regional artists at 52 Main, next to the local art supply store, Borealis Color. Tim Fortune’s Small Fortune Studio, and Georgeanne Gaffney’s studio, both displaying paintings, are up the street. Across the street the Blue Moon Café usually has an exhibit, as does the Cantwell Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, at 109 Main Street.

Also downtown, on Broadway, is Mark Kurtz’s Photography Studio. Farther down Broadway, just before the railroad tracks, make a right onto Cedar Street for Bluseed Studios, which hosts exhibits, concerts, workshops and classes.

Walkers can follow the tracks back to Union Depot, or drive to the depot (near Stewart’s) to visit 7444 Gallery. On the other side of town, Pendragon Theatre not only brings year-round drama to the Adirondacks but displays art in its lobby.

Third Thursday ArtWalks feature visual arts as well as performances all over town, 5–7:30 pm. There will be a Plein Air Festival in August, and the 4th annual Artist at Work Studio Tour the last weekend in September, including 17 studio locations inside Saranac Lake.

Check SaranacLakeArtWorks.com for a complete calendar of events.

Artwork by Jessica Jeffrey


Monday, June 7, 2010

Commentary: On Roads and DEC Conspiracies

I guess the conspiracy theorists were wrong.

When the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced it would not open the dirt roads in the Moose River Plains Recreation Area, some in the blogosphere suggested that DEC was using the state’s fiscal crisis as an excuse to cut off motorized access to the Plains. Supposedly, DEC was in cahoots with environmental groups.

Of course, DEC has since announced that it will open most of the roads after all. It agreed to do so after local communities offered to share in the expense of maintaining the roads.

I do find it curious, though, that the DEC will keep closed the Indian Lake Road, which forms the border between the Moose River Plains Wild Forest and the West Canada Lake Wilderness.

Several years ago, I attended a meeting at which DEC discussed a proposal to close this five-mile road permanently to motor vehicles. The rationale for the closure was that it would safeguard the West Canada Lake Wilderness against motorized incursions and the negative impacts of overuse along the border.

Interestingly, DEC argued that the closure would be a boon for floatplane operators as it would make Indian Lake, which is located at the end of the road, an attractive destination for their customers. As long as people can drive to the lake, it makes no sense to fly there.

I need to clarify that we’re not referring to the big Indian Lake associated with the hamlet of the same name. The Indian Lake in the Moose River Plains is an eighty-two-acre water body on the edge of the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area. It once held brook trout, but acid rain killed most of the fish. DEC’s intention is to restock it with trout once the lake’s pH improves.

I don’t know what became of DEC’s proposal, but it seems like a good idea. A few years ago, I visited Indian Lake during a four-day backpacking trip from Forestport to Lewey Lake. Indian is a beautiful, wild lake, but its shoreline has been damaged by overuse. By closing the road, DEC would be limiting use and keeping out most of the litterbugs. In time, Indian Lake would recover its pristine appearance.

Incidentally, the purpose of my backpacking trip was to trace part of the proposed route of the North Country National Scenic Trail. When finished, this trail will stretch 4,600 miles from North Dakota to Crown Point. The trudge along Indian Lake Road was the most boring part of my trek. This section of the Scenic Trail would be more appealing if it were allowed to revert to a motorless pathway.

No doubt some people would oppose closing Indian Lake Road. If you’re one of them, let us know your thoughts.

Whatever you think of the proposal, it shows that DEC recognizes that environmental groups are not its only constituency. In this instance, the department was looking out for the interests of floatplane operators—just as it did during the controversy over Lows Lake.

Yes, DEC listens to environmentalists, but it also listens to pilots, hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, business owners, and the list goes on. The department can’t please everyone all the time, least of all conspiracy theorists.

Photo of Indian Lake Road by Phil Brown.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Fort Ti: Ticonderoga’s 1950s 3-D Movie World Premiere

The terms “North Country” and “world premiere” haven’t mingled very often, but May 8, 1953 was one notable exception. It all had to do with Fort Ti, but not the one we’re all familiar with. This was Fort Ti, the movie, and it was special for several reasons.

Since the earliest days of movie-making, film crews have used dozens of locations across the region, but this particular movie had a significant impact both locally and nationally. The fact that Ticonderoga hosted a world premiere is itself impressive. It carries added importance that the historic State Theatre hosted the event.

Ticonderoga’s Union Opera House had been a center of culture in the village for more than two decades, but when it burned in 1916, it was replaced with a theatre, The Playhouse. Culturally, the town didn’t miss a beat, as The Playhouse hosted violinists, pianists, lecturers, movies, bands, vaudeville shows, magicians, and myriad other performers for the next twenty years.

In 1937, owner Alfred Barton leased the building to a company that owned 140 theaters in the northeast. An intense remodeling ensued, and the changes were dramatic: a new domed ceiling; new lighting; drapes and curtains added to the stage; new plush carpeting; air conditioning; a large marquee sign; capacity expanded to 800; and newly upholstered and roomy seating, staggered for easy viewing from any location.

A month later, the building reopened as the State Theatre, receiving glowing reviews from all, and calling to mind one word: magnificent. A variety of events were held there, but it was primarily a movie theater, and when the time came to select a site for the premiere of Fort Ti, the State Theater was the obvious choice.

This wasn’t just any movie. Though most modern reviewers still give it two stars out of four, Fort Ti was important for another reason. Television was a new and growing medium, and its effects were felt throughout the movie industry. People were staying home evenings to watch TV, and something new was needed to bring viewers back to the theaters. In the 1950s, 3-D movies were the solution.

Fox, MGM, Paramount, and Warner Brothers all rushed to produce movies in 3-D format. Columbia employed the Natural Vision System, the same technology used by a few of its competitors. Fort Ti was to be Columbia’s showcase offering, and movie attendees had to wear polarized glasses to enjoy the intended effect. One lens was red and the other blue, and in general, the idea was to merge two visual impressions into one. The result? Objects looked like they were jumping out from the screen, right at the viewer.

The launch at the State Theater was accompanied by a pageant portraying events surrounding the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen on May 10, 1755. The premiere date of May 8 was chosen for its proximity to that anniversary. Media from the entertainment world were on hand, including representatives from magazines, newspaper, and radio. (What, no TV?)

After all the hype, it was time to watch the movie. Was all this 3-D stuff for real? Fort Ti producer Sam Katzman and director William Castle certainly thought so. In an unusual move, Columbia had employed Katzman for the project, a man who LIFE magazine called “the only independent producer whose films—though all despised by critics—have never lost money.” It didn’t matter much that he was often known as a “schlock” producer: for forty years, he made money for the studios, and that was what counted.

Since Katzman was the producer, what better choice could there have been than William Castle as director? Here was a man who made a career out of movie gimmickry, and 3-D certainly looked like a gimmick. As usual, Castle made it work to great effect. Reviewer Donald Kirkley said after watching Fort Ti, “Many times moviegoers were observed to duck as things seemed to come their way, breaking through the screen barrier.”

Others referred to it as “the throwingest picture yet,” a reference to the many objects sent flying towards viewers. How was it done so effectively? In his autobiography, Castle later revealed some of his secrets: “Every evening I took a large pot and practiced throwing things into it: knives, forks, spoons … anything I could lay my hands on. My wife thought I was crazy, but my aim was becoming perfect.”

Castle was clearly pleased with the results, adding, “I attended the preview of Fort Ti. The audience, with glasses perched on their noses, ducked constantly. Tomahawks, balls of fire, arrows, and cannonballs seemed to fly out of the screen. Smiling, I said to my wife, ‘I’m not a director—I’m a great pitcher.’ ”

The movie is only rated average, but “unrated” components conferred cult status on it. Though Ticonderoga is nearly on the East Coast, Fort Ti is generally categorized as a Western. Some movie historians include it on their lists of the most important Western films of all time, not for the story, but for the new 3-D format and the effect it had on viewers.

For the record, the film included many Hollywood embellishments, and dealt with a story of Rogers Rangers, Jeffrey Amherst, and several other players, with a romance built in, and plenty of fighting action (offering ample opportunities for throwing things at the audience). George Montgomery played the leading role as Captain Jed Horn, while young Joan Vohs (a former Rockette) played his love interest, Fortune Mallory. One other participant was Ben Astar, said to be one of Israel’s top actors, and fluent in twelve languages.

Was Fort Ti the best 3-D movie ever made? Hard to say. Was Fort Ti the best movie ever made in Ticonderoga? Not even close. But that’s a story for another day.

Photo Above: Fort Ti movie poster.

Photo Below: A sample dual-image clip used to create the 3-D effect in Fort Ti.

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 7, 2010

APA: Moose River Plains, General Permits, Zoning Changes, Boathouse Definition

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. The June meeting will be one day only and will consider the creation of a Moose River Plains Intensive Use Camping Area, renewing four previously approved general permits on wetlands, communications towers, hunting and fishing cabins, and development rights, amendments to the Town of Hague, Bolton, and Westport local zoning programs, and revisions to the definition of “boathouse,” and easing the permitting process for businesses, among other topics. Meeting materials are available for download from the Agency’s website.

The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 for Executive Director Terry Martino’s report which will include a resolution recognizing the contributions of long serving past Agency Board Member, James T. Townsend.

At 9:30 a.m., The State Lands Committee will hear a second reading for the Jay Mountain Wilderness and the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area Unit Management Plans. These plans are actionable items; however, the Board will not act on the fire tower proposal included in the Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area at this time.

APA staff will request authorization from the Board to proceed to public hearing on reclassification proposals for state land in Herkimer and Hamilton Counties including a proposal to create a 2,925 acre Moose River Plains Intensive Use Camping Area. The committee will also hear an informational presentation from DEC staff on the working draft for the Moose River Plains Unit Management Plan. Public review of the draft Unit Management Plan will be conducted jointly between DEC and APA as part of a coordinated SEQR review process on both the Unit Plan and the reclassification proposals.

At 11:15, the Regulatory Programs Committee will consider renewing four previously approved general permits which are set to expire on August 12, 2010. The general permits include:

2005G-2 Minor Projects Not In or Impacting Wetlands

2005G-3 Replacement of or Installation of Certain New Telecommunications Antennas on Existing Towers or Other Tall Structures

2005G-4 Hunting and Fishing Cabins Greater Than 500 Square Feet in a Resource Management Area

2005G-5 Subdivision to Convey Two or More Lots Without Principal Building Rights

The Committee will then hear a first reading for a new draft general permit which, if authorized, would expedite APA approval for a change in use in existing commercial, public/semi-public and industrial structures. This proposed general permit is the latest in ongoing efforts by the APA to improve administrative efficiency.

At 1:00, the Local Government Services Committee will consider approving proposed amendments to the Town of Hague and the Town of Bolton’s approved local land use programs. Agency staff will then provide the committee with an overview on local land use controls inside the Adirondack Park.

At 1:45, the Park Policy and Planning Committee will hear a first reading on the Draft Memorandum of Understanding for APA’s review process of DEC projects on State Easement Lands inside the Adirondack Park. The MOU defines working relationships, provides guidelines for outlining new land use and development subject to Agency review and establishes review protocols for future DEC projects proposed on lands with State-owned conservation easements.

Following this discussion, the Committee will determine approvability for a proposed map amendment in the Town of Westport, Essex County.

At 3:00, the Legal Affairs Committee will meet to discuss and act on regulatory revisions for the definition of “boathouses”. The proposed definition is available as a pdf.

At 4:00, the Full Agency will convene to take action as necessary and conclude with committee reports, public and member comment.

The next Agency meeting is July 8-9 2010 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.

August Agency Meeting: August 12-13 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

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