Thursday, November 5, 2009

In Paul Smiths: Owls Of An Adirondack Winter

With a full, November “beaver” moon overhead we plodded along on the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center trails. The crisp leaves of maple, birch, and beech that crunch underfoot seamlessly drowned out all sounds. We need to periodically stop and listen. I give a hooting call mimicking our native Barred Owl. Nothing on this first try. We walk through the woods some more, onto the other trail. “I heard something that time!” one of our listeners calls out. Just a distant dog barking. I move us farther down the trail to my lucky spot. Lucky because this is where I always find the owl we seek tonight.

Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-allll is what my hoot sounds like as it echos off the frosty forest that is as still as the inside of a church. The bright moonlight allows for somewhat easier watching of the silhouetted trees as we look up at them after every hoot is given. Finally a response. But it’s not the normal barred owl call that I expect. It’s higher in pitch and squeaky. I run through the archives of owl calls in my head but nothing clicks. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nate Pelton, Almanack’s Guest Adirondack Music Contributor

Our regular Adirondack Music Scene contributor Shamim Allen is over in Europe for the next six weeks, so North Creek’s Nate Pelton has graciously accepted the role of guest contributor while Shamim’s gone. I’ve been trying to get Nate to contribute for some time – he knows the music scene in the southern and eastern Adirondacks well, and would be an outstanding addition to our music coverage here at the Almanack, which tends to focus on the northern and western parts of the region. It’s my hope, this short foray into the world of the Almanack will become a permanent feature, but we’ll have to wait and see. Like most of us around these parts, Nate has a lot of irons in the fire.

After more than ten years as a raft guide and manager at Hudson River Rafting Company, Nate and his wife established the North Creek Rafting Company in 2006. During the “other” North Creek season, Nate is a trail groomer at Gore Mountain and runs the North Creek Tuning Shop. Nate also does web design and development as Grateful Design, and is the man behind ADK Music Event Production. Nate has been handling the arrangements for North Creek’s Music by the River concert series.

Nate has dabbled in a variety of music styles. He says the first concert he can remember attending was Michael Jackson’s 1988 Bad tour with parents and sister. Nate has since seen such legendary bands as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Supertramp, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John. He’s seen about 40 Grateful Dead shows in the early 1990s, and also wouldn’t miss a chance to see South Catherine Street Jug Band, Donna the Buffalo, or Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.

Please join me in welcoming Nate.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wild Clematis of the Adirondacks

Any stroll along a damp patch of land, be it river or stream, canal or marsh, is bound to yield discoveries to delight the senses of any curious person. One of my favorite finds, and one that is gloriously obvious at this time of year, is Old Man’s Beard, or Wild Clematis (Clamatis virginiana).

Perhaps this fluffy tufted plant has a warm place in my heart because it was one of the first plants I learned as a naturalist intern fresh out of college. Or maybe it’s because the seedhead resembles, in miniature, a Truffula Tree. A Truffula Tree? Could it be that you don’t know about Truffula Trees? Horrors! Should your literary knowledge be lacking in this respect, then you must immediately get to a library and read a copy of Dr. Seuss’s classic book The Lorax. To quote but one passage: “Those trees! Those Truffula Trees! All my life I’d been searching for trees such as these. The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Those in the know will probably nod their heads sagely, immediately seeing the similarity between the feathery grey-white seedheads of the wild clematis and the puffy, colorful tufts of Seuss’s fictional trees.

Wild clematis, also known as Virgin’s Bower and Devil’s Darning Needles (among many other names in a rather long list), is one of our native vines. While I never saw it while growing up, I find it is quite common up here in the North Country, where it clambers and sprawls over trees and shrubs along many of our waterways. I’ve encountered it along roadsides while strolling with the dog, and I’ve paddled wetlands where it looked like it was choking out all the other vegetation as it groped its way heavenwards reaching for the sun.

To the novice, and when not in bloom or holding forth its seedheads, wild clematis looks a lot like poison ivy. It’s the leaves. Like poison ivy, it has three leaflets making up each leaf, and they are a bit on the toothy side. Unlike poison ivy, however, wild clematis leaves are opposite: they are arranged in pairs as you look at the stem of the vine. Poison ivy leaves alternate up the vine: left, right, left, right, left, etc.

If you encounter wild clematis in bloom, you will likely be surprised to learn that it has essentially no petals. What nonsense, you might say, as you point to the four white “petals” that surround each bloom. Sadly, you are mistaken, for like bunchberry and poinsettias, these are the sepals, not petals, of the flower. Sepals are modified leaves, usually green and seen at the base of flowers (picture a rose, for example). Some flowers, like the aforementioned bunchberry, poinsettia and clematis, have colored sepals (red, white, pink) that look to the average Joe like petals. It may be only a technical thing, but it’s always nice to have your terminology correct.

I have frankly never noticed the flowers of the wild clematis. I’ve seen photographs that show the vines so loaded with blooms that you’d have to be practically blind to miss them, and based on the number of seedheads I see in the fall, it seems that my vision must indeed be turned inwards when I walk by the vines between July and September when they bloom. Nope, I rarely see the plants until fall, when the wispy, feathery seed tufts appear. And when the sunlight of early morning or late afternoon strikes the tufts and lights them up with a blinding glow, my mind clambers “Those seeds! Those clematis seeds! All my life I’d been searching for seeds such as these.”

While contemplating this article, I searched high and low for interesting tidbits and morsels of folklore that would tantalize even the most laidback of readers, but to no avail. How is it possible that such a visually fascinating plant, which climbs its neighbors by wrapping its leafstalks around them, has no “background color” for the eager nature-writer? The only thing I could find was the warning that the plant is toxic. It contains glycosides, which can cause a severe irritation to the skin (it is in the buttercup family, after all, and this is a trait of most, if not all, buttercups). Even so, many native peoples did use the plant for assorted medicines and ceremonial functions.

Like many native plants, wild clematis has beneficiaries among the local wildlife. Because it blooms late in the season, its blossoms are welcome food sources for many critters, including hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Bees also find it a good source of late season pollen.

Now that November is here, and our world has turned from the fires of autumn to the greys that presage winter, we can find some solace in the whimsical seeds of clematis, especially in the low slanting light of early morning or late afternoon. If the sun is out and you find your spirits in need of a lift, seek out these plants at the ends of the day, and I guarantee that you will find yourself smiling.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Adirondack Ski Resorts: What To Expect Around The Region

Downhill skiing and riding in the Adirondacks could begin as early as November 27 at both Whiteface and Gore mountains, if freezing conditions allow for making snow this month. But the biggest news in snow sports this winter is the return of two long dormant ski areas (reported here at the Almanack last month), Hickory Ski Center and Big Tupper.

Hickory Ski Center, a 1,200-foot resort for expert skiers outside Warrensburg, will reopen this winter for the first time in four years. The legendary Adirondack slope has only a dozen trails, mostly black diamond, and a T-bar and two Poma lifts (famous for breaking down regularly). But the sixty-year-old resort is beloved by hundreds of hard-core skiers. Last year, William Van Pelt, a Saratoga native who now lives in Houston, decided to invest in the property. He’s added some snowmaking and plans to add grooming. Visitors can expect the usual old-fashioned atmosphere of a tiny resort, combined with a few nods to the 21st Century – such as WiFi in the homey base lodge, and a $45 lift ticket.

Meanwhile, in Tupper Lake efforts are under way to open the long-dormant Big Tupper Ski Area. The resort, with about 30 trails and more than a thousand feet of vertical, closed around a decade ago. More recently, developers included the resort in the massive Adirondack Club and Resort, a plan for 600 high-end vacation homes and a hotel. But with the controversial project held up in the permitting process, some locals under the name ARISE, or Area Residents Intent on Saving their Economy, pushed to open at least part of the ski resort on their own this year. According to the web site, lift tickets will be a mind-blowing $15, although that’s subject to change. Plans are to open the resort Dec. 26 on Friday-Sunday as natural snow permits.

Further to the south, McCauley Mountain in Old Forge plans to open on December 12th and another troubled ski resort, Oak Mountain in Speculator, will open the day after Christmas (though tubing begins a month earlier). Oak Mountain, run by the Germain family for five decades, was taken over by the village three years ago. Now owned by the local Industrial Development Agency, the resort is staffed mostly by volunteers. The IDA still hopes to sell it to a private operator – asking price two years ago was $2.4 million. It’s a terrible market now, admits Mayor Neil McGovern. “But a tremendous value.”

Adirondack Ski Resort Details:

Gore Mountain, North Creek
Phone: 518-251-2411
Cost for adult: $71 weekend/$64 weekday
Vertical drop: 2,300 feet
Trails: 82

Best deal: Coke Wednesdays ($38 lift ticket with a can).

What’s new: Gore’s Burnt Ridge opened last year to mixed reviews (their chairlift can be awfully windy and the base lodge access trail is rather flat and tough for snowboarders) — but new terrain is always welcome. This year, the mountain has expanded its Cirque Glade trail and will be running a shuttle bus from the North Creek Ski Bowl to the resort (which means adventurous skiers can ski from the Gore summit all the way down to the bowl, and then catch a ride back). It’s a prequel to an interconnect between the two areas that should be open next winter, and which will vastly increase Gore’s vertical drop.

“Whiteface Mountain”, Wilmington
Phone: (877) SKI-FACE
Cost: $74/ $74 ($79 on holidays)
Vertical drop: 3,200 feet
Trails: 80

Best deal: Same as Gore, plus $35 Sundays on Dec. 13, Jan. 10, Feb. 7, March 14 and April 4.

What’s new: Lookout Mountain, open for the second year this winter, will have a new glades area. Look for the National Alpine Championships, here for the first time sine 2003, from March 20 to 23, with men’s and women’s slalom, giant slalom and super G competition.

McCauley Mountain, Old Forge
Phone: (315) 369-3225
Vertical drop: 633 feet (count ‘em)
Trails: 21

Best deal: $8 lift tickets on Friday, except holiday periods.

Oak Mountain, Speculator
Phone: 518-548-3606
Cost: $28
Vertical drop: 600 feet
Trails: about a dozen

Best deal: what, $28 for a lift ticket isn’t good enough?

What’s new: they’re still open.

Hickory Ski Area, Warrensburg
Phone: 518-623-5754
Cost: $45 (open weekends only)
Vertical drop: 1,200
Trails: A dozen, nearly all hard

Best deal: If it snows on a weekday, you’ve got fresh powder on Saturday.

What’s new: Open again after four years!

Big Tupper Ski Area, Tupper Lake
Cost: $15!!
Vertical drop: 700 feet will be available this year
Trails: 30, but not all of the mountain will be skiable this year

Best deal: at $15 per ticket (or $400 for a season pass for the whole family) this could be the cheapest ski deal in the Northeast.

What’s new: Open again after a decade, albeit with only one lift. Wish them luck.

Royal Mountain, Caroga Lake
Phone: 518-835-6445
Cost: $350/season, $35/day
Vertical drop: 500 feet
Trails: 13 served by three lifts, including expert-only glades

What’s new: Three-year, $400,000 upgrade of snowmaking and grooming is now complete.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Almanack Welcomes New Contributor Alan Wechsler

I’m pleased to announce the addition of Alan Wechsler to the Adirondack Almanack. Alan will be covering the outdoor recreation beat and his regular posts will run on Wednesdays at noon. Alan has been coming to the Adirondacks since his uncle took him on his first backpacking trip—with wet snow, followed by temperatures down to zero degrees—at age 15. He says he still hasn’t learned his lesson.

Today, his frequent adventures into the park include mountain-biking, skiing (cross-country and downhill), hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and climbing (both rock and ice). A long-time newspaper reporter and avid outdoor photographer, he also writes for a number of regional and national magazines about the outdoors and other issues. Alan’s recent piece for Adirondack Life, Ski to Die, is an International Regional Magazine Association first-place feature-writing winner.

Got an Adirondack outdoor recreation story idea? Contact him at alwechs at juno dot com.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 7: Hoffman Concedes

Doug Hoffman conceded at 12:10 a.m., thanking “every single person out there who joined my team and fought for America. This was the biggest hill I’ve ever faced, and I’m a 46er, so I’ve faced plenty of them.”

The crowd at the Hotel Saranac had thinned but was enthusiastic, especially when the Conservative talked about an unlikely campaign that grew into a phenomenon. They cheered lines like, “We have to remember that a government that serves us everything takes away our freedoms.”

“We gotta fight back!’” members of the audience yelled. And they might, in a year, but Hoffman did not get into that tonight.

Hoffman said he called to congratulate Congressman Elect Bill Owens, who will be the first non-Republican to represent the district since the 1850s, and offered to help him to bring jobs to the area. “Let’s work with him together, but let’s make sure we get the message out there: we can’t spend money we don’t have.”

He closed with, “You don’t have to be polished, you don’t have to be poised, you don’t have to be a rock star to be a politician, so let’s all step up to the plate.”


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 6


11:00. High hopes of Hoffman supporters have been eroding all evening. Campaign spokesman Rob Ryan has had to alter his vision from sprint to marathon, as the campaigns prepare to unleash the lawyers.

There is much talk about absentee ballots. Campaign staff say they might have to spend the night at Hotel Saranac and get results tomorrow, if then. Hangers on wait for an appearance by Doug Hoffman that they expect will be neither concession nor victory speech.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 5


9:30. Fox News talent waiting to go live.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 4


Hotel Saranac. Hoffman HQ. TV outlets have been jockeying for preferred tripod positions on the press platform all afternoon. By 7:30 all the good spots are claimed.

. . . At 10:19 p.m. all those here who had said the race would be declared by 10 watch the TV quietly as Owens leads slightly in early returns. The candidate made a brief appearance in the lobby at 9:35, after a live interview with Sean Hannity, then went back to a room upstairs.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 3


Lunchtime. In an act of symbolic aggression, Democrat Bill Owens orders tea in the backyard of Conservative Doug Hoffman.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad 2


Noon. Main Street. One of Saranac Lake’s endearing and enduring traditions is the Election Day bake sale benefit for St. Bernard’s Elementary School. Scheduled to run until two o’clock, the sale closed about an hour and a half early this year, perhaps having been eaten out of business by the hoard of national reporters and photographers covering congressional candidate Bill Owens’ lunchtime visit just up the street.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adirondack Youth Summit’s Zachary Berger

Zachary Berger takes a few moments to answer additional questions regarding his involvement in the first annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.

Q: When you attended the Adirondack Climate Conference, held at The Wild Center, in November 2008, what inspired you to initiate an Adirondack Youth Climate Summit?

ZB: Last November’s conference was truly a success. I was very honored to have the opportunity to attend it, but I felt it was under represented by young adults. At this conference there were over 175 community leaders, business owners, and others, all with a concern for the environment, but there were only about 10 students, representing only one university, and one high school. From my point of view this under representation led to things being overlooked such as the lack of environmental education in public schools and the opportunity that schools have to set a model for their communities. The other students who attended the conference and I wanted to have our voices heard so we talked to Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at The Wild Center, and the planning process began.

Q: Though from Lake Placid you are now a freshman at RIT. Will you be attending this conference and if so what role will you take in this summit? If not, will you be attending the live stream and have you organized a group at your school to attend? What have you learned from this yearlong process and wish to pass along to others?

ZB: Yes, I will be attending the conference! I wouldn’t miss it for my life. Over the past year I have been part of the amazing team of people who worked endless hours putting this conference together. I will be at The Wild Center over the weekend doing last minute preparations, and during the conference I will be volunteering to keep things moving as planned.

If there was one thing I could tell others it would be: If you want to be successful in planning an event like this, find people with the same motivation and drive that you have. Having people to work with such as Jen Kretser from the Wild Center, and Mrs. Tammy Morgan from Lake Placid High School, really made this whole event come together.

Q: Why is it important for youth to have a voice on climate change?

ZB: Youth play a vital role in confronting climate change. We are investing years of our lives into our education, and will be entering the workforce very soon. Youth need to know the consequences of continuing to be carelessly affluent, what we can do both in our personal lives, and in our work lives to be more environmentally responsible. This summit will help students expand their knowledge on climate change while helping create carbon reduction plans for their schools.

Q: What is your own carbon reduction plan? What would you recommend for other young people that may inspire them to make a difference or to get involved in climate change?

ZB: Living at RIT has helped me to continue in reducing my personal carbon footprint. RIT provides every room with recycling bins for every room for electronics, plastic, paper, and cardboard. It is calculated that RIT’s recycling rate is over 70%. RIT also provides public transportation from campus into the city. Also, RIT is developing a new, web-based, rideshare website which helps those looking for rides and those who are willing to provide rides coordinate their schedules.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: First Adirondack Youth Climate Summit

Registration for the 2009 Youth Climate is closed but schools, universities, parents and children can follow the two-day event via a live stream. Conceived by then 17-year-old Zachary Berger of Lake Placid after attending the Adirondack Climate Conference last year, this year’s summit illustrates to all young people that their opinions and ideas can make a difference.

After much anticipation the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit will be held November 9th and 10th at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. The 24 attending high schools and colleges will each send a team of students, educators, administrators and facilities staff to develop a feasible carbon reduction plan that decreases energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to bring back to their schools and communities.

Zachary Berger, inspired by the Adirondack Climate Conference held at The Wild Center in 2008, contacted conference planners to organize a similar gathering exploring climate change and its effect on the Adirondacks for the youth of the region. In early 2009, a steering committee, comprised of students, educators and The Wild Center staff, formed to bring Zach’s vision to fruition.

Berger says, “At the [Adirondack Climate] Conference there were over 175 community leaders, business owners, and others, all with a concern for the environment, but there were only about 10 students, representing only one university, and one high school. From my point of view this under representation led to things being overlooked such as the lack of environmental education in public schools.”

The Youth Climate Summit’s goal is multilevel, according to ADKCAP (Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan). The Summit will hold educational plenary sessions where research-based information will be presented about the economic and ecological effects of climate change. Participants will learn strategies to address climate change in the Adirondacks and how, when applied, communities will benefit monetarily.

Workshops are scheduled throughout the two-day event pairing students with experienced personnel to develop training skills to inspire participants to engage others to “green their schools and communities.” Through hands-on activities members will learn team-building skills in the hopes to engage classmates and coworkers in a grassroots effort to make their schools energy-efficient. During this process teams will develop a carbon and cost reduction plan to bring back to each school.

The following high schools and colleges are attending this inaugural year: Chateaugay Central School, Clifton-Fine Central School, Colton-Pierrepont Central School, Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, Green Tech Charter High School, Heuvelton Central School, Keene Central School, Lake Placid High School, Madrid-Waddington Central School, Minerva Central School, Moriah Central School, Morristown Central School, Newcomb Central School, Northville Central School, Ogdensburg Free Academy, Plattsburgh High School, Potsdam High School, Saranac Lake Central School, St. Regis Falls, Tupper Lake Central School, Clarkson University, Colgate University, North Country Community College, Paul Smiths College, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Potsdam.

These institutions will serve as models in energy efficiency, sustainable energy usage, building maintenance, landscaping & grounds management, school & community garden planning, and how to affect the current science curriculum in schools. (The Summit is aligned with NYS Commencement Level MST Standards.)

The Adirondack Youth Climate Summits are scheduled through 2011 to monitor the success of each climate action plan. There will also be the opportunity for those Adirondack schools that watch the live web stream to participate in future summits. The complete schedule information is available here.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day Sketchpad

Check in throughout the day for scenes from NY-23 in Saranac Lake.

On what was supposed to be a sleepy off-year election day, many counties across upstate New York’s 23rd congressional district rolled out new optical scan voting machines. A considerable departure from the old gray crank and ratchet machines that looked like something some glacier deposited in the town hall countless millennia ago, the new models are squat, lusterless black, cyclopsed affairs that look like the dog that ate your homework in second grade. Like that dog, these don’t appear to give receipts either, according to the poll watchers.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day in the North Country

And the focus of the national media focuses on the mythic character of the region. . .