Thursday, December 20, 2007

WAMC Withdraws FCC Application

The Times Union business blog, The Buzz, is reporting that WAMC has withdrawn it’s FCC application and ended its attempt to take over NCPR’s 91.7 Lake Placid frequency.

WAMC and North County Public Radio today said they have negotiated an agreement that should help keep NCPR on the 91.7 frequency in Lake Placid…

Under the agreement announced today, North Country’s existing translator license would be transferred to WAMC, which will run it at a different frequency. But that can only happen if the FCC awards the station to North Country rather than Northeast Gospel Radio…

“The agreement (announced today) is a win-win for both stations,” said North Country station manager Ellen Rocco in a written statement. “The simple action of withdrawing this application demonstrates responsiveness and leadership on the part of WAMC and provides the best outcome for both stations.”

Congratulations NCPR and good luck getting the full FCC approval over a Rensselaer County religious broadcaster.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Imperialist Radio Follow-Up

Here is an update on the ongoing attempt by WAMC (an Albany NPR Station) to take over North Country Public Radio’s frequency in Lake Placid which the Adirondack Almanack blogged about over the weekend.

There will be two community forums this Thursday:

Saranac Lake at 3:30 (Adirondack Artists Guild)

Lake Placid at 5:30 (Adirondack Community Church)

This morning there was an on air Question and Answer session – you can listen to the audio here.

NCPR’s website on the conflict now also includes a link to provide NCPR with your e-mail address in order for them to contact you if and when they need more and/or louder voices.

Dale Hobson, NCPR’s tech guy who blogs at Brain Clouds reports in a post on Monday that the station is being very careful how they cover the story (WAMC isn’t covering it at all):

The news was first aired in the region this morning on Saranac Lake station WNBZ, in a feature story by Chris Knight who, in addition to his duties at WNBZ, is a frequent freelance reporter for NCPR on Adirondack issues. While NCPR is committed to retaining the frequency on which it has served Lake Placid for over twenty years, we needed to find a way to cover the story in a fair and balanced way that would place the public interest ahead of the institutional interests of the station. Toward that end, the station manager and the news director sought advice from the Poynter Institute, an organization that provides training in journalistic ethics. They recommended that we use an outside editor with no connection to either of the parties to the dispute to oversee NCPR’s coverage. Suzanna Capelouto, news director of Georgia Public Broadcasting, agreed to fill that role. The reporting by Chris Knight that you will hear on NCPR tonight and tomorrow was edited by her.

An Albany Business Review story picked up by the Boston Business Journal noted that NCPR is not alone in being bullied by WAMC – apparently Vermont Public Radio (VPR) is also being driven from a frequency in its own region. All total WAMC is trying to supplant locally originated radio in eight communities:

The eight communities are Brewster; Cooperstown; Lake Placid; Norwich and Stamford in New York; Vergennes, Vt.; Manchester, Conn., and West Swanzey, N.H. There are rivals for all but the Stamford and West Swanzey frequencies.

WAMC will face its toughest battle in Vergennes. St. Lawrence also wants to serve that city, as do Vermont Public Radio and a company called Wilbur Gospel Communications.

[Alan] Chartock said the FCC will award licenses to the applicant whose signal would reach the most people, based on such factors as the location and height of the proposed tower.

“So it comes down to whose engineer did the best job,” he said. “This will take months or even years to work out.”

Apparently, according to Chartock, that’s good enough for us – it’s a single engineer who gets to decide whether we have a locally originated station or we get homogenized radio.

WAMC’s Wikipedia page notes that the current conflict is part of an ongoing assult on local radio stations:

Though the original expansion of the WAMC network starting in the mid 1980s was done to serve areas that had previously lacked NPR service, many of the station’s expansions since then have been into areas that either had service from a WAMC signal or where an established NPR network was already on the air. Two examples of this were WAMC’s purchase of WAMQ (then WBBS), a signal whose coverage area is near enveloped by other WAMC signals, and in 1992 WAMC outbid SUNY Plattsburgh for the then-WCFE-FM in 1995 to serve an area with two established NPR stations.

A number of local bloggers have stepped up with their own comments including Adirondack Musing whose post title WAMC – The North Country Doesn’t Need You, pretty much says it all.

Brian over at MoFYC calls the whole affair a “terrible decision by WAMC.” He also takes the Albany station to task for their existing deeper problem in attempting to cover such an enormous area with such disparate interests:

WAMC’s news coverage is decent but cursory. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. This isn’t surprising because WAMC’s gargantuan coverage area means it must provide local news for people in central and southern Vermont, the Berkshires (western Massachussetts), northern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley (southeastern NY), the Mohawk Valley (Central NY) and New York’s Capital District.. WAMC also reports on state politics for those four states.

By contrast, NCPR is focused almost exclusively on the region in and around the Adirondacks. The station often runs stories that are 5-9 minutes in length and thus offer significantly more depth than WAMC’s typically brief pieces.

WAMC almost never reports on issues in Glens Falls or the Adirondacks, simply because there’s not enough time. NCPR had extensive coverage of the 2001 Finch Pruyn strike in Glens Falls, even though the station’s main headquarters is three times more distant than WAMC’s.

There’s a lot more to what Brian has to say (including a follow-up to his original post) but he concludes with:

I used to be a member of WAMC but am not anymore. I simply found that WAMC just didn’t cover news stories that were relevant to my community or nearby ones. When NCPR added transmitters in Glens Falls and Lake George, I found a station that did. I now send money to Canton.

And frankly I’m glad I’m not a member of WAMC anymore. I wouldn’t want my membership monies to making the media less local and more homogeneous.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise called it “dirty pool” and said:

Chartock suggested that NCPR just move to a different frequency so both stations can serve Lake Placid. That’s like demanding someone’s house and suggesting they camp out in the woods out back. Sure, we’d like to have the option of listening to WAMC, but not at a better, more local station’s expense.

We hope the FCC recognizes this injustice and puts a stop to it.

So do we.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Imperialist Radio: A Hostile Takeover of NCPR?

By now you may have heard. Albany based WAMC is attempting to take over North Country Public Radio’s 91.7 fm frequency in Lake Placid. The whole thing stems from the exceedingly rare decision according to NCPR’s page on the subject (apparently WAMC could care less about answering questions we in the Adirondacks might have about the situation – they have nothing about it on their page):

After 10 years of refusing to accept new applications for transmitters in the non-commercial section of the FM radio band, the FCC opened a brief ‘window’ in October.

WAMC applied for a the frequency that is being used by NCPR. You should also know that there are no other full-power frequencies available in Lake Placid,there may not be another opportunity for another frequency for years to come, if ever, and NCPR has been serving this community for a long, long time:

NCPR has used a translator (a low power transmitter) in Lake Placid for 20 years. Translators are NOT protected by the FCC under the rules of the current application period. Therefore, we applied for a full-power transmitter at the same frequency we’ve used for two decades, 91.7 FM.

It is Imperialist Radio, plain and simple, and here’s why:

WAMC does not cover the Adirondacks in any significant way. Go to their webpage and search for Adirondacks – you’ll find nothing about the important issues that face the Adirondacks – their coverage is limited to the “big” southern oriented stories – nearly all based on press releases from politicians and advocacy groups. Have they seriously covered North Creek’s recent boom and bust in development? How about border issues? How about Potsdam food-coop story? The recent property tax decision? How about the increasingly vibrant blogging community? Local elections? NCPR is an important part of the Adirondacks – does “NCPR” ever show up on their webpage? No. Does “WAMC” ever show up on NCPR’s – sure does.

WAMC has hundreds of thousands of people of color in their backyard and yet not a single program oriented to their community needs. Until WAMC hires some people of color (or even offers relevant programming) to cover the neighborhoods (some of which are literally a block or two away from the offices) they have no business marketing to the wealthy in Lake Placid. It’s no accident that WAMC broadcast outside it’s natural environmental and cultural region into the wealthy lower Hudson Valley and the Berkshires – now they want the wealthiest community in the Adirondacks too. Look at their supposed coverage area – do they really think they can serve Worcester, MA, Sussex, NJ and Lake Placid equally?

WAMC is obviously attempting to take the economic resources from our region to their offices in Albany without returning services to our community. In fact, they will be reducing local news coverage in Lake Placid. They’ve already done this in Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga. Search for Ticonderoga on the WAMC website – in all of 2007 they’ve reported just twice about Ticonderoga -both stories about International Paper. Take a look at their events calendar – not a single event in either Plattsburgh or Ticonderoga, or anywhere in the Adirondacks for that matter. Now take a look at NCPR’s events calendar.

What should we do? Here is what NCPR says we should do:

We know that NCPR listeners are concerned about this conflict and want to help the station. We appreciate your support and encouragement. At this time, the best thing for you to do is stay informed about the issue–read the information provided here and follow the story as it develops. Share accurate information with others you know.

Here is what I think we should do:

1 – Be informed and inform others. Write about this issue: blog about it, write to local newspapers and media outlets.

2 – Contact WAMC (if you can, they only have one all-encompassing e-mail) and tell them that you know what they’re doing and it’s wrong – plain and simple. Tell them that you value NCPR and do not want WAMC to damage your LOCAL NPR station. Ask them to withdraw their attempt to take over NCPR’s frequency in Lake Placid.

3 – If you have a business from the Mohawk River to the Canadian border, or from the Vermont line to the St. Lawrence / Great Lakes and you advertise with WAMC – contact Dona Frank at 518-465-5233 ext. 167 and ask her to pull your advertisements and start supporting your local NPR station instead. Remember to tell WAMC why.

4 – If you live in the NCPR region now is the time to send some support their way – advertise your business by becoming an underwriter or become a member of the station.

5 – Leave a comment here to let NCPR know that you’re thinking about them and wishing them well. When your supposed allies turn on you, hearing form your friends and community makes a difference.

6 – Begin advocating for the removal of Alan Chartock as head of WAMC. He’s been unaccountable for far too long.

Good luck NCPR and let us know when and if there is anything we can do to support our best local radio station.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Adirondack Hacks

Randomly organized links to ideas for making life in the Adirondacks just a little bit easier – technology tools and tips, do-it-yourself projects, and anything else that offers a more interesting, more convenient, or healthier way of life in our region.

Learn to Identify Wood

Get Grandpa’s FBI File

10 Anti-Phishing Firefox Extensions

How To Take Great Group Photos

10 Ways To Entertain Kids For $1 Or Less

Adirondack Hacks is an occasional feature of Adirondack Almanack. Take a look at our Adirondack Hacks archive here.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Election 2007: Adirondack Style

November 2007 Adirondack Region Election Races and Questions:

A nice overview of the regions elections from North Country Public Radio

Clinton, Essex, and Franklin county races and returns via the Plattsburgh Press Republican.

Washington, Warren, and Saratoga county returns via Capital News 9

St. Lawrence County Election Results via the Board of Elections.
Polling Places:

Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Essex, Hamilton counties via GF Post Star.

Clinton, Franklin, and Essex County via Plattsburgh Press Republican.

Danger Democrat has picks for Jefferson County.

Adirondack Musing has the best details and links about today’s referendum:

Residents of Raquette Lake want to trade 12 acres of forest for 1 acre of state-owned “forever wild” land where they will build their badly needed village water supply. This proposal has the support of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise as well as the NY Times. I doubt that many residents of the Adirondacks have much problem with voting yes as well. Even the environmentalist should be happy because NY State will gain an extra 11 acres of park property.

So voters of NY State please vote YES on Tuesday Nov. 6th, to give Raquette Lake residents a clean water supply.

Brian concurs and adds an important piece of commentary on our election process –
How to increase voter turnout? More choices!

Here is a further round-up of some of the best regional political blogs (with election picks):

Danger Democrat
Upstate Blue

All of Adirondack Almanack’s Political posts are here.

They include the Working Families Party’s local endorsements.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Step It Up’s Saturday Glens Falls Events

Tommorrow, Saturday, Novemeber 3rd, local citizens concerned with doing something about global climate change will be attending a series of Step It Up events at the Farmer’s Market, City Park, Wood Theater, and other local Glens Falls spots to raise public awareness. A complete list of events in our area can be found here.

EVENT SCHEDULE

10:00 am Bike, Walk, Carpool to Farmers Market at South Street Pavilion

Information, displays and entertainment at the Farmers Market along with locally grown and made food and other products. Save energy that would be used transporting imported alternatives. Traveling to the market by foot or bicycle reduces your carbon footprint even further! Entertainment by Bill Campbell. Meet people who use their bikes to commute. Rick’s Bike Shop will show commuter bikes. Local food and snacks, solar oven cooking, biodiesel info-samples. Also, get to know the Toyota Prius hybrid.

11:30 am Entertainment by C.E. Skidmore at City Park (Bay & Maple Streets)

Fun Activities for Children organized by Joy McCoola and National Honors Society

12:00 Noon Rally for the Planet at City Park

Representatives from the Sierra Club will introduce the Cool Cities program. Mayor Roy Akins will sign the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. Commuter-biker David Legg will describe his positive experiences traveling by bike in Glens Falls. Kirsten Gillibrand’s representative, Lisa Manzi, will describe the Congresswoman’s efforts in regards to climate change. A group photo will be taken to relay to Washington. On the way to the Wood theater, stop out front to see the Natural Gas Honda!

1 – 5:00 pm Presentations and Exhibitors at Wood Theater (207 Glen Street)

1:00 pm Author James Howard Kunstler – The Long Emergency (Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century) Book signing to follow in the lobby

2:15 pm Barton Mines video presentation on Green Building

2:30 pm Green Builders/NYSERDA Presentation

3:00 pm GroSolar’s Carbon Challenge – How solar energy works in your home

4:00 pm Seth Jacobs – Local Agriculture as Part of the Solution to Global Climate Change

Exhibitors: GroSolar, Green Builders, G.F. Electric, Community Energy, Thermal Associates, NYSERDA, Cornell Cooperative Extension/Agricultural Stewardship Association.

5:45 pm Premiere of “The Eleventh Hour” (Leonardo DiCaprio’s Directorial Debut)

Aimie’s Dinner & A Movie 190 Glen Street (518) 792-8181 Reservations suggested.

7:30 pm “Live N’ Local” Premieres at Rock Hill Cafe with Local Bread Giveaway!

“Live n’ Local” will happen every Saturday Night at 7:30 pm. Rock Hill is going to establish a venue for original music and an audience who appreciates it. Local food and local musicians. Three Dimensional Figures, a great local jazz/jam and techno trio will be their first guests. No Cover Charge!

Sponsors: Barton Mines, City of Glens Falls, Rock Hill Cafe


Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Another Adirondack Fire Disaster On The Way?

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most terrible Adirondack years on record. Forest fires ravaged the region in 1908 and led to a widespread system of fire detection. The recent California fires point up the danger Adirondackers face as global warming tends the region to increasing episodes of drought such as that that occurred this fall and contributed to the historically low levels at the Hinckley Reservoir.

According to the APA:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fires raged out of control in the many of New York State’s vast wooded areas. The years 1903 and 1908 were particularly disastrous, and because of public outcry for protection from the devastation, the state began a rigorous fire and prevention and control program, including the building of fire towers. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adirondack Park Agency Nominations Update

From the Adirondack Council‘s John Sheehan, an update on last night’s APA confirmations.

At 11:20 p.m. last night, the NYS Senate confirmed the nominations of three commissioners to the Adirondack Park Agency’s 11-member board of commissioners. The confirmations fill the existing vacancies, including the position of chairman.

Curt Stiles, Tupper Lake, was appointed chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency. Stiles is currently president of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation, which recently hired the first Waterkeeper to guard an interior Adirondack water body. Lake George and Lake Champlain are the only other Adirondack lakes with Waterkeepers. The foundation has been active in protecting water quality, while fighting pollution and invasive plant species.

Curt is also vice chairman of the Adirondack Council Board of Directors, although stepped down from that role upon his confirmation as APA Chairman by the Senate. He joined the Adirondack Council’s board in 2005. Stiles is also on the board of the Trudeau Institute, a medical research facility in Saranac Lake. He is a past board member of the Adirondack Medical Center (Saranac Lake) and Paul Smith’s College. His a former member of the Harrietstown Planning Board, so he has some local government experience and is familiar with the task of reviewing land-use plans, a chief duty of the APA. He is a retired senior executive with Xerox.

He replaces acting chairman Cecil Wray, Manhattan, who had stepped into that role following the resignation of chairman Ross Whaley in September. Wray was a member of the Adirondack Council board of directors until his appointment to the APA by Governor Pataki more than a decade ago. He is an attorney.

Richard Booth, Ithaca, was appointed commissioner to hold one of three seats reserved for non-Park residents. Booth is a Plattsburgh native. He has experience in both Ithaca City government and the Tompkins County Legislature. More importantly, he is an environmental law professor at Cornell University and one of the most respected environmental legal experts in the nation. Booth served on the Adirondack Council board of directors from 1982 through 1992. He was initially nominated as chairman by Governor Spitzer, but a handful of local government officials and state Legislators complained that he was not a Park resident. Spitzer withdrew Booth’s name as a chairman nomination, but resubmitted him as a regular commissioner on the APA board.

Frank Mezzano, Lake Pleasant, was reappointed to a four-year term. His current term ran out earlier this year. Frank joined the board early in the Pataki Administration over the objections of the Adirondack Council and other environmental groups, who objected to the fact that Mezzano was a sitting local government official. The groups argued that as Town Supervisor and a member of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, Mezzano was being put in a position of conflicting interests. How, we asked, could he impartially judge the merits of development projects that might affect the finances of the community for which he is chief financial officer? This conflict still exists. Mezzano left the board briefly at the end of his third term, then came back to take the remaining term of another local representative who had left before her term had expired (Deanne Rehm of Bolton, Warren County).

The APA Board of Commissioners has 11 members. Five must be full time Park residents, while three seats are reserve for non-Park residents. The remaining three belong to the commissioners of Environmental Conservation and Economic Development and to the Secretary of State. No more than five of the eight citizen members may be from the same political party.

The APA’s staff still lacks an Executive Director, following the retirement of Richard Lefebvre of Caroga Lake, Fulton County, this summer.


Monday, October 22, 2007

New Adirondack Park Agency Nominations

According to North Country Public Radio:

The state Senate is expected to consider confirmations of three new APA board members today. Governor Spitzer has named Upper Saranac Lake resident Curt Stiles to serve as chairman. Stiles has served as chairman of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation and has taken a leading role on the issue of invasive species.

The Senate is also expected to confirm Dick Booth, an environmental attorney and author from Ithaca. Booth was initially named to serve as chairman, but his appointment drew criticism because he lives outside the blue line. Booth has had close ties to local government groups and to the environmental community.Governor Spitzer has also reappointed Frank Mezzano, town supervisor from Lake Pleasant. Mezzano is a veteran member of the APA who returned to the board earlier this year after a brief hiatus.

The APA is currently led by interim chairman Cecil Wray. It’s unclear whether interim executive director Mark Sengenberger will be named to fill that post permanently.Stiles takes over at a time when the APA confronts major decisions, including the Park’s snowmobile policy and the fate of the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Adirondack Hacks

Randomly organized links to ideas for making life in the Adirondacks just a little bit easier – technology tools and tips, do-it-yourself projects, and anything else that offers a more interesting, more convenient, or healthier way of life in our region.

Fold Roses From Maple Leaves

A Huge List of Halloween Projects

Another Huge List of Halloween Projects

Learn To Cook All Kinds of Squash

Make Your Own Bacon

Adirondack Hacks is an occasional feature of Adirondack Almanack. Take a look at our Adirondack Hacks archive here.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Reading Adirondack Almanack Via E-Mail

Each week here at the Almanack new readers sign up to have our posts delivered by e-mail, so I thought I would take a minute to review some of the ways you can take advantage of the Almanack’s e-mail offerings. It’s easy and there is no spam!

Almanack Blog Posts by E-Mail – Just the regular blog posts you see here. Updated every few days.

The Latest Adirondack News by E-Mail – If you follow Adirondack news – you’ll definately want to get our local news e-mail. We select Adirondack news from a variety of sources including many you will not see in the local media. For example: did you know that the Grace Brown Murder Recently Hit Meta Filter? Did you know that Tops Supermarket Has Changed Hands Again? Did you see the story on Ticonderoga’s International Paper’s Decision Not To Burn Tires Afterall. You did if you got the Adirondack News E-mail. NOTE: This service is updated regularly – expect to recieve about two or three e-mails per day.

County News by E-mail – Are you only interested in news or posts about Warren County? Or Essex County? Our blog posts and Adirondack news links are all tagged by county. That means you can subscribe via e-mail to news and posts from only the Adirondack county you are interested in.

Clinton County by E-mail

Essex County by Email

Franklin County by Email

Fulton County by Email

Herkimer County by Email

Hamilton County by Email

Jefferson County by Email

Lewis County by Email

Oneida County by Email

Saratoga County by Email

St.Lawrence County by Email

Warren County by Email

Washington County by Email


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Five

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we traced the emergence of snow machines in the early 1900s, in Part Two we looked at the development of the personal sled that is so familiar today. Part Three followed the explosion of makes and models and the spread of snowmobiling throughout the Adirondack region with races, clubs, and dealers taking advantage of the boon in snowmobile sales that occurred from 1965 to 1970. Part Four covered the emerging conflicts over snowmobiles in the Adirondack Region, a topic we’ll conclude this series with today.

As the the 1970s began, new snowmobile clubs and riders argued for more trails and Adirondack locals increased their investment in the industry. The New York Times, noted in an piece tilted “Snowmobiles in the Adirondacks” in 1972:

An economic boom is putt-putting into the remote fringes of the Adirondack Forest Preserve these days on the rubber tracks and diminutive skis of the snowmobile. Some restaurants, banks, gasoline stations, and grocery stores, long accustomed to depressingly quiet winters in this snowfast region, now are doing a volume of business that reminds them of days in July and August. Each weekend, some 11,000 snowmobilists fan out from . . . downstate areas for a day or two of picnicking and racing on the lakes and mountains.

The local residents of such villages as Speculator are happy to see the winter weekenders trundling along the highways with their snowmobiles cradled on trailers behind their cars. “Most winters we used not to make expenses,” said Howard Romaine, a restaurant proprietor here. “But with these snowmobile people coming in, the millennium has arrived.”

As snowmobilers talked about the economic impacts of their sport in the Adirondacks, the number of snowmobile being sold every year boomed to unprecedented levels. In the early 1970s there just over a hundred snowmobile makers. The most profitable were the big three – Bombardier / Ski Doo, Polaris, and Artic Cat – but motorcycle and outboard motor companies also branched out to take advantage of the increasing popularity in the sport.

From 1970 to 1973 more than 2 million sleds were sold but the popularity of the sport was at its peak. Never again would sled sales equal those golden years. The recession of 1973 and a declining economy throughout the 1970s helped slow outdoor sports sales at a time when other opportunities to ride – namely ATVs – were beginning to emerge.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, a new environmental awareness made it less desirable among many to run the trails on a noisy motor powered machine. Noise was a major factor in the first attempts to seriously regulate snowmobiles. The reason was explained by snowmobile historian Leonard Reich:

Snowmobiles were noisy for technical, economic, and social reasons. Technically, it was difficult to quiet their two-stroke engines without compromising power output. Baffled mufflers that worked well on four-stroke engines disrupted the two-stroke’s exhaust flow and robbed it of power. To be effective a muffler had to contain substantial quantities of sound-absorbing materials, which made it large, bulky, and expensive. Even if the exhaust could be quieted, the engine’s air intake created noise, and the entire drive system of clutches, gearing or chains, and track added even more. Shrouds and other enclosures helped, but they too added weight, bulk, and expense.

Even though noisy snowmobiles could have an adverse impact on riders’ hearing, many wanted loud machines. An article in Snow-Mobile Times commented, “For some snowmobilers, noise is a large part of the fun of the sport. The sound of that loud motor means power, speed, the thrill of being in control of a revved-up machine.” Snowmobile dealers knew their market. As one commented, “If it’s noisy and goes like hell, it will sell.”

By 1972, a number of state legislatures had acted to curb snowmobile noise, setting decibel limits for a full-throttle machine heard from 50 feet. When the maker of the Johnson Skee-Horse and Evinrude Skeeter committed itself to achieving 73 decibels within six years, the ISIA [International Snowmobile Industry Association, formed in 1965 by Bombardier] grudgingly went along, and several states wrote that limit into their legislation. It was not long, however, before the industry “recognized that it had spoken too quickly and had to backtrack when subsequent engineering and marketing analyses led most industry members to conclude that they could not produce a marketable machine meeting this noise standard.” What that statement meant, of course, was that the added expense and reduced “vroom” would significantly cut into sales.

In 1971 efforts to increase the miles of trails as a hedge to the rampant trespassing and misuse of cross-country ski trails began in earnest. By 1973 more than 40,000 miles of snowmobile trails had been built in North America. By the end of the 1970s the number had more than doubled. In 1980, an ad-hoc DEC survey of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks estimated that there were about 850 miles of snowmobile trails in the region. When the DEC announced it 2006 Snowmobile Plan for the Adirondacks it noted that there were about 850 miles of snowmobile trails in Wild Forest and Primitive Areas alone and another 1,172 miles of funded snowmobile trails in the park as a whole not including perhaps more than a thousand additional miles maintained through lease agreements with private landowners by towns (particularly Webb and Inlet) and local clubs. The entire 2006 Snowmobile Report can be found here.

While the number of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks has increased dramatically since the sled boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the number of sleds sold each year continues to slump.

According to Leonard Reich:

For the 1968 model year, an unpleasant statistic, called “carryover,” crept into the industry’s production and sales figures. That year, 170,000 machines were produced but only 165,000 sold to consumers. The remaining 5,000 awaited the following year in dealers’ hands. The next year carryover increased to 35,000, then shot up to 100,000 in 1971 on a sales volume of just under 500,000.

In 1971, snowmobile sales for the first time failed to increase substantially over the previous season, thus exacerbating the carryover problem. Whereas 1968’s 165,000 sales had become 1969’s 250,000 and 1970’s 460,000, sales fell short of 500,000 in 1971. In an industry accustomed to rapid growth, many producers soon faced bankruptcy, and the shakeout began. Sales remained in the 400,000-500,000 range through 1974, while carryover increased from 125,000 in 1972 to 315,000 in 1973, and to 500,000 in 1974, a colossal drag on the industry.

By 1997, sales had reached 260,000 sleds and have continued to drop ever since. With the advent of ATVs (which evolved in the 1960s and spread in the 1970s and 1980s) and the reduction of annual snow cover due to global warming, the snowmobile may be on its way to becoming a relic of the past.

Return to Part One. Read the entire series here.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Four

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we traced the emergence of snow machines in the early 1900s. In Part Two we looked at the development of the personal sled that is so familiar today. Part Three followed the explosion of makes and models and the spread of snowmobiling throughout the Adirondack region with races, clubs, and dealers taking advantage of the boon in snowmobile sales that occurred from 1965 to 1970.

From the beginning some snowmobile riders and some folks concerned about the impacts of snowmobiles on the rural and wilderness environments began to debate the new outdoor sport. With 200,000 snowmobiles already traveling American lakes, fields, and trails in the 1966-1967 season and many more apparently on the way, government and environmental advocates began to address the possible impacts and attempt to responsibly manage them.

Snowmobile historian Leonard Reich noted that:

During the mid-1960s, snowmobile enthusiasts began to organize clubs whose activities were oriented toward safety, social events, and group activities such as festivals (“snodeos”), clearing, marking, and grooming trails, and trail rides (“snofaris” and “sno-mo-cades”) that could include as many as fifty sleds. One observer of a large nighttime ride recalled that “from a distance, their bobbing head-lights resembled a religious procession,” and in a way it was. Some clubs shipped their snowmobiles to distant sites, then flew or bussed members there for group touring.

In 1970, New York State began requiring riders to register their sleds with the Parks and Recreation Department’s Division of Marine and Recreational Vehicles. Registration forms could be had a local dealers, county clerks, Sheriff’s offices, and regional offices of the Department of Conservation. Registration cost just $5, although some sled riders complained at the cost despite the fact that events organized by local clubs often cost as much as $1 to $2 per sled. The 1970 regulations also required young riders to take a Young Snowmobile Operator’s safety course before riding alone.

Beginning in 1971, a number of governments across the United States and Canada began investigating the boom in snowmobiles in order to asses and mitigate their impacts. In 1971 Congressional testimony, Sno Goer magazine publisher Susie Scholwin voiced the freedom snowmobilers felt on their new machines:

Before snowmobiles, in northern Wisconsin] winters were something just “to be lived through.” Nice winter days on weekends brought the sleds, skis, toboggans, and general fun-in-the-snow. Nights were long and lonely. As were the weekends as a whole. Ice fishing on the lake was good, but the best spot was over a mile away. . . .

The winter of 1964 and early 1965 took on a different tone than those before [with our family’s purchase of a snowmobile]. Mom and dad loved it–the kids loved it. Winter was not the gloomy thing it had been–but each day was an adventure of its own. It was much easier to get “over to the other side of the lake” fishing. . . .

There were races held, but they were something minor. . . . The important thing . . . was that more and more of the neighbors in the area were buying these fantastic little machines and, lo and behold–winter was turning into FUN! The little snowmobile had become a funmobile–one that made winter something to look forward to! Everyone in the area looked forward to weekends, with their picnics, trail-riding, exploring, scavenger hunts, and social gatherings. . . . Many in their fifties and sixties, who were not enthused about the muscular sport of skiing, found that the snowmobile was the answer to their dreams.

For their part of the debate, the dozens of snowmobile clubs in the Adirondack region began exercising their muscle. For example, the President of the Keeseville Trail Riders wrote to local papers in 1972 to remind riders that a $1.15 billion bond issue coming before voters in November would include $44 million for land acquisition in the Adirondacks, but he “doubts very much if any of this money would be used to acquire land for snowmobile trails.” In opposing the bond issue, the Trail Riders noted that their $5 registration fee was being used to build boating services in the Adirondacks.

Take your neighbor or friend or the fellow down the street who owns a boat, the fee to register it for three years is $3.00 and the state has built parking lots and boat launching ramps.

The economic argument was also put forward early:

Take a minute to think how much money this sport has brought to the North Country. We have Boonville over in the western part of the state where thousands come to view races on weekends. Then closer to our community we have our friendly neighbors, Schroon Lake, where the Chamber of Commerce is in the process of putting out our their winter brochure.

So you see everyone stands to gain either enjoyment, money or employment from this sport.

True or not (and their was some question about the actual impact of snowmobilers on the Adirondack economy, even in the boom years), the economic arguments of the clubs and their supporters found important allies in the local press and among the property rights and anti-government crowd. We’ll explore those conflicts in Part Five.

Return to Part One. Read the entire series here.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Three

In Parts One and Two we traced the emergence of snow vehicles from their earlier cousins, the automobile, the tractor, and motorcycle, and the development of the smaller more versatile nowmobiles popular today. That development led to some forty snowmobile manufacturers in the late 1960s and, eventually, an explosion in interest.

To help build a customer base, sled makers began traveling to winter events and showing their machines. Beginning in January of 1964, snowmobilers in Lake Placid organized one of the first annual “power sled meets.” The event was followed by Artic Cat’s first snowmobile derby in February 1964 in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The company invited all known snowmobile makers, and held dozens of races in front of a couple thousand attendees.

Snowmobile historian Leonard Reich noted:

Drag races, obstacle courses, and hill climbs provided thrills, and a “marathon” event of 22 miles demonstrated the reliability of the machines over long distances and difficult terrain. Soon, race derbies organized by towns, manufacturers, and distributors were taking place all over the winter landscape. Like its automotive precursors, the snowmobile industry used racing and other organized events to generate excitement, attract attention, and demonstrate the capability and reliability of its product. As the early automakers had said, “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

The first International Diamond Trophy Snowmobile Championship held on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid in January 1967 was one of the first major snowmobile meets at a time when, as the Essex County Republican, reported: “At least three major power sled meets are scheduled for the Adirondack Park area, and a dozen or so lesser meets, although no sanctioning unit has yet organized the sport, and there is no official record keeping or planning.” Nonetheless, the Mirror Lake meet offered $1,000 in cash prizes and included a hill climb and downhill slalom. By the 1969-1970 season major races around the country could see purses as high as $25,000.

Other area meets in 1966-1967 included the Eastern New York Races at Lake George (about 125 registered sleds and a new Schaefer Cup trophy race), and another at Boonville where the New York State Snowmobile Championship was held (more than 100 sleds and the emblematic Adirondack Cup). Lesser races were held at Malone, Tupper Lake, Speculator, Schroon Lake, Chazy Lake, and Old Forge.

For the 1966-1967 season 100,000 copies of Johnson Motors’ “Fun Guide to Snowmobiling” were distributed to various dealers around the country which included facts about the sport and sources for trail information. By the end of the 1966-67 season there were about 200,000 snowmobiles in America and even the first magazine devoted to the new sport – Sno Goer, was published by an advocate for snowmobiling on public lands named Susie Scholwin. According to industry sources, the snowmobile industry rose from $3 million in sales in 1965 to $30 million in 1967.

With the boon in snowmobilers, came a local boon in snowmobile clubs. The Central Adirondack Association was organized before the 1966-67 season. By 1973, the Essex County Association of Snowmobile Clubs (ECASCO) included nine clubs from the county’s twelve towns: the “Keeseville Trail Riders,” “Bouquet Valley Snow-Drifters” of Essex Willsboro, “Crown Point RR&R Snowmobile Club,” “Lake Placid Snowmobile Club,” “Moriah Snowmobile Club,” Schroon-North Hudson Snowmobilie Club,” the “Adirondack Snowmobile Club” of Ticonderoga, “Mt. Valley Snogoers,” the Wesport area “Bessboro Ski-ters” and the “Lewis-E’Town Snow Machine Club.” Even “North Country Squares,” a dance group, was getting into the action by organizing weekly races at the Clinton County Fairgrounds in Plattsburgh.

Snowmobile dealers were spreading throughout the region by 1970 when the Essex County Republican newspaper saw fit to publish a special snowmobiling section. In Peru, auto dealer Truman Davis sold Ski Doos based at the Stanley-Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Plattsburgh. Also in Plattsburgh, Jim Manley’s Welding and Repairs sold Skiroule; in Jarvis Falls, Jarvis Auto Parts sold Polaris; Ray’s Mobile Service in Keeseville usually sold chainsaws, but now also sold Allouette sleds; in Elizabethtown Dick Burpee’s Outdoor Power Equipment sold Artic Cat, Elizabethtown Builders sold Sno Jet and Artic Cat, and Norton Insurance Agency advertised snowmobile insurance.

Along with the spread of snowmobiles in the late 1960s there also emerged the first rumblings of those concerned that the noise, new trails, and detrimental effects to the environment were something to be concerned about. But as we’ll see in Part Four, just as it appeared that snowmobiles would conquer the Adirondack environment the bottom fell out.

Read the entire series here.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Adirondack Snowmobile History, Part Two

In Part One of Adirondack Snowmobile History, we looked at the emergence of the “motor sleigh” in the early 1900s with experimental models that included half-tracks, airplane props, and converted Model A Fords. As snow machines became more widely known and began being used by government agencies, utilities and lumber companies, local experimenters began building their own variations. The 64 snow mobiles (by then already being called by that generic name) registered in New York State in 1935 were all large vehicles that held several passengers.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier, who had been experimenting with rear engine designs since he was teenager, came forward in 1935 with the B7, a seven passenger enclosed snow vehicle. It’s sucess was short-lived. When snow removal on roads became widespread in the late 1940s, Bombardier turned primarily to more general overland tracked vehicles. But while Bombardier and others were focused on making bigger snow machines, others had also been making independent progress on smaller, more versatile, auto sleighs using increasingly available small motors on more traditional (though now steerable) sleigh and bobsled runners.

In 1920, Lewis Newton, the owner of a Hudson Falls bicycle shop, announced that he had “perfected and auto-sleigh which attains nearly fifty miles per hour and can be operated with absolute safety.” Newton mounted two Thompson motors on a specially constructed bobsleigh and rigged a motorcycle wheel with a skid chain; the crank was kick-started. Some of the several he made may still be hiding out in Warren or Washington county barns.

In the late 1920s, Wisconsin outboard-motor dealer Carl Eliason hand-built about forty smaller snow machines (his patent is shown below). It was these that were copied by agricultural machinery manufacturer Polaris Industries’ when they developed the “Pol-Cat,” which was introduced in 1954. The Pol-Cat was followed closely by Bombadier’s “Ski-Doo,” which went on sale in 1959. Then when Edgar Hetteen (founder and president of Polaris Industries) had a falling out with his partners in 1960 he left to create the Polar Manufacturing Company which produced the “Artic Cat” in 1961. Although thirteen American patents were issued between 1927 and 1962, and by 1970 there were several dozen snowmobile companies, the still relatively small snowmobile market was dominated by these three companies: Polaris, Bombardier / Ski Doo, and Artic Cat.

Leonard Reich, who has written on early snowmobile history in the journal Technology and Culture, noted that what happened next depended largely on the role of motor boat dealers:

Northern marine outlets were an obvious place to sell snowmobiles, and many early dealers came from the ranks of boating businesses looking for a line to carry them through the fall and winter. In fact, outboard- motorboating served as a model for the developing snowmobile industry. The first outboard motor was manufactured in 1911 by Ole Evinrude, and the industry progressed slowly until after the Second World War. Outboards were usually installed on rowboats or on hulls originally designed for inboard power, which limited their capabilities and constrained the market. With the introduction of inexpensive fiberglass boat construction and light planing hull designs during the 1950s, at a time of national prosperity, rapid population growth, and television marketing, outboard-motorboating became extremely popular and dramatically changed summertime recreation patterns on lakes and rivers. Now, a mechanical whine split the summer’s natural sounds, transforming in its wake the search for relaxation to a powered pursuit of recreation. Many snowmobile dealers and buyers had their first introduction to motorized recreation through motorboating, and snowmobile salesmen often used the analogy in making the sale. Snowmobile purchasers were more than twice as likely as the general population to own motorboats.

The ready made market notwithstanding, snowmobile purchases were limited by the number of sleds produced and more importantly, by the number of people who thought they were worthwhile. Arctic Cat sold just 20 sleds in their first year (1961), and 700 the second. Bombardier produced 225 the first year (model year 1960); 700 in 1961; 2,100 in 1962; 5,300 in 1963; 8,500 in 1964; and just 13,300 for all of the United States and Canada in 1965. Advertising at first targeted fish and game officers, foresters, trappers, missionaries, prospectors and utility companies, but by 1965 had began to serious shift to the outdoor thrills market. The number of makers also multiplied with, according to historian Leonard Reich, “Trail-A-Sled in 1961, Moto-Ski and Skiroule in 1963, Sno-Jet and Johnson Skee Horse in 1964, Rupp, Fox-Trac, Hus-Ski, and Polaris (with a Ski-Doo-like model) in 1965. By the end of 1967 approximately forty makes had come to market.”


Among the early snowmobile dealers in the Adirondacks were George Moore Truck and Equipment Corp., in Keeseville whose first advertisement in 1965 claimed that their Ski-Doos “provide entertainment for all ages as it bounces over snow drifts, climbing and descending hills with ease. It has also proved its worth as a traveler on ice for fishermen and into the dense forests for hunters.” By the 1967-68 season they had secured the statewide distribution and were advertising for new dealers to join the ranks. “Snowmobiles, fast moving, profitable,” their advertisement read, “the snowmobile boom is underway… here is the opportunity to get in on this money-making fun market…to sell the nation’s hottest recreation machine.” Artic Cat, whose nearest sales room was Rochester, had to wait until 1970 before it would see an Adirondack shop.

In Part Three we’ll investigate the explosion in the snowmobile market in the Adirondacks, the organization of the area’s first clubs and races and their impact on the marketing and wider distribution of modern snowmobile.

Return to part one here. Read the entire series here.