Monday, January 11, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: Skiing Adirondack Backcountry Glades

There’s plenty of good powder in the woods these days. It’s an ideal time for skiing glades.

Good luck finding one. Most backcountry skiers would sooner give out their bank PINs than reveal the locations of their favorite glades.

In the decade I’ve lived here, I’ve stumbled upon a few glades while exploring the woods and learned about others through word of mouth. I ski three or four glades fairly regularly.

It’s a guilty pleasure, though. Many glades are surreptitiously maintained by skiers who cut saplings and underbrush—which is illegal in the forever-wild Forest Preserve.

I’ve talked to skiers who insist that the grooming doesn’t harm the forest. As much as I enjoy skiing glades, I am a tad skeptical. Certainly, it changes the natural environment. Then again, so does just about everything we do in the wild—whether it’s cutting a hiking trail, driving a polluting snowmobile over a marsh, or stocking a stream with hatchery fish. The question is how much alteration of the environment is acceptable.

Recently, I happened to meet a well-respected environmental scientist at a trailhead, and I asked him if thinning glades damaged the forest. His off-the-cuff answer: not much.

An article in Vermont Life takes a hard look at the issue of cutting bootleg trails and thinning glades. One critic argues that cutting saplings creates a forest of even-aged trees and when these trees die, gaps in the forest will emerge. Yet the article also quotes an expert suggesting that glades can be managed to minimize the environmental impact.

Many resorts, including state-run facilities at Whiteface and Gore, have created glades to satisfy their patrons’ desire to ski in a more natural environment. Some backcountry skiers would like to see the state authorize the creation of managed glades in wild portions of the Forest Preserve. Frankly, I see that as a long shot, but it’d be neat if Paul Smith’s College or the state College of Environmental Science and Forestry looked at the impact of ski glades. As a long-term experiment, students could thin a glade on their own, study it over the years, and come up with suggestions for glade management. This information could be useful to resorts and perhaps to backcountry outlaws as well.

Backcountry skiers need to watch what they wish for. If the state did permit maintained glades in the Forest Preserve, everyone would know their locations.

I have a feeling, though, that hard-core enthusiasts would be skiing elsewhere.

Photo by Phil Brown: A skier in an Adirondack glade.

For more stories about backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, visit the Adirondack Explorer website.


Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge

What do racing cars, bobsledding, and Lake Placid have in common? They were all represented at this year’s Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge, held this weekend at the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid.

The premise of this bobsledding race is unique; instead of bobsled athletes racing against each other, race car drivers and drag racers compete on the famous Lake Placid track. Some notable racers included Morgan Lucas (youngest professional driver on the NHRA tour), Jeg Coughlin (5 time world champion), Shawn Langdon (back-to-back world champion in 2007-2008 in the Super Comp Class), Melanie Troxel (only woman in history to win national events in Top Fuel and Funny Car, the top categories of drag racing), and Joey Logano (the youngest winner in two of NASCAR’S three top divisions).

The challenge is about more than bobsled racing; the Bodine challenge also supports Olympic bobsledding. In 1992, NASCAR veteran Geoff Bodine carried out his idea of introducing US-made sleds to the US Bobsled team. At the time, the US team was racing with European sleds and had not won a medal since the 1956 Winter Games. Bodine decided that, like racing, successful bobsledding depended on having sleds equipped with the most current technology available. The sleds were designed with NASCAR technology, and eventually the US Team broke the Olympic drought when they won silver, bronze (4 man event) and gold (women’s competition) in the 2002 games. Now they are consistent competitors on the World Cup circuit.

Started in 2005, the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge is also a fundraiser to continue the advance in US Bobsled technology. It also gives NASCAR drivers a chance to drive a bobsled and hopefully inspire them to contribute to the project.

This year, the overall winner was Melanie Troxel, the first woman to ever compete in the event. She raced brilliantly, and noted the differences between bobsledding and racing. “It was a totally new experience and a lot to take in,” she said, “I noticed that you get beat around in the sled a lot more, and have to hold your position. I hope to be back next year.”
For more information on the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge and the US Bobsled project, visit the Geoff Bodine challenge website.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Impact of Fireworks On Lake George? Not Much

A Lake George Association study of weekly fireworks displays on Lake George found that there is apparently no significant increase in key contaminants found in fireworks in the lake’s water and sediments. The Association warned, however, that the study was limited in its scope and there is still questions about what level is safe for a key environmental pollutant, perchlorate. Perchlorate is absorbed by the thyroid gland in place of iodine, which can interfere with the thyroid, essential to metabolism and mental development. Perchlorates, barium, and antimony are all associated with fireworks.

Each year lakes around the around the Adirondacks are host to dozens of fireworks display. Lake George sees the most, with weekly displays in Lake George Village, and regular displays at other town parks such as Bolton, and at private organizations and hotels. There is, however, no registration or permitting process for fireworks, so no way to know exactly how many. The sense of some members of the Association that the displays were becoming more numerous each year led to the study.

The Association collected water samples from three sites in Lake George Village before and after five fireworks events last summer and also made a comparison of sediment samples from the village and those taken near Shelving Rock, where no large fireworks displays are believed to have occurred. The samples were analyzed for perchlorates, barium, and antimony. The entire study is available in pdf, but this is what the Association said in a press release this week:

There is no federal or NYS drinking water standard for perchlorate. In 2006 Massachusetts was the first to set such as standard, and set the drinking water standard for perchlorate at 0.002mg/L. Part of the problem is that there isn’t really much agreement on what is or isn’t a safe amount of perchlorate. But for the purposes of our study we used 0.002 mg/L as a reference point. Our results showed no change in perchlorate, with perchlorate levels less then 0.002 mg/L for all tests, before and after firework events. We also did not find a change in antimony levels, and while barium levels slightly fluctuated, the results were also not significant. We also found perchlorate levels of less than 0.002 mg/L in the sediment samples from both locations. Perchlorate-free fireworks are available for use, however they are much more costly than traditional fireworks. Since perchlorate has implications for human and environmental health, a switch to perchlorate-free fireworks for fireworks used over Lake George might want to be considered.

However, our initial findings did not find changes in perchlorate levels in the water attributable to fireworks, so they do not necessarily support the need of this additional expense at this time. We would still like to caution that this study was by no means comprehensive, so we can not know for certain if there is need for a concern over perchlorate or not. We can only weigh our options based on the knowledge we have available to us and do our best to protect Lake George and the economic viability of the region.

Other studies that did find changes in perchlorate levels measured at much smaller intervals. For instance, one study we reviewed had a method detection limit (MDL) of
0.003 ug/L, compared to the MDL of 1.2 ug/L that our lab was able to achieve. So we
might not have been able to detect changes that were present. However, the question of
what levels are relevant in terms of safety for human and environmental health is still
unanswered. Do we need to be able to detect 0.003 ug/L of perchlorate in our drinking
water? We don’t have that answer right now.

What does at least seem to make sense at this time is to track the fireworks displays that occur over Lake George every year, so that we can have a better idea of the number and locations of these events. This is at least a starting point. And then in the mean time we can look for answers to some of the questions that are still out there.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks

It’s safe to say Bob Marshall had left a lasting impression and significant legacy by the time of his death at the age of 38. Although he served only briefly in government—in the 1930s he was chief of forestry in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then head of recreation management in the Forest Service—his ideas about wilderness preservation have had a lasting impact on wild places across the nation. Best known as the founder of the Wilderness Society, Marshall, with his brother George (and their guide Herb Clark) were the first Adirondack 46ers. The book Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, edited by the Adirondack Almanack contributor and Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown, presents a variety of Marshall’s writings related to the region.

Bob Marshall’s father was Louis Marshall, considered a key player in the founding of the New York State Forest Ranger program and the State Ranger School in Wanakena. Bob Marshall grew up in New York City but spent youthful summers formulating his wilderness ethic in the Adirondacks. Although he was a prolific writer, only eleven of his articles or journals have been published, and so Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks in an important contribution to the history of the Marshalls, wilderness preservation, and the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

APA To Meet: Keenan Reservoir, Lewis Cell Tower, Westport

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will meet on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. Highlights of the meeting will include reconstruction of the Keenan Reservoir spillway in Laurene, an application to build a cell tower between exits 31 and 32 of Interstate 87 (Adirondack Northway) in the Town of Lewis, and additions and revisions of the Town of Westport’s local land use program. The one day meeting will be webcast live on the Agency’s website at http://www.apa.state.ny.us. Materials for the meeting can be found at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/Mailing/2010/01/index.htm.

Here is the text of the agency’s meeting announcement:

The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 with Executive Director Terry Martino’s report highlighting monthly activity. Mrs. Martino will also introduce Elizabeth Phillips, Esq, who was hired in December 2009 as a Senior Attorney in the Legal Division.

At 9:15 a.m., the Regulatory Programs Committee will consider a shoreline structure setback variance request from the City of Glens Falls. The City proposes to reconstruct the Keenan Reservoir spillway which is located off Beartown Road in the Town of Lake Luzerne, Warren County. The reservoir is a component of the City’s water supply source and in need of repair.

The Committee will also deliberate a T-Mobile Northeast, LLC application for construction of a telecommunication tower. The tower would be located west of Interstate 87 (Adirondack Northway) between exits 31 and 32 in the Town of Lewis, Essex County. Project design includes tower space for an additional telecommunications carrier.

The committee meeting will conclude with a presentation highlighting telecommunication projects approved by the Agency in 2009.

At 11:15, the Local Government Committee will convene to review proposed additions and revisions put forth by the Town of Westport related to their approved local land use program. The town has administered an approved program since 1986. These proposals represent a multi-year effort by the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Office to correct deficiencies and provide greater opportunities for residents and businesses. Agency planning staff assisted the town in preparing the amendments.

At 1:00, the Economic Affairs, Park Policy and Planning Committees will meet jointly for two presentations. The committees will be briefed by Northern Forest Center Executive Director Rob Riley and Program Manager Joe Short regarding the status of the Sustainable Economy Initiative (SEI) and recently authorized Northern Border Commission.

Tug Hill Commission Executive Director John Bartow will then discuss the Tug Hill Resident and Landowner Survey. This survey was designed to gather input from citizens related to quality of life in the Tug Hill region and attitudes towards future land use decisions. It was a collective effort between Tug Hill Commission professional staff and The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College.

At 2:30, Town of Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava will be the guest speaker for the Community Spotlight presentation. Supervisor Scozzafava will overview his community and highlight important community issues facing this Essex County town.

At 3:00, the State Land Committee will receive an update on revisions to the Interagency Guidelines for Invasive Species Management on State Land. The Committee will also hear an informational presentation on the Jessup River Wild Forest Unit Management Plan Amendment.

At 4:15, the Full Agency will convene to take action as necessary and conclude the meeting with committee reports, public and member comment.

The next Agency meeting is February 11-12, 2009, at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.

March Agency Meeting: March 11-12 2010 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Adirondack Weather: The Strength of Snow

We’ve all seen it: a branch, a fence post, a sign where the snow that fell upon it seems frozen in a perpetual state of falling off, never quite letting go. How does it do that? It’s not like snow is endowed with abs of steel, or, like a snake, has near mythical suspension abilities thanks to overlapping scales. Or does it? » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, January 8, 2010

Local Genius: Champlain Bridge Designer Ted Zoli

As a rule, bureaucracies and genius are incompatible. A notable exception will be found in the New York State Department of Transportation and the Vermont Transportation Agency, which recently released plans to replace an eighty year old bridge spanning Lake Champlain. Leading the team designing the new bridge is consultant Ted Zoli, a 2009 winner of a MacArthur fellowship, commonly known as the genius award.

Among other things, the MacArthur Foundation cited Zoli’s sensitivity to the context in which his “elegant and enduring” bridges are built, and Zoli clearly appreciates the natural, historical and social context of the bridge at Crown Point. » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 8, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adirondack Music Scene: Blues, Rock and Folk Duos

There are a lot of great musical acts to choose from this weekend in a variety of locales. I’ll be doing the Dewey Mountain Ski Jam because it’s such fun to ski in the dark and then be all cozy in their small lodge. Plus listening to one of my all-time favorite musicians Steve Langdon is almost enough to keep me from skiing. He sings and plays with such power and conviction, if I’m feelin’ blue his gigs always bring me up.

Friday, January 8th:

In Saranac Lake, Steve Langdon is performing at The Dewey Ski Lodge from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. This is part of the Friday Night Ski Jam and this one features food donated by Eat n Meet.

In Plattsburgh at Gilligan’s Getaway there will be a “Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel” concert. Show starts at 8 pm, ticket’s are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Call (518) 637 – 4989 for more information. You can also catch this show in Saranac Lake at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Will Rogers.

In Jay at The Amos and Julia Ward Theatre there will be a JEMS Coffee House featuring Stoneground Express. This trio features Larry Stone throwing some jazz into his accomplished country and blues repertoire.

In Saratoga the band Bearfoot will be performing at Cafe Lena.
I’ve checked out some their material on line and it sounds very very good. They hail from Anchorage Alaska. I wish they were touring closer to my home base.

Saturday, January 9th:

In Saranac Lake, The Stoneman Blues Band will be at The Waterhole. The show starts somewhere between 9:30 and 10pm

In Willington, Lucid will be performing at Steinhoff’s. Love these guys – they start at 10 pm.

In Potsdam, Der Rosenkaalier the Strauss opera performed live at the Met will be shown between 1 and 5:45 pm at the Roxy Theatre. Ticket prices vary so check the website.

In Saranac Lake a “Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel” concert will be given at Will Rogers. Show starts at 7:30 pm, tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Call (518) 637-4989 for more information.

In Lowville, Aztec Two-Step will be giving a concert starting at 8 pm. This is part of the Lewis County Historic Society’s Black River Concert Series. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door.

Sunday, January 10th:

In North Creek, “Working for The Man Songs and Stories of Adirondack Lumberjacks and Miners” will be presented at the Tannery Pond Community Center at 3:30 pm. Non-members will be charged $5.

Photo: Steve Langdon at 7444 Gallery, part of a Light Box Musicians set taken by Ned P. Rauch


Thursday, January 7, 2010

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Panther Mountain House: End of an Era

December 30th marked the end of an era in Chestertown. The Panther Mountain House—The P-House, the P, or Club P to locals—that venerable village watering hole, served its last drink. The closing comes on the heels of the death of M. Thomas Carroll, who with his wife Margaret (Markie), lived in and operated the small hotel with a downstairs bar since 1957.

Tom Carroll was born in Ballybaun, County Limerick, and immigrated to America in 1949. He spent ten years in the hotel business before taking charge of the Panther Mountain House from John “Pops” Wertime. The Wertime family had owned the hotel since 1924 when Cohoes attorney Walter H. Wertime bought the building from Mrs. John Baker Brown. The building was built just after the Civil War by the Faxon family. In 1930, the Wertimes had the brick building across the street built, designed to house a theater and retail space (Chestertown’s first bank was located there).

The Wertimes’ “thoroughly renovated and remodernized” hotel, was just that all through the prohibition years. It served as accommodations for 50 people (it was later expanded to accommodate 100), but it served little else. It was run by the daughter and son-in-law of Walter Wertime, Robert H. “Bob” Nicholson of Elizabethtown. Bob Nicholson’s family were pioneers of Elizabethtown (his great-grandfather was the town’s first postmaster in about 1800), with strong connections to the legal profession. Bob’s Nicholson’s brother was John D. Nicholson, head of the Rouses Point border patrol unit during prohibition. During the dry years, the Panther Mountain House housed border patrol officers, including the head of the Chestertown unit, David Walters.

On March 22, 1941, the Panther Mountain House was completely destroyed by fire. “Seven occupants of the hotel were forced to flee scantily clad in the blaze which was reportedly the worst in the history of the community,” according to the Ticonderoga Sentinel. Walter Wertime estimated the damage at $70,000, a loss he told the paper that was not completely covered by insurance (despite Wertime being an insurance broker). “Mr. Wertime escaped from the structure only partially clad,” the paper added “he has no plans for rebuilding.”

Nearby homes were scorched and the theater building across the street briefly caught fire. It was quickly put out, but not before serious damage had occurred to the front of the building, particularly the wooden portions. The windows in the A & P store on the first floor were broken by the heat of the fire and the doors were so badly warped that they could not be opened.

Wertime decided he would rebuild the hotel after all, and asked John Clark, an architect of Troy, to design a new building of concrete block and stucco measuring 84 by 42 feet – the building you see today. Construction was begun in the spring of 1941 (using some of the same foundation) and was completed in time for the summer season.

The Carrolls are hoping to sell the hotel. They say there is some interest, but for now the doors are locked.

Photos: The Panther Mountain House in the 1920s, and below, the downstairs bar.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Naked in the Woods: Witch-Hobble

As we stumble through the winter woods, some of us take note of the things around us: hemlocks bowed with snow, mouse tracks scurrying for shelter, the tattoo of a woodpecker upon a distant tree. But one of the wonders of winter life that stands out for me is the naked bud of the witch-hobble plant.

Witch-hobble (Viburnum alnifolium in most books, although apparently it is now V. lantanoides) is one of our native viburnum plants. A shrub of moderate height, its common names (witch-hobble, hobblebush) reflect its tendency to grow in dense clusters in the understory of the forest, where its flexible stems and branches ensnare the feet and legs of many a passing mammal. Okay, maybe it’s only the human mammal that gets caught up in the tangle.

At one time folks claimed that having this plant growing around one’s abode would protect one from witches, for they could not walk through it. By this logic, every person who has ever tried to push his way through a thicket of the stuff is endowed with the mystical powers allotted just to witches.

However, it turns out that in this case “witch” is a corruption of the Old English word wiððe (pronounced “withy”), which we know today as “withe.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, wiððe means “twisted cord, willow twig”; today we define withe as supple, as in flexible and easily bent. This describes the stems of witch-hobble and witherod (another of our native viburnums, which also goes by the name wild raisin, V. cassinoides), both of which are somewhat floppy of stem, bending over with ease so they can put down roots and expand their domains. This contributes to witch-hobble’s ability to ensnare the unwary.

When spring rolls around, witch-hobble blooms with flat heads of flowers that are as big as your hand. The white flowers later turn into bright red fruits, which are loved by many a woodland creature, such as ruffed grouse, cedar waxwings, brown thrashers, and squirrels.

As the days shorten and the nights get cooler, the leaves of witch-hobble start to turn a blotchy purple color, making them look rather bruised. The year is winding down and the plants in the woods are preparing for winter’s dormancy. Next year’s buds are secured for the winter, the sap is stored in the roots, and this year’s seeds have been produced and disseminated. It’s time to sleep.

This brings us back to those buds, which are now blatantly obvious in the winter woods, thanks to their sulphur-yellow color. Most plants in our northern forests have what we consider typical buds: little conical things that are covered with scales. Some buds become mighty branches over time, while others house next year’s leaves. The scales themselves are actually modified leaves, and are a relatively new evolutionary trend in the plant world, developed to keep the new life within safe from the rigors of winter (cold, dry air).

Not so with witch-hobble. Witch-hobble has gone a different route, one found more frequently in the tropics, where cold temps and dry air are not typically a problem, regardless of season. Because the tropics are usually warm and damp, buds don’t need protection from the elements, so they don’t develop scales.

Primitive plants also have scale-less buds. I suspect this is because way back in the days of the dinosaurs, when primitive plants ruled (and you thought the dinosaurs were in charge), the climate was essentially tropical, so, again, there was no need to protect new growth in weather-proof cases. Instead, these warm-climate plants, primitive and modern both, sport what botanists refer to as naked buds – those with no protective covering at all.

In the evolutionary world of bud development, there is a progression that runs the gamut from totally naked (embryonic leaves exposed to the world), to hairy (anything from a light pubescence to downright wooliness), to scales (some thin and papery, others additionally coated with a lacquer-like goo). Those of us who spend time gazing at plants through hand lenses are quite familiar with the differences; the rest of the world remains in the dark.

Now, knowing that scales developed to keep a plant’s future leaves protected from the elements of winter, one has to wonder why in the world witch-hobble (and the other viburnums, for that matter) has chosen to do the Lady Godiva routine. What sort of evolutionary advantage is there to having naked buds in the north? This is a question that I’ve had difficulty answering. The internet was no help; my 100-year-old botany books were no help. I called my friend Evelyn who recommended a couple more friends – the search for an answer was on. Nancy Slack was able to shed a little light on the situation.

Long story short, there are 120 species of viburnums in the world, growing variously from North America all the way to Java. Of these, some have scaly buds, and others do not. Those species found in the Adirondacks (witch-hobble, witherod) are in the naked bud category. Viburnums are not primitive plants, so we can’t claim that they are a hold-over from ancient times; it seems that they’ve just done very well without bud scales. When you look closely at these sulphur-colored buds, you see the basic leaf shape sitting right there, exposed for all the world to see. The “skin” of these embryonic leaves, however, is quite thick, and it is rather fuzzy. It seems that these two traits are all the viburnum needs to survive our cold, dry winters. They are tough little buds, able to face the worst winter can throw at them and still unfurl in the spring, to bring bright green leaves to the forest understory.

Once again old Mother Nature threw a puzzle in our laps, the proverbial gauntlet that the curious naturalist, like a cat, simply cannot refuse to pick up and pursue. It’s these little conundrums that make being a naturalist interesting, frustrating, and ultimately, triumphantly enjoyable. Grab yourself a hand lens and get out into the winter woods – you never know what mystery is lurking just around the next bend.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Siamese Ponds: The New Botheration Pond Trail

The 114,000-acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area has always been one of the premiere places to cross-country ski in the Adirondacks. But this winter, the region offers something even more compelling: a new trail.

This is the first winter that skiers can travel the eight-mile Botheration Pond Loop, a route that circles around the Balm of Gilead Mountain and several lesser hills. The route begins and ends at Old Farm Clearing, located near the Garnet Hill cross-country ski resort.

The loop combines existing trails with more than a mile of new trails and two bridges, 35- and 55-feet long, that were built last summer by nearly a dozen volunteers and DEC staff under the supervision of Ranger Steve Ovitt. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reminder: 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History

We’re still looking for ideas about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. We’ll be offering a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks on January 18th. Head over to the original post to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Suggestions should reflect the environmental, cultural, and political history of the park, and they need not be residents of the region, provided their impact was significantly felt here.



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