Tuesday, November 24, 2009

John Brown 150th Commemoration Event

Margaret Gibbs, Director of the Essex County Historical Society / Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown has sent along the following notice of the 150th Commemoration of John Brown scheduled for December 6th. Regular Adirondack Almanack readers know that I have been writing a series of posts on John Brown, his anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry Virginia, subsequent capture, trial, and execution. You can read the entire series here.

Here is the press release outlining the commemoration events:

On Sunday, December 6, 2009 the Adirondack History Center Museum is commemorating John Brown on the 150th anniversary of his death and the return of his body to Essex County. Events are scheduled in Westport and Elizabethtown in recognition of the role Essex County citizens played at the time of the return of John Brown’s body to his final resting place in North Elba. In the cause of abolition, John Brown raided the U. S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on the night of October 16, 1859. The raid resulted in the capture of John Brown and the deaths of his sons Oliver & Watson and his sons-in-law William and Dauphin Watson. John Brown was tried in Charles Town, Virginia on charges of treason and inciting slaves to rebellion and murder. He was found guilty and hanged on December 2, 1859.

John Brown’s body was transported from Harper’s Ferry to Vergennes, VT, accompanied by his widow, Mary Brown. From Vermont the body was taken across Lake Champlain by sail ferry to Barber’s Point in Westport, and the journey continued through the Town of Westport and on to Elizabethtown. The funeral cortege arrived in Elizabethtown at 6 o’clock on the evening of December 6th 1859. The body of John Brown was taken to the Essex County Court House and “watched” through the night by four local young men. Mary Brown and her companions spent the night across the street at the Mansion House, now known as the Deer’s Head Inn. On the morning of December 7th the party continued on to North Elba. The burial of John Brown was on December 8th attended by many residents of Essex County.

The commemorative program on December 6th begins at 1:00 pm at the Westport Heritage House with award-winning author Russell Banks reading from his national bestselling novel, Cloudsplitter, about John Brown, his character and his part in the abolitionist movement. The program continues with a lecture by Don Papson, John Brown and the Underground Railroad, on whether or not Brown sheltered runaway slaves at his North Elba farm. Don Papson is the founding President of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. The program continues in Elizabethtown at 3:30 pm at the United Church of Christ with The Language that Shaped the World, a tapestry of sounds, stories and characters portraying the human spirit and the fight for freedom. At 4:30 pm a procession follows John Brown’s coffin from the United Church of Christ to the Old Essex County Courthouse. At 5:00 pm the public may pay their respects at the Old Essex County Courthouse with the coffin lying in state. The program concludes at 5:30 PM with a reception held at the Deer’s Head Inn.

The cost for all events of the day including the Deer’s Head Inn reception is $40 ticket, or a $15 donation covers the programs at the Westport Heritage House and The Language that Shaped the World only. Reservations are requested. The procession and Courthouse are free and open to the public. The Westport Heritage House is located at 6459 Main Street, Westport, NY. The United Church of Christ, is located beside the museum on Court Street, Elizabethtown, NY. For more information, please contact the museum at 518-873-6466 or email echs@adkhistorycenter.org.

The December 6th program is part of a series of events from December 4-8, 2009 presented for the John Brown Coming Home Commemoration through the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau. For a complete schedule of events go to www.johnbrowncominghome.com.


Monday, November 23, 2009

New Scholarship Fund for DEC Conservation Education Camps

Since 1948 when Camp DeBruce opened in the Catskills, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has operated a residential conservation education summer camp for young New Yorkers. Four camps, Camp Colby (near Saranac Lake), at the Pack Demonstration Forest in Warrensburg, and DeBruce and Rushford (downstate), serve children 12 to 14 and also provide locations for week-long Ecology Workshops for 15 to 17-year-olds.

Students who want to attend the camps can choose from one of eight weeks in July and August. They are encouraged to participate in Returnee Week, for campers who have already had the camp program. Returnee week includes special trips and activities and includes more than 200 annual returning campers. According to the DEC, “Returning campers are specially chosen for their demonstrated interest in building upon their outdoor recreation experiences and their knowledge of the state’s natural resources.”

This past week DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced that DEC and the National Heritage Trust (NHT) has established a summer camp scholarship fund in memory of Emily Timbrook (above left), a camper who attended and later volunteered at Camp Rushford in Allegany County and who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in April 2009.

The money collected through donations to the scholarship fund will be used for scholarships to send some returning campers to DEC’s summer camps for free.

Those who want to contribute to the scholarship fund to help send a young person to camp can send a check to NHT Camps, c/o Director of Management and Budget Services,
NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-5010.

Those wishing to make a contribution in memory of Emily Timbrook, should write “Emily” in the memo section of the check. NHT is tax exempt pursuant to Section 170(b) of the Internal Revenue Code and has been designated a 501(c)(3) corporation. The Trust will send out acknowledgment letters to donors.

Information and detailed program descriptions of the environmental education camps are
available at www.dec.ny.gov/education/29.html. For additional information contact edcamps@gw.dec.state.ny.us or call 518-402-8014. Registration starts in early February.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Supporting Christie Sausa, Lake Placid Skater

Lake Placid Skater blog author Christie Sausa is looking for our help. Sausa entered a blog contest sponsored by Microsoft Office and the United States Olympic Committee. Two lucky bloggers will win a trip to Vancouver to cover the Olympics on their blog. Last week, Sausa learned that she has been chosen as one of contest’s semi-finalists in the Student Category. The ten semi-finalist were chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, including five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair and online video stars Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld from CollegeHumor.com. Now Christie Sausa needs our help – you can vote here.

The next three finalists for each category will be decided by online voting. We can help Sausa by heading over to the contest site and casting your vote for our local favorite. You can vote once per day per email address.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

No Adirondack Park Agency Meeting in December

The Adirondack Park Agency will not hold its December 10-11, 2009 regularly scheduled board meeting. According to an APA press release, “No agency proceedings requiring Board action are necessary before the regularly scheduled January 2010 meeting.” APA Chairman Curtis F. Stiles stated (in the release) that “Due to a lack of actionable content for our December meeting, it is in the best economic interest of the Agency and New York State to cancel our meeting originally scheduled for December 10 and 11, 2009.”

The Agency will resume its monthly meeting schedule January 14 and 15, 2010.

For informtaion about the agency’s meetings, public hearings and other activities visit http://www.apa.state.ny.us/.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adirondack Tree Identification 102


Now that we’ve mastered the trees with opposite branching, it’s time to turn our attention to those whose branches alternate from left to right (more or less). There are many species of trees that fit this category, and many of them exist here in the Adirondacks. To write even a quick ID guide for all of them would take more space than we have here, so I’m only going to touch on those that are most commonly found.

So there you are, staring at your mystery tree. You’ve determined it’s not a conifer, and its branches sprout in an alternate fashion, one to the left, one to the right, etc. It is autumn, or perhaps winter, so leaves have fallen off the majority of the deciduous trees. Perhaps, however, your tree is still hanging on to its leaves. The leaves are tan in color and they have a crinkly, papery feel to them. If you look at the buds, they look like tiny cigars: long and pointy. In fact, if you poke the bud into your finger, it might even hurt, like you pricked your finger with a needle. If your specimen is a young tree, the bark is likely a smooth pale grey. Older specimens, while historically also a smooth pale grey, today look worn and tired. The bark seems to have slumped; it is cracked and may even be falling off, a victim of disease. Your tree is the American beech, once one of the grandest trees in our northern forests, and a staple in the diets of many animals, from turkey and bears to squirrels and deer. The big clue for beech is the leaves (I know, I wasn’t going to dwell on leaves, but there’s always the exception). Beech leaves persist throughout the winter, making this tree very easy to identify in the snowy woods.

Let’s say, instead, that your tree has bark that is peeling off sideways. Ah-ha! Birch, you say. Yes, but which birch? In youngish specimens, it is easy to tell white birch from yellow, but sometimes older specimens have darkened with age and suddenly it’s no longer so easy to tell them apart. White, or paper birch, typically has bright white bark, the underside of which is a pinkish color. When it peels, the strips are fairly wide, and thick. Yellow birch is more bronze in color, and its bark tends to peel off in thin papery ringlets. A really big clue that you can use to tell white birch from yellow is smell. If you can find a small twig hanging from a branch low enough to reach, scrape a short section with your fingernail and give it a sniff. Does it smell like wintergreen? If so, you have a yellow birch. And yes, black birch (aka: sweet birch) also produces this aroma, but it’s not as common around these parts as the yellow. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a black birch. As for grey birch, well, in the Adirondacks that’s strictly an ornamental tree, found in yards. It’s easily recognized by the black “moustaches” that decorate the bark where every branch sprouts from the trunk.

If you are lucky and have musclewood/ironwood/blue beech/American hornbeam, you will be able to recognize it in a heartbeat, for the trunk of this smallish tree resembles a forearm that is bulging with muscles. There’s nothing else like it.

American hop hornbeam is another one of our smallish trees. The fruits look like hops – layered, papery scales. The bark is also quite distinctive; it looks like many narrow rectangles stuck lengthwise to the side of the tree, some of which are peeling up from the bottom.

Believe it or not, we have quite a number of American elm trees around. Large, mature specimens, while not common, are easily identified by their classic “vase shape”. If you find a small one with leaves, you’ll note that they are asymmetrical in shape and feel like sandpaper. The bark, however, can come in two different varieties: smooth (not smooth like a beech, but more like it once had ridges that were then flattened), and furrowed (narrow ridges that weave in and out of each other, much like the white ash, but not corky in texture).

And then there’s my old friend the black cherry, the bane of my college dendrology days. I finally came to the conclusion that if I was facing a tree that I could not ID, it must be a black cherry, and this actually worked pretty well, but it’s a lousy way to identify something. Today I can give you a much easier, and more accurate, way to identify this tree: the bark looks like burnt cornflakes. You can’t miss it! Black cherry bark is probably one of the easiest to identify off all the trees. Even kids in first grade can easily learn this tree. Burnt cornflakes = black cherry. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Learning to identify trees can be a lot of fun, but you don’t want to tackle them all at once. Start with something easy, like the conifers. Then work your way through those with opposite branching, and finally take on the alternates. Try to learn the distinctive characteristics of each. In some it might be the leaves, in others the bark, the buds, or even the fruits. Remember that seedlings and saplings often look a lot different from mature specimens. And location, location, location: you won’t find a sugar maple in a swamp, and likewise you won’t find a black spruce where the soil is rich and loamy.

Once you learn your trees, the forest becomes just that much more familiar. The next thing you know, you’ll be learning to identify the other plants that keep the trees company. And then you just might find yourself wondering “I wonder what this plant can be used for?” That’s when plant ID ascends to a whole new level and things become really interesting. So, give it a go…you never know where a little bit of knowledge might lead you.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights

Each Friday Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers the week’s best stories and links from the web about the Adirondacks. You can find all our weekly web highlights here.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Lake George Steamboats Resuming Service to Bolton Landing

The Lake George Steamboat Company suspended service to Bolton Landing in 2006, citing the poor condition of the town pier as its reason for discontinuing a tradition that began in the nineteenth century. Next summer, though, after a three year hiatus, the steamboats will return.

At its monthly meeting in November, the Bolton Town Board voted unanimously to accept a bid of $929,292 from The Dock Doctors of Ferrisburg, Vermont to restore the pier and to appropriate funds for the work, which is expected to be completed in July.

The Board agreed to borrow up to $650,000 from the town’s share of the proceeds from last summer’s sale of the Sagamore grant to help fund the project. “People have wanted the service back ever since it stopped,” said Bolton Supervisor Kathy Simmes. “It’s one of our town’s amenities”

Awaiting the arrival of the Lake George Steamboat Company’s Mohican had become a favorite rite of summers in Bolton Landing. As the boat’s captain blew her whistle, she was greeted to with shouts and waves from the nearby beach as well as by passengers hurrying to the pier to board.

“I was sorry to have to end service,” said Bill Dow, the president of the Lake George Steamboat Company. “As late as the 1970s and 80s, we’d have as many as 100 people waiting at the dock. In recent years, those numbers have dwindled, but we hope they can be revived.”

The new pier will not only accommodate the Mohican; the 190 ft Lac du St Sacrement will also be able to pick up passengers in Bolton Landing.

“That’s a huge advantage for the Sagamore,” said Kevin Rosa, the resort’s director of marketing and sales. “We have groups that charter the Lac du St Sacrement but those groups have had to meet the boat in Lake George Village. A shorter trip to the Bolton Pier will help immensely. “

Shoreline Cruises’ Horicon and Adirondac have also been invited to make use of the pier, as has the Sagamore’s Morgan, Simmes said.

The Town contracted with an engineering firm, Schoder River Associates, to design the reconstructed pier. According to councilman Jason Saris, the design calls for the removal of the pier’s timbers above the waterline. “Rather than replacing the wood, the pier will feature pre-cast concrete with a stone-like face that will match the sea wall,” said Saris. “It will be aesthetically pleasing and much more durable.”

Timber pilings that were attached to the face of the pier will be replaced by concrete-filled steel pilings implanted in bedrock, Saris said. “When the face of the pier deteriorated, there was nothing left to secure the pilings,” Saris said.
The LA group, a planning and design firm, has proposed a renovation of the pier’s surface, said Saris.

The plan includes removing the existing gazebo and replacing it with other seating areas, said Saris. Plans also call for doubling the capacity of the town’s public docks, allowing space for as many as sixteen boats to tie up at any one time.
“This is very significant,” said Saris. “We really wanted to increase dock space in town so people will be able to come by water to our restaurants and shops.”
Plans call for reserving at least two slips for boaters picking up or dropping off passengers, said Saris.

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror, or visit http://lakegeorgemirror.com.


Friday, November 20, 2009

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adirondack Music Scene:Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and More

Saturday night I will be checking out Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad at The Red Square in downtown Albany. I never considered myself a big reggae fan until I met these guys. It was at The Red Square in 2005. A band called Mountain Mojo Authority was playing and the percussionist (Buddy Honeycutt) and keyboard player (Aaron Lipp) were in both bands, both reggae bands from Rochester. Mountain Mojo broke up soon after, and Giant Panda’s lineup swelled to seven members. In 2007, Honeycutt left the band leaving two guitars, bass, drums, and two keyboard players.

The band recently downsized to just 4 players. Vocalist / Guitar Player Matt O’Brian and Keyboardist Rachel Orke (a couple) have moved on to pursue other interests. While this would appear to leave a gaping hole in the sound, I have complete faith that these guys have already filled the void and that this will open new possibilities. Giant Panda now consists of James Searl on bass and vocals, Chris O’Brian (Matt’s brother) on drums, Dylan Savage on guitar and vocals, and Aaron Lipp on keyboards.
Giant Panda has played several shows in the Adirondacks. They played the Songs at the lake Concert Series in Lake Placid in 2008, The Music by the River Concert Series in North Creek in 2008 and 2009, a few shows at the Waterhole in 2008 and 2009, and I think they played in 2006 and 2007 at ‘the other place’ in Saranac Lake. The first time I saw them live, I hired them for our annual raft guide party in North Creek in 2007.

The Red Square is on Broadway in Albany, 2 blocks closer to the river than the Knick (Times Union Center). Doors are at 8pm, but they don’t usually take the stage until after 10pm.

Thursday, November 19

Power Duo Sirsy is at Gaffney’s in Saratoga at 10pm. Looks interesting with a female drummer/vocalist and a guitar player.
Band: http://www.sirsy.com
Venue: http://www.gaffneysrestaurant.com

Friday, November 20

The Rubblebucket Orchestra is at The Putnam Den in Saratoga at 10pm. I first saw these guys open for Giant Panda in Rochester. They are a wild collection of percussion and horns.
Band: http://www.rubblebucket.com
Venue: http://www.putnamden.com

Saturday, November 21

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad will be playing The Red Square in Albany at 10pm.
Official Band Site: http://www.giantpandadub.com
Band MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/giantpandadub
Live Music Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/GiantPandaGuerillaDubSquad
Venue: http://www.redsquarealbany.com

Plattsburgh area band Lucid will be playing the Putnam Den on Saturday night. Opening the show will be a band called Dirty Little Boogie Band. Lucid headlined this year’s Backwoods Pondfest in Peru, NY.
Band: http://www.myspace.com/rulucid
Venue: http://www.putnamden.com

Capital Zen is at LaCasbah in Potsdam. It looks like they have great Mediterranean menu and live music every Friday night at 9pm.
Band: http://www.myspace.com/capitalzenmusic
Venue: http://www.lacasbahny.com

Sunday, November 22

Two Kribs (John & Orion) will be playing the Stony Creek Inn at 5pm and their weekly Mexican Night starts at 4pm. Only a couple weeks left until these guys close down for the winter.
Venue: http://www.stonycreek.net

Wednesday, November 25

The Blonde Roots at barVino in North Creek from 8-10pm. No Cover.
Venue: http://www.barvino.net

Grateful Dead cover band Half Step will be playing a mid-week show at The Putnam Den in Saratoga at 10pm. These guys have been playing shows since 1991, one memorable one being 12-31-99 at The Glens Falls Civic Center with The South Catherine Street Jug Band.
Band: http://www.halfstep.org
Venue: http://www.putnamden.com

Photo: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad playing at The Music by the River Concert Series in North Creek, 08-15-09, photo by Nate Pelton


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adirondack Bird Research Resources

It’s 4 a.m. on a chilled morning in early June. Still three hours away from sunrise so my weak headlamp casts an eerie and unnatural glow to the trail as I pick my way through rock, stream, and unseen balsam fir branches. I’m heading to the summit of Wright Peak in the Adirondack High Peaks Region. Nearing the summit I must first stop every 250 meters from a predetermined point on my map. Here I listen for any bird song that might be heard and then record it in my notes. I chuckle as I think that it’s more like the first “yawn” I hear from these birds. Over a 30-day period myself and dozens of other crazy but doggedly determined volunteer birders are assisting an organization to acquire desperately needed information on some bird species that live on the mountains.

Fast-forward to the end of June, still early morning, and I’m slogging my way through a blackfly-infested bog in the wild regions of the Santa Clara Tract. I’m nearing an area known as the Madawaska Flow. Here I’m still listening for, identifying, and counting bird species but now I’m in a completely different habitat. This lowland environment reveals new species that need to be counted for another study. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moby Dick and the Adirondacks

Long ago there were whales at the edge of the Adirondacks, but it wasn’t till last year that I saw one myself—the same day our trail was blocked by a bull moose, another creature I’ve yet to see here. This wild kingdom was on Gaspe peninsula, Quebec. The whale left a huge impression, as did Moby Dick. I can’t pretend to have read this engrossing however longass 1851 book, but I listened to it on tape during that trip, and it took another week to finish it. So it was as unexpected as a water spout to spy a poster announcing that Pendragon Theatre, in Saranac Lake, is staging the story this weekend.

Pendragon’s Web site has an explanation. “Moby Dick Rehearsed is a play that attempts to turn the 800-page novel into a two-hour play,” says director Karen Kirkham of Dickinson College. “That in itself is a feat to admire. Orson Welles’s 1955 play is little known. Even less known is Welles’s repeated opinion in interviews later in life that the play ‘is my finest work—in any form.’”

The show is at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21, at and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 22. Tentative performances in December are Dec. 4 at 7:30 and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. The production will tour schools and arts centers around the region until March. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for seniors and students; $10 for age 17 and under. Pendragon is at 15 Brandy Brook Avenue. For information and reservations, contact Pendragon Theatre (518) 891-1854 or pdragon@northnet.org.

A 1930 edition of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent, who lived in Ausable Forks, is credited as a factor in the novel’s rediscovery. You can see Kent’s powerful pen and ink drawings at this link to the Plattsburgh College Foundation and Art Museum, to whom many of Kent’s works were bequeathed by his widow, Sally Kent Gorton. The 1930 printing was first offered as a limited edition of 1,000 copies in three volumes held in metal slipcases. AntiQbook is offering a set for $9,500—something for the Christmas list.

Cover of the 1930 Chicago, Lakeside Press edition of Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adirondack Tree Indentification 101

I was a Stumpy – a student at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry. While an undergrad, I was enrolled in the Dual Program: Resource Management (forestry) and Environmental and Forest Biology. A required course for forestry majors, as you might well imagine, was dendrology, or the study of trees, and a huge part of dendro was simply learning to identify one species of tree from the next.

Looking back at my dendro class through the lens of time, I am constantly amazed at how difficult I found tree ID. The tree that gave me the worst trouble was the black cherry, which today I could almost identify blindfolded, standing on one foot, and with both hands tied behind my back. I suspect it was the leaves.

When most people learn to identify trees, they try to learn the leaves, but for the novice, one lobed leaf looks much the same as the next. Red maple or sugar? Maybe it’s striped maple? A serrated, or toothed, leaf looks like any other serrated (or toothed) leaf. Aspen? Cottonwood? Elm? Hophornbeam? Birch? And then what do you do when fall has wreaked its havoc on the trees, leaving the forest naked? How in the world are you supposed to know which tree is which now?

Over the years I have refined my tree ID skills, and today when I teach tree ID, I may touch on leaf shape and form, but I spend more time looking at those parts of the tree that are visible year round: the bark and branches. In fact, I’ve boiled the whole subject down to a series of simple questions that even kids as young as ten are able to follow.

First, take a look at your tree. Is it a conifer (does it have needles) or a hardwood (does it loose its leaves in the fall)? If it is a conifer, we next address the needles and bark. Do the needles turn yellow and fall off in the fall (larch)? Does the bark have blisters that ooze a sticky aromatic resin when punctured (balsam fir)? Are the needles attached to the tree via small “pegs” (spruces)? Maybe the needles flattened and scale-like and the bark looks like a cat’s been using it for a scratching post – that would be a cedar. If you crush the cedar’s needles, they have a beautiful citrus-y scent that is very distinctive.

If said tree is not a conifer, it must be a hardwood (or deciduous). So we look at how the branches are arranged on the tree: are they opposite (like my arms) or do they alternate (like my left arm and right leg)? Very few species of trees here in the northeast have opposite branching, and they are easily remembered by recalling the phrase MAD Cap Horse. MAD stands for Maple, Ash, Dogwood; Cap refers to the family Caprifoliaceae, which are the honeysuckles; Horse is simply horsechestnut. Since honeysuckles are really more shrub-like than tree-like, I usually ignore them as a category. Here in the central Adirondacks we don’t have horsechestnuts, so I delete them as well. This leaves us with MAD.

Around Newcomb, we have only a few species that we can squeeze into the MAD classification. Maples: red, sugar and striped. Ash: white. Dogwood: grey-stemmed, red-osier, alternate leafed.

The dogwoods we have up here are pretty small trees, barely more than shrubs. Their buds look like onions, or the domes of eastern orthodox churches seen in photos from Russia and the Ukraine (well, sort of; flowering dogwood, which we don’t have, has onion-shaped buds, and red-osier sort of does; with a little imagination, so does the grey-stemmed). If you take a look at their leaves, the veins are curved, or arched (arcuate). But if you’re standing in the woods craning your neck upwards to figure out what the leaves look like, you aren’t looking at a dogwood, and so, like the honeysuckles, we can easily eliminate dogwoods from consideration.

The process of elimination as brought our opposite-branched trees down to two possibilities: maples and ashes. If the leaves are still on the tree, and you can see them, this can be a clue. Ashes have compound leaves: each leaf is composed of multiple leaflets. Maples have simple leaves with three to five lobes. But suppose the leaves have fallen off and all you can see is the bark. Not a problem. Take a good close look. Feel the bark. Is it kind of corky? Can you easily stick your thumbnail into it? Does it look like many small ridges that weave in and out of each other? If so, you are looking at the white ash, the tree that sportsmen love, for its wood has been the primary source of such sports equipment as tennis rackets and baseball bats.

But suppose it’s not a white ash that you are staring at. If the branches are opposite, and you’ve eliminated all but the maples, then it must be a maple. Striped maple is easy to identify, for it rarely gets larger than three or four inches in diameter. I’ve seen some specimens that push a six inch dbh (diameter at breast height, which is measured at 4.5 ft. above the ground), but they are not common. Striped maple, true to its name, has white-ish stripes on its smooth greenish bark. Its leaves are large and look a lot like goose feet.

Red maple, well, that’s a tree that likes to have its feet wet. If you are in a lowland area, near a marsh or other wetland, and you see a tree with opposite branching, it is likely a red maple. Its leaves, if you can find one, have three distinctive lobes, all with sharply pointed teeth. The sinuses, or dips between the lobes, are also pointy, forming a nice sharp “v”.

Sugar maple, that tree adored by leaf peepers and pancake-lovers alike, prefers to live on rocky slopes, with its feet away from the water. The bark on a mature specimen is pale grey and kind of looks like it is made from plate armor (sometimes you need to apply a little imagination). Some of the sides of the plates may be peeled away from the trunk of the tree. If you find a leaf still attached to the tree, you will note that it has five lobes, and instead of sharp pointy teeth, it has gentle swoops. The sinuses between the lobes are u-shaped, as opposed to the v-shape of the red maples.

When it comes to the trees that are alternately branched, we are facing a larger selection of species, and I’ll write about them next time. In the meantime, take the information I’ve given you here, grab a kid or two, and head out into your yard. See if you can find some trees with opposite branches and try your hand at identifying them. The next time you go for a hike, see how many opposites you can find. Do they like each other’s company? Can you ferret out other clues that you can add to your ID arsenal?

Once you start to recognize tree species, you will begin to notice other plants (and animals) that associate with them. Forest communities will become apparent. Before you know it, the trees of the forest will seem like old friends, familiar faces you can recognize in any crowd, and I find that hiking with friends makes being outside that much more pleasurable. Perhaps you will, too.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Short Adirondack Hike For Short Days

November is one of those in-between months, sort of like mud or black-fly season, where your outdoor activities are sort of limited. There’s no snow yet (not anymore, not like the old days anyway), it’s too cold to paddle unless you’re a die-hard and without any leaves the woods certainly don’t look terribly appealing. Not to mention the fact that it gets dark only a few hours past noon.

Our advice for a hike during these dreary, pre-winter days? Keep it short.

A good outing for those in the Lake George area, or living in the Capital Region, is Sleeping Beauty. This 2,162-foot-high treeless peak is less than two miles from the parking lot (assuming you’re brave enough to drive the one-lane, 1.5-mile road to Dacy Clearing from Shelving Rock Road — but I’ve done it several times in a sedan and never had a problem). And though it gains steeply toward the end it’s a climb any hiker should be able to tackle.

To reach the trailhead, 149 east of Route 9 in Queensbury, and make a left on Buttermilk Falls Road. Follow that road for a good 10 to 15 minutes until you enter the Shelving Rock woods. You’ll see a huge parking lot on the right, and at the end of that will be the road to Dacy Clearing (or park here and walk the road if you like). Don’t make the right onto Hogback Road.

Trail signs point the way to Sleeping Beauty, which at first follows an old, rugged dirt road. Eventually, the trail leaves the road and climbs steeply past rock cliffs to the summit, which provides a sterling view over most of Lake George.

If you left early enough you’ll have time to explore some of the many trails in this area. Bumps Pond, just north of Sleeping Beauty, makes a nice loop, and Fishbrook Pond further north will make the loop even longer. There’s a nice leanto at Fishbrook to have lunch and a number of other loop options if the short days still haven’t caught up to you.

While the trails are well-signed, an ADK Eastern Region trail map will go a long way to helping you choose your destinations. Remember to pack a flashlight and warm clothes, and enjoy.

Photo: Lake George from Sleeping Beauty.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: ADK Leonid Meteor Shower

My husband and I were up in the pre-dawn morning with probably half the world to essentially watch a fiery burning of debris enter the atmosphere. To then describe to my child a scientific reason for getting out of bed took a bit of research and a chat with an expert.

In layman’s terms (that is all I’ve got) the Leonid Meteors got their name from their apparent relationship to the constellation Leo. The meteors, some no larger than a speck of dust, derive from the parent comet Tempel-Tuttle. Ernest Tempel (December 1865) and Horace Tuttle (January 1866) individually recognized that the Tempel-Tuttle Comet was a recurring one.

The Tempel-Tuttle Comet takes a little over 33 years to orbit the sun. Each time the comet is closest to the sun it sheds particles that cluster together. Depending on where Earth passes through in the comet’s debris trail depends on the intensity of the meteors. Some years there can be as many as 500 meteors falling per hour. This year is not a “sky is falling” type of meteor year but certainly a way to introduce children to astronomy. The phase of the moon coupled with a clear night is what will make viewing the Leonids a pleasurable experience for all.

President of the Tupper Lake Observatory Mark Staves says, “The Leonid Meteor shower does occur every year but since we will have a new moon on the 18th, moonlight won’t be a factor. Moonlight usually diminishes the effect of the meteors. When the light from the meteor shower competes with the moonlight it is not as spectacular.”

He says, “After midnight start to search for meteors toward the east. As the morning progressives look toward southeast and then about 5:00 a.m. the meteors should be toward the south.”

The Adirondack Loj will be hosting a meteor-searching, s’more-eating campfire this evening at Heart Lake. Even though the early dawn of November 17th was predicted as the peak of the meteor shower the darkened skies coupled with the wide-open mountaintops over Heart Lake will present perfect viewing.

The timing of this event is late for little ones. This free program is hosted by an ADK naturalist and runs from 9:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. tonight. If you can’t make this event the meteor showers will still be able for viewing from any dark wide-open space through the 20th of this month, lessening in frequency as the moonlight brightens in intensity.

“They (meteors) can be intensive,” Staves says. “It would help children to understand that what they are actually seeing is something as small as a speck of dust but traveling 50 times the speed of sound.”

When something so small hits the atmosphere so fast the heat created causes the sand-sized particles to vaporize Staves summarizes.

As for the Tupper Lake Observatory, board members are in the process of putting together the necessary permit applications to the Adirondack Park Agency.

“We have architectural renderings for a Roll-Off Observatory,” Staves says. “The 24-30’ building will have a gantry roof structure so that the whole roof can come off. All the equipment will be set up there permanently. The roof will roll off completely and have a full view of the night sky. We anticipate breaking ground summer of 2010.”

Photo Credit: Simon Filiatrault


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cross-Country Ski Centers of the Adirondacks

These aren’t little rascals, they’re good Dewey Mountain kids, helping get their cross-country ski trails ready for winter. The Harrietstown ski area, run by Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, hosts a volunteer work day 9:30–3:30 Saturday to build a bridge and finish drainage work that’s been ongoing all autumn. (All welcome!) Dewey’s just one of many Adirondack ski centers preparing for opening day.

The park of course has limitless free backcountry skiing on Forest Preserve, but a midwinter thaw can reveal the beauty of more civilized gliding. Most x-c ski centers pack the base so it holds up better after rain or heatwave. For races and growing legions of skate-skiers, trail grooming is a must. Plus, it’s just nice to have a hut when kids are learning to ski—a warm place to change boots or have a cup of cocoa. At night the lodges become the hub of ski parties.

Alan Wechsler gave us the rundown of downhill areas earlier this month, and we featured Tug Hill ski destinations this morning. So below are links to Adirondack cross-country ski centers. Some have lodging, some have food, some link to larger trail networks; no two are alike but each has something to make it worth the price of admission.

Garnet Hill Lodge, North River, 55 kilometers of trails

Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, Northville, 38 km

Dewey Mountain X-C Ski and Snowshoe Recreation Center, Saranac Lake, 15 km

Cascade Ski Touring Center, Lake Placid, 20 km

Mount Van Hoevenberg Verizon Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, 50+ km

Whiteface Club and Resort, Lake Placid, 15 km

Lake Placid Crown Plaza Resort, 25 km

The Jackrabbit Trail is a town-to-town trail linking all the way from Keene to Paul Smiths. Definitely not a ski center, but we love it, and volunteers take great care of the trails. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council, the donor-supported organization that maintains it, reports up-to-date trail conditions for the Jackrabbit, the High Peaks backcountry and several Lake Placid-area ski centers.

The Paul Smiths and Newcomb Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) have well-kept trails as well as warm buildings, and they’re free.

Time to bookmark the snow-depth map!

Photograph taken and enhanced by Jason Smith, co-manager of Dewey Mountain



Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!