The Adirondack Park Agency celebrated Arbor Day 2011 with a tree planting in honor of Clarence Petty. Petty was one of the first employees at the Adirondack Park Agency following a long career with the NYS Conservation Department. He served on the Pomeroy Commission (Inter-Legislative Committee on Natural Resources) and the Temporary Study Commission on the Adirondacks.
Mr. Petty had a profound impact on the Adirondack Park and is considered one of the most influential environmentalists of the 20th century. » Continue Reading.
In the late nineteenth century, ice harness racing made its Adirondack debut, becoming a major winter sport which flourished well into the 1940s. Ice racing used to attract large crowds. Today, however, it seems that knowledge of it has quietly slipped from our historical grasp.
The Franklin Malone Gazette‘s “Horsemen’s’ Column” from January 29, 1897 captures the excitement surrounding these races in an article about Saranac Lake: “In spite of the cold weather last week the ice races were decidedly ‘hot’ in more senses than one. The bracing Adirondack air seemed to give the enthusiastic horsemen a tremendous appetite for – well, for refreshments of all kinds – and the many hotels of the town were thronged during the evening with hundreds of hungry and thirsty sports who seemed to enjoy themselves with a zest and vim seldom encountered at summer races.” How did ice harness racing gain such popularity? In the late nineteenth century, most people owned one if not more horses which were muscular, accustomed to cold weather and used to hauling farm equipment, sleds and coaches. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, bred primarily for racing and jumping, were expensive and of little value for the average Adirondacker who needed practical work horses for transportation and chores.
Frozen lakes offered perfect and easily accessible sites for racing. One need only plow the snow away to create a level track. No clearing of woods and rocks was needed.
A ten foot-wide track shaped like a kite was the most popular shape. This consisted of a large triangular kite-shaped loop, either a half- or full mile-long, on which the actual race was held. A smaller loop, attached where the kite track came to a point served for warming up and later slowing down the horses. The course looked something like a lopsided figure eight.
Judges sat on one side where the loops came together; the spectators stood or sat in grandstands on the other. From this vantage point, watchers could sit close to both the start and finish of the race.
Horses were sharp-shod, meaning they were outfitted with special studded shoes (already in use for ice harvesting) called calks. Horses pulled both sulkies and “Portland Cutters,” though eventually, when it was discovered that wheeled sulkies were slightly faster than sleds, the use of cutters declined.
Racing associations set rules and monitored the races. Purses ran from around 50 to 250 dollars per race, excellent money in the late nineteenth century. Was betting taking place as well? Indisputably. Clarence Petty, who attended the races as a child, recalled that a fair amount of gambling was part of the grownup scene.
For smaller events, most of the participants came from a distance of not much over twenty miles; for larger events, horses were shipped to the site by boxcar.
Encouraged by special reduced railroad rates, spectators flocked to these events from as far away as New York City. Crowd sizes were impressive, numbering anywhere from 400 to 4,000 spectators. To get a feel of the action, imagine standing on the ice, all bundled up, stamping your feet to keep warm, a frigid wind lashing your face as you listen to the drivers snap their whips and urge their horses on. Through icy eyelashes you try to focus on the action as the crowd’s roar reaches a fevered pitch. At the same time, no doubt, you may be looking forward to returning to the welcome warmth of both a hot stove and drink at the end of the day.
According to the New York Times, 14 December 1894, “[There] seems to be more dash and spirit to [harness racing on ice] than there is to the hauling of a bicycle sulky over a dirt track.”
Such was the excitement of this winter entertainment. Anybody for bringing it all back?
Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.
Few people combine so much heart, artistry and teachable strategy as Gary Randorf. This influential, heroic Adirondack photographer and conservation advocate is about 73 now, but he will always be a young man at heart, and he’s still keeping in touch with his many Adirondack friends. I feel fortunate to have interacted with him over the years.
Gary has influenced so many people to look not once, not twice but again and again at the Adirondacks, or any landscape that has such arresting wilderness beauty, subtlety, inhabited by people feeling a deep sense of place. Actually, Gary was teaching when you didn’t realize it. Early in my time with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Gary led a lobbying trip to Albany for the Adirondack Council. He never explicitly taught me how to lobby. He simply took me from office to office, talking as we went. As I recall, Gary was pushing the Legislature to increase funds for land acquisition in the State, and for Park planning at the Adirondack Park Agency.
The Senate Finance committee, chaired By Senator Ron Stafford, was a tough nut to crack. Gary always took the time to sit down with even the most hostile, or seemingly hostile, staff member. On this occasion, a very senior staff member of the Senate Finance Committee started to lecture Gary. Our cause that day was not very important, he said. We were a very small fish swimming in a very large ocean called the NYS budget. Furthermore, people in the Adirondacks were not interested in more land acquisition.
I thought he was brusk and rude to someone of Gary’s stature and experience. Yet, Gary calmly persisted, giving him pertinent information, asking the committee for its consideration, showing him photographs of the areas he was talking about, and hoping the staffer will join Gary in the Adirondacks at his next opportunity to see what was at risk. The staffer ended up smiling at the thought of a field trip. I have never forgotten that effective style.
A few months later, in August 1987, Gary was working for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for a second stint (he and Clarence Petty worked for the APA in the ‘70s, documenting and field checking the Park’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers). On this occasion, Gary was photo documenting the development of the Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs).
I met Gary at the recently cut-over lands destined to be the footprint of the VIC at Paul Smith’s. Gary was giving suggestions to a crew of Camp Gabriels prisoners on how to build boardwalks through the wetlands below the VIC site. He was also taking lots of photographs. Gary has such an eye for scenery, lighting and mood. Two years later, the VIC opened, with Gary’s photographic talents on display, including his photographic exhibit of the marsh as it changed its appearance over the course of a full year.
I enjoyed other rare, precious days with Gary and friends over the years. He left notes on his door – “make yourself at home” – and he always made you feel exactly that way, as he took us to places he had been many times before, but was seeing with fresh eyes. Along the way, the book he had worked on for so long, The Adirondacks: Wild Island of Hope, was finally published. His inscription of my copy meant a lot to me: “Long-time fighter in the trenches for the Forest Preserve.”
In the book’s foreword, Gary writes: “I will share with you how I enjoy the park and introduce you to its natural history because I believe that you must know and understand a place before you can be talked into saving it.” That is so characteristic of Gary’s teaching method. He continues, “The world is watching. We are and will continue to set an example of how to do it – that is, saving a wilderness that includes people. If we fail, we fail not only our state, our country, and ourselves, but also the world.” Wild Island of Hope is no mere picture book. It seeks to teach how we only understand what we appreciate, and only seek to protect what we understand.
I last saw Gary in 2009 thanks to his friends Dan Plumley and John Davis, who brought Gary to a training seminar designed for college students to apply their academic curriculum to real-world challenges of wilderness preservation in the Park. Dan opened the training and invited Gary to follow.
With disarming frankness, Gary talked about his Parkinson’s disease, and how he believed he was afflicted because of the years of exposure to pesticides as a young man earning a living in western New York. He then reminded the students how close the Park had come to widespread, unregulated aerial spraying to kill black flies in the 1980s, and recounted the difficult but rewarding work to stop this aerial assault.
Several students were amazed that spraying for black flies had been practiced, or even been considered in the protected Adirondack Park, which led to an excellent discussion about gaps in legal protection at the state and federal levels, and how current generations must build on the work of their predecessors. The job is never done. Photos: Gary Randorf speaking to students at a 2009 Adirondack Park Stewardship Training seminar, and in a group photo after the session.
The Board of Directors of the Adirondack Historical Association announced today that Caroline M. Welsh, the Director of the Adirondack Museum since 2007, has been replaced by Michael Lombardi, the current Director of Finance and Operations. Lombardi is being named Interim Director, and Welsh, who has been with the museum since 1987, will become Senior Art Historian and Director Emerita.
Welsh served the Adirondack Museum for over two decades, first as a Curator and then as Director. Just two months after her ascension to the top spot in February 2007, the museum unveiled its ill-fated and sometimes controversial plan to build a museum extension in Lake Placid. Those plans were later abandoned, and the former Adirondack Church of the Nazarene that had been located on the site was demolished. This past fall, the museum also closed their Lake Placid storefront operation. “The subsequent and continuing economic downturn have forced a strategic re-thinking of the museum’s plans,” Adirondack Museum spokesperson Katherine Moore told the press at the time. “It is no longer feasible to operate two retail operations and maintain a growing online sales presence.” Moore said the museum will concentrate its efforts and financial resources on the Blue Mountain Lake campus.
Welsh’s tenure also saw a number of new initiatives designed to bring the museum into the 21st century including launching a museum online photostream, a campus WiFi system, and offering virtual exhibits. She also oversaw the museum during the acquisition of the Clarence Petty and Richard Lawrence collections, and receipt of a $1.3 million bequest from the estate of the Mr. and Mrs. Horace N. Holbrook of Schenectady.
Today spokesperson Moore announced “Ms. Welsh will continue her relationship with the museum with respect to art projects including the upcoming Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait exhibit opening in the summer, 2011, along with producing the catalogue for the exhibit.” Welsh will also collaborate with the museum on other upcoming projects, she said.
Caroline Welsh is the wife of former Adirondack Museum Curator Peter C. Welsh, once also editor of the Journal of History and director of the New York State Historical Association, who held the primary responsibility for the Adirondack Museum’s logging exhibit. He was also the author of Jacks, Jobbers, and Kings: Logging in the Adirondacks, 1850-1950. Peter Welsh died in February, 2010.
Photo: Photo caption: Caroline M. Welsh, Director of the Adirondack Museum and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at the Adirondack Museum in August 27.
On Sunday morning, the Wild Center hosted a memorial celebration of the life of Clarence Petty, the ardent conservationist who died last fall at 104.
The Wild Center showed two films about Clarence. After a brunch, several longtime friends and colleagues spoke about Clarence’s passion for protecting Adirondack wilderness.
As serious as Clarence was about preservation, anyone who met him was struck by his sense of humor and friendly manner. Clarence had lots of stories from his long, rich life. He spent the first years of his life in a squatter’s cabin on the Forest Preserve. He grew up in the tiny hamlet of Coreys on the edge of the woods, a virtual frontier in those days, and went on to become a manager in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a forest ranger, a state pilot, and an indefatigable defender of the Adirondacks.
Most of the speakers at the memorial celebration, such as Michael Carr, Barbara Glaser, David Gibson, and Peter O’Shea, had known Clarence for decades and regaled the audience with one humorous anecdote after another. I particularly enjoyed Carr’s story about the time Clarence mistakenly air-dropped a load of trout over a fisherman. Thinking he may have killed or injured the fellow, Clarence flew back over the pond and saw him raising his hands in thanks.
I didn’t know Clarence as well as those folks, but as the editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I had the chance to speak with him many times in the last decade of his life. Every two months, I interviewed him for a feature called “Questions for Clarence,” which the Explorer published from 2004 until Clarence’s death.
The questions covered just about every topic under the sun, but often I would try to get Clarence to reveal what bit wisdom he would like to pass on to posterity. He kept on returning to his faith in democracy. He believed that if the people were allowed to vote on the important issues facing the Adirondack Park, they would opt to protect it.
By “the people,” he meant the people of the whole state, since the Forest Preserve is owned by all of them. The difficulty is that many of the Park’s residents don’t like outsiders making decisions that affect their lives. Hence, the continuing animosity toward the Adirondack Park Agency.
To this, Clarence had an answer. He described the Park’s wild lands, especially the Forest Preserve, as “the magnet” that draws tourists to the Adirondacks. The more wildness that is preserved, the greater the appeal to tourists. And tourists are money.
In short, protecting the Park is good for the economy–and hence good for the people who live here.
Despite his best efforts, Clarence failed to convince everyone of that point of view. But the argument will be carried forth by those he did reach.
You can find out more about Clarence Petty’s life in this remembrance by Dick Beamish, the founder of the Adirondack Explorer.
Photo by Phil Brown: Clarence Petty memorabilia at the Wild Center.
For the interest of our readers, here is a note from the Adirondack Council about the their connection to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Two former Council interns, Lowell Bailey and Haley Johnson, both from Lake Placid, competed in the biathlon. The Council’s note to the media is presented here in it’s entirety: Two former Adirondack Council Clarence Petty Interns are competing on the US Biathlon Team at the 2010 games. Lowell Bailey and Haley Johnson, both of Lake Placid, both successfully completed their internships — earning college credit while working in the field of conservation and while training for this Olympics. » Continue Reading.
Here is our list of the Adirondack Almanack‘s ten most popular stories of 2009, in descending order.
History of Adirondack Airplane Crashes This year’s tragic death of two in the crash of a Piper Cherokee 140 single engine aircraft en route from Saratoga to Malone spawned this look at the some 30 major plane crashes that have happened in the Adirondacks since 1912. Adirondack danger and disaster stories have always been an Adirondack Almanack reader favorite. I’ve covered thin ice, earthquakes, drownings, bridge collapses, mining, boating, and of course, our 10 Deadliest Accidents in The Adirondack Mountain Region. New Study: Coy-Wolves Evolved To Hunt Local Deer A new study by scientists from the New York State Museum showed how local coyotes have evolved to be bigger and stronger over the last 90 years, both expanding their geographic range and becoming the top predator in the Northeast – by interbreeding with wolves. 2009 was also notable at the Almanack for our addition new natural history contributor Ellen Rathbone. Ellen’s regular looks at our natural world have included how feral cats impact wildlife, the joys of macro wildlife photography, local unique trees like the Black Tupelo; she has stuck up for skunks, pondered porcupines, and even gave three cheers for carrion beetles (“nature’s sanitary engineers”).
Kids Enter Big Tupper Ski Area Fight One of the big stories in the region in 2009 has been the reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area. Back in March, when reopening the old slopes was still very much tied to a development plan that included 652 high-end home and townhouses, a 60-room hotel, and more, Mary Thill took a look at the movement to enlist kids in the plan to make the development happen. “The project has become a sensitive issue, drawing questions about its scale, financing, tax breaks, new utilities and backcountry building lots,” Mary wrote, “Inside Tupper Lake, there have been shows of political and public support. Some have questioned whether asking kids to wear ski jackets and carry signs shills them into a much larger debate. And to miss a point. Nobody is against skiing.” Indeed, nobody was against skiing, and Tupper Lakers eventually worked diligently, apolitically and successfully to reopen their slopes.
Upper Hudson Rail Trail Planned: North Creek to Tahawus When the Almanack broke the news in October that there were plans afoot to transform the northern end of the Upper Hudson Railroad into a 29-mile multi-use trail from the North Creek Railroad Station to Tahawus, it sparked a great discussion between supporters and critics of the plan the spilled over into a follow-up post by new Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler. “We already have a paved path from North Creek to Newcomb – it’s called State Route 28N,” the first commenter opined. The ensuing debate covered the history of the rail line, the role of the federal government in seizing Forest Preserve land in war time, and the legal questions surrounding its subsequent abandonment.
Adirondack Fall Foliage Seen from Space Sometimes short and simple, fun and interesting, are just the ticket. Our discovery of a NASA satellite photo of the Northern Forest and parts of southeastern Canada taken several years ago at the peak of fall color was hugely popular.
Opinion: Hiking, Drinking and News at Adirondack Papers Mary Thill struck a nerve with local media folks (and even sparked some hate mail) when she questioned the wisdom of two new publications by local newspapers, including the Post-Star‘s leap into the weekly entertainment rag business, what she called a “crayon-font attempt to take ad share away from the excellent but shoestring real community newspaper.” The post inspired a collaboration with the Lake George Mirror‘s publisher and editor Tony Hall. Hall has offered some enlightening insight into the origins of the APA, the question over whether State Senator Ron Stafford was really an environmentalist, and some great expanded coverage of Lake George. The partnership with the Lake George Mirror opened the door for a similar weekly contribution from Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown, who has come forward with a return to the Battle of Crane Pond Road, some insight into Clarence Petty, and when it’s alright to call it a day. The jury is still out on the Adirondack Daily Enterprise better-designed hikey new outdoor-recreation publication as a business decision, but the bimonthly, called Embark, is gradually growing a low ad percentage; it appears to be helping keep at least one reporter employed, so we wish it well in 2010.
The Adirondacks: Gateway for Quebec Hydroponic Marijuana Whether a measure of what Adirondackers are really doing behind closed doors, or a testament to our fascination with crime drama, when Mary Thill (clearly the winner of this years “readers’ choice” award!) covered the July story of the largest border drug bust ever, readership went off the charts. “A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne,” Mary wrote. “A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.” The news was a fascinating inside look at where some American marijuana comes from, but probably no surprise to those who were following the other big drug story of the year: the discovery of some 800 marijuana plants growing in Essex County.
As editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I interviewed Clarence Petty before every issue over the past five years for our “Questions for Clarence” feature. Several times before his death, at age 104, I asked what piece of wisdom he would like to impart to future generations.
His answer: Let the people vote. He argued that since the Adirondack Park is a state treasure, the residents of the whole state should vote on matters of importance to the Park. He had no doubt that the statewide electorate would favor preservation of the Park’s natural beauty and wild character. We didn’t discuss the nuts and bolts of how these referendums would work, but it’s an interesting idea. Surely Clarence is right that people in Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island, and other distant places would be inclined to favor state land acquisition and other measures intended protect the Park’s natural resources.
Of course, in-Park officials would fight tooth and nail to prevent such outside influence on the region. But Clarence often found himself at odds with his fellow Adirondackers.
I got to know Clarence only in the last decade of his life. The Explorer’s founder and erstwhile publisher, Dick Beamish, knew him for nearly forty years. For the newsmagazine’s January/February issue, Dick wrote a lengthy article about Clarence’s life and contributions to the Park. It’s the most comprehensive piece on Clarence I’ve seen since his death in November. You can read it here. You’ll also find a selection of Questions for Clarence.
Photo of Clarence on top of Giant Mountain, at age 70, courtesy of the Adirondack Council.
A recent discussion of leadership in the Adirondacks, got me thinking about who should be included on a list of the Adirondack region’s most influential people. I’d like to offer a list of the people who have had the greatest impact on the Adirondacks, and I’d like your help.
Clearly they 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. I’ve offered some suggestions after the jump, but I’d like to hear your opinions and suggestions. Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind, but what about Verplanck Colvin, or lumber barons James Caldwell and Daniel Finch? Does the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’ Paul Schaefer make the list? Clarence Petty? Father of NYS Forest Rangers William F. Fox? Or longtime environmental advocate John Sheehan? Should property rights advocates Carol LaGrasse or Fred Monroe be on the list? What about James Fenimore Cooper or transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Environmentalists George Perkins Marsh or Bob Marshall? What about great foresters like Bernhard Fernow or Gifford Pinchot? Ebenezer Emmons, the geologist who named the Adirondacks? Samuel de Champlain? William Johnson? William Gillbrand? John Thurman? Paul Smith? Isaac Jogues? Thomas C. Durant? William H. H. “Adirondack” Murray? Seneca Ray Stoddard? Arto Monaco? Nelson Rockefeller? Anne Labastille? Noah John Rondeau?
Feel free to add your suggestion, or argue for one of those above. We’ll produce a list of the ten most influential on January 18th.
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