In these dispatches and in other Almanack posts over the last two weeks there has been quite debate going about wilderness. Is there really such a thing in the Adirondacks? It is only in the eye of the beholder? Has it been defined primarily by 19th-century aesthetic paradigms? Would a more substantial version of wilderness be “rescue-free?” These and other issues illustrate the complexity of how we experience our park.
In last week’s dispatch I suggested three different ways to frame the question: the ecological, the anecdotal and the experiential. I devoted most of that post to the anecdotal perspective, having as I do a predilection for good stories, of which there is no shortage in the Adirondacks. Whatever the truths about wilderness, our experience of it is deeply engaging, romantic in a broad sense. I think that’s why the anecdotal perspective is valuable. Stories of the wilderness feed our romantic notions, inspire us, remind us of our own stories and evoke memories and images that are part of our history, both real and imagined. » Continue Reading.
For some time I have been musing about the question of what we call wilderness, how we deem an area to be wilderness, what it means in the Adirondacks and what it means to me. Is Lost Brook Tract really wild? Can I think of something as wilderness when it is possible for me to run from the heart of it to a warm car and a coffee shop in an hour if I have to? This is complicated question.
Several weeks ago when I began these dispatches I resolved to write about the question of wilderness. Then last week came the most recent post from Steve Signell, our resident mapping expert, his topic being Adirondack land classifications. The debate it engendered in the comments section addressed the very subject I was just beginning to write about. Serendipity! » Continue Reading.
Last week I interviewed Steve Mastaitis at the Adirondack Medical Center, where he was recovering from frostbite and hypothermia after spending a night curled up in a snow hole near the summit of Mount Marcy.
The story, posted on the Adirondack Explorer website, generated a lot of discussion on my blog and in hikers’ forums. A number of people criticized Mastaitis, saying he was unprepared to hike Marcy in winter, and some suggested that he and others like him should be forced to pay for their rescues. Click here to read my original post. » Continue Reading.
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has reported that Forest Rangers were busy this weekend with three more rescues from the High Peaks. Less than a week after Steve Mastaitis became disoriented at the summit of Marcy and spent the night in a snow cave, three additional men became lost in the High Peaks, two were forced to spend the night in the back-country and suffered frostbite.
“The Forest Rangers have had a very busy and successful week beginning with the search for Mr. Mastaitis,” said DEC Forest Ranger Captain John Streiff. “Any one of these incidents could have ended in tragedy, fortunately they didn’t. I am proud and pleased with the actions of all of the forest rangers involved, but I want to recognize Forest Rangers Scott VanLaer, Chris Kostoss and Joe LaPierre for participating in all three searches this weekend and the search for Mr. Mastaitis.” » Continue Reading.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has decided against rebuilding the dam at Duck Hole, but the future of Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness remains up in the air.
The decision won’t be made until after engineers inspect the dam, and it will be based in part on the condition of the dam and how much it would cost to fix it.
Aside from these practical considerations, there is a philosophical question: do dams belong in Wilderness Areas at all? In the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer, I report that there are at least four other dams in Wilderness Areas: at Lake Colden and Henderson Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness, at Cedar Lakes in the West Canada Lake Wilderness, and at Pharaoh Lake in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. That was based on DEC’s inventory of dams in the Forest Preserve, but there may be more. For example, someone e-mailed me recently that there is a dam at Moose Pond in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness.
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan defines a Wilderness Area as a region “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” The document forbids the construction of new dams but does permit existing dams to be rebuilt with natural materials.
A DEC policy manual seems to take a stronger position against dams in Wilderness Areas, asserting that in most cases they should be removed when they become unsafe or need to be replaced or reconstructed. Nevertheless, policy provides several loopholes for keeping a dam, such as maintaining a fishery, preserving a view, or providing recreation.
The view of the surrounding mountains from Marcy Dam is one of the iconic vistas in the Adirondacks. Clearly, DEC could justify rebuilding the dam under its policy. But should it?
Christopher Amato, who until recently had been DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources, contends that no dams should be rebuilt in Wilderness Areas.
“Either you be true to the definition of Wilderness and not rebuild the dam or if the dam is that important you reclassify the area as something else,” Amato told the Adirondack Explorer.
But Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, told the Explorer that he thinks Marcy Dam should be repaired. “For many New Yorkers, that classic beauty at Marcy Dam is their Adirondacks,” he said. “It serves so many New Yorkers that I feel it is justified.”
Regardless of whether DEC rebuilds Marcy Dam, it does intend to build a bridge across Marcy Brook, either at the dam or another location.
Tropical Storm Irene damaged the dams at the Duck Hole and Marcy Dam Pond and forced DEC to confront these questions now. But the same questions eventually will arise when other dams in Wilderness Areas fall into disrepair. Indeed, the questions can be raised about dams in Wild Forest Areas as well. After all, the state constitution requires that the entire Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Altogether, there are about fifty dams on the Forest Preserve, according to DEC’s inventory.
Click here to read the full story on dams in the Preserve. Then let us know what you think: should Marcy Dam be repaired? What should be done with other dams in the Forest Preserve?
Incidentally, the photo above is from the 1930s. It shows what Duck Hole looked like before the dam was built and presumably what it might look like again in a few years.
Environmental authors Bill McKibben and Curt Stager will be among the distinguished speakers participating in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Winter 2012 Lecture Series at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC). The Saturday evening lecture series begins Jan. 7 and runs through March 17.
McKibben, one of the leading voices of the environmental movement, is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. His books include The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information and Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth. His Feb. 4 lecture, “Notes from the Front of the Climate Fight,” will focus on the global movement to address climate change. Stager, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, is the author of Deep Future: the Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, which Kirkus Reviews listed as one of the best nonfiction books of 2011. On Jan. 21, Stager will speak on “Climate Whiplash: What Happens After Global Warming?” While debate over global warming generally focuses on what may happen in the next 100 years, Stager will discuss the long-term climate picture.
Other lectures in the series will focus on winter birds, backcountry travel, avalanche awareness and moose in New York State. On the lighter side, the series will also feature concerts by Annie and the Hedonists and the Rustic Riders.
Winter 2012 HPIC Lecture Series
Jan. 7: “Winter Birds of the Adirondacks” with Joan Collins, president of Adirondack Avian Expeditions & Workshops.
Jan. 14: “Backcountry Travel” with Pete Fish, a retired forest ranger with over 30 years experience patrolling the High Peaks.
Jan. 21: “Climate Whiplash: What Happens After Global Warming?” with Curt Stager.
Jan. 28: “Basic Avalanche Awareness” with High Peaks Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto.
Feb. 4: “Notes from the Front of the Climate Fight” with Bill McKibben.
Feb. 11: “Moose in New York” with state wildlife biologist Ed Reed.
Feb. 18: “Adirondack Environmental History: It’s as Clear as Mud” with Brendan Wiltse, a Ph.D. candidate from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.
Feb. 25: Music by Annie and the Hedonists.
March 3: “Introduction to Square Dancing,” with music and calling by Stan Burdick.
March 10: “Flora and Fauna of the Adirondacks.”
March 17: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with The Rustic Riders, an Adirondack-based acoustic group.
The High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) is at the end of the Adirondack Loj Road, 8 miles south of Lake Placid. For more information about the lecture series and other ADK programs, visit our website at www.adk.org or call (518) 523-3441.
The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to the protection of the New York State Forest Preserve. ADK is a nonprofit, membership organization that protects the Forest Preserve, state parks and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.
You and a friend finally reach the summit of Gothics, take in the glorious view, and begin to wonder what the names are of all the peaks around you. So your friend whips out an iPhone and starts tapping the screen.
Is he calling the local forest ranger for answers?
Not if he has installed the ADK46erNow app on his phone. Developed by Keith Kubarek, an enthusiastic Adirondack hiker, the app uses the phone’s GPS system to help people identify peaks in the viewshed of any of the forty-six High Peaks.
The app also contains basic facts about each of the High Peaks, including elevation and the feet of ascent and mileage from trailhead to summit; a logbook for keeping track of the peaks you’ve climbed; and links to the current weather at your location or at any of the High Peaks.
The program can be purchased for $4.99 at the App Store on Apple’s website. The hitch is that you must own an iPhone. I don’t, but I was able to download the app onto my iPod Touch to test the features in the office. Without the phone’s GPS capability, however, I was unable to use the app in the field.
The app’s home page has four options: “My Log Book,” “ADK 46er Now,” “High Peaks,” and “Weather.” The coolest feature, the electronic peak-finder, is found under the ADK 46er Now rubric.
If you select this option, your current GPS coordinates appear at the bottom of the screen. Three new options also appear: “Map,” “360-DegreeView,” and “Summit Stamp.”
For the peak-finder, select 360-Degree View. The screen turns into a clear window with a red vertical line running down the middle. It’s as if you’re viewing the landscape through the phone’s camera. When the red line bisects one of the High Peaks in the vista, the peak’s name appears at the bottom of the screen. The function can be used not just on summits, but whenever you have a good view.
One shortcoming is that the app can identify only High Peaks and only those within a five-mile radius. So if you’re on Mount Marcy, for example, it won’t tell you that the big mountain ten miles distant in the southwest is Santanoni Peak. Kubarek tried using a ten-mile radius, but the phone’s screen became too cluttered. He says he may give users the option of adjusting the viewing radius in a future version of the app.
You can get a better sense of how the peak-finder works by clicking this link to the developer’s website.
Other features include:
Summit Stamp. When you reach the top of a High Peak, it records the date and time of your ascent, the current weather, and your GPS coordinates.
High Peaks Sorter. It allows you to order the peaks by name, height, feet of ascent, or round-trip mileage to the summit. By selecting a summit, you can view it in a satellite image or on a topo or terrain map.
Map and Compass. The map function allows you to see your location on a topo map at any time. It also provides your GPS coordinates. You can activate the compass function by tapping the circular logo on the home screen.
For an overview of all the features of ADK46erNow, click here.
Kubarek says he expects to add new features this year, including one that will allow hikers to e-mail trip notes and Summit Stamps to their friends and family. Those who purchase the app now will be able to update it for free as new versions are available.
Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. For more of his gear reviews, click here.
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has released a revised reprint of Forests and Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region by the late Edwin H. Ketchledge. First published in 1967, this modest little field guide found favor with Adirondack hikers and naturalists and quickly became a classic. The new printing opens with a biography and tribute to Ketchledge, who died June 30, 2010, at his home in Potsdam.
An acclaimed naturalist and educator, Ketchledge set out to photograph and describe 34 species of Adirondack trees in response to a challenge from Jerome Wyckoff, a geologist and ADK member. The first publication of what was then called “Trees” prompted Ketchledge to expand the volume to reflect his own significantly broadened interests — interpreting the role of these species in the region’s ecology. Thus “Forests and Trees” was born, and with it a greater interest in “reading” the landscape. (Wyckoff’s own book, The Adirondack Landscape, was also published by ADK in 1967.) “Forests and Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region” is 176 pages, 4 ½” x 6″, and includes over 70 photographs. It is available in softcover for $9.95 at book and outdoor supply stores, at ADK stores in Lake George and Lake Placid, and through mail order by calling (800) 395-8080.
The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to the protection of the New York State Forest Preserve. ADK is a nonprofit, membership organization that protects the Forest Preserve, state parks and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation. For more information about ADK, visit www.adk.org.
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.
Please join us in welcoming our newest contributor to Adirondack Almanack, Kimberly Rielly. Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau / Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, the accredited destination marketing organization (DMO) responsible for promoting the Lake Champlain, High Peaks, Schroon Lake and Whiteface regions of Essex County.
A lifelong resident of the Lake Champlain basin, Rielly will be writing about the destination marketing and planning issues that affect the region’s tourism economy.
AccuWeather says the La Nina effect means the Midwest and much of the Northeast can expect a cold and snowy winter. Paul Pastelok, a meteorologist with the weather-forecasting service, predicts that arctic air blowing across the Great Lakes will generate above-normal lake-effect snowfalls.
“Overall, precipitation is expected to be above normal throughout most of the Northeast from January into February,” according to AccuWeather. “With the exception of northern parts of New York and New England, temperatures are forecast to average near normal for the winter season.”
So if you put any stock in long-range forecasts, this could be a great winter for backcountry skiing.
Even if they don’t believe the weatherman, backcountry skiers have something to look forward to this winter: new terrain.
In August, Tropical Storm Irene created or lengthened more than a dozen slides in the High Peaks, many of which should provide exciting skiing for those with the requisite skills and gear.
A big caveat: slides can and do avalanche. In 2000, a skier died in an avalanche on a slide on Wright Peak. Avalanches have occurred elsewhere in the Adirondacks as well, usually triggered by skiers, snowshoers, or ice climbers. Slide skiers should carry a beacon, probe, and shovel and know how to use them. And they should know how to gauge avalanche potential.
So far, I have climbed only five of the new slides, those on Wright, Cascade, Saddleback, Little Colden, and Colden. Click here to read about them in the new issue of the Adirondack Explorer.
Two slides that are likely to get skied a lot are on Wright Peak and Lower Wolf Jaw.
The one on Wright scoured a streambed that can be followed to a steep headwall. The streambed also will facilitate access to the nearby Angel Slides, where the skier died in 2000. Skiers will be able to bag the Angel Slides and the new slide in one outing. The streambed is reached by a short bushwhack from Marcy Dam. The new slide is a mile long.
Bennies Brook Slide on Lower Wolf Jaw has long been a popular ski destination. In the past, skiers followed a path through the woods to reach the slide. Irene extended the slide all the way to the Southside Trail and Johns Brook. With the easier access and additional terrain, Bennies will be more popular than ever.
Irene also has affected some popular trails used by backcountry skiers. Most noteworthy is that floods caused by the storm washed away the bridge at Marcy Dam.Skiers who started at Adirondak Loj used the bridge en route to Mount Marcy or Avalanche Lake. Thanks to Irene, they will have to cross the frozen pond (now largely a mudflat) or approach the dam via the Marcy Dam Truck Trail instead of the trail from the Loj.
The bridge at the start of the Klondike Notch Trail also was washed away. Skiers can still reach the trail by skiing up the Marcy Dam Truck Trail and turning left onto the Mr. Van Trail.
The Adirondack Ski Touring Council reports that Irene did minimal damage to the Jackrabbit and other ski trails maintained by the council. Repairs are scheduled to be made this fall.
Trail work calls many a climber but with life getting in the way it’s only a lucky few who actually get to enjoy this dream job. One needs time and energy to spare to fully enjoy climbing a peak all the while trimming, chopping, and tossing. For us stalwarts, trail work is a kind of luxury. Year after year we observe the effects of weather and people on the mountains while marveling at the ever evolving beauty of wild flowers and other vegetation as our slow pace allows us to monitor the progress of spring and fall.
Sometimes we get too close to a branch and drop blood on the trail, or suddenly become a delicious buffet for a hive of Yellow Jackets. Gushing head wounds are the best as patient and caregiver take a break from the trail to partake in murder mystery and general hospital all in one. Obviously the audience is limited but one day when retiring from trail work we will be more than ready for the big screen.
Repellent works nicely thank you against black flies and by the time deer and horse flies abound summer has arrived and trail work pauses. Anyway, we have to admit that but for a handful of spring days black flies do not harass volunteer trail workers since they much prefer “fresh” peak baggers!
Let’s mention the invaluable fringe benefits of a tree hugging job: mud caking, soaking dew showers, balsam needles coating, pitch smears, spruce scratches: all combined to keep one forever young and cute.
There are countless ways to participate in trail work depending on one’s availability. It’s all under DEC governance and rules but mostly via the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), Adirondack Trail Improvement Society (ATIS) and the 46ers. Volunteers can either register for one or several of the trail days organized every year by the ADK and the 46ers or become the steward of a particular section of trail, an agreement renewed on a yearly basis. Being a steward is more of a commitment but it gives the adopter schedule flexibility.
Luckily, as there is much more to do than volunteers can undertake, the DEC, ATIS and ADK have professional trail crews in the field every year for a certain number of weeks depending on projects and funding.
Tony Goodwin has been Director of ATIS (founded in 1897) for 25 years and never lacks for things to be done. As he is known to utter, “Trail work is never done”. In his capacity he takes care of 105 miles of public trails and walks most of them once every year! At the ADK (founded in 1922), from early spring to late fall, Wes Lampman, Director of Field Programs, does not have a minute to himself either. The ADK oversees close to 200 miles of trails.
As for the 46Rs (founded in 1948) volunteers clear 36 miles of trail every year. The toughest job for volunteers is no doubt adopting a herd path as some have been doing since 2004. The relatively high turnover in stewards testifies to the mental and physical fortitude it takes to actually do herd path maintenance. Most herd paths are far from trailheads and often consist of roots, mud and steep ledges galore. One volunteer in particular, Matt Clark, deserves our admiration for his unfailing commitment (8 years and counting) to the Redfield path.
Then the occasional hurricane re-routes trails and brooks not always for the best. Following Irene’s furry, the DEC sent a large and experienced trail crew composed from the various neighboring regions staff to clear trails during most of September allowing the re-opening of the High Peaks in record time.
As a result of Irene’s massive destruction, many a brook and a river found themselves occupied by heavy machinery trying to restore the past in an attempt to temper future flooding. The resulting uniform landscape seen from every bridge is not getting a round of applause and the jury is still out on the efficiency of the work. Below is a picture (A) of the new and improved Roaring Brook bed (New Russia side of the Giant Wilderness) as it goes under Route 9 to enter the Boquet. Photo B shows the same brook 20 yards upstream from the brook work where a house partially collapsed during the tropical storm. Photos C and D are views of the same brook 100 yards upstream!
Irene did have one positive impact. The Orebed Trail ladders had been in need of extensive repairs for years until finally thanks to Kris A. Alberga, District Forester (DEC), Wes Lampman (ADK), Ranger Jim Giglinto and a few generous climbers, rebuilding began in mid-August. The work progressed until Irene decided to take control of the situation. The newly built ladders (E) resisted Irene’s onslaught but the environment was drastically re-organized (F). Consequently, upon close inspection, Ranger Giglinto determined that the new gentle and stair-like slide above would make for an easy enough climb without any further manmade assistance. Unused funds earmarked for this work will be available for other projects.
The numerous bridges and dams which were crushed or pushed aside may make fall and winter travel tougher than usual as it will take time (and money) to re-position and rebuild them (if at all in certain cases). Duck Hole (photos G & H) will no doubt be an ongoing story for months if not years as the debate will rage about the pros and cons of rebuilding the historic dam. However, there seems to be a consensus about the urgency of rebuilding Marcy Dam.
In the meantime, we wish you and ourselves many more years of trail work and all joys and rewards that come with it. Photos (I & J) show Gary Koch and Pete Biesemeyer doing just that along the Upper Range Trail this past spring. Pete has been doing trail work every year since 1954 while Gary adopted his first lean-to in 1986 and became a trail steward in 1989. Both would easily convince any passer-by they are not a day over seventeen!
If you’re rock climbing, you use a rope and wear a helmet (though not everyone does). If you’re hiking, you don’t.
That seems simple enough, but the distinction between a rock climb and a hike isn’t so straightforward. Sadly, this was demonstrated when a hiker died in a fall in the Trap Dike last week. » Continue Reading.
A new guidebook outlining family activities in the Adirondack Park has been authored by Adirondack Almanack contributor Diane Chase of Bloomingdale. Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes & High Peaks Regions, is a comprehensive guide to over 300 activities perfect for families. The first of four books planned to be published by Hungry Bear Publishing in Saranac Lake, the Tri-Lakes/High Peaks edition targets four seasons of family activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Jay, Upper Jay, Keene, Keene Valley and Wilmington with a foreword by local author Edward Kanze. Based on Chase’s Adirondack Daily Enterprise weekly “Family Time” column, her Adirondack Family Time blog, and her contributions here at the Almanack, Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes & High Peaks Regions is a guide for anyone wanting to discover ideas on how to entertain family, friends and visitors while in the Adirondack Park. The points of interest also include GPS coordinates.
“This book is designed to be used by everyone, not just those with children,” Chase said. “My family and I have been to each activity listed in this book and walked, skied or snow-shoed each trail. The goal is to give people ideas on the many things to do in the Adirondack Park.”
The 176-page softcover book has maps, photos, trivia, and information to find museums, activity centers, performing arts centers, and farmers’ markets, as well as swimming holes, mini-hikes and mini-snowshoe/ski treks. Further broken down by season, this guide provides ideas on ways to entertain every day of the week, whether the readers are single, a couple or a group.
“Diane is a master at connecting families with fun, exciting and educational opportunities in the Adirondack Park,” said Andy Flynn, owner of Hungry Bear Publishing. “What sets her apart from other guidebook writers is her proximity to the subject; she lives the ‘Family Time’ lifestyle every day. She’s taking experiences with her family and sharing it with others in a useful, easy-to-follow way.”
Chase started searching and writing about Adirondack family activities in 2003 while pregnant with her second child with eldest in tow. She has written for newspapers, magazines, marketing and advertising agencies.
Chase’s first Adirondack Family Time, is a great guide for exploring the Adirondacks with kids in tow. Handy maps and GPS coordinates are combined with insider tips, pricing, and age appropriate ratings for places and activities. The opportunities here have been carefully selected to hold the interest of kids and this guide is written with a real knowledge of what kids (and adults) want out of their nature experiences. No doubt this is one book that’s sure to be passed from parent to parent.
Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes & High Peaks Regions is available at local bookstores and online at the Adirondack Family Time website for $17.95 plus tax and shipping.
A few days after Hurricane Irene, I hiked to Duck Hole to see how the place looked after the breach of the old logging dam. Although the pond lost most of its water, there were streams running through the resultant mudflats and a pool remained at the base of the waterfall on east shore.
Earlier in the year, I had carried my canoe to Duck Hole and had a ball paddling around and admiring views of High Peaks. Now I wondered if anyone would ever want to bring a canoe to Duck Hole again.
What follows is a guest essay by Naj Wikoff, a member of the Keene Flood Recovery Fund steering committee.
“The hardest thing I had to do this week was let three employees go today,” said Rob Hastings, owner of Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley. He and I were standing amongst a crowd of over 200 residents attending a pig roast, block party and benefit for the Keene Flood Recovery Fund on Market Street in Keene Valley Friday, September 9. The event, which raised over $21,000, was further buoyed by the news that Route 73, the hamlet’s vital artery to the Northway that had been closed since Irene’s 11 plus inches of rain washed away major sections, would open on Monday. Just seven days earlier Governor Cuomo, countering DOT estimates that the roadway might be opened by Columbus Day but possibly not till December, stated that unless it was opened within 10 days, “Wheels will roll or heads will roll,” a statement followed by his suspension DOT and DEC restrictions on construction, such as requirements of going out to bid for contracts. Since then in a near 24-hour cycle DOT trucks have poured in with load after load of boulders, gravel and other road foundation materials.
The closure of 73 as well as 9N north to Upper Jay, and DEC media and web announcements that all trails in the eastern High Peaks were off limits to hikers, brought visitor traffic in Keene Valley to a dead stop and caused dozens of cancellations of room reservations during Labor Day weekend, the second busiest holiday of the year for local stores. Thanks to a massive volunteer effort that put hundreds of people at McDonough’s Valley Hardware and elsewhere scraping off mud, pumping out basements, cleaning shelves and merchandise, most stores, B&Bs and restaurants had managed to reopen, but what was missing was the people.
“Road Closed” said the sign to Keene Valley. “Don’t even think of going there” was the message. The hamlet of Keene was hardly better off as it was the center on incoming politicians and state officials, the media, National Guard, DOT trucks and Labor for Your Neighbor volunteers so that what visitors made it through the gauntlet scurried west to the relatively untouched Village of Lake Placid, though a fleet of water ski boats sank during the storm and River Road and Snowslip Farms were certainly torn up.
No question the attention by Governor Cuomo, who visited the hamlets on two successive weekends, and the outpouring of volunteers, the National Guard and DOT transformed the hamlets along with Upper Jay, Jay and Ausable Forks bringing them back from what appeared to be war zones to a somewhat sense of normality, though deep scars and uncertain futures remained.
Knowing this outcome likely to occur, a grass roots effort was launched while the rains were still falling and fields flooding to create the Keene Flood Recovery Fund with perhaps a greater sense of urgency than the media’s scramble to film the unfolding disaster. Jim Herman and Dave Mason, the soon to become president and vice president of the Keene Community Trust, lead the effort. Working in partnership with the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT) a small team was assembled. The goal was simple; raise as much money as fast as possible and begin giving it out in grants to local residents and business to help cover critical needs not met by FEMA, other government sources, insurance or sweat equity.
The process was not unlike the building of the Continental railroad wherein the trains followed the rails as they were built. The public relations and fund raising effort was launched simultaneously with the recruiting of five people to serve on the allocations committee while application and funding guidelines were being written, the Keene Valley Trust board reorganized, agreements with ACT negotiated, and web and Facebook sites created.
The Nature Conservancy provided the forum for committees to form, meet, and stayed energized with hot coffee available morning till night. Critical was the early blessing and support by Keene supervisor Bill Ferebee, agreement by the Keene Community Trust to take on a project of such scope, the talent pool assembled, and the full support of the Adirondack Community Trust, aided in no small measure that their president Vinny McClelland and donor recognitions officer Melissa Eissinger were residents of Keene. Another was the sheer mass of community development knowledge stored in the brain of Henrietta Jordan, who could draft funding guidelines the way some can cast a dry fly into an eddy on their first try.
As of this writing about $100,000 has been raised and the first wave of grants has already been approved, but the amount needed to raise is far, far higher if they are to reduce layoffs like those already done by Hastings. While to the casual observer the hamlets might not look so bad, the damage done has been severe. Over a dozen families are not able to move back to their homes and are in need of temporary housing, just two businesses lost over $200,000 in inventory, the Keene Firehouse has to be relocated and rebuilt, the public skating rink replaced, the Keene Library, which also houses the Food Pantry, needs an aggressive abatement program to keep mold from settling in, and one third of Rivermede Farm’s sugaring lines have to be replaced along with all their storage tanks and two greenhouses. The first 12 applicants’ losses, which does not include many of the previously listed, have totaled over $2.5 million, this before FEMA and insurance are factored it.
Meanwhile a recently constituted Keene Business Committee (aka chamber of commerce) is attempting to stop plummeting income and lure back visitors. Led by Rooster Cob Inn owner, masseuse and rustic furniture salesperson Marie McMahon, they have taken on the DOT, DEC and later the State Police to change their signs that announce the closing of High Peaks trails, detour visitors to Placid via Plattsburgh and other actions that discouraged traffic to local businesses. Plans are underway to host events over Columbus Day and a conference for high school and college geology professors to showcase the wide array of major environmental changes that include the largest landslide in recorded state history, 22 new slides in the high peaks, and the rerouting of streams and waterfalls creating what can be best described as moonscapes in some locales.
“Our goal is to help the community come out stronger,” said Herman. “One benefit of all these landslides, rerouting of streams, and other environmental changes is that there are many new features for hikers, geologists and environmentalists to see and experience. We are trying to get the word out that now is the best time to come see them while they are fresh. We have some new vistas of Giant that didn’t exist before and old streambeds that have been hidden for centuries are now revealed. New growth will cover them up. The time to see them is now.”
Another benefit was the Governor discovering that Keene Valley had no cell phone coverage. “Where can I get cell service?” Cuomo asked Ron Konowitz, a local volunteer fireman and on-the-ground coordinator of volunteers. Konowitz told the governor not only that he would have to travel three miles down the road and stand in the middle of Marcy Field to pick up a signal, but in fact there was a cell tower in place, had been for four months, though had yet to be turned on by Verizon, a consequence that had hampered communication amongst all the various state agencies, volunteers, rescue workers, civic leaders, the media and one governor and the outside word. The piercing brown eyes of the wheels-will-roll governor swiveled and locked on the “Frankenpine” hidden amongst the tall White Pines behind the Neighborhood House. Two days later a frantic Verizon worker stuck his head in the Birch Store asking if anyone could help him locate their cell tower. Pam Gothner did and the next day the hamlet had cell service.
The Keene Flood Recovery Fund can be reached at www.keenerecoveryfund.org Photo: Keene Valley flooding during Tropical Storm Irene; Volunteers at work.
Naj Wikoff, a member of the Keene Flood Recovery Fund steering committee, is local artist, columnist for the Lake Placid News, president of Creative Healing Connections, which organizes healing retreats for women living with cancer, women veterans, and other special audiences, and arts coordinator for Connecting Youth and Communities of Lake Placid and Wilmington (CYC).
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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