Posts Tagged ‘Lake George’

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alan Wechsler: The Beauty of Lake Ice

A few weeks ago, while trudging across Chapel Pond on our way to climb some obscure ice route, I stopped to gaze at the black, slick surface of the lake.

The wind had swept the lake clear of snow, except where it had collected in a few wispy areas. It was what drivers call “black ice,” but it was far from black.

It was dazzling, this frozen surface. A week earlier, hit by the late January thaw, it had been covered with brown runoff. But on this day it was more than a foot thick. A galaxy of bubbles were trapped in its various, transparent layers. Cracks ran across its surface, the thin ones bisecting the ice like ghosts, the thicker spaces filled with snow.

Ice formation is complex. According to one Web site: “ice has a hexagonal crystal structure with a longer ‘c’ axis and three identical ‘a’ axes (called ‘a1’, ‘a2’ and ‘a3’). The simple ice form is a hexagonal prism with the vertical direction being the ‘c’ axis direction.”

Uh, right. And we thought it was just a matter of water getting cold enough.

On Chapel Pond, the three of us paused over this surface, taking in the temporary beauty of winter. Bare ice like this in the Adirondacks is often rare, soon to be covered by snow. And it attracts visitors. Drive across Cascade Lakes at the right time and you might see locals skating across the long, narrow surface as late-afternoon snow whips across the pass.

On Lake Champlain when it finally freezes, some die-hard Vermonters skate out on Nordic Skates, a Scandinavian invention (of course). These are extra-large skates that attach to cross-country ski boots that allow for huge strides and marathon expeditions. This has its own dangers—big lakes have pressure ridges, areas of open water and the possibility of thin ice due to unseen currents. Practitioners of this sport wear garden rake-like claws on a rope around their neck, so that if the unthinkable occurs they can haul themselves out of the water before hypothermia sets in. Brrr.

Adventurers on motorized equipment are attracted to big water ice too. Ice on lakes like George and Champlain is strong enough to support snowmobiles, motorcycles with spiked wheels and even pick-up trucks. But they should be wary—occasionally, such drivers never return.

Whatever beauty the ice offers, it is gone now. The storms of last week have covered all but the windiest areas with blankets of snow. That means the ice will last longer this spring, thanks to a nice layer of insulation.

Snow adds its own interesting problems to travel over ice. Some say the weight of snow can push lake ice down, squeezing the water up through the cracks to saturate the lower layers of the snow. That means an unpleasant surprise for x-c skiers or snowshoers trudging through such glop.

So perhaps it’s too late this year, but if you happen to be traveling over bare lake ice, take a moment to stop and look. There’s magic between you and the water.


Friday, February 26, 2010

A Lake George Subdivision Without the McMansions

It’s so conservative it appears radical (at least for Lake George): small houses on small lots. According to Mary Alice Leary, that’s her family’s vision for the 14 acre parcel at the mouth of English Brook that will be divided into 13 lots.

The sweeping lawn, tennis courts, lake front and clusters of towering trees, already mature when Albany lawyer Edward S. Rooney purchased the estate in the 1940s, will remain common areas owned by a homeowners’ association, which has yet to be created.

Five of the lots will become the properties of Rooney’s children – Leary and her four siblings; the majority of the remaining lots will probably be sold to members of the next generation.

For months, rumors have circulated around Lake George about plans to subdivide the estate, which surrounded a mansion built by E.M. Shepard in 1911 and demolished in 1961.

It was generally assumed that as many McMansions as possible would be wedged into the grounds.

To be sure, the proposal has been in front of the planning and zoning boards of Lake George Village and the Town of Lake George for months.

And at one of those meetings, Mary Alice Leary’s sister, Ellen Breslin, explained that the subdivision was conceived so that the property could remain within the family for future generations.

Nevertheless, said Leary, her family was reluctant to discuss the subdivision until all the necessary permits had been awarded.

Not all permits have been granted, but one major hurdle, a permit from the Lake George Park Commission to build docks large enough to accommodate 13 boat slips, was surmounted last fall.

In a prepared statement to the Commission, Ellen Breslin said, “The slips will not all be constructed at once. They will be built in phases as lots are sold and houses are built. It could be several years before the entire dock structure is built.”

There are no immediate plans to build the additional eight houses, Leary explained, because, as of now, only one of Edward S. Rooney’s grandchildren has expressed an interest in purchasing a lot.

But that grandchild’s interest sparked the family’s discussions about how best to protect the property, said Leary.

“You can only subdivide once, so rather than creating and selling one lot to one member of the third generation, we decided we would complete the subdivision now and sell the lots over time,” said Leary.

The property is currently owned jointly by Rooney’s children through Lochlea, LLC. (Lochlea was the name given the mansion by John English, who bought the property from Shepard’s family.)

“We currently hold the property as tenants in common, sharing expenses, and, by mutual agreement, each one of the five family members occupies a specific cabin that is considered their cabin,” the Lake George Park Commission was told by Ellen Breslin, who is the wife of State Senator Neil Breslin.

All but one of those residences – the estate’s gate house – are log cabins. One of them once served as the estate’s bath house.
Under the terms of the subdivision, each of the five families will become the sole owners of their homes, two of which are occupied year-round.

The houses will also serve as the models for any new homes that are built, said Mary Alice Leary.

“We’re envisioning Adirondack-style houses tucked into the woods with views of Lake George and English Brook,” said Leary.
Leary said the family had rejected proposals from commercial developers interested in acquiring the estate, at least in part, from a concern for Lake George.

That concern is a long-standing one, Ellen Breslin told the Park Commission, and guided the design of the subdivision.

“We have always been good stewards of the land and have done what we can to protect the waters of the lake. There has been little or no change to the property in the 60 years we have lived here. No old growth trees have ever been taken down and no fertilizers have been used on any of the lawns. Maintaining the water quality of Lake George is our highest priority. Our family expects to be in residence on the property, swimming in and enjoying Lake George, for many years to come,” said Breslin.

Lake George Mirror photo by Clea G. Hall

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Sunday, February 21, 2010

LG Land Conservancy Offers Naming Opportunity

The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) is seeking support with fund-raising for what it’s calling the “Last Great Shoreline Preserve” in Putnam, Washington County by offering an opportunity to win naming rights to the preserve’s eastern overlook trail.

Until February 24, each gift of $100 entitles the donor to entry in LGLC’s Name the Trail drawing. The drawing winner will be given the exclusive opportunity to name the eastern overlook trail as well as receive a picnic for six at the overlook this summer. The new name will be displayed on trail markers and in the preserve’s trail guide, available at the trailhead kiosk and from the LGLC website.

LGLC acquired the Last Great Shoreline nearly one year ago, on February 27, 2009, while also taking a leap into debt in order to finance the purchase. The cost of the land was $4 million with another $300,000 of project expenses.

Though much of the mortgage’s Phase 1 payment has been raised with the support of private donations, LGLC still needs to raise $34,000 by the payment deadline of February 27, 2010. If this deadline goal is not met, the mortgage interest can by contract grow tenfold, from 0.6% to 6%, increasing the overall cost of the land purchase by $144,000 each year over the life of the loan.

In his proposed 2010-2011 budget New York State Governor David Paterson suggested a moratorium on land acquisition by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). By reducing the Open Space Land Acquisition line item to zero, Gov. Paterson eliminated any spending from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for land acquisition, ostensibly for at least two years. When LGLC purchased the Last Great Shoreline property in 2009 (a culmination of twenty years of negotiations) LGLC says it was led to believe that it would be purchased by New York State within three years. Now, the proposed moratorium in the governor’s budget threatens to postpone the state’s purchase of the property into a distant and uncertain future, according to the LGLC.

The Lake George Land Conservancy’s is says “the purchase of the Last Great Shoreline project… was a crucial step in the protection of the Lake George watershed.” 351 acres and 2,357 feet of shoreline were acquired as a preserve, and 70 acres and 1,613 feet remain in private ownership that is now protected by a deed restriction. LGLC has already built over a mile of trails to lead hikers through a diversity of ecological systems, from the Sucker Brook wetlands, to the lichen covered rocks on the western shore of Lake George.

The land contains approximately thirty-five acres of wetlands (reportedly including a rare white cedar swamp) which which the LGLC says provide important food and breeding sites for amphibians, birds and mammals. These Sucker Brook wetlands provide a natural filtration system, according to the group, contributing to the pristine water quality of Lake George. In addition, the legendary Jumping Rock, rising approximately 30 feet above the lake, is situated on the northern shore and will be preserved forever as an LGLC preserve.

Those who wish to learn more about the Last Great Shoreline Challenge, the trail naming opportunity, or the Lake George Land Conservancy’s work, are invited to visit www.lglc.org, email [email protected], or call 518-644-9673.

Photo: Last Great Shoreline eastern overlook. Courtesy the LGLC.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Marcus Granger: Warren County Fiddler, Poet, Hotelman

Not long after my father purchased the Warrensburg News and its old printing plant in 1958, he found in a box of papers a small booklet entitled “Guide to Schroon Lake and Vicinity,” with Marcus E. Granger listed as the author.

The booklet had been printed in the shop eighty years earlier. Although numerous guidebooks to the Adirondacks had been published before Granger’s, his was unique in two respects. His was probably the first guidebook devoted to Schroon Lake. Dr. Durant’s Adirondack Railroad had been completed in 1872, and the station at Riverside, or Riparius, brought Schroon Lake within reach of tourists for the first time. Second, and even more remarkable, was the fact that it was written entirely in heroic couplets. » Continue Reading.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Trove of Historic LG Photos Donated to Bolton Museum

At the time of her death at the age of 92 in April, 2008, Helen Thatcher Thomson was the steward of thousands of paper and glass negatives of photographs taken by her grandfather Jule Thatcher and her father Fred Thatcher.

From the 1870s to the 1960s, the Thatchers photographed Lake George, documenting events great and small and capturing the changing social, economic and natural landscape. It was natural, therefore, that local historians feared the collections would be dispersed, scattered among hundreds of antique dealers across the country. But thanks to the generosity of Helen Thomson’s children, Fred Thomson and Dr. Patricia Smith, the entire archive will be donated to the Bolton Historical Museum.

“The family has agreed in principle to donate the material to the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Michael Stafford, the attorney representing Thomson and Smith. “We’re now in the process of drafting the necessary papers.”

Fred Thomson said, “We’re very pleased that the collection will be preserved for the benefit of the community. We look forward to working with the Bolton Historical Society to ensure that my family’s legacy will serve to enrich the public’s appreciation of our region.”

Mike Stafford noted, “I spent many hours with Helen Thomson at her kitchen table, and the legacy of the Thatchers and the future of the collection was very much on her mind in her last years. She would be delighted with this first step to ensure the collection’s preservation.”

According to Stafford, the collection also includes cameras used by the Thatchers and well-maintained logs of assignments that can be used to identify almost every photo.

“We’re grateful to the Thomson family for their public spirit and their generosity,” said Ed Scheiber, the president of the Bolton Historical Society. “The preservation of this collection in one place will be a lasting tribute to the Thatchers, Mrs. Thomson, her children and grandchildren.”

According to Scheiber, the museum’s objective is to arrange for the photos to be scanned and catalogued.

Revolving displays will feature large prints of some of the images, the cameras and biographical information about the Thatchers.

At some points, prints may be made and sold and reproduction rights licensed to help fund the preservation of the collection, said Scheiber.

The historical society also hopes to work with a publisher to produce a book of the Thatchers’ photographs, said Scheiber.

“It would be a valuable contribution to the collective knowledge of Lake George’s history and help re-introduce the work of two of our greatest photographers to a wider public,” said Scheiber.

“This collection will be an incredible asset for the Bolton Historical Museum,” said Bill Gates, a historian of Lake George and a member of the museum’s Board of Directors.

Considered as a whole, the work of the two photographers constitutes a unique archive of Lake George history.

Jule Thatcher’s best known photos are of Green Island, of the Sagamore, of wealthy cottagers like John Boulton Simpson and E. Burgess Warren, their houses, their families and their yachts.

Fred Thatcher, whose studio was turned into the Sky Harbor restaurant at the corner of Beach Road and Canada Street, was a pioneering post card photographer, creating thousands of images of the lake, of boats and regattas and of visiting celebrities to be sold to tourists who came to Lake George in the wake of the wealthy cottagers.

According to the Thatcher family, Jule Thatcher was born in Ticonderoga in 1856. He took his first photographs at the age of 11 (at about the same time Mathew Brady was photographing Abraham Lincoln) and at one point worked for Seneca Ray Stoddard. He worked in a store in Lake George that made tintypes and in 1874, he opened a studio in Bolton Landing. That studio was in the Kneeshaw hotel on Main Street. A few years later he opened a studio on the Sagamore Road, near the Green Island Bridge. He died in 1934.

Fred Thatcher, born in 1881, married a Bolton native, Maud Abells, and settled in Lake George.

“He was a very special man,” Helen Thomson recalled in 2002.”He was not only a photographer, he was a builder, a businessman, and so involved in the community. He served as mayor, assessor, justice of the peace, village trustee and treasurer of the fire department.”

Mrs Thomson continued, “He took pictures of so many people: from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, from famous wrestlers to Madame Sembrich and her students, from Governors and every other notable who visited Lake George to every child in the village.”

And, Mrs Thomson said, he knew everyone, including Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’keeffe. “O’Keefe was very statuesque. Steiglitz was always dressed in black. My father developed film for him. Harry Thaw , he had his portrait made. Alma Gluck and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. had a house on West Street. When Alma Gluck was expecting her child, she’d come and rock his baby son to get used to holding a child.”

Thatcher’s first studio was on the corner of Canada Street and McGillis Avenue, the second became Sky Harbor restaurant. Thatcher alao owned a stretch of lakefront property, which he leased to a flying service, later operated by Harry Rogers and George McGowan, Sr. Fred Thatcher died in 1969 at the age of 88.

“The Thatcher photographs are treasures,” said Henry Caldwell, a member of the Bolton Museum’s Board of Directors. Bolton “Lake George has captivated many photographers: Seneca Ray Stoddard, Jesse Wooley, Alfred Steiglitz, Francis Bayle; all of them among the most gifted photographers of their times. The Thatchers belong in that company.”

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt at the Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George. By Fred Thatcher. (Date unknown)

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Lake George: Jefferson, Madison, and Prince Taylor

Lake George resident and regular Almanack reader Enid Mastrianni has offered for Black History Month this enlightening piece on a trip by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Jefferson’s enslaved servant James Hemings, to Lake George and their reactions to Prince Taylor, a free black man living just south of Ticonderoga:

Many a booster of the Adirondacks has cited the famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.” » Continue Reading.


Friday, February 5, 2010

When Tourists Stay Home, Local Governments Suffer

Last year, for the first time in decades, sales tax revenues in the Lake George region declined in every one of the year’s four quarters. Revenues dropped by as much as 15% over the summer. That’s not only an indication that resorts, restaurants and shops saw less trade in their busiest season than in years past; the drop in revenues left local governments scrambling to fill gaps in their budgets.

According to Warren County Treasurer Frank O’Keefe, 1.5% of the 7% sales tax collected by New York State in the county is distributed to local towns.

And, as O’Keefe explains, “The sales tax is apportioned on the basis of a town’s share of the collective value of the property in the county.”

Lake George, Bolton and Hague represent approximately a third of the value of all property in Warren County, and the lion’s share of sales tax revenues are returned to those towns and to Queensbury, where more than 32% of the assessed value of the county is located.

At the start of 2009, Warren County expected to receive approximately $45 million in sales tax revenues; instead, it received only $42 million, a drop of more than 8%, O’Keefe said.

Newly-elected Town Supervisors in Lake George and Bolton now find themselves with less revenues, and less flexibility, than their predecessors had.

The Town of Bolton received $3.2 million, approximately $333,000 less than it had received the previous year.

“That could have been devastating,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, who said he had carefully observed the previous administration’s budget making process before he himself took office in January.

“Whenever there’s a drop in sales tax revenues, there’s additional pressure on property taxes,” he said.

While the town’s tax rate did rise by 2.5%, that increase was much less than one that hit residents of Lake George, where municipal taxes rose by 26%.

“The members of the Bolton Town Board were very careful, knowing that sales tax revenues would be impacted by the recession. They knew this was no time for wishful thinking,” said Conover. “The Board went over every expenditure. The result was a good budget that allows the town to operate without reducing existing levels of service.”

Warren County estimates that Bolton’s share of sales tax revenues will rise in 2010, but Conover says the town will continue to follow a prudent course.

“Sales tax revenues may rebound, although not to the historically high levels of the past; but if the economy picks up, it will take some pressure off the property-owners’ taxes,” he said.

Although Bolton will watch its expenses, it will continue to maintain and improve its infrastructure of parks, beaches and public docks, said Conover.

“These are assets that we need for economic development and tourism,” Conover said.

In Lake George, according to Supervisor Frank McCoy, sales tax revenues dropped by 12%, leaving the town with $300,000 less than it had anticipated, said McCoy,

The market for recycled paper and plastic also crashed, costing the town another $100,000 in revenues, said McCoy.

But those losses in revenue were not wholly responsible for the 26% increase in property taxes, McCoy said.

For the past several years, the town had drawn from its reserves rather than raising taxes; by mid-2009, those reserves were all but exhausted.

“From 2004 to 2009, we chipped away at the reserves,” McCoy acknowledged. “Instead of using the reserves, we should have increased taxes incrementally, by 3% a year.”

The increase in property taxes will enable the town to rebuild its reserves, McCoy said.

“We’re on the road to recovery,” said McCoy. “We’ll watch the pennies, we’ll review finances monthly and meet with department heads every quarter to make certain we’re on track, just as any business would.”

No reductions in the town work force are planned, said McCoy.

Any new positions would be part-time posts, he said.

“Last August, when the sales tax revenues dropped, we went into an austerity mode,” said McCoy. “We’re still in an austerity mode.”

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror

Photo: Newly-elected Bolton Supervisor takes the oath of office with his family at his side.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Inside the Adirondack Museum’s Boat Collection

“Hall’s Boat Corporation is not just a center for wooden boat conservation, but a center for wooden boat lovers,” says Steve Lamando, the owner of the historic Lake George marina.

Every month, Reuben Smith, who oversees wooden boat building and restoration at Hall’s, offers free wooden boat clinics, and every summer members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (based in Clayton) gather at the marina for receptions and banquets.

Hall’s staff reaffirmed its commitment to the preservation of wooden boats and to those who prize them in mid-November, when it hosted a tour of the Adirondack Museum’s boat collections with curator Hallie Bond.

“Reuben Smith, Hallie Bond and I were talking about how we could foster a stronger relationship between Lake George and the Adirondack Museum, and we decided this trip would be a good start,” Lamando said.

Hall’s Boat Corporation views the museum as an educational resource, said Reuben Smith, whose father, boat builder and novelist Mason Smith, is married to Hallie Bond.

“It’s a resource for our customers, for our wooden boat builders, and, as we develop into an educational center, for students,” added Lamando.

According to Hallie Bond, the Adirondack Museum owns “one of the largest, finest collections of inland pleasure craft anywhere. It’s a very nice, representative collection, but we specialize in boats made and used in the Adirondacks. In the 19th century, the Adirondack region was where it was at for small rowing pleasure craft.”

In addition to telling the stories of how people lived, worked, relaxed and made art in the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Museum is, Bond said, an “inland maritime museum,” a fact made evident in the lobby itself, whose focal point is an Idem class sloop, built in the early 1900s for racing on the St. Regis Lakes.

Bond’s tour began in the building housing the museum’s boats and boating collection.

Naturally, the collection is dominated by Adirondack guide-boats, those light-weight, portable boats indigenous to the region, which also happen to be one of the region’s greatest contributions to civilization.

But Adirondack boating is not limited to guide-boats, as Bond’s tour made clear.

The collection includes, for instance, the kayaks and canoes whose near-universal popularity began with the American Canoe Association’s gatherings on Lake George in the 1880s, which the museum highlights in one of its exhibits.

Some thirty or forty canoeists attended the first Canoe Congress on Lake George and virtually every type of modern canoe was represented; canvas, wooden, clinker-built and smooth skinned; some were decked and sailed. There were contests for racing, paddling, sailing, and dumping, the latter being a contest in which the canoeist paddles out to and around a stake boat and on the return, at a given signal, dumps his canoe, rights it, and gets back in.

The prize for winning a race open to canoes of all types was a canoe built by St. Lawrence River boat builder John Henry Rushton.

Rushton saw the Lake George congress as an opportunity to attract new business and develop new ideas. One of those ideas came from Judge Nicholas Longworth, who wanted a better sailing version of Rushton’s Rob Roy, the decked wood canoe whose design was derived from the kayak. The result was the Diana, a Princess type of sailing canoe, commonly regarded as one of Rushton’s most beautiful boats.

The Diana is also on exhibit, in a display called the “Poor Man’s Yacht.” On top of the Diana is a striped, cotton canvas canoe tent, also from Rushton’s shop, demonstrating how the canoes were used not simply for cruising, but as portable camps.

At about the same time that he was building boats for the founders of the American Canoe Association, Rushton built the first of several lightweight canoes for George Washington Sears, whose articles in “Forest Stream” published under the name of “Nessmuk” would popularize both wilderness paddling and Rushton’s own canoes.

The most famous of those canoes, the Sairy Gamp, is also on display.

According to Hallie Bond, Rushton said of the 10.5 pound canoe, “if Nessmuck tired of it as a canoe, he could use it as a soup dish.”

Bond was responsible for persuading author Christine Jerome, who retraced Nessmuck’s route through the Adirondacks in 1990, to use a Kevlar replica of the Sairy Gamp made by local boat builder Pete Hornbeck. That boat, too, is on display.

The group then examined George Reis’s El Lagarto, the Lake George speedboat that won Gold Cups in 1934, 1935 and 1936, before entering the museum’s storage facility.

The museum owns more than 200 boats, only a portion of which can be displayed at any one time. The rest are stored in the Collections Storage and Study Center, located near the museum but difficult to find. “We didn’t want it to be too conspicuous,” said Bond.

The facility contains boats too large to be displayed, such as the beautifully restored 1927, 30 ft Fay and Bowen runabout that once belonged to Camp Echo on Raquette Lake, as well as boats that may never be restored but are preserved for research.

Those boats include a Lake George rowboat built by Henry Durrin and the Hornet, a 28 ft ice boat built on Lake Champlain and brought to Lake George in the 1930s, as well as Merle and Elisabeth Smith’s 23 ft long Yankee class ice boat built by John Alden Beals.

Bond also showed the group a boat that I’ve waited years to see, less for its aesthetic qualities than its historical interest: a fiberglass guide-boat built in the Adirondacks in the early 1960s.

By the 1960s, it appeared to many that the only way to ensure the survival of the Adirondack guide-boat was to turn to synthetic material.

John Gardner, in many ways the father of the wooden boat-making revival, wrote in the 1963, “The guide boat might seem to be nearly finished, a thing of nostalgic memory and a museum piece were it not for its recrudescence in plastic.”

At the time Gardner was writing (the piece appeared in the Maine Coast Fisherman) the only wooden guide boat maker still working was Willard Hanmer. A year earlier, Tom Bissell opened the Bissell Manufacturing Company in Long Lake to make what he called Adirondack Fiberglass Boats.

He had grown up with guide boats made by one of the region’s most renowned guides and boatbuilders, Warren Cole. His grandfather opened a Long Lake hotel called Endion in 1888 across the lake from Cole’s boat shop; where his father spent hours as a young boy watching Cole work. He still owns one of Cole’s boats purchased by his grandmother in 1900.

Bissell bought the fiberglass boat company from Fox Connor, whose family owned one of the region’s oldest great camps and was who manufacturing them in Ossining at the family-owned Allcock Company, makers of have-a-heart traps. Their model, which Bissell continued to make, was based on a boat designed by Wallace Emerson for fishermen in Connor’s family.

Bissell, now in his seventies, a retired school teacher and former supervisor of Long Lake, left the guide-boat business early, despite support from Gardner and people like Kenneth Durant, who devoted the second half of his life to researching the history of the guide-boat. At the time, Bissell recalled, working with fiberglass posed health hazards.

But his effort kept the guide-boat alive as a functioning vessel rather than just a museum piece, and helped ensure that people were still rowing them when young craftsmen like Reuben Smith’s father, Mason Smith, and his uncle Everett Smith emerged to revitalize wooden boat building.

The Adirondack Museum’s collection of guide-boats played no small role in that renaissance, and according to Reuben Smith, it remains a source of inspiration for builders – and future owners – of boats of all types.

Photo: George Reis driving El Lagarto. Courtesy of Adirondack Museum

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror


Monday, January 18, 2010

Famous Jerks of the Adirondacks

General James AbercrombyToday we were going to list the Ten Most Influential Adirondackers, based on input from you, the Almanack readers. We’ve decided to keep nominations open for one more week (please make your recommendations here). In the meantime, one of you suggested, “How about the Adirondacks’ ten biggest asshats? . . . [T]hat’s one discussion I’d like to read.”

So, scroll through for a list of ten all-star Adirondack jerks and a-hats, in no particular order. » Continue Reading.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Bolton Landing Wrestles With Ridge Line Development

From the heights of Bolton Landing, the views are of water, islands and mountains covered with forests that have not been disturbed for a century or more.

But from a boat on Lake George or from the opposite shore, the hills of Bolton Landing might remind some of a spawling suburb; houses creep along the crests and ridges, all designed with one goal in mind: to capture as much of the view as possible.

Despite the protests of groups like the Lake George Waterkeeper and The Fund for Lake George, more houses on ridge lines have been proposed.

And there appears to be little the environmental groups can do about it.

Bolton’s own comprehensive plan calls for the protection of the town’s hillsides, but that plan has yet to be translated into specific rules.

In the absence of regulations, the town’s Planning Board must work with developers to make roads and houses as unobtrusive as possible and to limit the numbers of trees that are felled.

“The challenge of the board is to allow development without changing the natural environment,” said Kathy Bozony, The Fund for Lake George’s land use co-ordinator.

One proposed development that will change the environment, representatives of the environmental protection organizations claim, includes a mile-long road up a mountainside where houses will be built.

The road and houses will be visible from the lake, the town-owned Conservation park and the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Cat Mountain preserve.

In December, for the third time in twelve months, the Planning Board reviewed the proposal.

According to Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, the development will “become a permanent fixture of the viewshed from Cat Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks on the western shore of the lake. The clearing and disturbance is excessive and will have an impact on the resources of the community for generations to come.”

“We’re’re sensitive to viewshed preservation,” said Peter Loyola of CLA Site, the Saratoga-based architecture and design firm that planned the road and home sites. “But there’s a dilemna; the higher the home, the better the view. We want the houses to have some views of the lake.”

According to Loyola, the developers worked with the Town to create the most comprehensive and stringent program ever proposed in Bolton to mitigate the effects of tree cutting at the site, including stiff, enforceable fines for cutting trees once the houses were constructed.

“In twenty years, you won’t even see the houses,” said Loyola. Anyone violating the prohibition on tree cutting could be fined as much as $35,000 per violation, Loyola said.

But John Gaddy, a member of the Planning Board, said he questioned the efficacy of tree-cutting restrictions. “We’ve tried re-vegetation programs; they’re abused to get views. The Town won’t be a strong enforcer because it does not want to become the Tree Police,” said Gaddy. Moreover, he said, “There’s too much disturbance and the houses are in too sensitive
an area for me to support this project.”

Gaddy and another Planning Board voted against the project at the December meeting, just as they had at the two earlier meetings. With two members absent, having recused themselves, the proposal could not muster the support of a majority.

But according to lawyers for the developers, that vote does not mean the project has been denied. Instead, citing state law and local zoning codes, they argue that a stalemate constitutes “no action” rather than a denial. They assert the application must be deemed approved by default.

“We’re very disappointed the town could not reach a decision on one of its most controversial projects,” said Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky. “We’re contemplating legal challenges if the deadlock is treated as an approval.”

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror

Photo: Artist’s rendering of a proposed development on Bolton’s ridge line, after reforestation has begun. Image courtesy of Lake George Waterkeeper.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

APA May Exempt Lake George Boathouses from New Rules

If a proposal by the chairman of the Lake George Park Commission is adopted, Lake George camps will be exempt from pending Adirondack Park Agency (APA) regulations banning rooftop sun decks on boathouses.

At a heated public hearing on the Adirondack Park Agency’s proposed rules, held at the Lake George Town Hall on January 7, Lake George Park Commission chairman Bruce Young said the APA should authorize the Commission to continue regulating boathouses and docks on Lake George.

“I don’t see what the APA will do that is different from what the Lake George Park Commission does now,” said Young. “There should be provisions in the new regulations exempting the Lake George Park, and I would hope that the APA would honor our request.”

Adirondack Park Agency chairman Curt Stiles will meet with Young to discuss his proposition, said Keith McKeever, a spokesman for the agency.

Speaking one day after the public hearing, McKeever said that APA staff members have already expressed interest in Young’s proposal.

“Chairman Young made a valid point that overlapping regulations can be confusing and redundant, and that can lead to inefficiency,” said McKeever. “Deferring to the Lake George Park Commission would provide the Adirondack Park Agency with an opportunity to adhere to Governor Paterson’s directive to save taxpayers’ money by sharing services and eliminating duplication.”

Mike White, the executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said he was not informed of Young’s proposal in advance of the public hearing.

But, he said, the Commission has a history of assuming authority from other state agencies to regulate activities on Lake George.

“We’ve directly co-ordinated with other agencies in the rule-making process to avoid duplication, and we’ve been delegated authority by other agencies to issue permits for some regulated activities,” said White.

If the new rules are adopted, authority to regulate boathouses could easily be transferred back to the Lake George Park Commission through a Memorandum of Understanding, said Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George and a member of the APA’s Technical Advisory List, which the agency consulted when drafting the proposed regulations.

Without that delegation of authority, any new boathouses constructed on Lake George would probably be shorter and smaller than most of those currently permitted by the Lake George Park Commission and local governments.

Under the proposed rule, boat houses will not be allowed to exceed 15 feet in height, can be no larger than 900 square feet and must have pitched roofs.

At the public hearing on January 7, the requirement that roofs be pitched drew the heaviest fire from Lake George residents, contractors and boathouse builders.

According to Jeff Provost, the owner of a firm specializing in the construction of docks and boat houses, “Boathouses with flat roofs are the most popular type of boathouses in this region; it’s what people want.”

The flat roofs are typically used as sun decks, which increases the homeowner’s access to the lakefront and the value of his property.

Because boat houses are exempt from APA rules prohibiting structures within waterfront setbacks, the agency was compelled to develop a definition of boathouses that limited their use to boat storage.

That led to the requirement that roofs be pitched, said Keith McKeever.

It’s also something of an aesthetic mandate, he said.

In 2002, when the Adirondack Park Agency last revised its boat house regulations, the Agency was accused of forcing home owners to build flat, unattractive structures when it contemplated limiting the height of boathouses to 16 feet.

The Agency rejected that provision and chose instead to allow for a wider variety of designs and styles.

According to an APA memo, though, the 2002 regulation was too vague to be easily implemented, and new rules were drafted.

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


Monday, January 11, 2010

Impact of Fireworks On Lake George? Not Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, January 1, 2010

Lake George Counts itself a Zebra Mussel Survivor

In December 1999, researchers discovered that Lake George was not immune to Zebra mussels after all.

During an annual dive to retrieve litter from the lake bottom in Lake George Village, volunteers discovered what appeared to them to be the exotic mollusk that had already wreaked havoc in Lake Champlain and in nearby rivers, competing with native animal species for food and clogging water systems.

Diver Joe Zarzynski contacted the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, whose scientists confirmed that the brown and cream striped shell attached to a beer bottle was indeed a Zebra mussel. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lake George Mirror: An Adirondack Insitution

The Lake George Mirror has finally found a spot on the web and has begun posting occasional selections from his archive. The paper, which holds the title of longest running resort newspaper in America, was founded in 1880 by Alfred Merrick (later Lake George’s oldest living resident). Originally the paper was published to serve the village of Lake George and had a temperance bent, a somewhat strange approach for a resort town.

Not long after founding the paper, Merrick gave it up for interest in a bowling alley, and it struggled until W.H. Tippetts came along. Tippets published the paper in order to promote Lake George as a summer resort. When he abandoned the Mirror in 1900 it was purchased by several local businessmen who turned it over to Edward Knight, editor of the Essex County News. The Knight family edited the paper into the 1960s.

A short history on the paper’s new website offers a glimpse of what the paper was like under the leadership of the Knight family:

While it chronicled the changes on Lake George – the rise and fall of the great resort hotels, the destruction of the mansions along Lake Shore Drive, and the proliferation of motels and tourist cabins – the Mirror itself changed little. For the families who returned each summer, the Mirror was the newspaper of record. It announced the arrivals and departures of their neighbors, publicized their activities, and performed all the offices of a country paper: heralding births, celebrating weddings, saying a few final words over the deceased in the editorial and obituary columns. The Mirror did not, however, neglect the year round residents – the homefolks. It championed projects that would enhance daily life in the villages and towns, such as the road over Tongue Mountain, the Million Dollar Beach and the expansion of Shepard Park. As long-time editor Art Knight recalled in 1970, “Many of the improvements we have advocated over the years have become realities and we like to think that perhaps in some small way we have been responsible for their ultimate adoption.”

Except on rare occasions, the Mirror had little interest in political controversy. It was, however, a fierce advocate for the protection of Lake George. During World War II, for instance, Art Knight editorialized: “There is one battle in which there can be no armistice …the battle of Lake George. The enemy are those thoughtless and selfish people who, with only their immediate profit in view, will take advantage of any laxity in our guards in order to save themselves a dollar.” Art Knight recognized that the lake’s shores would continue to be developed. But he also recognized that care would have to be taken if the development was to enhance and not detract from the lake’s beauty. “If we fail, then our detractions from the natural beauties… will earn for all of us the antipathy of future generations.”

Robert Hall took over the Lake George Mirror in the late 1950s. Hall had been a Washington and European correspondent for the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker and its Sunday edition editor. During a time when the FBI was conducting illegal operations against suspected leftist (including burglaries, opening mail, and illegal wiretaps) Hall grew tired of radical politics and moved his family to the Adirondacks where he eventually purchased the Warrensburg News, the Corinthian, the Indian Lake Bulletin and the Hamilton Country News. He established Adirondack Life magazine as a supplement to his his weekly papers in 1962.

In 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Hall to the Temporary Commission to Study the Future of the Adirondacks, whose recommendations led to the establishment of the APA. Hall later sold the Mirror, and his other weeklies, to Denton Publications and took a job as editor of the New York State’s Conservationist magazine.

The Mirror went from owner to owner until Tony Hall, Robert Hall’s son who was raised in Warrensburg, bought the paper with his wife Lisa in 1998. Of course regular readers of the Adirondack Almanack will also recognize Tony’s name on our list of contributors.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

APA Schedules Hearings on Boathouse Regulations

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has scheduled four public hearings to encourage comments on the agency’s proposed revisions to its Boathouse regulations. Designed to protect ecologically sensitive shorelines, boathouse regulations, were first adopted in 1979 and revised in 2002. This newest proposed revision limits the overall footprint of boathouses to 900 square feet and the height to fifteen feet. This criteria revises the previous “single story” limitation, which was being violated with large “attics” and rooftop decks, according to the APA, and clarifies that boathouses are for boat storage only.

The proposed revisions would continue prohibitions on using boat houses for anything but boats, building’s constructed for other uses will be required to meet with APA shoreline setbeck regulations. According to the APA public hearing announcement, “other structures such as decks, guest cottages, and recreation rooms are prohibited on the shoreline if greater than 100 square feet in size. Under prior regulations, landowners attached these components as part of what would otherwise be a boat berthing structure, and argued these components were part of the “boathouse” because the previous definitions did not specifically exclude them.”

Here are the further details from the APA:

The 2002 definition limited boathouses to a “single story.” However, the definition fails to prohibit large “attics,” and extensive rooftop decks, resulting in some very large non-jurisdictional shoreline structures. The lack of clarity requires architect’s plans and time-consuming staff evaluation.

The 2009 proposal retains the 2002 provisions that define “boathouse” to mean “a covered structure with direct access to a navigable body of water which (1) is used only for the storage of boats and associated equipment; (2) does not contain bathroom facilities, sanitary plumbing, or sanitary drains of any kind; (3) does not contain kitchen facilities of any kind; (4) does not contain a heating system of any kind; (5) does not contain beds or sleeping quarters of any kind”.

The proposal adds: “(6) has a footprint of 900 square feet or less measured at exterior walls, a height of fifteen feet or less, and a minimum roof pitch of four on twelve for all rigid roof surfaces. Height shall be measured from the surface of the floor serving the boat berths to the highest point of the structure.”

The change is prospective only; lawful existing boathouse structures may be repaired or replaced pursuant to Section 811 of the APA Act within the existing building envelope. For those who wish to exceed the size parameters or expand a larger existing boathouse, a variance will be required. Standard shoreline cutting and wetland jurisdictional predicates still apply in all cases.

Shorelines are important to the Adirondack Park’s communities and environment. The dynamic ecosystems that edge Adirondack Park lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams are critical to both terrestrial and aquatic species. Well-vegetated shorelines serve as buffer strips, protecting banks from erosion, safeguarding water quality, cooling streams, and providing some of the Park’s most productive wildlife habitat.

Large structures and intensive use at the shoreline causes unnecessary erosion and adverse impacts to critical habitat and aesthetics and raises questions of fair treatment of neighboring shoreline properties.

The Statutes and Regulations that the Agency is charged to administer strive to protect water quality and the scenic appeal of Adirondack shorelines by establishing structure setbacks, lot widths and cutting restrictions. However boathouses, docks and other structures less than 100 square feet are exempt from the shoreline setback requirements.

The four hearings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

January 5, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Adirondack Park Agency
Ray Brook, New York
This hearing will be webcast at the APA website.

January 6, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Town of Webb Park Ave. Building
183 Park Ave.
Old Forge, New York

January 7, 2010, 11:00 a.m.
Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, Room 129B
Albany, New York

January 7, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Lake George Town Hall
Lake George, New York

Written comments will be accepted until January, 17, 2009 and should be submitted to:

John S. Banta, Counsel
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, New York 12977
Fax (518) 891-3938



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