Posts Tagged ‘Lake George’

Friday, April 2, 2010

Remembering Lake George’s Chuck Hawley

When my wife Lisa and I were considering purchasing the Lake George Mirror, among the first people we consulted was Chuck Hawley, the artist, politician and activist who died on March 9 at the age of 86.

Hawley was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. He was at my engagement party and my father’s funeral. He was Lake George’s supervisor and a member of the County board when my father published the Warrensburg-Lake George News, and the two developed a mutually useful relationship. He’d tell my father what would happen before it happened – information prized by a weekly newspaper editor when he’s competing with a daily, as I’ve learned for myself.

In 1998, I wrote a profile of Chuck for the Lake George Mirror, which I reproduce here.

About twenty years ago, some hikers on Black Mountain discovered a slab of rockface inscribed: ‘R.Rogers.’ Whether this was in fact the autograph of Robert Rogers, as the hikers believed, is still subject to debate, but there is no doubt that many people around Lake George hoped that it was authentic.

Rogers and his Rangers have always appealed to our imaginations, perhaps because they were the first identifiably American heroes. Chuck Hawley, whose painting of a Ranger is reproduced here, has done more than anyone else in our region to shape the popular image of the Rangers.

The painting was one of a series depicting the Rangers commissioned by Harold Veeder in 1966 for the newly constructed Holiday Inn. They have been republished often in newspapers, magazines and books, and reproductions are best sellers at Fort William Henry and at the Lake George Historical Association’s shop in the old Court House.

Hawley wanted the portraits to be as historically accurate as possible; he spent months in the libraries researching the Rangers’ dress, habits and weapons; he read contemporary accounts and picked the brains of historians like Harrison Bird, the author of numerous books about the era, who served with Hawley on the Lake George Park Commission.

When he began the series, Hawley was Supervisor for the Town of Lake George, and the model for the portrait reproduced here was his colleague on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Earl Bump, the Supervisor from Horicon. Another model was Howard MacDonald, for many years a member of the Lake George Village Board of Trustees and the founder of Lake George’s Little League.

Despite the fact that he has been both a public official and a painter (as well as a graphic designer and the owner of an advertising agency) Hawley has really had only one career: Lake George. It is a career for which he was in some sense predestined. Stuart Hawley, his father, was Warren County Clerk for twenty-five years; in 1950 he was elected to the New York State Assembly and served through 1958, when he was succeeded by Richard Bartlett. Assemblyman Hawley introduced the legislation authorizing the construction of the Prospect Mountain Highway. Fred Hawley, who was supervisor of Lake George from 1918 through 1921, was Chuck’s grandfather.

Hawley’s deep roots in the area (his own family came to Lake George a few decades after Rogers departed at the end of the French and Indian Wars) may have helped to make him an unusually farsighted public official.

He believed that the health of the tourist economy depended upon the protection of the lake, and the orderly development of the village and the shores. The businessmen who came to make a quick dollar, he has said, “can’t see past August. They’re the shortsighted ones. The visionaries see as far as Labor Day weekend.”

In 1997, Hawley gave up his seat on the Lake George Park Commission, which he had occupied for thirty years, ten of them as chairman.

In the late 1970s, worried that heavy development along the shores would cause the lake to lose its famous translucent clarity, and frustrated by the Park Commission’s lack of authority and funding, Hawley campaigned for the creation of a task force that would study the challenges facing Lake George and suggest approaches for meeting them.

In 1984, the Task Force for the Future of the Lake George Park was organized, with Hawley as a member. Of its 200 recommendations, the most significant were those urging the Governor and the legislature to enhance the Park Commission’s regulatory powers and to provide it with a reliable, independent source of funding. Hawley wrote to Governor Cuomo, “New responsibilities and powers for the Commission are vitally necessary to save Lake George. At this late date there is no alternative.”

Former Lake George Park Commission Chairman Carl DeSantis says of Hawley’s tenure: “He wasn’t afraid to take a stand, even if his position wasn’t popular with business. We’ve been good friends since the 1940s, and we both remember when the lake was a lot cleaner. Chuck has dedicated his life to protecting Lake George.”

Although Hawley has retired from official life, his interest in Lake George is undiminished. At his home on Pine Point, the lake is never out of view, and it has survived better than he expected. He’s pleased that the experimental use of sonar is under consideration, having fought to use that means to eradicate milfoil since the late 1980s. In 1971 he wondered aloud to a reporter from the Lake George Mirror why the Lake George business district faced away from the lake; in the late 1950s he and the late Alex Muratori developed a plan to build a boardwalk along the lake. He’s glad that one is underway.

And, of course, he still paints. Hawley’s landscapes of an unspoiled Lake George have been powerful tools for its preservation.

Illustrations:

Chuck Hawley’s painting of Robert Rogers, based on Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Earl Bump.

Hawley receiving Lake George’s Wilbur Dow Award from Dow’s son Bill, president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, in 2002.

Two landscape paintings of Lake George by Hawley: “Black Mountain in Spring” and “Down the lake in Spring.”

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


Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Solar:Another Way to Help Save the Adirondacks?

If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.

Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.”

More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.

“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”

Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.

A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.

“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.

But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”

Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”

According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.

Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”

Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.

“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.

Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”

Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.

“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”

According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.

“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”

The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.

“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.

“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”

For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.

“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”

Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.

“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”

Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.

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


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gaslight Village: County Faces Deadline for Decision

Warren County’s Supervisors may be wavering on whether to preserve or condemn the two buildings that remain standing at Gaslight Village, but the time for a decision is fast approaching.

A $200,000 grant has been awarded to the three environmental organizations that own an easement on all but 2.5 acres of the Lake George property to demolish Charleys Saloon and some smaller structures this summer, and the county must decide whether it wants that grant to also pay for the demolition of Gaslight Village.

“I know there will be unhappy people whichever way we go,” said Supervisor Bill Kenny, who chairs a committee of Supervisors monitoring the project, which will include a park and water pollution controls.

Warren County, the Town and the Village of Lake George have until the end of May to reach a decision, said Warren County attorney Paul Dusek.

By then, Requests for Proposals will have been issued soliciting bids for the demolition of some or all buildings.

If the Calvacade of Cars building and the Opera House are omitted from the bids, they will remain standing.

Should the municipalities decide at a later date that the buildings are too costly to repair (the engineering firm of Clark Patterson told the Supervisors that it would cost at least $1.5 million to restore both buildings) the municipalities will have to pay for the demolition themselves

The Opera House, which Warren County Superintendent of Public Works Bill Lamy characterized as “not safe” and structurally unsound, was expected to be designated for destruction by the Warren County Board of Supervisors at its February meeting.

In fact, a resolution had been drafted for the Supervisors to approve agreeing to the demolition of the Opera House.

Instead, and despite Lamy’s analysis, the Supervisors voted to retain both buildings.

That decision pleased Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy, the director of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce and local businessmen like John Carr, who told the Board, “these buildings are usable.”

The vote dismayed Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais and several Lake George residents and business owners, including Lake George Steamboat Company president Bill Dow, who favor the demolition of the buildings. [Ed. – Read comments from two residents, Betty Spinelli and Joe Stanek, at the Lake George Mirror].

Dow, Fort William Henry Corporation president Bob Flacke and the Lake George Citizens group prefer a plan presented by Mayor Blais at another meeting of county supervisors, held a week later.

Blais argued that both buildings should be demolished.

“Four engineering studies have indicated that the costs to renovate the buildings into usable meeting space is extensive,” he said.

The open space should be used for parking, at least until a study has been undertaken that would identify the best use for the site. If the study recommended the construction of a new building or a pavilion, grants could be sought, said Blais.

Lake George Village has been awarded approximately $4.5 million in grants for similar projects in recent years, Blais said.

Regardless of the county’s decision about the Gaslight Village buildings, demolition of Charley’s Saloon on the parcel south of West Brook will start in mid-June, following the conclusion of Americade.

“New York State’s Department of Transportation will contribute the first $600,00 toward the construction of a storm water treatment complex on the historical wetlands, but the construction schedule has to coincide with work DOT is planning for Route Nine,” explained Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George.

According to Bauer, the demolition will be completed by mid-summer; construction
of the storm water management complex will begin after the Adirondack Nationals Car Show in early September.

Kenny’s committee held a public hearing on to solicit opinion about the future of the Opera House and the Calvacade of Cars buildings on March 22.

It will meet again on April 12 before making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

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

Photo: Buildings at the former Gaslight Village Property in Lake George Village (John Warren photo).


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Safe Boating Courses Will Be Offered Locally

The Lake George Association is co-sponsoring a series of safe boating training courses, leading to certification through New York State Parks and Recreation. Two options are available: a single-day course on a weekend, or a three-day evening course during the week. Students who take one of the sit-down courses this spring will be able to come back in the summer for an on-lake program aboard the LGA’s
Floating Classroom boat.

The courses are free and are open to adults and children 10 years of age and older. The course is required for all young boaters ages 10 – 18 and for any person in New York State who is driving a personal water craft (PWC), also known as a jet ski. People 18 and over who complete the course hours and requirements must send in a $10 fee to receive their course completion card.

Instructors for the indoor training are provided by the Eastern New York Marine Trades Association (ENYMTA) and the Lake George Power Squadron. Class size is limited to 15 participants.

ENYMTA courses:
Sunday, May 16 SNUG HARBOR MARINA, Ticonderoga, 9 am – 5pm
Register with Bob Palandrani 518-585-2628

Saturday, June 19 SCHROON LAKE MARINA, Schroon Lake, 9 am – 5 pm
Register with Craig Kennedy 518-532-7882

Saturday, July 17 ALPIN HOUSE, Amsterdam, 9 am – 5 pm
Register with Kathy Andrews at 518-843-4400

LAKE GEORGE POWER SQUADRON courses:
All at the Lake George Association Office – e-mail the LGA at info@lakegeorgeassociation.org or call 518-668-3558 to register.
April 26, 28 and 30 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm
May 10, 12, 14 (M, W, F) – 5:30 – 8:30 pm
June 7, 9, 11 (M, W, F) 5:30 – 8:30 pm

Later in the summer, aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom boat, students will experience navigating through marked channels, identifying navigational markers, and using a marine radio, GPS and radar. The LGA will also point out safety equipment, fire suppression, life-saving devices and the proper use of personal flotation devices.

The Lake George Power Squadron is the local squadron of the U.S. Power Squadrons, a nationwide nonprofit advocating boating safety and recreation. For membership information or to learn more, contact Commander Stephen W. Traver at Traver@Capital.net or visit the web site at www.LGPS.org.

The LGA is a not-for-profit membership organization of people interested in working together to protect, conserve, and improve the beauty and quality of the Lake George Basin. For more information, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or check out LGA on the web at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Court Rules Against Marina in Bolton Property Dispute

Bolton Landing’s F.R. Smith & Sons Marina is not the owner of a 867 square foot strip of land where it has stored fuel tanks for more than five decades, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York State ruled on March 11.

Rather, the property belongs to the marina’s neighbor, the Boathouse Bed and Breakfast, which is owned by Joe and Patti Silipigno.

The courts have yet to decide whether an existing tank must be removed immediately, an expensive and time-consuming procedure that could disrupt the sale of gasoline to boaters later this spring.

“We acknowledge that the Appellate Court has ruled against us, and we are considering our options,” said Richard Bartlett, whose firm, Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, represented F.R. Smith & Sons.

Attorneys for F.R. Smith & Sons argued that the marina acquired the land by adverse possession before 1997, when marina owner Fred Smith and Joe Silipigno signed an agreement allowing F.R. Smith to make use of the land in return for discounts on marine services and fuel.

“I wanted to be a good neighbor to Freddy, so I agreed to allow him to continue to use the property, and he was elated,” said Silipigno, who bought the Boathouse in 1996.

“Smith’s offered to plow my driveways in winter and service my boat at a 20 percent discount, offers I didn’t take advantage of. All I asked was that I be sold gas at a set price.”

According to Silipigno, that price was $1.73 per gallon, a price he continued to receive until 2001, two years after the death of Fred Smith.

In 2001, court papers state, Smith’s staff increased the price of gasoline and informed Silipigno that the marina was not bound by his agreement with Fred Smith.

Silipigno then brought a suit against the marina in the hope of having his title to the property affirmed, a move which he said caused ill-will among some residents of Bolton Landing.

“I was told, ‘neighbors don’t sue neighbors,’ but I didn’t initiate this. I think there was feeling against me because I’m a flatlander, an outsider, and the Smiths have been here for more than a hundred years,” Silipigno said.

Silipigno said that he was also attempting to protect the integrity of the Boathouse property.

Built in the early 1900s, the boat house was owned by speed boat racer George Reis, who won the Gold Cup in 1933, 1934 and 1935.

Until his death in 1962, Reis stored El Lagarto, his prize winning boat, at the boat house. El Lagarto is now on display at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

“This is a historic property which shouldn’t be jeopardized,” said Silipigno.

The New York State Supreme Court found that F.R. Smith & Sons failed to prove that it had established title to the strip of land by adverse possession, a ruling that was upheld by the Apellate court in its March 11 decision.

Silipigno said that he did not yet know whether F.R. Smith & Sons would be required to reimburse him for his legal fees, which he estimated to be in thousands of dollars.

Photo: Boathouse Bed and Breakfast; from Lake George Mirror files.

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


Monday, March 15, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Selection Day

In limited areas of the Adirondack Park, an understated excitement built gradually throughout the day yesterday as selections were made for the 2010 Adirondack Bracket.

Bracket pairings were made by combining the top 28 randomly selected entrants from two lists (a longer list of general Adirondackiana, and a shorter list of 2009’s Adirondack headliners). Four more slots were reserved for last year’s final four, including 2009 Bracket champion Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops. The remaining slots will be filled later this week by a play-in round which sets four randomly selected entrants from a list suggested by our readers, against the Bracket judges’ “Hand o’ God” choices (our favorites that somehow missed the first cut). A preview of the play-in round follows the jump. . .

So here is how things stack up for this week’s play-in round:

Game one pits late 19th/early 20th Century painter Winslow Homer (who spent time throughout his career at the North Woods Club in Minerva—his last visit to the Adirondacks occurring one hundred years ago this summer, shortly before his death), against the frankenpine: that towering synthesis of artifice and nature, and itself a subject of contemporary Adirondack painting (not to mention inspiration for an excellent band).

Saranac Lake’s doyens of drill. . . the Idas of March. . . those angels of aluminum and mesh—the incomparable Lawnchair Ladies—sashay into the Bracket against an equally formidable lineup of local adirondack ski hills. This squad of impressive topography (talking about the ski hills, now), once thought to be heading downhill, fast, has made a strong comeback this winter led by Big Tupper and Hickory. The list also includes a couple cross country ski mountains, one of which boasts the only ski mountain palindrome in the Adirondacks: “O! Dewey. Aye, we do!” This match up could go either way, but one thing you can count on: Chairs will certainly be lifted, and might be thrown.

Game three features perhaps the most interesting play-in pairing, with Olmstedville’s Pete Hornbeck and his fleet of featherweight canoes taking on Lake George’s Winter Carnival, the village’s annual string of wintertime events held every weekend throughout the month of February. Any other year this would have been no contest as canoes are not much use on a solid lake surface, especially with a lot of cars and snow machines and dog sleds racing around. This year, however, warm weather forced cancellation of some carnival events, premature demolition of the ice palace and relocation of the dog sled races from the slushy lake top to safer ground inland. The Fund for Lake George reports that the lake failed to fully freeze over this winter (the first time since 2002). Though this might be an advantageous climate for a naval assault, Hornbeck will have his work cut out for him if he is to make it to a much anticipated confrontation with Senator Betty Little in the “Upstate Great Eight” round next week.

The final play-in contest throws New York State’s official fish, the brook trout, into the mix with back yard sugarin’. Not a whole lot to say about this one except: that is some mighty fine eating.

Join us later this week for play-in results and a preview of the first round.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tests Show Lake George Clearest of 113 NY Lakes

Lake George received the best reading on a measurement for clarity among 113 New York lakes in 2009, according to a press release from the Lake George Association, which follows.

Peter Leyh, an LGA member, was one of several LGA volunteers to participate in the 2009 Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), coordinated on Lake George by the Lake George Association.

On September 2, Peter was sampling water near Gull Bay on the north end of the lake, and sank a measuring disk for clarity, called a Secchi disk, into the lake. He was
able to see the disk in the water at a depth of 13.55 meters, or almost 44 and 1/2 feet. No other lake participating in the CSLAP program last year could match it.

“This is great news for Lake George,” said Walt Lender, Executive Director of the Lake George Association, “but by no means does it mean we are free to relax our efforts to protect the Lake and keep it clean. In fact, it is just the opposite. This reading shows what a unique treasure we have in Lake George, and how diligently we must work to keep it that way. People need to know that this reading was taken at the north end of the Lake on a dead calm day. The clarity and cleanliness in the south end of Lake George, near West Brook, is not anywhere close to this. The water in Lake George flows from south to north, and it takes eight years for a drop to flow from the south to the north. Our challenge is to ensure that in eight years at Gull Bay our Secchi disk reading will remain at or beat 13.55 meters.”

Every summer since 2004, the Lake George Association has coordinated volunteers to assess water quality and clarity through the CSLAP program. The data gathered is used to help manage and assess trends in New York’s many lakes. The program is sponsored by the New York Federation of Lake Associations. In addition to CSLAP, the Lake George Association actively encourages adults and children to learn more about lake monitoring and stewardship aboard its Floating Classroom, a specially equipped catamaran which takes groups out on the Lake from May through September.

To learn more about CSLAP or how you can help Lake George, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or visit the website at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.

Illustration: 2006 graph showing Secchi depths for various locations around Lake George; from the Fund For Lake George website.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Conservationist Picked for Lake George Park Commission

Dr. Dean Cook, a Ticonderoga dentist, has been selected by New York State Governor David Paterson to become the newest member of the Lake George Park Commission.

If confirmed by the State Senate, Cook will replace Tom Morehouse, also of Essex County, whose term has expired.

The Senate’s Committee on Environmental Conservation voted on February 24 to forward Cook’s nomination to the Senate Finance Committee, which must also approve the Governor’s choice before it is brought before the Senate as a whole.

“I’ve devoted forty years to the protection of Lake George and serving as a member of the Lake George Park Commission is an opportunity to continue that work,” said Cook.

“I’ve been heartened by the Commission’s efforts to tackle such important issues as stream corridor protections, and I know it has a great potential to contribute to the health of the lake,” he added.

Cook’s family is one of the oldest on northern Lake George. An ancestor settled in the area in 1796 and the family’s property once extended from Baldwin to Hague.

Today, Cook helps maintain the family’s 250 acres near Heart Bay that were until recently part of a working farm.

That property, which includes eight guest cottages, has been hailed as a model of sustainable development.

Since returning to Lake George to join his father’s dental practice in the 1970s, Cook has served on the boards of the Adirondack Council, the High Peaks Audubon Society, the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and the Lake George Land Conservancy.
“Dean Cook will be an excellent addition to the Lake George Park Commission,” said Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George. “He holds Lake George and its communities near and dear to him.”

Walt Lender, the executive director of the Lake George Association, noted, “Dean Cook will be a passionate member of the Lake George Park Commission. He’s a dogged steward of the lake.”

Cook is a 1962 graduate of Ticonderoga Central School. He attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and Seton Hall before entering the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received his degree in Dental Medicine in 1971. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

The Lake George Park Commission is composed of nine members from each of the three counties in the Lake George basin and a representative of the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation.

If his appointment is approved by the Senate, Cook will serve a term that ends in 2017.

Photo: Dr Dean Cook and Terrina Russell-Cook courtesy of the Lake George Land Conservancy.

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


Friday, March 5, 2010

A Mountain of Dreams:Developer Seeks Redemption in Proposed Ski Area

Every small town has its stars. Rolf Ronning was one of Bolton’s. The only child of a wealthy, well-educated couple, he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1966 and earned two Masters, a doctorate and a law degree before returning to his hometown in 1977.

A little more than a decade later, he was in prison, convicted of possessing and conspiring to sell cocaine.

“I embarrassed myself and my children with those drug charges,” says Ronning. “My wife and I have tried to make it up to them. My daughter is at St. Lawrence and wants to go to law school. My son wants to get his PhD and teach. I want to succeed for them. I can’t give up.”

Released from prison in 1992, Ronning returned to Bolton Landing. Stripped of his license to practice law, he turned to real estate development, in which he made millions of dollars.

Now he’s lost most of those millions. Foreclosure proceedings have been brought against five of his properties, including his lakefront home.

The state of Ronning’s financial affairs is threatening to overwhelm his latest project, one that he hopes will redeem his fortune and his reputation: a ski area on one hundred acres near Exit 24 of the Adirondack Northway.

“I wish I could appear before the Town Board and the various agencies as a financially secure individual, but the rumors that I am in financial difficulty are true,” said Ronning.

Ronning concedes that title to the property, once envisioned as a residential subdivision to be called Westwood Forest, could end up in court.

“There’s litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of the mortgages,” said Ronning, guardedly and obscurely.

Some of those mortgages, he added, are held by companies controlled by “a person who loans money at high interest rates but whose name never appears on documents.”

At a Bolton public hearing on a proposal to permit ski centers in two areas currently zoned for rural and residential uses, a letter was read aloud by Supervisor Ron Conover from someone whom Ronning believes is affiliated with one of those companies.

“Rolf Ronning is not capable of handling a ski resort as he hasn’t the proper funds. He owes the investors involved in Westwood Forest over one million dollars. He is broke. It will be just a matter of time before Ronning loses all his properties,” wrote Gloria Dingee.

Ronning said he was surprised that Conover read the letter aloud, since it had no bearing on the issue before the Town Board, which at that point was nothing more than a change in zoning rules.

As Conover himself says, “the zoning change is not being undertaken on behalf of any particular project; we’re doing it to increase opportunities for appropriate development within the Town.” Nevertheless, Ronning would be its first beneficiary.

“We’ve all felt the effects of the Sagamore closing for the winter, and a ski center might bring visitors back to Bolton in winter and be good for the residents as well,” said Ronning.

According to Ronning, the ski area would consist of a 1,570 foot long double chairlift, a T-bar and a lodge.

“We’re contemplating night skiing and summer activities that would complement the nearby Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course,” said Ronning.

Snow could be made by drawing water from a nearby brook, an idea that Department of Environmental Conservation officials in Warrensburg found reasonable, according to Ronning.

As many as fifty people would be employed every winter, said Ronning.

“This is still in the conceptual stages,” said Ron Mogren of Saratoga Associates, who drafted preliminary plans for the ski area, tentatively named “Thrill Hill.”

But if he can secure at least some of the necessary permits, the investors will come, Ronning says.

Bolton’s Town Board deferred its decision on whether to approve the zoning changes for another month, but Ronning said he remained optimistic.

“I’d be unrealistic if I wasn’t concerned about how people’s views of me might affect this, but I hope that the Town Board, the Planning Board and the others will judge the project on its merits, not on what they might think of me,” he said.

After the meeting, Ronning sought out Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky to show him the plans for the ski area.

The Waterkeeper has brought several lawsuits against subdivisions planned by Ronning, and at times Ronning has publicly accused the Waterkeeper of deliberately attempting to bankrupt him.

But on the surface, the two are cordial toward one another, as is often the case in small towns, even with the most antagonistic relationships.

Navitsky, however, was non-committal.

“It looks interesting, Rolf,” was the extent of his comments.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” said Ronning. “Every day I wake up and promise myself I’ll do my best. Day by day, that’s how I keep going.”

Editors Note: The Lake George Mirror rents office space from Bell Point Realty, which is owned by Rolf Ronning.

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


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

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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 shoffman@lglc.org, 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)

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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.



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