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Though Twain and T.R. knew it, and Lake Placid lies within it, Adirondack Park is our "best-kept secret"

On a clear winter day, Ray Falconer, the scientist in charge of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center field station atop Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks of northern New York, can see Mount Washington, 130 miles to the east in New Hampshire, and Montreal and the St. Lawrence River, 80 miles to the north. Directly below to the southwest, a mere six miles away, he can easily see the village of Lake Placid, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. But what Falconer sees most of all around him are the snowy summits of other Adirondack peaks rising above spruce and fir forests like whitecaps in a roiled sea.

Seen in perspective, Lake Placid is merely a small village of 3,000 set in the midst of the Adirondack Park, an enormous wilderness and playground that, for all the Olympic hoopla, has been called the best-kept secret in the U.S. Even many of those aware of the park are not quite certain how it is administered. Comprising six million acres—almost 10,000 square miles—the Adirondack State Park is the biggest park in the country. It is almost three times as large as Yellowstone; it is, in fact, bigger than the state of Massachusetts, which is visible from the top of Whiteface.

The park contains 42 mountains higher than 4,000 feet, 11 of them with Alpine summits harboring plants not otherwise found south of Labrador; sheer cliffs that reach to 1,400 feet; gorges that sink as deep as 2,000 feet and shelter almost sunless rain forests; a waterfall with the odd name of O.K. Slip that is higher than Niagara; 2,300 lakes and ponds and 31,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams, among them the Ausable, one of the best trout streams in the East. Despite the stocking of hatchery fish over the years, a couple of Adirondack lakes still contain genetically undisturbed strains of brook trout and lake trout. Within the park there are deer, black bear, fishers, mink, otter, beaver and coyotes. On occasion there are reports of mountain lions.

New York State owns 2.3 million acres of the park outright, and this land is locked up as much as any wilderness can be as a Forest Preserve. As the result of public protest against devastating logging practices in the 19th century, a unique clause in the state constitution decrees that this tract "shall be forever kept as wild forest lands." Except for the maintenance of trails and campsites, no trees can be sold, removed or destroyed without constitutional amendment, and that would require passage by two successive legislatures and statewide approval by the voters. This protection has been in force since 1895, and in all that time no constitutional convention or session of the legislature has adopted any amendment to repeal the Forever Wild clause.

Approximately 100,000 acres of the state land have never been cut at all, and this primeval forest imparts to the visitor a sense of timelessness that is extraordinarily rare in this age of future shlock. As William Chapman White wrote in Adirondack Country, published in 1967, "As a man tramps the woods to the lake he knows he will find pines and lilies, blue heron and golden shiners, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets, just as they were in the summer of 1354, as they will be in 2054 and beyond. He can stand on a rock by the shore and be in a past he could not have known, in a future he will never see. He can be part of time that was and time yet to come."

The remaining 3.7 million acres within the Adirondack Park boundary, popularly known as the Blue Line, are privately owned. These private lands are given over to estates, villages, resorts, lumber camps, factories, mines and farms. The private and Forever Wild lands occasionally intermingle like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but the use of any private property must conform to the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan adopted into law in 1973 and administered by the independent, bipartisan Adirondack Park Agency. Indeed, the Adirondack Park is the largest area in the U.S. under one comprehensive land-use plan.

Starting in the 19th century, the park has attracted outdoors enthusiasts. In 1815 Joseph Bonaparte, the exiled king of Naples and Spain, bought 100,000 acres and built a hunting lodge near Diana, where, it was said, he hoped to settle his brother if he could escape from St. Helena. James Russell Lowell, Louis Agassiz and Ralph Waldo Emerson roughed it at Philosopher's Camp near Follansbee Pond. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow refused to go along when he learned that Emerson was taking a gun. "Then someone might get shot!" the poet exclaimed. John Brown, the abolitionist, had a farm in the Adirondacks, and his body lies amoldering in a grave just off Route 73, two miles east of Lake Placid. Theodore Roosevelt was only 18 when he wrote his first book, The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks. He counted 97 species; 165 are known to be there today. When he was Vice-President, Roosevelt was picnicking near the summit of Mount Marcy, which at 5,344 feet is the highest peak in the Adirondacks, when he learned that President William McKinley had taken a turn for the worse after having been shot by an assassin in Buffalo.

Thomas Cole and other artists in the Hudson River School sought out the mountains; Frederick Church painted Twilight in the Wilderness, one of his finest oils, in the Adirondacks, while Winslow Homer's Adirondack watercolors had a freedom and brilliance never seen before in this country. Mark Twain had a camp at Lower Saranac; Robert Louis Stevenson sought the clean air at Saranac for treatment of his tuberculosis; Theodore Dreiser based An American Tragedy on the case of Chester Gillette, who dumped the body of his girl friend in Big Moose Lake. William James refreshed himself in Keene Valley. Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud once spent three days at James' old camp, and although Freud was charmed by the wilds he wrote his daughter that he was glad it rained the last day because "my horns and hoofs" were not up to the steep mountain slopes. Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal System fame, a founder of the American Library Association and the Library Journal and a man prominently involved in the American Metric Bureau and the Spelling Reform Association, started the Lake Placid Club, where the International Olympic Committee will stay for the Winter Games. Dewey introduced skiing to the Adirondacks, and his son, Godfrey, a winter-sports enthusiast, was a driving force behind getting the 1932 Winter Games for Lake Placid.

That such a vast area as the Adirondack Park could still exist within a day's drive for 55 million people is largely the result of the rugged nature of the Adirondacks themselves. Geologically, the Adirondacks go back more than one billion years. They are not part of the Appalachians but are a southward extension of the ancient Canadian Shield, which includes the Laurentians. At one time the ancestral range towered as high as the Himalayas, but erosion, subsidence and glaciation have worn the High Peaks of the northern Adirondacks down to their tough roots of anorthosite, a very durable rock, the nether parts of which extend six miles deep into the earth. No water can penetrate the anorthosite, and a heavy rainstorm will send tons of water roaring down the slopes, tearing away the thin cover of earth and forest. The scars give the High Peaks an awesomely primitive appearance; White-face takes its name from a slide that left an enormous glare of bare rock down the east face of the mountain.

Because of the geology of the Adirondacks and the fact that the mountains were scoured by glaciers as recently as 9,000 years ago, the soils, derived largely from the underlying rock, lack many basic nutrients. The Indians of pre-European days tended to avoid the mountains, preferring to fish, hunt and forage in the rich bottomlands along the Mohawk and St. Lawrence rivers. The very name Adirondack is an old Iroquois slur upon the enemy Algonquins. It means "bark eaters," and the Iroquois applied the term to the Algonquins who sometimes came down from Canada to hunt in the mountains that the Iroquois dismissed as barren.

The first European to see the Adirondacks was Samuel de Champlain, who in 1609, with a band of Algonquins, explored the lake that now bears his name. His brief visit was important because it eventually led to Canada's becoming British rather than French territory. Encountering 200 Iroquois, Champlain shot two of them, including the chief, thereby implanting a hatred of the French that prompted the Iroquois to ally themselves with England.

Forbidding to settlers, the Adirondacks—or the Greater Wilderness, as the area was known—remained largely unexplored until the late 19th century. The Adirondack historian Alfred Donaldson wrote in 1921 that Stanley had found Livingstone and made the world familiar with the depths of Africa before most New Yorkers knew anything definite about the wilderness in their own backyard. In fact, the highest source of the Hudson River, Lake Tear of the Clouds on the southwest shoulder of Mount Marcy, was not discovered until 1872, 10 years after the discovery of the source of the Nile, and as recently as 1960 Paul Schaefer of Schenectady found a deep glacial lake in the east central Adirondacks that was unknown to county and state officials and unmarked on U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps.

Well into the 19th century the Adirondacks continued to be called the Greater Wilderness. A smaller region, the Tug Hill Plateau to the west, was known as the Lesser Wilderness. The plateau, which rises to 2,000 feet, is directly in line with west-east storms coming off the Great Lakes and it draws much of the precipitation that would otherwise fall on the Adirondacks. The plateau gets 18 to 20 feet of snow in winter, the heaviest east of the Rockies, while the Adirondacks average 10 feet.

Before the Revolution, the colonial government sold off some tracts in the Adirondacks, and the state, which fell heir to the crown lands at the end of the war, did the same. But for the most part the tracts were bought by speculators and remained unsettled. John Brown of Providence (no kin to the abolitionist), a wealthy merchant for whose family Brown University was named, bought 200,000 acres in 1794. Although Brown divided the tract into eight townships, which he named Industry, Enterprise, Perseverance, Unanimity, Frugality, Sobriety, Economy and Regularity for the acquisitive virtues he esteemed, he failed to attract settlers because, as noted in a letter from Brown's son-in-law, the "region was so barren a crow would shed tears of sorrow while flying over it."

Still the Adirondacks proved vulnerable to exploitation by trappers, hunters and loggers. The beaver was highly prized by the Dutch settlers, who took great numbers to satisfy the European demand for skins. The animal was so esteemed that it was incorporated into the seal of New York City. By 1820 trapping pressure had nearly wiped out the beaver population; only 1,000 or so were left in the mountains. When trapping was finally prohibited in 1897, perhaps only a dozen survived. Thanks to the efforts of an Adirondack enthusiast named Harry Radford, 34 beavers were imported in the early 1900s, some from as far away as Montana, to augment the native stock. The beavers have flourished to such an extent that they have spread as far south as Westchester County, just north of New York City.

Hunters did in the moose by 1861, and wolves disappeared a few years later. Contrary to popular belief, moose were never abundant in the Adirondacks, and it would be difficult to reestablish the species today. When lumbermen began logging they opened up the forests to white-tailed deer, which thrived on the new plant growth. The deer carry a brain-worm parasite to which they are immune, but which is fatal to the moose.

Lumbering had by far the biggest effect on the Adirondacks. In 1813 two brothers, Alanson and Norman Fox, began cutting on the banks of the Schroon River and originated the practice of driving single logs down the Schroon and into the Hudson, and thence to mills at Glens Falls. This revolutionary method of sending logs downstream was so successful that other lumbermen began branding their own logs with distinctive designs, and the state legislature declared a number of Adirondack streams and rivers to be official public highways for logs. Glens Falls literally became a boomtown when a chain, or boom, was set across the Hudson to contain the logs coming from the Adirondacks.

By 1850 New York was the leading lumber state. At first the lumbermen cut only the biggest pines, hemlocks and spruce for building materials, and spared the ash, maple, birch and other hardwoods because they didn't float well. In the 1860s a new method of making pulp with chemicals made the smaller softwoods worth cutting, and the introduction of railroads made the cutting of hardwoods feasible. Although the railroads served as a boon to the tourist trade that burgeoned in the late 19th century, the locomotives threw off sparks which often ignited the logging slash, and every year thousands of acres went up in smoke. As early as the 1870s the rapacious pace of logging, often on state lands, caused public uproar.

Incredible as it may seem, the tourist boom came to the Adirondacks because of one book, Adventures in the Wilderness, written by the Reverend William Murray, a young Congregational minister in Boston. Although a dozen other books had been devoted to the Adirondacks, none had the impact of Murray's, which appeared in April of 1869. It literally inspired a stampede of tourists to the mountains that summer.

An article in Harper's described the crowd boarding a Lake Champlain steamer bound for the mountains: "Immediately a small boy came up and proffered 'Murray'; other small boys were observed to waylay the procession below and tender copies of 'Murray.' The procession was continuous. It was a moving phantasm of sea-side hats, waterproofs, blanket-shawls, fish-poles, old felts, mackintoshes, reticules, trout-rods, fish-baskets, carpetbags, guns, valises, rubber boots, umbrellas, lap-rugs, hunting-dogs, guide-books and maps. There were old women, misses, youngsters, spinsters, invalids, students, sports, artists, and jolly good fellows. Behind followed innumerable vans, crates, and barrows of miscellaneous luggage."

Unfortunately, Murray had laid it on a bit thick. "In the Adirondack wilderness the lumberman has never been," he wrote, and he boasted of landing a pair of huge trout with one cast of his rod. It may well have been that when Murray first came upon the Adirondacks, large trout were not unusual, but such fish were the result of 10,000 undisturbed years, and they proved easy prey to flies, spoons and worms. Murray was branded as a liar, and the tourists who read his book became "Murray's fools."

There was still another problem—blackflies, which spend their larval and pupal phases in swift streams. They are the pests of the Adirondacks, which have no poisonous plants or snakes. Blackflies bite freely and leave large welts that can be painful for several days. By comparison, mosquitoes are a pleasure. Blackflies, which are at their peak in June, don't hum or buzz; they put all their energy into the sting. In other regions of North America, biackflies are reported to have bitten sheep, cattle and horses to death. For generations they have cast a grim shadow over the glories of the Adirondacks, and it is estimated that the potential economy of the park is reduced 40% to 50% each June by the nuisance they pose.

Despite the flies, the lumbermen and Murray's exaggerations, the tourists came. Between publication of Murray's book in 1869 and the year 1875, the number of hotels quadrupled from 50 to 200. The rich flocked to the mountains in that gilded age, seeking surcease from the pressures of Wall Street in opulent log cabins with stone fireplaces and mounted deer heads and within earshot of the call of the loon. J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Alfred Vanderbilt and William Whitney all established sumptuous "camps." William West Durant, a railroad tycoon, developed a dwelling that combined the rough materials of the log cabin of the region with the graceful lines of a Swiss chalet, which set the style for the rich. Once he had his builders construct a chalet copied from a Swiss music box, and he thought nothing of inviting friends to come 300 miles north from New York by rail, and then 40 miles by sleigh for the novelty of celebrating Christmas in the wild.

By 1892, the state estimated, a fourth of the Adirondack was held as preserves by individual owners and clubs. Some of them released a host of exotic animals, including wild boar and elk. The elk hung on the longest, but they were probably done in by the brain-worm parasite carried by the white-tailed deer.

Although the affluent often angered locals with their high-handed ways and no-trespass signs, there is no doubt that they and some of their offspring came to love the wilderness and sought to protect it in the Adirondacks and elsewhere across the country. Examples abound. Harold K. Hochschild, now 87, the former chairman of the board of the American Metal Company, founded the superb Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain and served as chairman of the Temporary Study Commission which recommended the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency. Then there is the Marshall family. Born in 1856, the son of German-Jewish immigrants, Louis Marshall completed Columbia Law School in one year and went on to become a noted attorney and philanthropist who espoused a wide number of causes ranging from Zionism to conservation. He began visiting the Adirondacks in his 20s and later was instrumental in having the Forever Wild clause inserted in the state constitution. His son, Robert, who died in 1939, became a forester, explorer and writer. Inspired by the Adirondacks, Robert, one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, set in motion the national policy for wilderness preservation. Robert's brother, George, is the only person ever to serve as president of both the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, while brother James, an attorney who is also an Adirondack advocate, is a founding trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading public-interest groups in the nation. "The enemies of wilderness, the forest industries, the miners, the grazers and others, call us elitists," James Marshall wrote recently. "Personally, I do not regard this as a bad name. Throughout history elitists have taken the lead."

No one in Adirondack history was more of an enthusiast for these mountains than Verplanck Colvin of Albany. He began mapping them when he was only 18, and when he was 25, the state legislature appointed him superintendent of the Adirondack Survey. Starting in 1872, Colvin clambered up and down the mountains for 28 years, only leaving to return to his cluttered office to write his reports. In his first year, his discovery and description of the highest source of the Hudson as "a minute, unpretending tear of the clouds" gave the two-acre pond its poetic name. In his passion to map the mountains, Colvin did without food ("Supperless we made a bivouac under a sheltering ledge") and endured discomfort ("The snow entered our clothing despite all care, and it was impossible to prevent frequent falls over hidden rocks and tree trunks"), all the while driving himself and his guides ever onward, upward and downward.

Colvin was among the first to urge that the state establish an Adirondack preserve, but in his later years he wandered the streets of Albany babbling to himself and talked of building a railroad through the mountains he had sought to save. He died in 1920, a forgotten figure; on his deathbed he autographed his paddle, which he said he had dipped into some 250 unexplored lakes in one year.

Today Colvin's writings are best remembered for a description he wrote of the Adirondacks in 1878: "Elsewhere are mountains more stupendous, more icy and more drear, but none look down upon a grander landscape in rich autumn time; more brightly gemmed or jeweled with innumerable lakes, or crystal pools, or wild with savage chasms, or dread passes; none show a denser or more vast appearance of primeval forest stretched over range on range to the far horizon, where the sea of mountains fades away into a dim, vaporous uncertainty.

"A region of mystery, over which none can gaze without a strange thrill of interest and of wonder at what might be hidden in that vast area of forest covering all things with its deep repose. It is not the deer of which we think, treading the deep rich moss among the stately tamaracks; nor the bear, luxuriating in the berry patches on the mountainside; nor the panther or the wolf in their lonely and desolate wilds, seeking their feast of blood: we gaze downward from the mountain height on thousands upon thousands of square miles of wilderness, which was always one—since forest it became—and which hides today as it has hidden for so many ages, the secrets of form, and soil, and rock, and history, on which we ponder. Huge are these almost undecipherable pages of the world's annals; enormous and difficult to read; yet there are marks and traces here and there which tell in a brief, irregular and fragmentary way—to those able to decipher such inscriptions—the prehistoric growth of continents; the origin of rivers; the spread of vegetable and animal life, and the approach of man."

Colvin's call for an Adirondack preserve found many allies. Fishermen and hunters urged the establishment of a preserve on state lands, and so did physicians. Impressed by Dr. Edward Trudeau's work with tuberculars at Saranac, physicians said that because of the clean mountain air, the state should make the Adirondacks a regional sanatorium. (A number of Adirondack residents are descended from tuberculars who came to take the cure, and Trudeau's grandson, Dr. Francis B. Trudeau, is the voluntary medical adviser to the Olympic biathlon and cross-country contestants at Lake Placid.)

But strange as it may seem to environmentalists today, it was businessmen who took the lead in fighting for an Adirondack preserve. As Frank Graham Jr. notes in The Adirondack Park: A Political History, the state Chamber of Commerce and the New York Board of Trade and Transportation argued, most successfully, that the Adirondack watersheds which fed the rivers and canals of the state were essential to the economy and that logging was converting the mountains into a desert.

In 1885 the legislature enacted a law prohibiting the cutting of timber on state lands and then wisely adopted another measure, unique in the U.S., under which the state paid taxes on the state lands to the Adirondack towns in which they lay. This practice continues to the present, and it has prevented local authorities from complaining that the tax burden falls on private-property owners. It has also given all New York residents an interest in having a say about the Adirondacks, because they are paying the taxes on the state lands.

Still, these measures were not enough to protect the region, and in 1894, in response to the clamor for the preservation of the Adirondacks, a state constitutional convention adopted the Forever Wild clause. That fall the voters approved the new constitution, and the Forever Wild clause went into effect on Jan. 1, 1895.

Through the years no group has dared tamper specifically with the Forever Wild clause, but since 1897 there have been a dozen amendments that have attempted to nibble at the state lands and the park. Almost all have been defeated. In 1953 the voters of the state actually revoked the power of the legislature to build reservoirs in the Forest Preserve, even though the governor, Thomas E. Dewey, a two-time Republican candidate for the presidency, led the battle for the reservoirs. In 1959 the voters narrowly approved construction of the Northway, the superhighway that will take many spectators to Lake Placid for the Olympics, but this amendment passed only because conservation groups were divided on the issue.

Division is not unusual, and this never became more apparent than in 1968 when Laurance Rockefeller, the chairman of the State Council on Parks and the brother of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, proposed that the Adirondacks be turned into a national park. National-park status could never afford the measure of constitutional protection provided by the state, but in the uproar that followed it became obvious that something had to be done. The constitution protected state lands, but the rest of the Adirondack Park was a park in name only, except for the Blue Line on the map and an obscure law that prohibited the erection of advertising signs except at a private owner's place of business. This eliminated miles of billboards, but there were newer threats to be faced.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Water Resources Commission were talking of impounding the wild waters of the upper Hudson with two dams for reservoirs, and second-home developers were casting a covetous eye on huge tracts of land. Governor Rockefeller appointed a Temporary Study Commission which did not issue any vague, bureaucratic-style report. Instead, it urgently recommended the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency and a strict land-use plan. Prodded by the governor, the legislature established the APA in 1971. In the next two years the APA devised two major master plans for the park. The first classified the state lands, which are administered by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, into five main categories based on their characteristics and capacity to withstand use. The most strictly controlled lands, which total more than one million acres, are designated as Wilderness, Primitive and Canoe areas. The emphasis is on maintaining these areas as primeval, "where man is a visitor who does not remain." Hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing, hunting and fishing are permitted, but motorized vehicles and equipment and aircraft are barred.

Another million acres are classified as Wild Forest. Although these lands retain their essentially wild character—the Forever Wild clause still applies—a higher degree of human use is allowed. For example, snowmobiles are permitted, but their use is restricted to marked trails. Finally, there are Intensive Use areas which include existing boat-launching sites, beaches and campgrounds. Inasmuch as the master plan for the state lands did not require approval by the legislature, Governor Rockefeller simply proclaimed the plan to be state policy.

The second plan devised by the APA is called the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan and applies to private land. After a lot of in-fighting and politicking, the legislature adopted it in good part, and it became law in 1973. The plan is complicated, but in essence it is designed to control development, not thwart it, by funneling growth in and around existing hamlets that have roads, services and utilities. Hamlet boundaries were drawn well beyond established settlements to provide room for expansion, and local government has charge of zoning. Private holdings in the Adirondack Park are divided into six categories ranging from hamlet to Resource Management Area.

The establishment of the Adirondack Park Agency and adoption of the two master plans did not mean that the park would automatically become the Garden of Eden. The year-round population is 110,000, and historically the Adirondacks have been cursed with seasonal employment. At present, Franklin and Essex counties in the northern Adirondacks have an unemployment rate of 18%, the highest in the state. The basic resource of the park is the out-of-doors, but there are still people who don't recognize this, and development in the hamlets, which is not controlled by the APA, is sometimes garish. One tourist attraction sure to throb in the cerebrum of anyone who sees it is the Sterling Alaska Fur and Game Farm, "Home of 1,000 Animals," on the road to Saranac just outside Lake Placid. Affixed with turrets and minarets and painted a Day-Glo red, white and blue, it vandalizes the view of Whiteface in the distance. In The Adirondack Park, Frank Graham Jr. notes that when Harold Hochschild was chairman of the Temporary Study Commission, he sought to warn Adirondackers of what might be in the offing by exhibiting a collection of photographs at the Adirondack Museum of the grotesque strip development in the Lake George area. Some staff members feared the museum would be attacked for showing this architectural chamber of horrors. Not to worry. Most of the folks from Lake George delighted in the pictures showing their hometown, and people from other hamlets hoped they could get the same kind of development.

Similarly, when the legislature was debating the APA bill, Marge Lamy, who is now the public relations officer for the agency, got into a shouting match in a stairwell with Bob Purdy, the supervisor of the town of Keene. As a final point in her argument Mrs. Lamy yelled at Purdy, "Do you want to see this area turned into another Lake George?" Purdy answered quietly, "Yeah."

Without attempting to gloss over the economic problems that face the Adirondacks, it would appear that some are self-inflicted. A certain percentage of the work force has apparently become culturally conditioned to taking the winter off. These people work just enough, 20 weeks, to go on unemployment. Living off taxpayers isn't confined to urban areas; it's a way of life in the boondocks, too. Cottage industries might offer the solution, or at least a partial solution, to unemployment, but not in the experience of Francis Betters, proprietor of the Adirondack Sport Shop in Wilmington and an authority on Adirondack trout fishing. Betters, who ties some 20,000 flies a year himself, says, "I could sell as many flies as I could get up to my quality. But you just can't get people to hang in there and work, and I don't want the hassles."

Lake Placid itself is a federally designated depressed area, and local boosters sought the Winter Games to rev up business, not just during the Olympics but afterward as well. When Lake Placid had the Winter Games back in 1932, they were a bust economically. Now the town is trying again, only this time the Winter Games have become a world spectacle, and there is no doubt that the glut of athletes, officials, media and visitors (up to 50,000 a day) will put Lake Placid and the Adirondacks on center stage.

"Inevitably, at some point in the Olympic coverage, the camera's eye will lift from the competition to the surroundings," Bernard R. Carman, editor of the magazine Adirondack Life, wrote last summer. "Perhaps it will sweep from a vantage point atop the 90-meter ski jump down the Ausable Valley to craggy, cloud-topped Whiteface, brooding above the wild landscape like some miniature Kanchenjunga. Or perhaps it will turn from the speed-skating oval to catch Algonquin's wrinkled bulk lit by the winter sun, with Marcy's matchless cone glistening on the far horizon. At that moment millions of people, aware of the Adirondacks only dimly or not at all, will discover that here in the midst of the crowded Northeast lies an area of stupendous, stupefying beauty. In that discovery may lie Lake Placid's most important opportunity."

After taking note of the "visual slum of singular ugliness" and the "jungle of motel and restaurant signs" that lead into Lake Placid from east and west, Carman continued, "To make the most of that opportunity, the community would have to take an objective look at itself—at the way it has dealt with its environment and at the way in which it treats visitors, as well as its current press image as a bunch of greedy entrepreneurs making out like bandits.

"There is, alas, little sign that Lake Placid will do any of that. The inquiring reporter of the Lake Placid News, posing the question to a random sample of residents, was unable to find anyone who would oppose casino gambling in Lake Placid if the state should legalize it. After years of trying to be Atlantic City without saltwater taffy, Lake Placid has a chance to acquire a new and more valuable glamour through the Olympics. But the available evidence suggests that a good many local residents are already prepared to settle for being Atlantic City with scenery."

In this age of global pollution, a forever wild clause in a state constitution does not protect a region from contaminants in the atmosphere. In the last decade, acid precipitation has affected, for the worse, most of the northeastern U.S., and the Adirondack Mountains have suffered alarmingly. Acid precipitation in the Adirondacks comes from as far away as the Midwest and Canada, and it has its origins in sulfur and nitrogen oxides emitted by the combustion of petroleum products and coal in power plants, smelters, steel mills, factories and automobiles. These highly acid gases combine with water molecules in the atmosphere, where they remain until returned to earth as constituents of rain, snow or sleet.

The degree of acidity is measured by readings on the pH scale, which runs from zero to 14. Seven is neutral, the numbers above increasingly alkaline, the numbers below increasingly acidic. The pH scale is logarithmic, so that pH 5 is 10 times more acidic than six, and pH four is 100 times more acidic than six. The Adirondacks have received rain and snow with a pH of 3.5. Because of the kinds of rocks and vegetation in the region, the soils are naturally slightly acidic, and thus when it rains near vinegar, the potential for corrosive disaster is very real.

A top Whiteface, Ray Falconer can see the acid-laden clouds move in from the west. His observatory is one of the major field stations in the country measuring acid precipitation, and tests show that rain that originates high in the atmosphere over the mountains increases in acidity as it falls through the layers of other acid clouds below.

Last July the Adirondack Park Agency expressed its concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about proposals to allow exceptions to air-quality standards for utilities and industries in Ohio, the source of much of the pollutants causing acid precipitation in the Adirondacks. The APA also forwarded a report on acid precipitation prepared by one of its own commissioners, Dr. Anne LaBastille, an ecologist who lives in the park. In her report Dr. LaBastille noted that almost 200 lakes at higher elevations in the western Adirondacks had lost their fish life because of acid precipitation and that the park had suffered a $1.5 million decline in tourist revenues as a result. "Most fish, especially eggs and fingerlings, succumb to acid precipitation in the early spring when the thaw carries accumulated acids from winter snows into water bodies," Dr. LaBastille reported. "These affect the fishes' gill membranes and respiration. Adult females may experience lowered calcium serum levels during reproduction, which decreases fertility and alters spawning behavior."

Acid precipitation has also caused a decline in frog, salamander, loon and otter populations. Furthermore, acid precipitation may be lowering the resistance of trees to disease and blight, and browsing animals could be affected. Acid precipitation could also alter soil chemistry by inhibiting the functions of microorganisms in the first few centimeters of topsoil, resulting in slow rates of decomposition and a reduction in nitrogen fixation. Acid precipitation could cause the leaching of lead and copper in water supply pipes. In fact, one study showed unexpectedly high levels of copper and lead in Adirondack springwater unexposed to metal pipes. Finally, acid precipitation could adversely affect buildings and monuments. Among those already affected elsewhere in the world, Dr. LaBastille reported, were the Parthenon, the Colosseum and the Taj Mahal.

In conclusion, Dr. LaBastille noted that devices could be installed to stop emissions that cause acid precipitation, and she urged that they be installed at the earliest date and that costs not be made a limiting factor. So far nothing has been done.

Given all this, it is ironic but fitting that any snow that falls on the Winter Games will be acid. Many of the competing athletes come from countries that also suffer from acid precipitation, and perhaps the publicity that stems from the Olympics will prompt action to halt the ruination of parts of the planet, including the ancient Adirondacks.



St. Lawrence River


Hinkley Reservoir

Old Forge

Stillwater Reservoir

Cranberry Lake

Foulton Chain

Raquette Lake

Piseco Lake

Forked Lake

Spy Lake

Tupper Lake

Long Lake

Indian Lake


Saranac Lake


Lake Placid

Mt. Marcy

Hudson River

Whiteface Mt.


Schroon Lake

Great Sacandaga Reservoir

Lake George

Lake Champlain



Lake George

Glens Falls


Hudson River

















Beyond the observatory on Whiteface, scores of snowy peaks rise above vast spruce and fir forests.


Tubercular Stevenson sought pure mountain air.


A relaxed Mark Twain spent many an hour in contemplation at his summer camp in Lower Saranac.


John Brown's body lies near Lake Placid.



[Snowmobile Trail] Snowmobile Trail
[Canoe Roete] Canoe Roete
[Troute Fishing] Troute Fishing
[Hiking] Hiking
[Ski Touring Trail] Ski Touring Trail
[Dowlhill Skiing] Dowlhill Skiing
[Golf Course] Golf Course
[Ice Fishing] Ice Fishing
[Red Hyphens ] Northville-Lake Placid Trail
[Red Square Bracket] Campsite