A Great Camp love story

It’s hard not to be
romantic about The Hedges, on Blue Mountain Lake. Some of us first fell in love at the old Great Camp and then with the place itself. It’s a place that’s so part of our identity that, even if we stay just a week or two each summer, it feels the most like home.

The nearly 13 acres comprising The Hedges were once part of several hundred acres owned by Civil War colonel Hiram Duryea, who built a family summer retreat in 1880, when Duryea was president of the National Starch Company. The first structure put up on the property was Main Lodge, with four bedrooms and living space. Some years later, Duryea built Stone Lodge with seven bedrooms, along with a horse barn, carriage house and Upper, the caretaker’s cottage. In the 1920s the Collins family bought the place at auction for $22,000. They renamed the Duryeas’ camp The Hedges, and converted the family’s getaway into a resort, adding the Main Dining Hall, then cabins in the 1940s. Today the property—1,600 feet of waterfront, a private beach, two docks, tennis court, and 21 buildings with 31 bedrooms—is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This landmark is a sacred place.

Which is why more than 60 families—loyal guests—joined together to buy it and save it, once and for all, in March 2018.

It began in 1999, the year of the first letter, which stated that, “The Hedges will not open in 2000. Up for sale.” The Van Yperen family who’d purchased The Hedges from the Collinses in 1972 was stepping down.

Around the campfire, nightmares replaced ghost stories. “This is it, the last summer,” we lamented. At risk was more than a place to spend summer vacations; it felt like someone was stealing our family albums, so invasive was the sense of loss. This was our safe place, where kids take their first steps, where they roam as freely as chipmunks. Where nearby Rock Island, perfect for high diving, sees every kid reach the “jumping-off” age. The Hedges was where dozens of promises, proposals and marriages took place. It was a place to fall in love, as my parents did in 1940.

Two loyal Hedges guests, John Bender and Dave Lynn, considered what it would take to buy it, but someone else stepped up: Rip and Pat Benton stayed at The Hedges one night and bought it the next. There were celebrations and sighs of relief. Summer, with its collective history, was saved.

Until 2016, when the letter reappeared. This time it was authored by Pat Benton, who realized she couldn’t run The Hedges forever. “Here we go again,” said Dave Lynn. “Every two decades it changes hands; it’s generational. We can only hope someone will buy it, keep it open for us.”

With the current trend in turning public Adirondack Great Camps like The Wawbeek on Upper Saranac Lake and Northbrook Lodge on Osgood Pond into private summer estates, the question became, Can you save a working Great Camp? This group of guests didn’t know how to, they just knew they had to.

Fortunately, there was synchronicity. Pat Benton had a wish that The Hedges guests themselves buy it to keep it public. She invited a group to discuss ways and means.

Enter Howie Kirschenbaum, one of the founders of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, who had a history of restoring Great Camps. In 1997, Howie was the driving force behind saving White Pine Camp—President Coolidge’s “summer White House”—when 40 owners joined to preserve the Great Camp on Osgood Pond for public use.

Howie advised Pat and the steering committee of guests/prospective buyers. First efforts began in 2016 with the Hedges Heritage Association. The next year a limited liability company formed. This was their Hedges; they would not let it go.

Pat worked closely with the LLC. Steve Blum, the buyers’ spokesperson, fielded questions and encouraged participation. Steve and I first met in 1970 at The Hedges; he invited me to join the team.

Brad Grainger was brought in, according to John Bender, because he was thought to be an engineer. “Because of the way he approached the Ring Toss on The Hedges Main porch. The mechanics he went through.” While it turned out that he was not an engineer, Brad was a great pick and the closer, with a Hail Mary that secured a Development Authority of the North Country loan.

Members have priority for reservations, first choice for preferred lodging and vacation week(s) and a slight discount. But if non-member guests want the week they’ve always spent at The Hedges, members acquiesce; this LLC depends on loyal guests—and new ones. Hence the mission statement to “preserve The Hedges for Members and Guests to enjoy for generations to come.”

Looking back, teammates can’t say enough great things about each other. They say it’s the most important thing they’ve ever done: created a legacy, made Adirondack history. This gang is not rich, but they dug deep. They saved more than a Great Camp. They saved 1,000 collective family histories, they saved local jobs.

So how do you save a Great Camp? You need a patient seller, a trusted staff and a group that gets it. And you go. All in.

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