Illustration by Brucie Rosch
An Olympian, a mayor, an activist, a travel writer and a troubadour share their thoughts on the park
Director of Climate Initiatives, The Wild Center
At 5:30 a.m. the sky brightens around the corner of Moody Pond to the Baker Mountain trailhead—a mile down the road and through a grove of white pines from my house in Saranac Lake. I spot my sister, Heidi, with Skye, her sweet golden retriever. It’s a cool, misty spring morning. Hopefully we will make the summit and back before the day warms and the blackflies rule.
Off we go—the mostly south-facing trail quickly rises and a carpet of spring beauties and trout lilies unfolds before us. We know the sunny spot where Dutchman’s breeches pop up. In the distance, the haunting song of a hermit thrush and the zippy black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers. I always forget which one is which but Heidi always remembers—that’s what sisters are for. Our pulses quicken as we hit the steeper, rocky section of the trail. Skye bounds ahead and we scramble up the pine needle–strewn rocks.
I could probably climb Baker with my eyes closed. I grew up in Vermontville and this mountain feels like an extension of my backyard. Each rock and tree and the rise and fall of the land feel familiar.
When I was in my 20s, if someone had asked me, “Do you think you will go back to the Adirondacks?” I would have said, “No way.” I spent those years bouncing across the country and the world from one seasonal outdoor job to the next. I was always on the lookout for the next adventure. But the only time that restlessness stilled was when I came home. Every hike up Baker seemed like just the ticket to ground me, rooting myself to a place. This place.
As we reach the summit, I catch my breath and take in the wide view of the High Peaks to the east and the village of Saranac Lake to the west. Lake Flower, Kiwassa and Oseetah Lakes and Lower Saranac Lake shimmer in the morning light. We hear a loon calling as it makes its way from Moody Pond to McKenzie Pond below us.
We sit on our favorite rock ledge and map out the village below—the farmers’ market in Riverside Park, Origin Coffee on Main Street, BluSeed Studios on Cedar. It’s these places and the people, as familiar as the rocks we’re sitting on, that make this part of the world special. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The sun is rising and we realize we need to hurry back so we’re not late for work. We hike downhill through the Scotch pines and red maple, and finally back to where we started. As we part, I turn to Heidi and say, “Same time tomorrow?”
Mayor of Lake George
Adirondacks, our love affair began 49 years ago and has grown each day.
Your pristine lakes, quaint hamlets and towering mountaintops surround me. I yearn to learn more of your past and want to be part of your future.
I admire and appreciate your way of life—unhurried and peaceful. You treat your neighbors and visitors with a diversity of things to see and do.
I love the way you sound. The crackling of a campfire, the whistle of a steamship, the call of a loon, the sound of music from the park and the laughter of children on the carousel.
I love the way you look each and every day. Autumn colors splashed against the hillsides, snow-covered peaks and trails, meadows blooming in spring and lakes glistening in the morning sunrise.
I love the way you feel. Sitting on an Adirondack chair next to a lake, wading in a country stream or a just taking a nap on a nearby beach.
But I hope that we will not love you too much by crowding your trails and eroding your beauty.
My hope is that the respect we have for you never fades.
Author of An Adirondack Passage: The Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp
On my first visit to the Adirondacks, in 1988, I fell hopelessly in love with the region, with its woods and waters, peaks and valleys, and all who live therein. Astonishingly lovely, rugged, always changing and yet timeless, it keeps drawing me back. Herewith, some of the memories it’s given me. Keepers!
At dawn a rare Bicknell’s thrush perches on a small conifer near the summit of Whiteface, while far below the world remains in darkness.
A randy bittern signals his availability in the marsh opposite the Calkins Creek lean-to on the Cold River, pump-er-lunk, pump-er-lunk. Charming at first; after three hours … not so much.
A friend inside a privy near the foot of Long Lake shrieks with laughter as a hairy woodpecker hammers the metal roof directly above her.
On a September morning as my canoe bobs on Raquette Lake’s South Bay an enormous undulating vee of conversing Canada geese passes overhead.
With all campsites occupied during a late afternoon rainstorm on the East Branch of the Oswegatchie, we set up a tarp on a streamside patch of grass and are grateful for shelter. Next morning we head downstream on high water that’s like a carnival ride, gleefully running the beaver dams.
In early May we call friends at Coreys to say we’re bagging our Raquette River paddle because freezing temperatures are forecast. Our hostess commiserates; in the background her husband intones, “From our loins have sprung a race of weaklings.”
Forked Lake on a late summer afternoon offers what might be a Japanese woodblock print: a kingfisher hovering in front of a mountain ash heavy with red berries.
Bill Frenette resented owners prohibiting access to his favorite haunts. Once, snowshoeing back to the road from Blue Ledges, on the Hudson, he asked to photograph me. When he sent the pic weeks later I saw he’d posed me in front of a No Trespassing sign.
An unforgettable moonlit ski on Utowana Lake with a group of genial writers, including Bill McKibben and his (unpublished) golden retriever, Barley.
I’m supercargo in a canoe paddled by eaglet bander Pete Nye and an assistant. As showers abate and sunlight breaks through the overcast, Pete begins singing, “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.”
Trapped by weather at the north end of Stillwater Reservoir, our patience is rewarded by a double rainbow.
Paddling out of Grass Pond, on the north side of Lows Lake, we encounter a loon coming toward us, responding to the echo of its own call bouncing off the cliff face.
Four of us are castigated by an otter that rears up out of the water growling as we paddle from Lake Lila into the Beaver River.
Before Round Lake was opened to the public, the Tupper Lake Irregulars canoeing club was given a tour by Nature Conservancy officials. Asked what “Irregulars” referred to, a male paddler volunteered, “Our sex lives.”
Olympic Luge Medalist
Growing up in Peru, on the Adirondack Park border, I learned to use snow as my playground. I loved the feeling of gaining speed down a white hill in the middle of my hometown’s apple orchards. I would exhaust myself running from wherever I coasted or crashed back up the hill to do another run.
What I didn’t realize when I was a kid was just how special this place really is. I played soccer and baseball, but also did bobsled, ski jumping and luge. I thought it was normal to put on skis that are only meant to fly.
My passion for Adirondack winter and sledding was just part of what led to my Olympic success. Another was the Olympic culture that surrounds Lake Placid. The Miracle on Ice, Eric Heiden’s five gold medals, the Goodwill Games and shows like Stars on Ice helped fuel my dreams. I remember going to a bobsled World Cup competition in the late ’90s, talking to a competitor from Austria and knowing then that I wanted to become a professional sledder.
I started training for luge when I was 12. I’d go to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, surrounded by the best U.S. athletes in luge, bobsled, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined. I was star-struck and motivated to be the greatest sledder in the world.
After moving to Saranac Lake when I was 13, I grew accustomed to the sound of snow squeaking beneath my boots, indicating that it was below zero and sometimes 30 degrees below that. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, the temperatures dipped below zero and I watched my competitors tense up at the cold and the difficult sliding conditions. I actually smiled before my fourth and final run because I felt right at home. I had been preparing for that moment my entire life.
I’ve written many love songs about the place I call home:
The winters are long and the wind gets wicked. Twenty below ain’t no big deal.
Hands that hold me, wisdom that shows me, this place knows me like a heart knows home.
I’ve seen her long skirt flying high when she hears that fiddle play, and she’ll keep them long john underwear right on till the month of May.
But one song in particular comes to mind. I had been living in Nashville for 10 years. I had spent four years writing for SONY Music Publishing/Tree International, and was entering my seventh year of writing for Warner Chappell Music. My songs had been recorded by a few major artists, but to my continued frustration, no top-charting radio single. I would get songs on hold for an artist but not make the record. I would make the record but not have the songs chosen for a radio single. I would have the song make the radio and not reach the top 10.
One lonesome night I was missing my family and friends—and the Adirondacks. So, to regain balance, I did what I have always done. I wrote a love song to home.
“Home of My Heart”:
Not a day goes by
I don’t think about you
You stay on my mind
As I lay in the dark
It’s been so long
I’ve been without you
I miss you still
Home of my heart
Everywhere I go
I carry you with me
Your memory burns
Like a bright shining star
You’re in my blood
And you always will be
The fire in my soul
The home of my heart
Ten years gone
I can’t believe
Oh precious time
Where did you go
No matter how long
We are apart
You’ll always be
The home of my heart
Full moon light lay soft on the mountain
The night wind whispers like a lover’s sigh
Midnight dew shines on the meadow
Silver blue like the tears in my eyes
So I make my prayer
To the heavens above me
One you can feel
From where you are
And if I’m blessed
Then one day I will be
Back in your arms
Home of my heart …
Listen to Roy Hurd singing “Home Of My Heart” at www.royhurd.com/music.
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