Photograph by Mark Kurtz
Massawepie is an Iroquois term that means “lake by the marsh”—the source of the name being obvious, with the Massawepie Mire virtually touching Massawepie Lake. The mire is the largest boreal peatland in New York State and critical habitat for birds, including warblers and grouse, as well as carnivorous plants and tamarack and black spruce trees.
In 1890, Addison Child, of Childwold—a tiny hamlet on Route 3 in the town of Piercefield—built and began operating the Childwold Park Hotel and Cottages, later known as the Hotel Childwood, on the shore of Massawepie Lake. The hotel was a massive structure—one of the great resorts of the Adirondacks—that attracted well-heeled guests including Firestones, Guggenheims and Goodyears. The hotel closed in 1909 due to financial challenges.
The Childwold estate was eventually bought by the Sykes family, of the Emporium Lumber Company, and used as a summer retreat until the early 1950s, when the Sykeses sold the land to Otetiana Council, a Boy Scout council based in Rochester, New York. (The hotel itself had been torn down in 1946.) Massawepie Scout Camps was opened in 1952 and has operated as a summer Scout camp ever since, with the exception of 2020 because of COVID restrictions. In 2000 the Otetiana Council sold the property’s development and recreation rights to New York State, protecting the landscape and opening it to the public for bird-watching, hiking, paddling, fishing, hunting and camping when the camp is not in session.
If You Go
The Massawepie Scout Camps has an extensive trail network, a system that was created when the camp opened 70 years ago. Some of the trails are on the footprint of paths and roads from the original Childwold Park Hotel complex. There are approximately 9 miles of trails, plus 2 miles of canoe carries accessible to the public, all maintained by volunteers. The primary route is the White trail, named for the white paint blazes on the trees that mark the route, which circumnavigates Massawepie Lake. The public can hike, ski or snowshoe at Massawepie from September 1 through June 14, when the Scout summer camp is closed.
Massawepie does not attract large numbers of visitors like the High Peaks does. What this place offers is more of a walk in the woods, where you can find space and silence. Weekends are most popular, including in winter, when snowmobilers use Massawepie Road. Because of its glacial features and biodiversity, this property also serves as an outdoor classroom for high-school and college students.
Massawepie is located off of Route 3 about 12 miles west of Tupper Lake, and about 2.5 miles east of Childwold. At its entrance is a large Massawepie Scout Camps sign on the south side of the highway. A very short distance in, past the first house on the left, are the shops and a welcome station with Department of Environmental Conservation information, including a large map of the property and a sign-in book. Small maps are usually provided, indicating where visitors can park. A couple of sections of trail are off-limits to the public year-round, including the main camp facilities, Camp Pioneer and Camp Mountaineer. You can also access a map with details of the trail system and significant geographic elements—the lake, ponds and the mire—on the Massawepie Staff Alumni Association website, www.massstaffalumni.org.
See more of Mark Kurtz’s photography or inquire about his book A Massawepie Journal at www.markkurtzphotography.com.