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All things Adirondack

April 19, 2008
By ANDY BATES, Enterprise Features Editor
Call me lazy, unappreciative or even uninspired, but sometimes I tend to forget where I live. Sure, I know my address — I know my zip code. It may sound ludicrous to 46ers and backcountry skiers, but too often I find myself describing where I live as just another place, just another small apartment in another small town in an increasingly shrinking world.

I’ll find myself thinking otherwise on a drive in early October when everything around me is on fire, sitting lakeside on a July night listening to loons coo or catching a snow-capped mountain painted lavender by a winter sunset.

These are the things that bring me back to life — back to a sense of place — and these are the feelings elicited by watching “The Adirondacks,” a two-hour documentary set to air nationally May 14 on PBS.

At its core, the film acts like a primer for all things Adirondack — an orientation, if you will. From its opening montage — a bog framed by slopes, a waterfall rushing with spring’s runoff, a peak with snow at its summit and gleaming red and orange foliage at its base — you know you’re in for two hours of breathtaking views captured on camera.

For lazy, fairweather enthusiasts like me, they’re views you might not get to see with your own eyes very often, and they’re inspiring enough to make you anxious to find some of your own.

But the film quickly becomes more than a showcase of the Adirondacks’ natural beauty. Like the Adirondack Park itself, it balances the natural world with the human elements that help shape it. It takes you from places to people, from the seasons to their seasonings.

Framed by those four seasons (though some would argue there are really only three in the Adirondacks), the film starts in spring, where rafters navigate the headwaters of the Hudson River, which, though primarily thought of more in terms of its downstate usage and users, has figured prominently in Adirondack Park industries and its legislative beginnings as the largest park in the continental United States.

After all, loggers, who depended on the river as a source of transporting timber, and the downstate population, who depended on the river as a source of drinking water, helped shape the initial debate on whether the state should take a controlling interest in the fate and future of these lands.

That kind of juxtaposition — the past and the present, the present and the future — runs throughout the film as a treatment of every subject it touches.

It uses Thomas Cole and the early batch of painters who, as noted author and Jay resident Russell Banks describes, were some of the first to discover the Adirondacks as a doorway to a spiritual experience, and it combines that with the artists who live and work here still, engaging and informing audiences around the world with the beauty of the place (and its need for protection).

It takes you through the world of Adirondack Great Camp architecture, though the word “camp” did little to diminish their scale and grandeur, and of the historic preservationists who work to keep them as lasting symbols of the Gilded Age and American plutocracy. It also uses that age as a vehicle to describe the lasting struggle between native Adirondackers and outsiders, as well as the population’s growing dependence on outside tourist income and seasonal work.

The film weaves in how the natural world informed the architecture of that age and how it still informs modern craftsmen and rustic furniture makers. It uses The Point, a converted great camp, as a way of examining local agriculture and traditional Adirondack cuisine.

Through this lens, when you watch the film, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a subject that doesn’t have its eye on the whole of the Park.

Whether detailing acid rain’s impact on the health of the Adirondack loon population, the lasting symbols of small towns like the Old Forge Hardware Store, Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival and the cure cottages of its heyday as a pioneer health destination for tuberculosis patients, or Lake Placid’s Olympic heritage, “The Adirondacks” leaves little unturned or unexamined.

And beneath it all, there’s the running current of thought that the Adirondacks have been, and always will be, a tough place to live and work, inhabited by people who are just as hardy and hardened by the task and who wouldn’t want it any other way.

For those people, the uniqueness of the Park as a place of public and private lands, where small towns and small-town people make up a patchwork world with large tracts of untouched wilderness, isn’t new. But it’s just as challenging.

And the film doesn’t shy away from the issues of today. Rather, it calls attention to the constant struggle and debate over the economic viability of the Park and its environmental sustainability, specifically through the lens of the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake and the squeezing out of local populations due to other resort and second-home developments.

Finally, it asks the question: Will these small communities, which, indeed, are unlike any other, within these six million acres that are unlike any other, be able to survive?

There’s no way it can answer that question, despite laying the foundation and framework for that debate, but I wondered, immediately upon shutting off the television, if having a national audience on PBS exposed to this part of the world and its people will impact that question in any way, and how so.

Whether it has any impact at all, at the very least it will give people a chance to see what we see outside our windows every day. And it will give people like me, who live and work here, the impetus to get out and enjoy what’s beyond the road’s shoulder — to realize that my town is not just another town, and that the Adirondack Park is not just another place.

¯ ¯ ¯

Contact Andy Bates at 891-2600 ext. 34 or

Article Photos

The view from the shore of Heart Lake, a tranquil and relaxing spot near the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondack Loj
(Photo — Amanda Bird)

Fact Box

Save the date ...
“The Adirondacks,” written, produced and directed by Tom Simon and executively produced by John Grant and WNED-TV, will air on PBS nationally at 9 p.m. on May 14.
Run time: 2 hours



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