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Remembering a legend’s legacy

September 12, 2009
By Joe Hackett

Lake Everest is a small, scenic lake located in the middle of Wilmington. It is a man-made impoundment constructed on the West Branch of the AuSable River to draw tourists to the pleasant, little village.

Wilmington developed similar attractions, a scenic highway to the summit of the state's fifth tallest peak, a world-class alpine ski center on the same mountain and a popular, amusement park known as Santa's Workshop on the mountain's shoulder.

In a valley below, formed by the tumbling AuSable, one last piece of the tourism puzzle arrived in 1931, when Margaret and Victor Betters adopted an orphan son, Francis, after his mother died in childbirth.

Article Photos

The Adirondack Sport Shop, with its huge, politically incorrect mural dipicting a lady angler hooking her skirt with a fly, was a sportsman’s landmark.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

In a community known for the North Pole and its famous ski poles, the young orphan grew to command the greatest pole of all - a fishing pole.

Despite limited mobility in recent years, Fran still possessed a working guide's knowledge of "his river."

No one has ever achieved his familiarity with the West Branch. Fran knew what pools held big fish and which feeder streams provided trout refuge during the summer's heat. He knew when mayflies would hatch, when spinners would fall and where big trout would lurk. Some even believe the trout knew him by name.

I first met Fran in the 1970's, when I purchased my first pair of stocking foot waders. Over the next few decades, I visited the Adirondack Sport Shop often - picking his brain for advice on flies, listening to his jokes and telling a few lies.

While he possessed a certain, curmudgeonly streak, Fran never lost his humor. He always had a joke, a little morsel to make you laugh.

After four decades in the tourism trade, Fran had earned the right to be a bit grumpy. During our visit a few weeks back, he complained about the "sexual intellectuals" he put up with over the years.

"Sexual intellectuals?" I asked incredulously.

"Yeah," Fran explained, "You've met them, they're the effing know it alls that think they know the river better than I do."

Fran, an icon of the AuSable, was born along it's banks. He lived and breathed it. The Adirondack Sport Shop, with its huge, politically incorrect mural dipicting a lady angler hooking her skirt with a fly, was a sportsman's landmark. The shop was his warehouse; the river, his office.

In recent years, the accolades finally caught up with him. He was the originator of numerous fly patterns, including the famous AuSable Wulff, the Haystack, the Usual and the Mini-Miuddler. Two of his original patterns were selected among the Top Ten Trout Flies of All Time by Field and Stream magazine.

He tied them by the thousands and taught many others the art. He developed a network of flytyers and worked behind the scenes to help many people. More than a few ladies in Wilmington earned income tying flies for his shop, rather than knitting sweaters or crocheting rugs.

Fran contributed to his local community as as much as the flyfishing community. He was inducted into the Flyfishing Hall of Fame, the NYS Outdoorsman Hall of Fame and his Adirondack Sportshop was listed on the Register of Very Special Places by the Traditional Arts of Upstate New York.

Francis Betters was an innovator in the realm of flyfishing as much as Arto Monaco was to the world of amusement parks. If Walt Disney had designed a Magic Kingdom for flyfishermen, Fran would have been its Mickey Mouse.

He was a true Adirondack ambassador, publishing over a dozen books and writing hundreds of articles. He provided inspiration and living proof that a local kid could earn a living, doing what he wanted to do. And he was always careful to take the time to pass that knowledge on to youngsters. It was his time to rest the pool and he will be missed.

~ ~ ~

Not all who wander are lost, they just don't know where they are

As hunting season approaches, a recent study confirms what many woodsmen already know. If you forget your compass on a snowy, overcast day, you may walk circles for hours in the lonely woods.

The study, conducted in both forest and desert environments, required participants to walk as straight as they could in one direction.

Six people walked for several hours in a large, flat forest; four of them on a cloudy day with the sun hidden. Their trajectories were recorded via hand held, Global Positioning System (GPS) units.

Researchers wanted to test the theory that people attempting to walk a straight course through unfamiliar territory will end up walking in circles.

Common woods wisdom holds that a man walking through a swamp or thick forest on a snowy day will eventually loop back on his own tracks.

In such a situation, the only safe way to proceed is to backtrack on the first set of tracks. Otherwise, there is no way for a traveler to determine which set are the original tracks when he completes the second circle. In effect, he is lost.

Those circular paths are rarely systematic, researchers discovered. A person may veer to the left, then again to the right, before ending up back where they started.

That rules out one explanation for the phenomenon, that circle-walking stems from some systematic bias to turn in one direction, such as differences in leg length or strength.

It appears that the circles emerge naturally through "random drift," where an individual thinks straight ahead to be.

Although the belief has pervaded popular culture, there has been no scientific evidence to back it up until now, according to the researchers, whose report appears online in the journal, Current Biology.

"The stories about people who end up walking in circles when lost are actually true," said Jan Souman of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, author of the study.

"People cannot walk in a straight line if they do not have absolute references, such as a tower or a mountain in the distance or the sun or moon."

In the Adirondacks, there are a number of natural directional clues beyond the sun, the moon or the stars. While humans may never have possessed an innate sense of direction, we've always had the sense to use natural indicators of direction.

Prevailing winds from the west, have left many tall pines and hemlocks with stunted limbs on the west side of the tree and elongated limbs on the east.

In some cases, entire trees have a easterly bend - leaning away from the prevailing weather to point east. Most wind-blown vegetation generally leans to the east, even the tall grass.

Moss doesn't always grow on the north side of a tree, but it usually does. Snow stays longer and is usually deeper on north facing slopes while vegetation is more open on north facing slopes. Conversely, snow bares sooner on south facing slopes.

Because most wind comes from the west, it can usually be easy to determine east from west. But in the northern states, bedrock helps to determine the north/south orientation.

On mountain tops or rocky outcrops along the lake shores, the long lines gouged into the bedrock are remnants of glacial days.

As receding glaciers pushed tons of rocky debris under the weight of their mass, they cut sharp lines into the bedrock as they retreated from south to north.

Most of our Adirondack lakes were similarly carved out in a south-to-north orientation.

Outdoor travelers would be wise to take note.



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