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A guide’s life: Some good, some bad, but never boring

March 27, 2010
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

The Adirondack region has a long and proud legacy of guided adventures. The history of the profession is as authentic as our Great Camps, guideboats and Adirondack chairs.

Guides and guided trips are key components of the Adirondack culture and the overall experience. Guides helped to open the region to newcomers and offered the first truly 'sustainable' tourism opportunities.

The profession represents an indigenous occupation and it is one of the few surviving remnants of the region's traditional trades.

While the extractive industries of logging and mining continue to contract due to advances in industrial development and changes in the market, the opportunities for guides continue to expand.

With the mechanization of the timber industry, machines such as 'feller/bunchers' have replaced entire crews of lumbermen. At the same time, globalization has allowed imports from new, less expensive overseas markets.

Cheap imports have also affected the extraction industry as mines that once produced iron ore, talc and other traditional Adirondack mineral products can no longer compete in the international marketplace.

Of the many professions that once fueled the Adirondack economy the two most viable remaining fixtures are the hospitality industry and the guiding profession.

There is no denying the fact that tourism is, and will continue to be, the Adirondacks' major industry.

Despite the many advances in technology that have produced lighter, more durable and easier to use outdoor equipment, boats and clothing, the guiding profession is an occupation that still requires the essentials of a strong back and a weak mind.

Many days it seems that all I to do is haul gear out and bring it back again. There is no denying the fact that guiding can be, and often is, a physically exhausting occupation.

Regardless of the recreational pursuit, whether whitewater rafting, ice climbing, canoeing, fishing, hunting or 'lily dipping' nature trips, the guide's life always incorporates the heritage of hauling gear. Despite the labor, it can be an extremely rewarding career.

Whether it is the joy evident on a grandfather's face as he witnesses his grandson's first catch or listening to a mother singing her daughter to sleep in a tent or the thrill of exploding through a churning wall of whitewater on the Hudson, a guide's life is forever satisfying.

Rare is the day that I don't look forward to going to work and even rarer is the day routine. It changes with the weather, the guest, the activity and the season. Seldom is there boredom.

Very early on, near the beginning of my career, I learned a valuable lesson from Bill Frayne, a gentleman and longtime guide from Lake Placid.

Bill was a private guide on the lake, and also functioned as a camp caretaker. His brother, Dan, served in the same capacity, as had the father before them.

While developing my rate structure, I struggled to determine what to charge for my services. I considered such factors as boat rentals, insurance, gas, equipment, lunch and other expenses.

After adding it all up, I really didn't know what the fair market price for my services would be. So I sought Bill's advice.

With a patent cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth, Bill explained, "You never give 'em the price in advance. If they want you to guide, they'll hire you."

I listened incredulously, hanging on every word. At the time, Bill had been guiding for nearly 40 years and his services were in great demand.

"If you take a feller out and he's a miserable cuss, the rain's blowin' in your face, the fish aren't bitin' and he doesn't know which end of the rod to hold - well - that'd be a hundred dollar day!

"On the other hand, if you take 'em out and he's good company, the wind's at your back,the fish are cooperatin' and you're enjoying the day-well, that's about a 70 dollar day."

It took me awhile, but I finally understood Bill's point. The profession provides rewards thatsimplycan't be gauged by monetary measures. There are days that can only be quantified in terms of the personal satisfaction that comes with a job well done.

A guide learns to read it in his sport's eyes, in the laughter of the children and the proud glint of a grandpa's glance. On such days, it's difficult to accept any wage, regardless of the rate.

OutdoorGuides Rendezvous

The New York State Outdoor Guides Association's annual Rendezvous began Thursday and will run thought Sunday at the White Eagle Conference Center in Hamilton. The four-day event constitutes the association's 29th annual gathering since the group was established in Lake Placid in May of 1982.

For prospective guides, the Rendezvous provides newcomers with an opportunity to mix and mingle with working guides, while the prospective guides can also obtain all of the necessary licensing requirementsat one convenient location,including first aid and water safety courses.

The state department of environmental conservation also offers a Guides Examination at the event so that newcomers can achieve all the requirements and leave the event with a current NYS guides license.

NYSOGA represents guides across a full spectrum of outdoor pursuits, from whitewater rafting to rock climbing, nature interpretation to flyfishing and much more.

In nearly three decades of existence, the association has witnessed the guiding profession grow and expand from the traditional pursuits of hunting and fishing to an occupation that now encompasses activities with educational, recreational and therapeutic objectives.

Opportunities for individuals pursuing careers as professional guides has never been more promising.Employment options have expanded and the market continues to grow as a result of a number of factors, including aging Baby Boomers with expendable incomes who are looking to 'rough it easy' and a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts who want to shed the constraints of the electronic age and reconnect with nature.

Spring not far off

A combination of warm weather, bright sunshine and heavy rains have accelerated the arrival of spring. Although mud season has yet to pass, it appears that ice out will arrive much sooner than anyone could have expected. Several of the region's small ponds have already shed winter's ice cap, while others appear to remain firmly in winter's grip.

At this point, I'm guessing there will be boats on the ponds by early April, about two to three weeks earlier than usual. With March delivering temperatures that have been nearly 10 degrees above average, the fishing season may be jumpstarted before the end of spring break.

Many big kids were saddened with news that actor Fess Parker had recently passed on. Parker portrayed both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett on television series throughout the 1960s. The two TV shows aired during the era of Westerns and had a huge influence on children of the Baby Boomer generation. Like most kids of the time, I owned a coonskin cap, a toy musket and dreamed of traveling to fight at the Battle of The Alamo.



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