It has been nearly 30 years since the first gathering of Adirondack guides was hosted in the spring of 1982. The inaugural event was held at the old Lake Placid Club Resort.
The convention drew attendees from across the state as part of an ongoing effort by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to upgrade the standards of the guides' licensing program.
During the heyday of the Adirondacks, guides achieved almost a mythical reputation for being able to "take a fellow in the woods, shoot him a deer, dress it, drag it out and be ready to knock down the first man to claim his patron hadn't killed it."
For many years, the guiding profession flourished, despite stories of "rascally, scandalous guides" that treated both their patrons and the wild forests with equal contempt.
The advent of rail travel, with all of its comforts, served as a sort of sequel to "Murray's Rush" when the influx of sportsmen far outnumbered the available number of qualified guides.
In 1919, the state Conservation Commission enacted a law to "permit" guides, but it did not require registration. About 200 guides signed up in the first year, however there were more than 1,000 guides operating in the Adirondacks and about 200 in the Catskills at the time.
In 1923, the law was amended to require the licensing of guides, which included an annual $2 fee. Guides had to be "21 years of age and skilled at the handling of boats and canoes on lakes, ponds and rivers."
Within a few years, more than 1,000 guides were licensed and the program functioned well into the 1930s, until a combination of factors, including the economy, the advent of the automobile and changing vacation habits, nearly doomed the occupation.
The original Adirondack Guides Association was established in 1891, and incorporated in Saranac Lake in 1897, with the stated purpose of "securing to the public competent and reliable guides to assist in the enforcement of forest and game laws, and to maintain a uniform rate of guides' wages." It was disbanded in 1952.
Thirty years later, forces in society were changing again. The increased interest in the environment and vacation trends resulted in a back-to-nature movement, which again required "competent and reliable guides."
By the late 1970s, the guide licensing program was no longer considered credible. The required standards had diminished to "$2 and a heartbeat," and the DEC began efforts to restore credibility to the licensing program with the establishment of an advisory committee.
The result was a moratorium on issuing licenses in 1981, which resulted in a furor.
At the same time, interest in rafting on the Hudson River exploded. Unfortunately, most of the rafting companies on the Hudson were from out of state, hailing from Pennsylvania, Maine or Quebec.
Nationwide, a huge market was seeking "adventure travel" opportunities such as rock and ice climbing, bicycle touring, whitewater paddling, winter camping and backcountry skiing.
Guides were again in demand and local residents wanted a piece of the local economy. DEC recognized the need and sought to again issue guide licenses. In order to accomplish this task, the DEC wanted to solicit the assistance of working guides.
At the same time, the Lake Placid Club Resort wanted to solicit business during the traditional shoulder season.
I was managing the resort's Ski Touring Center and I was also a licensed guide. I stumbled blindly into this fray armed with a college degree and a few years of experience as a guide.
But I was also in an advantageous position. I had the ear of Howard Riley, General Manager of the resort and, with the help of Sports Director Mike Raymaley, I convinced Mr. Riley to keep me on the payroll after the ski season in order to host a convention of New York guides.
We were planning to host a statewide conference for an association that did not even exist. It was a risky venture, sort of a reverse convention.
After a meeting with DEC Region 5 Director Tom Monroe, the event took off. Mark Brown, a DEC wildlife biologist in Warrensburg, was designated by the DEC to assist in the effort. Invitations went out to every licensed guide in the state and to many others out of state.
The initial gathering was held in May 1982 and it drew an assortment of more than 300 guides, woodsmen and women, outdoor educators and other interested parties. The event culminated with a grand banquet in the club's grand Agora Theatre, with fires burning in fireplaces that bookended the room. The menu featured roast venison, rabbit stew, smoked trout and a variety of other wild game. It was a rousing success.
Plans were immediately drawn to host the guide's gathering at the Lake Placid Club again in 1983. The convention was to be hosted in conjunction with the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, a group that included writers from major New York newspapers and national outdoor magazines, as well as numerous manufacturers of outdoor equipment.
Historically, early writers such as Stoddard, Murray and Headley praised the Adirondack guide claiming the "success of any stay in the wilderness is entirely dependent on the skill of the guide."
The second gathering, scheduled for May 1983, attracted a much larger crowd. By April 15, more than 200 reservations were confirmed with deposits. However, less than a week before the event, the Lake Placid Club Resort collapsed into bankruptcy. Plans were rapidly redrawn, and the event was swiftly shifted to the Lake Placid Hilton, the only other facility in town capable of handling such a crowd.
The second Lake Placid gathering resulted in the formation of the New York State Outdoor Guides Association, which was organized and incorporated under the same charter of the original Adirondack Guides Association incorporated in Saranac Lake in 1897.
Thirty years later, NYSOGA remains a viable professional organization that continues to provide training programs, skills development opportunities and community outreach efforts. The organization maintains a database of member services and continues to promote the profession at numerous sportsmen shows and outdoor expositions.
When NYSOGA members return to Lake Placid for their 30th annual Guides Rendezvous over the weekend of March 25-27, it will provide them with an opportunity to return to their roots.