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Dewey Mountain: hot on the trails

March 22, 2012
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Dewey Mountain is a 2050-foot mountain southwest of the village of Saranac Lake on state Route 3.

Dewey currently offers about 8 kilometers of ski trail, plus an equivalent amount of snowshoe/mountain-biking trail. Some locals call Dewey a "gym" where they can get in a quick workout before dark to keep in shape for longer weekend outings or races. Dewey is also a social hub, where skiers and musicians gather for Friday Night Ski Jams, and kids and grownups gather for races and family days.

Dewey Mountain is owned by the town of Harrietstown and managed by Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters.

In the early 1900s, a man named Hull owned most of Dewey Mountain, and the Miller family also owned a lot of acreage, according to ski historian Natalie Leduc of Saranac Lake.

According to Henry Ives Baldwin's 1989 memoir "The Skiing Life," in the 1920s the 120 members of the Saranac Lake Ski Club would hold weekly outings or meets, the latter usually consisting of ski jumping followed by a cross-country race-early Nordic combined. Competitors would come from around New England, New York City and Montreal. One of the jumps was on Blood Hill (now Lake Street Hill), an eastern shoulder of Dewey.

"Ski Trails of New York State," a 1937 booklet published by the Conservation Department, mentions, "Mt. Dewey Downhill: Two trails about 1/2 mile each in length with 300-ft. drop. Access: Start at summit of Dewey Mt. One running to and ending on Kiwassa Road directly opposite Saranac Lake Open Slopes [Betters Hill]. Other one comes out on Glenwood Road in Saranac Lake Village. Rating-novice." This downhill run required the skier to earn his or her turns by hiking or skinning up the slope. There was not a strong dichotomy yet between cross-country and alpine skiing.

Although Dewey Mountain is best known now as a cross-country ski area, its slopes briefly hosted an alpine area served by a rope tow; in 194142 Charlie Keough and Hector Guy Wood rigged the tow and ran the downhill area. That winter there was almost no snow, Leduc recalls, and World War II began to rage, so the venture never made it beyond one season. (Skyview, at Donnelly's Corners, revived in the alpine ski boom after the war. Mount Pisgah also got off the ground and by 1950 became the focus of all lift-served skiing in Saranac Lake.)

In 1978, the town of Harrietstown owned vacant, forested land on Dewey's northwest slope at the western State Route 3 entrance to Saranac Lake. Sue Dyer, head of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and some other volunteers suggested the property could make the core of a cross-country ski area. The town was not using the land, and the town board under Supervisor Ron Keough was very supportive of the idea.

The chamber and town invested in the start-up of the trail system: $25,000 and $10,000 respectively, according to the Dec. 5, 1980 Adirondack Daily Enterprise. They applied to the state Bureau of Outdoor Recreation for a grant and were reimbursed $12,600.

Phil Feinberg, a member of the chamber board, approached Craig Ward to design the trail system. Ward had just been captain of the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team for the 1980 Olympic games in Lake Placid. The state grant covered some of Ward's fees. But it took a major volunteer effort to carry out the trail work and to open the facility. New trails were cut and existing logging roads were cleared. Bridges were built, low spots filled. "Everything has worked because of the tremendous volunteer effort that has been put in up on Dewey Mountain," Feinberg says.

Several trails crossed adjoining private lands. Feinberg, who is in the real estate and insurance business, approached the landowners on behalf of the chamber seeking their signatures on easements giving the town the right to use the land for recreational trails; landowners would not be liable for any injuries. Most landowners received the idea positively and transferred the easements for $1, Feinberg recalls. The town banned hunting and trapping on its Dewey land in 1981.

It is believed that the area opened for skiing 198081. Lighting was added for night racing and skiing.

In the summer of 1981, a 30-by-24-foot log warming hut was constructed at the trailhead and parking lot, on Route 3. The Chamber of Commerce and inmates from the state's Camp Adirondack correctional facility cleared the site and built the foundation, according to the July 2, 1981 Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Log house builder and designer Krissa Johnson and apprentices from North Country Community College's Center for Adirondack Studies program were to build the structure in the "art of Scribe Fit Log Building," the paper reported. In fact that plan did not come through, according to Tom Seymour, a carpenter who supervised a crew of inmates from Camp Adirondack, the state correctional facility in Ray Brook. The inmates provided much of the labor, and Johnson's role was not as large as planned.

Around 1993 a second lodge was added to provide a four-season public-use room, a manager's office and equipment storage. It too was constructed primarily by inmates at Camp Adirondack, working under Tom Seymour's guidance.

Dewey right away became a popular race area, especially the Tuesday night "under the lights" X-C races and high-school races. The technique was classical kick-and-glide until skate-skiing caught on in the 1990s. The trails were too narrow for skate-skiing (which, along with several steep runs with many turns, may have led to the nickname "Screwy Mountain"), but they have gradually been widened and side-cut for excellent skate-skiing. Dewey also been called "the People's Mountain." [source?]

Dewey has 440 feet of vertical drop. Some trails, such as Killer Hill, are long and steep, but there is a variety of terrain for all ages and abilities.

The Town of Harrietstown has continued to own Dewey and contribute to its annual operation, primarily by contracting with a manager to run winter events and keep the trails groomed.

Dewey was long enrolled in the Bill Koch youth ski league. Teachers Randy and Debbie Young, Dr. Paul Ericson, Rick Costanza and many others have coached the race program. Since 2007 kids have raced independently under Jess (Cook) Zobel, Jason Smith, Christopher Morris and the other volunteer coaches of the Dewey Mountain Youth Ski League, now led by Dewey alumnus Kris Cheney Seymour, who has coached five Olympians in Nordic sports. NYSEF racers also train and compete regularly at Dewey.

In 2005, a citizen group called Dewey Mountain Friends formed to support capital improvements, in partnership with the Town of Harrietstown and Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation. Their efforts have purchased a new groomer and snowmobile and contributed to trail improvement.

The "Orange Trail," the eastern third of Dewey's skiing area, was closed when a housing development was approved there on privately-owned land in 2008.

In 2009 and 2010 the Bark Eater Trail Alliance (BETA) improved some snowshoe trails for multi-season use, with a design focused on mountain biking. BETA also built a mountain bike trail connecting the lower east trails to the summit trails.

More than a hundred skiers can pass through Dewey on a Tuesday, but it's often quiet, more like backcountry, especially the ungroomed trails near the top.

In being exposed to winter sports at Dewey, thousands of local youth have gained a passion for them and for lifelong fitness, and many have traveled beyond the Adirondacks to compete on a higher level.

Notably, in 20092010, Dewey youth racing alumni Tim Burke, of Paul Smiths, and Bill Demong, of Vermontville, set milestones in international competition: Burke made history as the first American to wear the yellow bib as leader of the World Cup circuit in biathlon, and Demong (Nordic combined) became the first American to win Olympic gold in any cross-country skiing sport. Burke is a two-time Olympian, Demong four-time.

In October 2010 Burke and Demong helped Dewey Mountain Friends kick off a fundraising campaign to replace the 1993 warming hut, which has fallen into disrepair and no longer serves the expanding uses of Dewey Mountain.

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(Information courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake: www.hsl.wikispot.org/Dewey_Mountain)

 
 
 

 

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