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Mountains of memories from Adirondacks

When I was a boy, I could stand on our front lawn on a clear sunny summer day and look north over the Mohawk River and see the southern foothills of the Adirondacks colored a hazy blue in the sunlight.

My family spent several vacations in the Adirondacks with several being road trips where we visited places like Frontier Town, Story Town, Ausable Chasm, and Whiteface Mountain. My parents also rented cottages on several occasions at Caroga Lake and Lake Pleasant. The first time they rented was in the early 1950s at Caroga Lake and I remember that the “facilities” were an outhouse that my mother, a city girl, never got over.

The Adirondacks are one of the real gems of New York state. It is a region that we often take for granted but the Adirondacks cover about 5,000 square miles and contains 100 peaks, 46 of which rise to over 4,000 feet. The tallest is Mount Marcy at 5,344 feet — the highest point in the state. The region includes 200 named lakes and over 2,800 smaller lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water.

It is the largest park in the contiguous United States and covers nearly one-fifth of New York and at 6 million acres is larger in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and the Grand Canyon national parks combined. The park is unique in that it is a mix of public and privately owned land. Currently of the Park’s 6 million acres, 2.6 million acres are owned by New York State. The remaining 3.4 million acres are privately owned.

Geologists tell us that while the rock from which the Adirondacks were formed is over 1 billion years old, the Adirondacks are a young mountain range formed during recent ice ages. Geologists also tell us that it is likely that the Adirondacks sit over a hot spot in the earth’s crust which causes a continued uplift at the rate of 0.59 to 1.18 inches per year which is faster than the rate of erosion. Finally, while the Adirondacks are near the Appalachians, they are not part of that range.

The Adirondack Park was created in 1892 for “the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure.” In 1894 the New York State Constitution was amended and public lands in the park were designated to be “Forever Wild.”

Living so close to the Adirondacks I got to spend a lot of time there. In those days before backyard pools when we went swimming it was either at Shermans on West Caroga Lake or at Groshans Park on Pine Lake a few miles up New York Route 10. Groshans had the better beach, but Sherman had the better amusement park, so it wasn’t unusual to swim at Pine Lake and then head to Shermans for the rides.

In its heyday Shermans drew crowds from all of Central New York, attracted by its dance halls, restaurant, and amusement rides. These included the carousel that featured horses and other animals created by renowned wood carver and German immigrant Charles I.D. Loof. My favorite ride were the bumper cars that you fought to control while bumping into family and friends with sparks flying from the power pickup shoe as it bounced along the energized metal ceiling. The tilt-a-whirl was a great ride as long as you didn’t overdo it and end up with an upset stomach and spinning head.

As the years passed Shermans fell on hard times as vacation patterns changed and finally closed in the 2010s but has reemerged as an event center. Happily, the carousel has been restored and continues to run.

The Boy Scout camp I attended each summer was located on Woodworth lake located in the southern foothills of the Adirondacks. The scout Council owned the lake, so the camp was the only thing on the lake making it a great place to work on water related merit badges. The surrounding forests also provided opportunities for hiking and other activities. After many years I still remember the mosquitoes and Adirondack black flies that attacked in swarms on warm evenings. The mosquitoes were bad, but the black flies delivered a painful bite as they fed on your blood.

The camp is gone now because declining membership in scouting led to council reorganization making it a superfluous property. It was then sold to a developer who is selling it off as lots for summer cottages. Having spent some good times there, it feels like part of my youth has disappeared.

In September of 1960 our Explorer Troop climbed Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks. It was an easy climb up the trail, and we were all looking forward to reaching the top and looking out over the other high peaks. Unfortunately, when we reached the tree line and emerged on the open alpine peak it was covered in thick clouds that limited visibility to 40 feet at best but those things happen.

I am hoping to spend some time in the Adirondacks this summer and I often tell people that if you have never been there or haven’t been in a while the Adirondacks are worth the trip.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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