BOLTON LANDING - An estimated 5.5 million television viewers got an eyeful of Lake George and the Adirondack leisure lifestyle Monday morning as NBC's Today Show was broadcast live for two and a half hours from the Sagamore Hotel & Resort.
In this first-ever event for the region, Today Show hosts Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry showcased the Lake George area as one of the nation's top destinations, kicking off a series of shows titled "Today Takes a Vacation."
An estimated 700 or more people, mostly local, cheered on the two celebrities as they cast a line off the Sagamore's dock, roasted marshmallows over an open fire on the hotel's lawn, tasted brunch offerings cooked up poolside, took a quick paddleboat ride, or merely sat on a pier and kicked their bare feet in the lakewater.
The various Adirondack-themed activities were staged in segments during the 150-minute broadcast, which was punctuated by enthusiastic cheers aired by the crowd on the hotel terraces and in a swarm of boats that gathered on the lake in front of the resort
Vieira and Curry said the turnout of area residents was one of the very largest ever for an on-location episode of the Today Show.
"I can't believe the turnout," Curry said.
"And they're friendly and sober," Vieira retorted.
Curry offered a serious thought.
"And there's a real sense of Americana here - an attitude of graciousness that reflects America."
The two today show hosts presented Lake George as an ideal place to vacation, with a variety of family-oriented activities, plus the opportunity to just relax - particularly important, they said, in today's stressed times - and take pleasure in activities and enjoying good company.
"People all over America just need to calm down, take a vacation like this and relax," Curry said.
Vieira and Curry had said one of the most spectacular and surprising experiences of her trip to the Lake George region was fly-fishing in the rushing Schroon River, wearing waders, knee-deep in the water, surrounded by nature's lush beauty.
"With the water rushing around me, connecting with nature, the fish, the beauty of the trees, it was a blast," Curry said.
One of the live highlights Monday was a gunny-sack race staged with the celebrities accompanied by children enrolled in Lake George and Bolton's youth recreation programs. About eight children jumped along a short course beside Vieira and Curry. Among those Lake George youth bounding over the course with the celebrities were Colby Cracco, Mason Flatley, Shelbie Suddard, Grace Hatin, Emily LaBruzzo, and Nick Crocitto. The latter two were presented trophies on the live national broadcast for "winning' the high-spirited race.
Shelbie seemed star-struck after the race.
"Ann Curry shook my hand, hugged me, and said I was a great kid - it was awesome," she said. "This is something I'd never thought I'd do in my lifetime."
Vieira and Curry both danced a jig - Vieira with considerable energy and abandon - to the Stony Creek Band, a notorious local group that played their down-home music for a 9 a.m. segment.
Between the live shots, Vieira and Curry signed some autographs and talked to a number of people they picked out from the crowd.
Stony Creek Band lead guitarist John Strong looked at the swarming production crews and the cheering crowds.
"It's a great morning when you start out appearing on the Today Show," he joked, adding a quip about his band's acronym rhyming with the network's handle.
"SBC on NBC, I like it," he said with a laugh.
Bandmate Hank Soto - who had drilled a wild bluegrass riff on his steel-top guitar as Vieira kicked up her heels - said later that the band would have liked to play all morning for the crowd.
"The producers wanted prettier people than us to focus on," he said, grinning.
Sagamore Executive Chef Ken Lingle created brunch delectables poolside for Vieira and Curry, featuring local dandelion greens in a salad, and beef tenderloin with and morel and chanterelle mushrooms.
"I hear these mushrooms were picked locally, Vieira said with a laugh after tasting the food. "I hope they're actually the non-poisonous variety, or you'll be hearing from either my lawyer or my mortician!"
During the broadcast, members of the crowd held up dozens and dozens of signs and placards with personal messages.
Judy Hillman of Cleverdale held up a large caricature portrait of the two she had drawn in pencil. Meredith said she was impressed with the artistry, and she autographed the work: "Thanks for making us look good....and younger!"
Reading the inscription afterwards, Hillman sighed.
"I'm going to frame this now," she said.
Some of those in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd presented the celebrities with gifts.
Vieira and Curry were presented a wooden replica of the legendary Lake George Monster "Georgie," which they discussed and displayed during the live broadcast, alongside a jug of local maple syrup and a model sailing ship the hosts picked up in a Bolton Landing store for fellow Today anchor Al Roker.
Earlier, Bolton Supervisor Kathleen Simmes had sent a gift basket of Bolton memorabilia up to the celebrities' rooms.
Simmes watched Vieira and Curry mix with local residents as the crowd cheered during the live broadcast.
"I'm just overwhelmed," she said raising her hands in the air. "You just couldn't ask for anything better than what's going on right now."
Kimberly Cardona and Jill Hancock were among two in the front row holding signs and cheering on a crowded terrace above the outdoor pool overlooking the lake, where much of the broadcast was shot.
"I'm so excited to be here, when I met Meredith, I got the chills - it was very cool," Hancock said.
"It's great for Lake George - It's been a tough summer and we need the publicity," Cardona said.
John Jensen of Bolton and Stephen Wood of South Glens Falls were in the crowd, dressed as Colonial soldiers. They work as tour guides, garbed in the antique clothing, at Fort William Henry.
Vieira and Curry saw the two and pulled them out in front of the camera for an interview about the Fort.
The two presented a dose of history for the millions of viewers during their minute-long live spot.
"Fort William Henry is a national treasure, and it's great to get the word out internationally on this show," he said.
Also in front receiving national attention were Alana Peterson, Maddie Bove, Liz Parker, Meagan McCarthy and Emma Cady from Lake George. They stood in a row so the words "H-E-L-L-O - T-O-D-A-Y were spelled across their four black T-shirts together.
Renate Buck held up a sign that said "Valentine Pond Loves the Today Show."
About four years ago, the Buck's house on Valentine Pond burned down, but she and her husband Hans rebuilt.
"When you lose everything, you get a new outlook on life," she said. "As many people as possible should see how beautiful it is up here, and I'm glad the program is here to show everyone in the nation," Buck said.
Warren County tourism director Cate Johnson, who had lobbied for the broadcast and assisted the Today producers with many of the arrangements, stood in the second tier and cheered along with the crowd.
"It has been seven weeks working on this, and now my work is over and I'm just here to enjoy the experience with family," she said, recalling how Sunday she'd taken Vieira and Curry out fishing on both Lake George and the Schroon River with John Tarrrant of the local enterprise Mickey Finn Fly Fishing. "They're such wonderful, genuine women," she said, noting they'd also visited The Crossroads Store in Chestertown, ridden the Minne-Ha-Ha cruise ship, went jet-skiing, and had antique portraits taken - like thousands of tourists - at the Old Tyme Photo Shoppe.
"And they just loved it here," she added.
Sagamore Marketing Director Kevin Rosa said he was overwhelmed by the experience.
"I can't even put this into words," he said, looking out over the crowds scattered across the resorts, cheering, and waving signs as video crews moved about. "To bring 5.5 million people into our community, it's a marketer's dream come true."
Rosa said he and his family members had enjoyed their repeated contact with Vieira and Curry and all the staff members, and that all the show's details were well coordinated under pressure.
"They were a dream to work with, and in no way were there any egos involved."
Sagamore General Manager Tom Guay said that 75 extra rooms were rented out Sunday to local people at a special rate of $189 as an outreach to local residents.
Guay said the 200 or so staff members showed up early for work, many at 3 a.m. Monday to accomplish what they needed to do. He said the international exposure gained by The Sagamore would likely have long-term consequences, as well as boosting area summer tourism.
"I'm just thrilled," he said.
About a dozen members of the Fort Ticonderoga Fife and Drum Corps performed in full Colonial dress as they marched across the lawn between the hotel and the lake. Vieira and Curry followed in a horse-drawn surrey.
Corps member Mike Edson of Ticonderoga said the group had performed before many crowds, but this occasion was incomparable.
"This is a great honor, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everybody," he said.
Keeley Andrushka, 16, one of the seven fife players, agreed.
"There were a lot more people and cameras here than I ever thought would be," she said.
The two celebrities then sat in Adirondack chairs beside a campfire and roasted marshmallows they made into s'mores.
When the television lights were unplugged and the two moved poolside, Sagamore employee Amanda Burt took Meredith's melted marshmallows and Ann Curry's chocolate, both left behind, and made a s'mores sandwich for herself.
"Umm, this is a delicious - my morning snack," she said, guiding strings of gooey marshmallow into her open mouth. "This whole show is so fantastic for the Sagamore and the region," she said. "It's all really exciting."
Later the celebrities snacked on ice cream provided by Martha's, an ice cream stand that's a statewide landmark.
Curry praised the mint and black raspberry flavors, but called out in jest she was suffering a "brain freeze" - then she and Meredith spoon-fed several girls in the crowd.
Cassy Jane and Raychelle Werking of Greenfield were two of those receiving spoonfuls.
"We shared the same spoon as Meredith," Raychelle squealed with delight. "It was sooooo cool."
Curry said she, Meredith and production members had discussed the choice of Lake George as a top vacation spot to showcase for "Today Takes a Vacation," and their prior experiences here helped secure the choice.
Vieira had been to Lake George years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her in-laws, Ben and Jerry Cohen. Also, Vieira's daughter has been attending a music camp in Long Lake each summer, she said.
Curry said she'd been at The Sagamore in 1992 just after the birth of her first child, but the resort had changed so much since then, adding so many many modern conveniences and luxuries, that she almost didn't recognized it when she returned for this broadcast.
"Vacations are about relaxing, and there's a real sense of Americana here with the simple pleasures, whether it's homemade ice cream, s'mores, sack racing, or just hanging out with people," she said. "When you're on vacation, it's so good to just enjoy the basics, which include enjoying friends and family and a pretty day."
Curry said that Lake George and Bolton were blessed with natural beauty.
"You can't beat this lake," she said. "Everything seems to be shining, so vibrant."
Both pledged to take an extended vacation next year with their respective families - Meredith said she and her husband loved hiking, and Curry said her husband Brian loved outdoor sports.
Stony Creek Band bassist Dave Maswick watched the celebrities extol the beauty of Lake George and talk about the activities the region offers.
"These two see everything, all the time, so it's nice to see them really dig what we have to offer here," he said.
Bandmate Soto agreed. "It's like having two of the world's greatest cheerleaders on your team," he said.