The woods are changing rapidly, peak foliage has come and gone, and soon too, the leaves as well.
Earlier in the week, I took a long morning sit in a local hardwood stand, with a bow in my hand.
As always, the sun was unbearably slow to rise, and it seemed like an eternity passed before the first warming rays finally settled on my shivering carcass.
There was still a crispy frost on the ground, as the sun’s first ray penetrated the quiet, hardwood forest. There wasn’t even a hit of wind in the air, until the sun’s rays warmed the earth.
The morning sun set loose the birds, and soon their chattering rivaled that of my own, as my teeth typed out the depths of the morning’s temperature.
Deer sign seemed to be everywhere, except under my stand, but as the warming sun began to caressed the hills, the woods let loose.
It is always difficult to explain to someone what a falling leaf sounds like. It is indescribable in the sense that the noise is subtle yet loud, soft yet grating, and it always seems to build to a crescendo until the first sunrays finally bless you with a golden blanket of warmth.
Usually, the morning’s leafy sun inspired show is brief, but breeze and moving currents can prolong it. It is beautiful to watch and a pleasure to be absorbed by it, however that same beauty can help to cover the movements of a wary whitetail as it wanders near your stand.
The poplars and birch are losing their leaves rapidly, and the woods are becoming more open by the day. Unfortunately the beech whips, which are thick as hair on a hound’s behind, always seem to retain their leaves well into the season.
Whitetails seem to know where to go in such times, and they often simply disappear into a stand of whips. Fortunately, I had better things to do than sit in a cold, metal treestand for more than a short morning hunt.
By the time the sun finally reached the forest floor, I had decided I wasn’t going to hunt any more. I packed up my gear and settled on taking a roadtrip for the day, rather than waiting up in a tree like a scared bear.
Falling leaves, a bright sun and nothing but falling leaves is what prompted me to travel south to Indian Lake in order to attend the fourth annual Great Adirondack Moose Festival, an event that celebrates the return of a native (son), which also happens to be the region’s largest mammal.
For several years, I had planned to make it down for the Festival, but it always turned out to be one of the busiest weekends of my season.
This year I took the weekend off to attend the event, and I’m sure glad I did.
Indian Lake offers a microcosm of the average, Adirondack community. It is small, isolated, and has a long history of hospitality, mining and the wood products industry.
In the past, when lumber was king, logs were cut and floated down the Hudson River to and from the town. The region also supports an active mining industry, where Adirondack garnet is still extracted from the local hills for use in a variety of products including sandpaper.
At one time, the community also served as a major jumping off spot for travelers headed into the interior to places such as Raquette Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Eagle Lake and Utowana Lake.
Prior to the completion of a railroad that took guests as far as Eckford Chain of Lakes, the sleepy little community of North Creek had served as the northern most rail station in the region. And it was from there, that vacationers hopped a stagecoach for a very bumpy 26-mile ride to Blue Mountain Lake.
Indian Lake remains a quaint little town with a population of nearly 1,500 permanent residents, give or take. There is also a large contingent of semi-permanent visitors, retirees and a good portion of lingering, summer folk who just can’t bear the thought of leaving the place for good.
It only takes about one day to discover the reason for their affinity towards the place. I’ve been down that way many times to paddle the Hudson, to hike, to ski and to fish. Fortunately my wife joined me, so I had to go home.
My first visit to the region occurred when I was still just a kid, and I witnessed the first buck of the season taken at the Niambi Hunting Club, which is located just a few miles out of town. It made quite an impression on an impressionable young man at the ripe old age of 12 to go into deer camp. By Adirondack standards of the day, I was a late bloomer.
I remember the experience well to this day, and I’ll never forget the view from a ridge located high above OK Slip Pond.
The entire region is an outdoor traveler’s paradise. It certainly hasn’t been discovered, and over run like Lake Placid or Lake George, which is probably a good thing. It remains a place where the resident population of black bears is likely much higher than the local human population.
And fortunately, both species appear to be getting along famously. The community seems to be doing quite well, especially for a place that is surrounded smack dab in the middle of a vast tract of wilderness tucked away in the far recesses Hamilton County.
Their tourism tag line says it all, “One million acres. No stop lights.” Of course, they don’t really have a lot of roads either.
I expect the tally of local forest trails would far outnumber a tally of tarmac miles.
In many ways, the defining character of Indian Lake was carved out of deep woods, raging rivers and placid lakes by hardy, citizens who seemingly have never lost sight of these vast natural assets.
If you don’t know how to ski or fish, hike or hunt, paddle and camp, you probably won’t want to go there.
But if you just want to enjoy a full day of plain, old fashioned fun and friendly, country hospitality; there is surely no better place.
For the many folks who did attend the festival, which doubled the population of the village for the day, it couldn’t get any better.
This year’s 4th Annual Great Adirondack Moose Festival offered a classic example of what a small community can achieve with a lot of pride, a bit of ingenuity and some clever marketing.
The event attracted everyone from bikers to hikers, and grandparents to grandkids with a bit of everything ranging from garages sales and food booths, to wine and beer tasting events and on the street cookeries.
Case in point, ‘the little theatre that could’ was one of the first facilities in the park to go digital, at a time when even The Palace in Lake Placid struggles with the ability to modernize their equipment.
Of course, the highlight of the event was the fourth annual Moose Calling Contest which played to a packed house in the Indian Lake Theater, when over more than dozen adult and youth contestants offered their best imitations of a moose call.
In addition to all of the other events, the Big Moose Tent on the Indian Lake School lawn featured numerous vendors who offered Adirondack themed and handmade crafts, as well as fly-casting demos, guideboat displays, canoes, camping gear, and much more.
The weather was great, as was the music, the company and the events. The festival featured a host of guided naturalist hikes, bird watching events and of course, moose watching tours.
Indian Lake also has a claim to fame as the Whitewater Capital of the Adirondacks. It is a location where thousands of rafters begin an ever-popular, 17 mile, whitewater journey down the Cedar River and into the raging waters of the Hudson River Gorge.
And like many small towns in the park, it is also a community that continues to struggle with the seasonal fluctuations of a tourism based economy, and an aging population. From all appearances, they are doing an incredible job, just check out the ratings on their school system.
Many of the townsfolk I spoke with were retirees, but I also met a lot of younger residents who were intent on making a life and a living in a community that likely has more black bears than year-round human residents. Census information tags the median age of local residents at 52.7 years, which is about 22 years older than the statewide median age of New York residents.
But when I spoke with locals, it was often easy to read the reasons in their eyes. They liked their “old school,” and small school, which still has all grades, from kindergarten to 12th in one building. And they like the fact that they know their neighbors, and even their neighbor’s parents and often their grandparents.
“It’s good to know a lot of people locally”, explained one resident with a wide grin, “It’s good in that way, you know? Because then you know who to call when you’re snowed in, and when ya’ need to get the walk shoveled.”
I’ve always been told that with age comes wisdom, so I’ve got to believe she knows of what she speaks.
Indian Lake is similar to many other communities across the Adirondacks, which have existed for years on the combination of an extraction based, as well as a tourism-based economy. It is one little community that continues to prove it can be done successfully.
Although many of the big old, local sporting clubs are likely to fold as a result of recent state land acquisitions, I firmly believe the market for home-style, nature based-tourist attractions will continue to increase.
I want to believe the market for humble family fun will continue to bring visitors to special places like Indian Lake, Long Lake, Speculator, Minerva, Newcomb and (add your town here.)
There is a lingering shadow of Mayberry RFD that seems to hang over the community. It is a shining example of quintessential small town America, and it retains the character, and the quality that people will continue to cherish.
And even if travelers can’t afford to live there, by God, they’ll continue to visit whenever they can. It is a good to know that even though the world can now be interconnected instantly via the internet, there are still a few special places where you return to a slower, quieter, calmer place, and totally leave all the rest behind.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.