NYSDEC Commissioner Joe Martens enjoys a day away from the office at Camp Santanoni.
As the winter season begins to show signs of winding down, visions of an early ice out have begun to dance through my head like sugar-plums on Christmas Eve. Although the ‘winter that wasn’t’ has yet to produce the deep, lush snowfall that skiers dream of; the season has certainly provided some interesting pockets of opportunity.
A recent ski trip through the Route of the Seven Carries, from Paul Smiths to Lake Clear offered a gentle blend of woodland romps and flat ice flings, filled with an interesting assortment of animal tracks which included otter, deer, bobcat and even moose. The cover on the lake ice was ideal for ski skating, and there was plenty of snow in the woods. In the course of a full day’s travel over seven carries and across eight water bodies, I never encountered another traveler.
A few days later, I encountered crowds and challenging ski conditions at the Mt. Van Hovenberg Nordic Ski Center in Lake Placid. Featuring meager snow cover, and an icy, hard packed base, the former Olympic ski trails were in rough shape. I found far less traffic, and much better trail conditions the following day at the Paul Smiths VIC, even though there was a race in progress.
However, the best ski conditions I encountered during a full week of adventuring were found in the village of Newcomb, where I enjoyed a gentle ski over generous snow while taking an interesting journey into Great Camp Santanoni. My visit to the Land of the South-Slope'rs in Newcomb coincided with an official, NYSDEC press event, which was available by invitation only. Since my editor couldn’t find anyone else to cover the event, I was invited. And I’m sure glad I was!
The purpose of the Press Conference was to highlight the unique, historic resource that is Great Camp Santanoni. However, unlike traditional press conferences where the principals are guarded by a battalion of official spokesmen, and often remain hidden behind a podium, the event appeared to be a day away from the office for a group of old friends who enjoyed remarkable ski conditions in a remarkably, wild setting.
The group included a capable combination of journalists and a few, official DEC spokesmen from Central Office, as well as current DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann, AARCH Executive Director Steve Englehart, Executive Director of The Adirondack Nature Conservancy, Mike Carr and the local NYSDEC Forest Ranger, Dell Jefferies. The only ‘stuffed suits’ in the crowd were the down vests that some folks wore.
Following a short introduction in the Gatehouse, the group promptly geared up and set off. Once on the trail, the formality of the ‘Official Press Event’ was rapidly reduced to a pack of pals enjoying a wilderness ski. The conditions were ideal with a packed powder base, covered with a light dusting of fresh snow.
With a handful of dogs, and at least one youngster in tow, the group made short work of the journey, amid a lot of laughter, joking and lighthearted banter. For unexplained reasons, this appears to be typical behavior during a trip to Newcomb. It seems to have that effect on folks, I guess it must be something in the air.
Camp Santanoni, which is a designated National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was initially purchased by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy in 1972, and later transferred to the state, along with nearly 12,900 acres of forested lands. It has been classified as the Camp Santanoni Historic Area since 2000, and remains one of the finest examples of Adirondack Great Camp architecture which remains open to the public.
The camp complex, which encompasses over 45 buildings, has been preserved through a unique partnership of not-for-profit, advocacy groups, state agencies and local officials, which include The Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the NYSDEC, Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) and the Town of Newcomb. The effort was achieved through the foresight of a dedicated group of enthusiastic preservationists, aided by a politically savvy, Town Supervisor and willing State Officials.
Located at the end of a marvelously maintained, five mile long, carriage road, the camp complex is bordered by the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest and the surrounding High Peaks Wilderness. It overlooks Newcomb Lake, and the stillwaters of Lower Duck Hole. It remains a diamond in the rough, and that is its greatest draw.
This winter, the NYSDEC, AARCH, the Town of Newcomb, and SUNY-ESF's Adirondack Interpretive Center have been hosting special weekends for cross-country skiers and snowshoers to enable to them to visit the Gatelodge and Main Lodge. The events allow visitor to enjoy interpretive tours with AARCH staff, and to warm up at the Artist's Studio before their return trip. The last of the "open house weekends" will be hosted on March 17-18.
Mike Frenette, the camp’s resident caretaker, carpenter and caregiver, informed the visiting press corps that over 200 guests had traveled to the camp over the past weekend. He claimed it was the largest crowd he has ever witnessed, in any season. Without the benefit of Frenette’s fine and friendly care, it is doubtful the camp would still be intact, due to the unrelenting attacks of nature. From shoveling the roofs, to shoring up the siding to sanding the railings, Frenette’s thumbprint is evident everywhere. Although he has also served as a DEC Interior Caretaker in numerous remote locations, Frenette appears most at home in Santanoni. It’s not difficult to imagine him, a century past, asking Mr. Prynn where to position the flyrod racks. He fits the camp, and it obviously fits him.
Camp Santanoni and the Santanoni Preserve is located in Newcomb, and it is open to the public year-round, 365 days/year, 24 hours/day. It is accessible depending upon the season on foot, by bicycle, on cross-country skis, and via a horse-drawn wagon. Between the end of June and Labor Day, a half dozen of Santanoni's buildings are open to the public and can be viewed with the assistance of staff interpreters. At other times of the year, the Preserve is open but most, if not all, of the buildings are closed and no interpreters are on site. AARCH also offers day-long guided tours of the camp in June, July, August, and September. For more information about visiting Camp Santanoni and/or the guided tours, call AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or (518) 582-5472.
For information regarding canoe, kayak, and mountain bike rentals, contact Cloud splitter Outfitters, 28N, Newcomb, NY 12852, call (518) 582-2583 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the horse-drawn wagon, contact: David O'Donnell (518) 582-2360.
For local weather and ski conditions, please call the Visitor Interpretive Center in Newcomb at: (518) 582-2000.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at email@example.com.