Originally created 09/21/03

Vast wilderness gives fall visitors plenty of choices



LONG LAKE, N.Y. -- The Adirondack chairs are empty now, staring down on Long Lake and a ring of trees that are slowly changing their hues.

It's the start of another autumn at the Long View Lodge, which has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1929.

"Outside is pretty much the same as it always was," said Angela Fink, the lodge's fifth-generation owner.

Summer's end ushers in another tradition: leaf peeping. But where to begin touring the vast stretches of New York's North Country is a visitor's immediate challenge.

The 6 million-acre Adirondack Park is the largest such park in the lower 48 states and about as big as Vermont. With 140,000 residents - more in summer - the region is sparsely populated.

Ray Curran, natural resources supervisor at the Adirondack Park Agency, the state agency that regulates land use, won't play favorites among the many places tourists can visit.

"Pick a spot that you're interested in and go there," he said.

Mike McGaughey, business manager at the North Country operations of the Adirondack Mountain Club near Lake Placid, recommends visitors tour the high peaks area of the Adirondacks, about 15 miles west of Lake Champlain.

"You'll have the color, and down below you'll be green, so you get the contrast," he said.

My entry point into the Adirondacks was the Burlington, Vt.,-to-Port Kent, N.Y., ferry across Lake Champlain. In addition to cutting down on driving, the one-hour ferry crossing provides visitors with close-up views of Lake Champlain, which was once the subject of a failed effort to be designated the "sixth great lake."

The long and narrow lake also offers visitors heading into the Adirondacks a preview of coming attractions: a region studded with lakes and seemingly boundless vistas.

A drive south along Route 9 leads visitors through Adirondacks towns and a view of a less traveled highway. Soon after getting off the ferry, visitors can stop at Ausable Chasm, where the Ausable River plunges off sandstone cliffs formed 500 million years ago.

A history buff, I stopped at the Adirondack History Center, a regional museum established in Elizabethtown in 1955 by a group of residents who "brought together collections and treasures from their attics and barns," said Margaret Gibbs, the museum's director.

The museum has since grown to include a research library that offers genealogy and exhibits on pioneer settlements, wilderness recreation and early transportation.

Fall foliage visitors who want to venture west, or away from the Lake Champlain region, can visit the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The museum is not a single building, but a group of buildings that describe the Adirondacks' natural resources, early settlers, evolving industrial character and other traits.

In an area as vast as the Adirondacks, the range of trees for leaf-peeping is impressive. The region is home to black ash, green ash and white ash, gray birch, black birch and yellow birch, red maple, black oak, white oak and aspen, the last to turn colors.

Even tamarack, a conifer that loses needles, puts on a show when it turns in late October, said Don Leopold, distinguished teaching professor at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

The Adirondacks, protected against land development by a state constitutional provision established in 1885, is "one the most extensive areas of old growth in the eastern United States," he said.

Ironically, the loss of evergreen trees - the first to be exploited in a long line of natural resources - left behind hardwood trees such as the sugar maple, the premier fall species, Leopold said.

The region, dotted by lakes, mountains and streams, was not considered terribly hospitable by its first inhabitants, the Indians.

They called the region the "great dismal wilderness," criticizing it as "too cold, too far and too steep," said John Collins, director of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

But the Adirondacks have drawn tourists for more than a century.

They've included wealthy city dwellers who fled tuberculosis-breeding neighborhoods in the 19th century for the clear mountain air, and Irish and French-Canadian miners who pulled iron, copper, graphite and talc from the Adirondacks.

And abolitionist John Brown lived in the Adirondacks to work with blacks who organized a farming community.

"It's not like there's one nice, neat story to tell," said Gibbs, director of the Adirondack History Center Museum. "There's layers and layers."

If You Go...

LONG VIEW LODGE: Located at Routes 28 N and 30, Long Lake. Cost: $65 to $85 a night. Closed after Columbus Day. For more information, visit www.longviewlodge.com or call (518) 624-2862.

ADIRONDACK MOUNTAIN CLUB: Call (518) 668-4447 or visit www.adk.org.

ADIRONDACK HISTORY CENTER MUSEUM: Located corner of Route 9N and Hand Avenue, Elizabethtown, N.Y. Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day; the Brewster Library is open all year by appointment only. For more information, call (518) 873-6466 or visit www.adkhistorycenter.org.

ADIRONDACK MUSEUM: Located in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Memorial Day weekend to mid-October. Admission: adults, $14; seniors, $13; children 7-17, $7; children 6 and younger, free. For more information, call (518) 352-7311.

ADIRONDACK PARK AGENCY: The state Adirondack Park Agency operates visitor interpretive centers in Paul Smiths, N.Y., (518) 327-3000, and Newcomb, N.Y., (518) 582-2000. They are open year-round and provide traveler orientation centers. On the Web: www.apa.state.ny.us or www.northnet.org/adirondackvic/.

GENERAL INFORMATION: For help in planning your visit, including suggested itineraries and accommodations, call (518) 846-8016 or check out www.adirondacks.org/home/z-home.htm for lodging suggestions, entry points to trails, parking areas, campsites and suggested hikes.

GETTING THERE:

From the south:

Interstate 87 north to exits 20 through 39 (or U.S. Route 9).

From the east: Interstate 90 west to Interstate 87 or U.S. Route 9 heading north. From Vermont, several ferries cross Lake Champlain or the Crown Point Bridge connecting Vermont Highway 17 with New York's Essex County Route 8.

U.S. Route 4 connects with N.Y. Route 22, providing access to the southeastern portion of the Adirondack Park.

From the west: New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) to exits 31-24.

From the north: Several bridges cross the St. Lawrence River, connecting N.Y. state Routes 3, 30 and 812, which provide access to the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks and elsewhere.