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Instant transition to spring yields ice-free waters

April 7, 2010
By Joe Hackett, News Outdoors Columnist

The arrival of the spring season was accelerated by a long string of summer-like weather that erased most traces of snow in the lower elevations. Although considerable snow remains in the mountains, spring has definitely had an impact in the valleys.

    As temperatures topped the 80-degree mark last week, many local ponds quickly shed their winter ice.  In a matter of just a couple of days, ice-out occurred across the region and a new trout season was instantly in full swing.

    While I did not manage to get out on April 1, friends reported catching brookies while fishing from a boat on opening day. It was a first on the first; they never had the opportunity before.

    A day later on April 2, I accomplished the same feat and took several brook trout, a personal season record. It was also the earliest meal of brook trout that I’ve ever enjoyed.

    During my second day on the ponds, a beaver slapped its tail quite close to my canoe, sending up a tall plume of water. It continued to patrol the nearby shoreline as I attempted to get a photograph. It was a most unusual animal as its fur was a startling blond color and its size was impressive, about five feet long from head to tail.

    In almost 45 years of angling for brook trout, the opportunity to fish open waters in the early season has typically been limited to the last week of April or, more reliably, the first few weeks of May.

    Generally, Adirondack weather patterns and a dense snowpack have combined to keep most ponds locked up until the late spring. However, by the beginning of this week many of the region’s larger lakes, including the Saranacs, Tupper Lake and even Cranberry Lake, were free and clear of ice.

    It has been an instant transition from winter to spring as the million buds of birch, beech and maple trees have painted the local hillsides with a vermilion tint. Fronds are already hanging from the poplars. I recently witnessed a tom turkey traveling with a harem of hens. 

    Frogs have been singing in the bogs as woodcocks perform their timberdoodle dance and the first mournful note of a loon was heard from the ponds.

    While these are all sure signs that winter is finally over, in the North Country we know that the ravages of the savage season can return at any time to deliver high winds, heavy snow and numbing cold.  Enjoy the fair weather while it lasts, but remain prepared for it to turn fast.

The cold-water season

    With the advent of warm weather, canoes and kayaks sprouted like dandelions on a summer’s lawn from the roof racks of many local vehicles. Fishing poles replaced ski poles, and a fresh season began.

    A parade of trailers filled the Lake Flower boat launch as an assortment of boats — large and small — took to the open lakes.

    Boaters should be aware of a number of issues vital to early-season outings. Most importantly, is the danger of cold-water immersion.

    New York’s efforts to protect boaters against this danger resulted in an amendment to the state navigation law, which took effect on Nov. 1, 2009. Section 40, Subdivision 1 of the state navigation law requires “each person on board pleasure vessels less than twenty-one feet, including rowboats, canoes and kayaks must wear a securely fastened United States Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of an appropriate size when such vessel is under way between November first and May first.”

    A boater or paddler who fails to wear a Type III lifejacket on their person is in violation of the Navigation Law, which is punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $100, applicable to either the operator and/or the owner of the vessel.

    The new, “cold water boating” regulation, which is similar to New York’s mandatory seat belt law, affects all boaters in vessels under 21 feet in length during the months from Nov. 1 to April 30, when cold water emersion poses the greatest danger. A seat cushion is not considered adequate protection; the PFD must be worn.

    Streams and rivers are still running high and fast with water temperatures in the low 40s. On the lakes, winter’s debris is abundant and submerged logs and other navigation hazards are not always apparent.

    Until channel buoys are reset for the season, motorboaters traveling on the Saranacs or the Raquette should exercise common sense and caution. Always carry a spare prop and shear pins, as well as a serviceable paddle.

The healing woods

    While conducting research on the positive affects of spending time in woods and on the waters of the Adirondacks, I came across some interesting information on the topic.

    According to an article published by the late Bill Frenette, a Tupper Lake historian, “At the turn of the century, before drug therapy replaced older regimens, the village of Saranac Lake was known as the ‘Town of Second Choice.’”

    That second choice was given to people with tuberculosis when it was discovered that the Adirondack air — purified by pines and other conifers whose aroma it was thought destroyed organic matter, and which was also notably dry — combined with institutional rest and regular exercise, offered a cure to what at that time was considered an incurable disease.

    The belief that patients could find relief in the North Country was so strong that some claimed, “God specifically created this country to nurse back to health those unfortunate enough to be overtaken by pulmonary afflictions.”

    As Saranac Lake’s reputation as a place where many “hopeless” cases found their disease arrested, a large sanatoria industry took hold and grew. In 1920 there were more than 150 cure cottages run exclusively for the sick. These cottages cared for the 2,000 patients who were in the village.


History is bound to repeat

    In timely fashion, following news of a Veteran’s Rehabilitation Facility coming to Saranac Lake, was an article by Frenette that detailed the construction of the Veterans Hospital that later became Sunmount.

    “At a cost of $4 million (1920), the facility was built as a federal hospital for ailing WWI veterans, many of them suffering from tuberculosis or mustard gas poisoning. In government-speak, it was referred to as U.S. Veterans Bureau No. 96, and in my youth, simply the Federal Hospital.”

    Prior to the construction of the Federal Hospital complex, the American Legion had operated the Veterans Mountain Camp in Tupper Lake, where the benefits of the woods, waters and pleasant, peaceful settings were considered especially conducive to their eventual recovery.

    The initial facility included a huge complex of buildings located on the shore of Tupper Lake that was devoted to the care and convalescence of returning WWI, WWII and Korean conflict soldiers, suffering from what was then termed “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”

    In current lingo, these ailments are known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Adirondacks once served to heal generations of our nation’s military and I expect the process will continue as our woods and waters remain nearly intact as they once were.

    The Veterans Mountain Camp operated from the 1919 until 1965, served both servicemen and women and included a remote outpost on nearby Horseshoe Lake that provided a true primitive camping setting, with tents and small cabins. The Horseshoe Lake outpost permitted veterans and their entire families to spend time during the summer months recreating in the woods and on the local waters.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
Although their fur is generally a dark brown, beavers can also have shades of blonde or nearly black fur. The large beaver pictured was a very light-blonde color and measured nearly five feet from head to the tip of its tail.



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