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Utilitarian Adirondack icons

December 8, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

The development of the Adirondack lean-to is similar to the evolution of the Adirondack guideboat. Both of these iconic recreational tools came about as a result of many years of experimentation and refinement.

Similar to the popular Adirondack chair, the guideboat, the packbasket and the lean-to have each become icons of the Northwoods.

Each of these hand-crafted items still has a purpose in the modern world, and yet they continue to be handmade in traditional style. The items are still constructed by hand with native materials, including pine, cedar, ash or tamarack, and they each have a specific use depending on the season.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
Blagden Lean-to on Fish Pond is considered one of the finest structures of its kind in the Adirondack Park. While it is constructed to state standards, the location is extraordinary and requires a 5-mile journey from any direction.

In addition, they all share a common thread. None of these items has ever been attributed to a specific inventor. Each tool evolved over the years, with numerous regional refinements and comparable contributions.

Although a certain Mr. Lee, who spent his summers in Westport, has been credited with designing the original Adirondack chair, he never filed a patent for the item. His original design has since been modified, and there are now more than a hundred manufacturers pumping out "original" Adirondack chairs, including more than a dozen or so that are currently made in China.

While the Adirondack chair remains an item of leisure, the lean-to, the guideboat and the packbasket continue to be of utilitarian use. Guideboats are still considered to be a primary form of transportation on many large Adirondack properties, such as the Adirondack League Club or the Ausable Club, where black ash packbaskets are often used to haul the gear.

However, it is the humble Adirondack lean-to that is most readily available to the common man. In fact, there are likely more lean-tos available to the public than there are traditional guideboats. For the most part, lean-tos are more accessible and less expensive to use than any of the others.

Public use of Adirondack open camps is free, and the shelters are available on a first come, first served basis. However, there is a caveat: Public lean-tos must also be made available to fellow travelers, up to a capacity of eight guests total.

Be advised, in a structure with dimensions of 12 by 8 feet, eight people will be a crowd. And after enjoying a chili dinner, the party may exceed both the department's air quality and/or hazardous waste disposal standards.

There are some unwritten rules. No hiker should ever travel with the expectation of finding a lean-to for shelter in a wilderness area. They should always carry their own shelter with them.

An available lean-to is simply a bonus. Always leave it in better shape than you found it, with a generous supply of dry firewood.

There are also some written rules regulating use, including:

- Open camps (lean-tos) may not be occupied by the same person or persons for more than three successive nights or for more than 10 nights in any one calendar year, provided others wish to use such camps.

- The enclosure of the fronts of open camps is prohibited, except by tying canvas or nylon tarpaulins in place or erecting snow walls. The use of wood, nails, screws or other fasteners is prohibited.

- The erection of tents in open camps is prohibited.

Similar to the guideboat and the packbasket, no single person has been credited with designing the original Adirondack lean-to. In all likelihood, the structures evolved over time from a guide's rough bark shanty to a refined and functional Adirondack lean-to.

Standard size is 8 feet deep by 12 feet long, with a height of 8 to10 feet at the peak. The pitch of the roof's peak draws smoke over the roof, while capturing heat from the fire within.

A signature design feature of the structure is the placement of the firebox, at a distance of three strides from the front of the "Deacon Log" on the open side.

When placed properly, the fireplace will easily heat the shelter while smoke from the fire curls over the lip of the roof. The fire will cast a soft light on the interior, while serving to keep critters at bay.

The shelter also features excellent ventilation, with plenty of places to hang wet clothing to dry.

Possibly the finest feature of an open camp is the view, whether it's a starry night, a foggy morning or simply a dry seat from which to watch a thunderstorm on a warm summer's day.

There are also a number of regulations regarding the use of state lands that most outdoor travelers know little about. While on state land or waters, no person shall:

- intentionally obstruct, prevent or attempt to prevent any officers or employees of the department from performing their legal duties, by means of intimidation, physical force, interference or disobedience of any lawful order or by means of any independently unlawful act.

engage in gambling for money or any other valuable thing while on any state land.

- erect, construct, install, maintain, store, discard or abandon any structure or any other properties on state lands or subsequently use such structure or property on state lands, except if the structure or property is authorized by the department.

- sponsor, conduct or participate in advertising, weddings, commercial film making activities or film making activities that exclude other public use of the area, and other similar events, except under permit from the department.

- intentionally expose the private or intimate parts of his or her body in a lewd manner.


Big game season marked by low snowcover

When New York's big game hunting season came to a conclusion last Sunday at sunset, the conditions on the ground were nearly the same as they have been for a majority of the big game hunting seasons in recent years. Once again, the season was marked by a distinct lack of snowcover and warmer than average air temperatures.

Traditionally, snowcover has been considered a key to hunter success. Increasingly, a lack of snow has been evidenced in ever-dwindling harvest numbers, most notably in the northern zone.

Without snowcover to highlight their tracks and illustrate their travel patterns, whitetail deer can essentially blend into the forested landscape. Deer develop their heavy, insulating winter coats through a process of photoperiodism, which is a fancy word for the changes triggered by the steadily diminishing hours of daylight, typically beginning after the autumnal solstice for whitetails.

Similarly, photoperiodism is responsible for triggering the whitetail's annual rut (breeding season).

When decked out in their natural cold weather gear, deer will not move around much during warm days. In fact, some deer may actually become nocturnal. They will feed and even breed exclusively at night, while bedding down throughout the daylight hours.

When bucks exhibit such behavior patterns, they will not be exposed to the hunters, which will be reflected in the overall harvest. Duration of snowcover - or a complete lack of snow - has also been a limiting factor during four of the five most recent hunting seasons.

Increasingly, warmer than average temperatures have become a real factor in the diminishing northern zone harvest numbers. Considering the connection between extreme weather, climate events and rising global temperatures, the frequency and magnitude of extreme events such as hurricanes Irene and Sandy, may also achieve record levels in 2012.

It is obvious that the increasing weather extremes will result in record-setting extreme weather events. While the consequences of such extremes are still unknown, climate change experts agree that 2012 will likely result in another record high global temperature.

If the most recent predictions hold true, the winter of 2012-13 may actually signal a return to normal.

"I think the East Coast is going to have to battle with some big storms," explained Paul Pastelok in a recent interview. Mr. Pastelok, who is Accu-Weather's lead long-term forecaster has predicted the cold snap won't start until January and it will likely extend into February.

"November in the Northeast could be above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation, and December could be a transition month," Pastelok said. "By January and February, it's going to get pretty cold."

For folks who live in a land that has traditionally featured plenty of ice, snow and temperatures that dip well below zero such predictions are music to our ears.



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