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America, stop throwing away our history

August 18, 2016
Editorial ( , Lake Placid News

The old Lake Placid Toboggan Chute on Mirror Lake is history. Most of it has been chopped up and hauled away to the scrap yard to make room for a new, safer toboggan chute. It's too late to save.

There were mixed reactions when people heard that the old slide was being torn down. Most, if not all, were excited because a new toboggan chute will be ready for public use this coming winter. The old toboggan chute was deemed unsafe and never opened this past winter.

Apparently, our editor's initial reaction to the news was in the minority. His first question was, "What's happening to the old toboggan chute?" When we heard it was being torn down - instead of saved - we were alarmed since it has played a huge role in Lake Placid's history.

Article Photos

Old Lake Placid Toboggan Chute as seen in February 2014
(News photo — Matthew Turner)

To be clear, we agree with the North Elba Town Council that a new toboggan chute was needed. Instead of patching up the old structure, it was time to invest in new construction that will hopefully last a few generations, if not longer.

Plain and simple, the town board members did their job, and for that, they should be commended. They understand that the toboggan chute is one of our main tourist attractions during the winter, and they did everything they could to expeditiously reinstate this venue.

Unfortunately, the prospect of carefully dismantling the old toboggan chute and asking the local historical society or another museum if they wanted it for historic interpretation was not part of the plan.

That would have been the best-case scenario in this situation. According to North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi, who had used the structure as a kid when it was a ski jump at the Lake Placid Club's golf course, moving the structure and saving it for posterity never crossed his mind. Instead, he and the other town board members were focusing on the new slide.

The old toboggan chute had a life of its own as a ski jump on the Lake Placid Club property before it was moved to Mirror Lake in 1965 and repurposed as a toboggan chute. As a slide, it was used for the first time in early 1966. We're not sure how many years the ski jump was in operation, but it served as a toboggan chute for at least 50 years and had therefore earned a rightful place in Olympic Village history.

If the old toboggan chute had been saved, it could have been re-erected at a local museum and used as an attraction, much like old fire towers are used at museums in Elizabethtown and Blue Mountain Lake. A fundraising campaign could have been initiated to make the structure safe.

The old toboggan chute could have been used to interpret the history of winter sports, especially those at the Lake Placid Club, which attracted the first winter tourists in the village in 1904-1905. Without the Lake Placid Club, we would not have held the Winter Olympics in 1932 and again in 1980. Without the Olympics, we would not have Olympic organizations such as USA Luge, which was founded in Lake Placid in 1979. In the early years, some Olympic lugers even used the Mirror Lake toboggan chute to practice their starts. In later years, the organization used the venue to hold races for its annual fundraiser. This one structure could have told many stories about why Lake Placid is the Olympic Village, in a way you can't get from textbooks, photographs or videos. It could have been hands-on history.

What's happened in Lake Placid with this missed opportunity to save the old toboggan chute is indicative of what's happening throughout the United States. Too many times, our history is being torn down and thrown away to make room for new structures and parking lots. Thankfully we have organizations such as the Keeseville-based Adirondack Architectural Heritage, which lists endangered historic properties and fights for their preservation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which will announce its annual 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in October.

Not every historic site has been lost. There have been many successes. Yet, we should not rest until historic preservation is part of the everyday conversation for all generations of Americans or until historic preservation is placed on the top of the priority list for developers building at historic sites.

History matters. It defines us and helps us navigate the future. Let's stop throwing it away.



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