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Tri-Lakes has long history of state-run tree nurseries

January 18, 2017
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE CLEAR - The state tree nursery in Saratoga is holding its annual sale, serving as a reminder that there was once a couple of large state-run tree nurseries in Lake Clear that were responsible for millions of trees being planted around the state.

Shortly after the Adirondack Park was formed in the late 1800s, what we now know as the state Department of Environmental Conservation went through several name changes as separate fisheries, forest and other commissions were joined together. By 1900, the DEC was called the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission.

One of the main goals of the commission was to help recover state forest lands from the ravages of forest fires that had swept through the state. These fires were often caused by trains and logging operations, and left vast swaths of former forest lands barren. The worst year on record was 1903, when more than 468,000 acres of land burned.

Article Photos

The state’s tree nursery in Saratoga Springs sells a wide variety of hardwood and conifer bare-root stock, like these sugar maples, during its annual tree sale.
News photo — Justin A. Levine

To counter the effects of these forest fires, the commission opened the first tree nursery at Lake Clear in 1902 "to supply seedlings for planting on state-owned burned sites and wastelands," according to the Encyclopedia of New York State. The commission added more nurseries around the state for the same purpose.

By 1911, the state was operating six nurseries, including the Saranac Inn nursery and another up the road at Lake Clear Junction. A circular printed for the 1911 New York State Fair says that the six nurseries at that time contained more than 15 million seedlings, and sales of seedlings to the public were also now allowed.

The local tree planting operations were successful, resulting in trees being dispensed all around the state.

"The plantations of the Gloversville Water Company are located three miles north of the city," a report from Cornell University said in 1917. "The oldest plantations here were made in 1908 with four-years-old transplants obtained from the New York State nursery at Lake Clear Junction.

"These plantations comprise five acres of white pine and four acres of scotch pine. Both species have developed very satisfactorily."

The report goes on to describe the growth of the trees, and notes how well they are doing growing at the Fulton County site.

The Lake Clear tree plantations gained notoriety, and foresters from other areas were brought to the nurseries for tours. The nursery was successful until the late 1920s, when the Great Depression took hold of the country. According to an article in the Chateaugay Record from 1927, the foreman said that about seven million seedlings would be transplanted for sale the next year.

However, an article in the same paper from 1938 showed that the village of Saranac Lake was formally protesting the state's slated closure of the nursery. At that time, the nursery provided more than 200 seasonal jobs, and had an annual payroll of $25,000 ($427,930 in today's money).

"Elimination of the state garden where millions of tiny evergreens are nurtured each year will also mean the loss of a valuable scenic park area that attracted hundreds of visitors each season," the March 25, 1938 article said. "It is located on the improved Lake Clear highway and was a stopping off point for tourists and sightseers en route to the popular Fish Creek camp site."

Although the demand for trees was high, the state closed the nursery in Lake Clear soon after. The nursery in Saratoga is still in operation, and has the same mission. Opened and operating since 1911, the DEC says that 1.6 billion seedlings have since been produced.

The state nursery in Saratoga holds its annual tree sale from early January through mid-May. In addition to affordable bundles of root and container stock, the nursery also offers free trees to any educational institution in the state upon request.

For more information on the tree sale and the nursery, visit



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