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Preserve Gooley Club buildings? No

September 8, 2017
Editorial , Lake Placid News

The Gooley Club is one of more than 20 groups of hunters who used to lease from the Finch, Pruyn timber company. They kept that lease up after The Nature Conservancy bought the land in 2007, but they had to vacate their rustic buildings between Newcomb and Indian Lake after New York state bought the property in December 2012 as part of the Essex Chain Lakes tract.

Club members opposed the purchase, saying it would destroy a traditional way of life in the Adirondacks.

Now Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) has teamed up with the Gooley Club, along with Adirondack Hamlets to Huts co-founder Jack Drury of Saranac Lake, to try to save the club's dozen or so buildings in what is now the Essex Chain Primitive Area.

The State Land Master Plan is squishy about human structures being allowed in primitive areas in the "forever wild" Adirondack Forest Preserve. Primitive areas are defined as "essentially wilderness in character," but with exceptions. With Essex Chain, the state made specific exceptions to allow floatplanes and a snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River, but it plans to demolish the hunting camp buildings.

The advocates will first try to get the structures onto the state and national registers of historic places. That may be a hard sell. The buildings are not very old or architecturally notable.

The lodge, bunkhouses and support buildings are plain, with rough-cut wooden sides, metal roofs and simple corner porches - not much to look at. Granted, John and Mary Brown's cabin near Lake Placid is also simple and functional, but it belonged to an abolitionist who helped bring about the Civil War. It's also about 100 years older than the Gooley Club, whose oldest buildings date to the 1940s.

To be preserved, a building should have some significance, usually historical or architectural. The Gooley Club could be said to be culturally significant, if one argues that the rustic hunting camp is an important part of life in the Adirondacks, but even AARCH Executive Director Steven Engelhart says this requires taking a broader view of what "historic" means.

If these advocates get the Gooley Club on the historic registers, they would try to talk state officials into preserving them as part of a hut-to-hut network. This could be a hard sell since there is great confusion about huts. We wish people would stop using the word and describe more specifically what kind of structure they're talking about.

As planned by Adirondack Hamlets to Huts, "hut" has an astonishing range of meanings. It could be a yurt, a backcountry cabin or an existing hotel in a bustling village. The DEC has talked about putting huts at Boreas Ponds, another former Finch tract the state bought, but it hasn't specified what they would look like. Drury said Boreas isn't part of the network Hamlets to Huts designed, with state funding. It's been said the Boreas huts would be for high-end "glamping," which, if true, is ridiculous and obscene. People who can afford luxury camping should patronize the wide array of private facilities that exist for such purposes in the Adirondacks. The heavily burdened taxpayers of this state should not pay to build that kind of thing.

The state also should not pay to run lodging at the Gooley Club. We believe that whatever "huts" are, they should be private, not public. We hope entrepreneurs and nonprofit groups follow the example of the Adirondack Mountain Club's Adirondak Loj and Johns Brook Lodge, but the state has no business getting into the hospitality industry, beyond the campground level.

Could the state lease or sell the Gooley Club to someone who would fix it up and run it as lodging? No, Article 14 of the state constitution rules it out. New York sold Camp Topridge back in the day, but these days it's running into legal trouble even trying to unload a prison in Gabriels that's been closed for a decade.

Turning the Gooley Club into a historic site probably wouldn't make much sense. How many would visit it, so deep in the backcountry? It's no Camp Santanoni, whose beautiful Gilded Age architecture has proven to be a destination for hikers, bikers, skiers and carriage riders.

It seems there's not much of a public purpose left for this particular hunting camp.

Better than memorializing hunting camps, we urge people to continue this way of life in the Adirondacks. It's still possible. There isn't quite as much private forest left as there used to be, but there's still plenty.



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