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SEE THE SIGHTS WITH SALLY: Tour highlights venues that make Lake Placid famous

July 9, 2009
HEATHER SACKETT, News Staff Writer
       LAKE PLACID — Sally Warner was born and raised in the Olympic Village. A retired school teacher, she taught at North Country School and Lake Placid Elementary School, and she was also very much on the scene of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. These things, coupled with a penchant for local history, make Warner an apt tour guide. This is Warner’s fifth year doing her tours, called “See the Sights with Sally.”

    “I thought it would be so nice to share with people coming into the community,” she said. “I just love sharing.”

    She specializes in bus tours for large groups, but she also customizes tours to include whatever local highlights a visitor might want to see. An Adirondack 46r, Warner injects her presentations to visitors with historical tidbits and anecdotes that only someone with a passion for their hometown would know. She does about 40 tours a year, most of those during the fall foliage season.

    On a Thursday in late June, Warner boarded a tour bus and shared Lake Placid with 40 people from the East Aurora Senior Center. The tour took the group around town to some of the best-known attractions and landmarks. The group arrived in Lake Placid by bus the night before, after a train ride to Westport from Albany. The first stop, after pausing to admire the view of Whiteface and the Olympic torch, was John Brown Farm. John Brown and Kate Smith are who Warner considers two of Lake Placid’s most famous historical figures.

    Wildflowers were in full bloom at the state historical site, with bunches of purple lupine, yellow buttercups and orange Indian paintbrushes in the roadside ditches. Warner related the story of Timbuctoo — Brown’s failed farming community for freed slaves. We then admired the view of the ski jumps. Out side of the bus windows was a 19th-century farm; out the other was a 19th-century symbol of Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy.

    “With just a swivel of your head you can see both,” she said.

    Drawing on her years in local government, Warner relates interesting events in the town’s history, like how a proposed Walmart store was blocked by the town board and the law suit that resulted. A three-term veteran of the North Elba Town Council from 1994 to 2005, she doesn’t always divulge that fact to tour-goers.

    “I don’t tell them I’m a politician,” she said. “Some people don’t like politicians.”

    As we travelled between destinations, Warner answered questions. Some people in the group had been to Lake Placid before. One woman, who had been to Santa’s Workshop when she was just five years old wanted to know if the Wilmington theme park still existed. Warner happily told her yes.

    The next stop was the Olympic Training Center. A brief tour showed us the athlete’s training facilities, and highlighted the evolution of winter sports equipment like luge and skeleton sleds and cross-country and ski jumping skis.

    Warner explained what it was like for such a tiny town to host the world in 1980 and some of the logistical problems that went along with it. Traffic and parking during the busy summer season are two issues that still linger today.

    “Lake Placid is two-and-a-half hours from everything,” she said. “The only way you get here is by car or by bus. It’s tough to get in here, but in many ways, I like it like that.”

    After the OTC, we boarded the bus and set off for the Lake Placid Marina, via Main Street. As tour-goers admired Lake Placid as it sparkled in the morning sun, Warner told the grim story of the “lady in the lake,” Mabel Smith Douglass. In 1963 her body was found by divers off Pulpit Rock in 100 feet of water 30 years after she had gone missing. Warner spoke about Kate Smith, a singer who had a camp Lake Placid, and was most famous for her rendition of “God Bless America. She died in 1986.

    “I like to talk about Kate Smith,” Warner said. “I wish I had met her.”

    Then the tour bus took a drive around Mirror Lake, and Warner pointed out the site where Melvil Dewey’s Lake Placid Club once stood. A wet-suited swimmer cut a path through the calm waters, leaving a wake trailing behind him and Warner explained how groups of triathletes come here to train prior to the annual Ironman event.

    We then came to our final stop on the tour: the Olympic Center. Hoards of figure skaters and hockey players crowded the halls as we made our way to view the plaques commemorating the medalists in the 1932 and 1980 Games. Then it was to the 1980 Arena to hear the story of the “Miracle on Ice.”

    Warner has a hard time picking a favorite tour stop; she loves them all. But according to Warner, it isn’t the town’s Olympic legacy, events or famous figures that keep people coming back.

    “It’s the fresh air,” she said. “That’s why people come here.”



Article Photos

Tour guide Sally Warner points out the different types of skis used for ski jumping and biathlon, which are displayed at the Olympic Training Center.

Photos/Heather Sackett/Lake Placid News



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