In recent weeks especially, I’ve heard a few anecdotes on this subject because I’ve been reporting on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to close its Ray Brook dispatching offices, and move it to Albany. This move, many people have told me, could negatively impact search-and-rescue operations in places like the High Peaks. It could also affect forest rangers and DEC personnel negatively because they check in with dispatch regularly while in the field, in emergencies and also during regular field operations.
One of the concerns is that dispatchers in Albany won’t be familiar with the terrain in the Adirondacks and could struggle with backcountry emergency calls, which will go to them during evenings and weekends.
When the subject of the backcountry comes up, people often relay to me the lack of understanding that many people south of the Blue Line have for the Adirondacks.
While interviewing state Sen. Betty Little regarding the dispatch move recently, she relayed a story from when she was an assemblywoman. Little recalled being at a search-and-rescue meeting in Wilmington. During the meeting, one of the rescuers told a story about a past search for a lost group in the woods.
Retelling the story, Little said one the boy’s parents called the rescuers after the first night to see if they had found him yet. The family expressed concern when rescuers told them they had stopped searching for the night. They then asked the rescuers why they were stopping.
Little said the rescuers told the family “It’s too dark to look for them.”
The family responded by saying, “Can’t you turn the lights on in the Park?”
For many downstate, it’s hard to conceive of what it’s like here. Many people think of this area as either a great wilderness or a city park.
I’ve had people tell me directly that living in the Adirondacks is like living in Alaska. Guess they don’t realize there are no grizzlies, wolves or endless miles of tundra here, to name a few differences.
Other people think the Park should be managed like the 3-acre park in their neighborhood. I’ve had people on Long Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area ask me why the DEC didn’t clean up the dead logs along the shoreline.
Another search-and-rescue story that came across from the DEC illustrates how out of place some can be in the wilderness.
In October, forest rangers searched for three missing campers in Jessup River Wild Forest. The three, who were from Pennsylvania and Maryland, were reported overdue from the Lewey Lake Campground. After getting the call at 2 a.m., forest rangers searched through the night looking for the campers. They called out the campers names but heard nothing in return.
At 8:30 a.m. the next morning forest rangers located the campers, who said they lost the trail because they didn’t have flashlights.
When asked if they could hear forest rangers calling for them, they said they had but stated that “growing up in the city you never holler back.”
These stories illustrate — and they are admittedly extreme cases — how some people are unfamiliar with the Adirondack backcountry or the differences between small town and city culture, but that’s to be expected from some visitors. This isn’t necessarily a knock against anyone. There are many regions in New York I couldn’t tell you much about and would feel out of place.
It’s just a funny story when a visitor displays their naivete, but what some people have expressed to me is that they just don’t want people unfamiliar with the region to be playing a key role in backcountry emergency situations.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
First-hand experience is the best way to get a feel for the backcountry terrain in the Adirondacks.