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Touring historic Santanoni as winter lulls

February 22, 2017
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

NEWCOMB - After two straight days of sunshine and above-freezing temperatures, my friend and I decided we better get out skiing again before the snow is completely gone.

So on Monday, Feb. 20, we drove down to Newcomb and donned our cross-country skis for the 10-mile round-trip out to the historic Great Camp Santanoni.

It was another bluebird day, but the temperature was a few degrees below freezing so we weren't dealing with a slushy trail when we started out.

Article Photos

Neilson Snye of Tupper Lake skis past the site of a historic barn that burned down in 2004 at the Camp Santanoni Historic Area in Newcomb on Presidents Day.
News photo — Justin A. Levine

The great camp was built more than 100 years ago, and even though a lot of the original buildings are now gone, the complex is largely intact. We had decided to go down there last weekend because the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) were hosting the second of three open weekends at the camp this winter.

The camp was built by Robert Pruyn of New York City as a summer home and retreat. The Pruyns entertained rich and famous people of the time, including Theodore Roosevelt, and at one time was made up of nearly 13,000 acres of land.

Although many of the buildings are gone, there are three main components to the great camp property that still provide a glimpse of its glory. The Gate House is just off of state Route 28N in Newcomb and is a formidable building that truly conveys the potency of the classic Adirondack Great Camp.

Although the camp is situated in the midst of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest and butts up against the High Peaks, the three building complexes and the road that connect them have been classified as a Historic Preservation area.

You're allowed to ski, snowshoe or hike into the camp any time, but during the open weekends, AARCH has people on site to discuss the history of the camp and, perhaps more importantly, keep a pot of coffee boiling away on top of the woodstove.

My friend Neilson Snye, of Tupper Lake, and I began skiing on the crusty trail, which is actually a road, so it's plenty wide enough to handle skiers and snowshoers at the same time. But the previous two days of above-freezing temperatures and below-freezing nights ensured that the last tracks of the previous day were set in stone.

It was unfortunate that several people had gone in without skis or snowshoes and had left postholes all along the trail and ski track. With the crusty conditions, the skiing was tougher than it should have been for a trail that is, in general, quite easy and forgiving.

Despite the trail conditions, we quickly made our way about a mile in to the site of the former farm. The great camp had a fully functional farm and was one of the early leaders in "scientific farming," according to the DEC.

The farm site is the second of the three building complexes, and there are a couple of houses as well as the foundation of a barn that burned down in 2004. During the open weekends, several of the buildings are open to the public to explore, with picnic tables out for lounging. There are also informational placards that provide a brief overview of the surrounding history.

With the sun shining bright and only a few other people on the trail, we hung out at the farm for just a few minutes before heading back into the shady woods to continue our trip.

From the farm, it's about another 4 miles out to the main camp. Along the way, you pass through largely open hardwoods, crossing field-stone bridges and catching glimpses of the High Peaks.

The trail itself climbs very gradually to about the 3-mile mark, and then descends down toward the camp on the shore of Newcomb Lake.

Since the trail was icy and pockmarked with boot prints, we took it easy on the downhills. But in better conditions, even the most novice skier shouldn't have any problem navigating the wide and clearly defined trail.

After an easy descent, you cross a bridge which offers the first open views since the farm site. From there, it's just another couple of minutes to the main complex.

The doors were open to camp's the great room and we took off our skis and wandered in, taking in the grandiosity of the mammoth stone fireplace and exposed wood beams. There's no wallpaper, just birch bark lining the entire room.

We walked around the building and went back outside. With the recent spate of people falling through the ice, we never even considered going out onto Newcomb Lake.

There were other sets of skis stuck in the snow and Neilson and I walked down to the little Artist's Cabin, with its field-stone front wall looking out over the lake and the smell of fresh coffee filling the small room.

There were quite a few other people there, looking through pamphlets on the history of the camp or just enjoying the steamy warmth of a packed room. There was tea and hot chocolate and coffee on the woodstove.

After talking with a couple of people, Neilson and I put our skis back on and started the trek back to the parking lot.

The temperature had come up, but the shade of the woods kept the trail hard. We ran into a considerable number of people heading into the camp, but the trail still never felt busy or crowded. One gentleman was out of control coming down one of the hills, but it was a leisurely out of control and it took him a full minute to go past me once I had stepped off to the side of the trail. He was going maybe a mile per hour.

The sun was dappling through the trees enough that we were hat-less and glove-less while skiing, the kind of spring skiing day that you just have to soak up and enjoy.

We had a pretty uneventful trip out to the great camp, and with this past week's weather, I just hope it's not the last chance we have to get out. But if it is, at least we ended the season with a wonderful trip to a remarkable place.



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