A chance to witness history from my skis
For Adirondack history buffs and cross-country skiers alike, Camp Santanoni may offer an equally alluring attraction. After all, the site boasts one of the last best surviving Great Camps in the Adirondacks and it requires a nearly five mile trek (each way) to visit.
I was fortunate enough to time my recent visit during one of the open house weekends put on by the New York State DEC, the Friends of Camp Santanoni, and Adirondack Architectural Heritage, when the main camp, gatehouse, and artist’s studio are open to the public. The boathouse is generally open even when the other buildings are not. There are three such weekends during the winter: Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Presidents weekend, and this year (2019) the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day.
A splendid winter day
And so after making a stop at the gatehouse, I set off beneath beneath a sky of variable clouds and cobalt blue on the long and winding road (Newcomb Lake Road) turned ski and snowshoe trail to visit the National Historic Landmark. I was not alone. The open house and beautiful winter day had attracted loads of folks interested in the opportunity to explore the historic buildings with a full parking lot to show as evidence. No doubt that the DEC had their hands full in clearing the parking area of all the snow which has engulfed the Central Adirondacks this year. After all, Newcomb has piles of snow. Monuments of snow. Mountains of snow.
But with so many people coming, the DEC and the volunteers had packed down the road to the Great Camp, not to mention the help of the many feet of history-seeking pilgrims. And so I made good time on the route, and for the most part the snowshoers stayed in the middle of the trail, while a nice set of ski tracks was kicked in on the side (sometimes both sides) of the trail.
The long and winding road
Anyone exploring Santanoni — whether during an open house weekend or at any other time — should know that for the most part the trail climbs toward the camp as it meanders around curves and sits high (particularly with so much snow) above ditches which sometimes line its flanks. After the initial climb, I removed an additional clothing layer before I became too warm and sweaty, which was a good call since I knew I’d be walking around the buildings of the camp for a while and the sweatier I was the more likely I’d become cold once I stopped skiing.
About a mile into the ski, I reached the camp’s farm complex, and while those buildings were not open as part of the open house, I paused to have a look around and to take a few photos. From there I continued my trek, mostly climbing but here and there enjoying some respite from the effort with a downhill stretch.
I passed many people going in both directions on the trail as I went. The parking lot had not misled me regarding the popularity of the destination. I was making good progress, and I stopped occasionally for more photos before topping the hill which drops toward Newcomb Lake and Santanoni's main camp. From there my pace quickened as the final mile or so to the camp is largely flat and downhill, and I stopped for more photos at the bridge which spans the finger of Upper Duck Hole which connects Lower Duck Hole with Newcomb Lake.
Once at the main camp — which was first built in 1893 and owned by Robert and Anna Pruyn — I stepped out of my skis and ducked away from the wind coming off the lake to grab some food, water, and to re-don my extra clothing layer in order to help me stay warm while I walked around. With that I wandered through the main lodge, marveling how one room went into another and then another and then another, while admiring the view of ice-covered Newcomb Lake through the trees from the sweeping porch. I believe if I had been at Santanoni during the camp’s heyday I would have wanted to spend time no place else, but the wind on this day was chilly and a bit less inviting to remain on the porch for too long.
I bumped into some friends, who, like others who had made the trip with their kids, were having a picnic in the main room of the lodge. I continued wandering until I eventually found my way to the artist’s studio (built by the Pruyns for their son Edward) where a tightly packed crowd of folks was enjoying a warm fire and hot cocoa and tea thanks to a crew of volunteers who were sleeping there for a few nights in order to make the event possible.
The room was warm and friendly, and I was able to ease my cold fingers back into life while I chatted with folks and learned more about both the camp and their efforts to show others – like me – its story. The volunteers were happy to share such information, and everyone seemed to be in a joyful mood with a warm place to unwind and hot cocoa after a wintry outdoor adventure will have that effect. This excitement of other people added to my experience and I found myself thinking that I may have to return to Santanoni for a future open house weekend.
The return trip
Buoyed by chocolate and pleasant conversation, I left the gathering to continue poking around the lodge for more photos, and stopped at the refurbished boat house (the snow load on which was immense) before clipping on my skis for the return trip. A wave of folks had departed shortly before me so I was soon passing them on the long climb from Newcomb Lake before I found myself cruising on easy downhills for much of the trip back to the parking area. It’s always nice when the return journey — when you’re generally more tired — is easier than the outbound trip.
With gravity on my side (the return trip took less time than the outgoing ski), I soon found myself again admiring the stonework on some of the buildings of the farm, and not long after that I was arriving at the parking area and car where more food and water welcomed my tired body. I was soon off to the Newcomb AIC where a warm visitor center (and bathrooms for changing) are available.
We still have a lot of winter left and snowshoers and skiers should plan their next winter adventure by checking out our lodging and dining pages. And not only is another winter open house at Santanoni approaching this St. Patrick’s Day weekend, but the DEC, the Friends of Camp Santanoni and Adirondack Architectural Heritage also run trips into the camp during the warm months as well. It is a great opportunity to blend Adirondack history with outdoor adventure.
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