12,000+ Acre Playground with a National Historic Landmark
With the Adirondacks blanketed in fresh snow, don’t we all look for opportunities to get out and play a bit? I was recently inspired by a blog from our archives that talked of cross-country skiing into Camp Santanoni. I have to admit, I have yet to go there. I knew it was one of our Adirondack cultural treasures; an historic great camp complex situated on over 12,000 wooded acres surrounding Newcomb Lake. I have since learned that it is not only a NYS Historic Site, but it is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark as well.
Camp Santanoni was a private undertaking when first built in the late 1800s.There was a surge during that era for many prominent and wealthy families to construct rustic, yet somewhat elaborate, get-aways in the Adirondacks.They have become known as Adirondack Great Camps and several dozen are still in existence.
The first owner/builders were the Pruyn family of the Albany area. Camp Santanoni was indeed rather elaborate, and considered one of the grandest of the Great Camps, in that at one point over 40 buildings were included on the extensive grounds. The structures were clustered in 3 groups or complexes: the Gatehouse Complex, the Farm Complex, and the Main Camp/Lodge Complex itself. In the 1970s New York State acquired the property and incorporated it into the State Forest Preserve. Over the last few decades this Great Camp complex has been gradually preserved and restored by a partnership of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the Town of Newcomb and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Winter Weekends Open House
Though the grounds are open for exploration year round, the buildings generally are not open to the public during the winter months. A few years back AARCH, NYS DEC, and the Town of Newcomb began hosting Winter Weekends, an open house of sorts, where the public is invited to cross-country ski and snowshoe as well as visit the Gatehouse and Main Lodge. There the public can view displays about this Great Camp and learn more from interpretive staff.
The upcoming 2017 Winter Weekends include: January 14-16, Martin Luther King Holiday Weekend; February 18-20, Presidents’ Day Weekend; and March 18-19. The media sponsor for these weekends is North Country Public Radio.
To me this sounds like the perfect winter adventure — an opportunity to get out and play in the snow while exploring a National Historic Landmark. You can bring your own equipment, or get outfitted with snowshoes at the Gatehouse.The trip is about 5 miles from the Gatehouse into the Main Lodge, but I understand it is gently rolling terrain; no steep hills to climb. I was told to plan on about 4 to 6 hours for the round trip. But, once at the Main Lodge Complex, the Artist’s Studio building will serve as a warming hut. If you carry in your own cup, you can sip hot chocolate, tea, or coffee by the woodstove. I could see myself lingering there for a while. In addition, you'll want to allow adequate time to explore the open buildings, admire the architecture and scenic views, check out the interpretive signs, and hear from the AARCH interpretive staff. Six hours may be more realistic.
It’s anticipated that more than 300 people will visit during these Winter Weekends (that was the number of visitors last year), so even those who may be a little antsy about venturing off into a snowy wilderness preserve in the middle of January can be assured of some company. Cell service will be spotty — and probably only available if Verizon is your provider — but aside from posting a pic on your favorite social site, it's kind of nice to unplug for a few hours and step back into history (besides, it's hard to juggle ski poles & a phone!).
Newcomb’s Winterfest - January 14, 2017
It appears that Martin Luther King Holiday Weekend may be the ideal time to make a visit to this part of the Adirondacks. There is a lot going on in Newcomb on Saturday, January 14, as the town will be hosting its annual Winterfest. All activities will be free and there will be signs to guide you around the community and direct you to what is happening. Everyone is invited to come, watch, and participate in every kind of winter outdoor activity imaginable.
Recently I spoke with Dave at Cloudsplitters Outfitters located on Newcomb’s main street. He told me they had a great snow base already and good forecast predictions; anything coming between now and January 14 should only make conditions better.
Winterfest attendees can go for a snowmobile or dog sled ride, and watch fat bike, Hok ski, and ice fishing demonstrations directly on Lake Harris at Rockwoods Bay. A big bonfire will be there from noon until 4 pm to keep you warm.
Dave also told me they have 10 fat bikes for rent if watching a demo encourages you to try one for yourself. They also rent cross-country skis including the Hok skis from the demonstration. Dave told me these are backcountry-type skis and a bit more maneuverable. They are shorter than regular cross-country skis, and have steel edges for turning. One of their significant features is that they have integrated synthetic mohair bottom surfaces. He says that allows for a lot of gripping when climbing any incline; no more sliding backwards!
Skaters are not overlooked. Winterfest will include an ice skating rink across from the Emergency Squad and skaters are welcome from 11 am to 4 pm.
Aside from Santanoni’s trails into the Winter Weekend open house, during Winterfest snowshoe trails will be open at the Adirondack Interpretive Center from 10 am to 4 pm. There are over 3.5 miles of trails on the AIC's 200+ acre property, and a connector trail to the Camp Santanoni main trail in case you want to swing by on your way in or out of visiting the Main Lodge. Also at AIC on January 14, you can join naturalist Peter O’Shea for a guided snowshoe walk at 1 pm and learn winter animal tracking as well as some local natural history. Word has it there could even be a snowman building contest at AIC that day — that may depend upon conditions and interest.
The High Peaks Golf Course in Newcomb will welcome snowshoers on the 14th with incredible High Peak vistas and captivating views of the upper Hudson River. From 11 am to noon tubing and sledding will be available at the Ski Slope. Downhill skiing and snowboarding begins at noon and runs until 3 pm.
All this outdoor activity is bound to make you hungry. Chili and hot dogs are available at the Newcomb Fire Hall from 11 am to 2 pm. Later you can plan on attending a Spaghetti Dinner back at the Fire Hall from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Beginning at 7 pm, you can listen to live music by the Lightning Rods and join in some sock-footed square dancing at the Newcomb Central School Gym.
You may want to make this a two-day adventure since there is so much going on that weekend! Why not find some comfortable lodging and plan to stay?
Make it your resolution to try a new Adirondack activity in 2017!