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Visiting an Adirondack Great Camp

Friday, January 18, 2013
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As I write this, we have snow on the ground again. Maybe if we get enough of a cold snap, it will last more than a few days.

So thoughts naturally turn to snow-shoeing and cross-country skis. It will be a fine weekend for a drive to the Adirondacks, and if you’re hardy enough, a visit to one of the last of the historic Great Camps.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will have state-owned Camp Santanoni in Newcomb open this three-day weekend to anyone ready to make the 5-mile trip by ski or snowshoe, and will do it again President’s Weekend, Feb. 16-18, and March 16-17. It’s free, and if you bring your own cup, hot beverages will be provided.

I skied in last winter as part of a press junket with DEC officials, and it’s a fairly easy, almost flat ski. I only fell a couple of times, but I’m a straggler anyway, and I don’t think anyone saw.

You ski or walk the old carriage road through mature woods, and it takes very little snow to be skiable. The camp itself always comes as a surprise after going down a hill and crossing a lake outlet, a complex of wooden buildings overlooking Newcomb Lake you don’t have any notice of until suddenly you arrive.

The rustic camp, which has undergone nearly $2 million in stabilization work over the last decade, was built in the 1890s by Robert C. Pruyn, an Albany banker, distantly related to the Pruyns who founded the Finch Pruyn & Co. paper mill in Glens Falls.

Pruyn’s father was President Lincoln’s representative to Japan, and Robert spent two teenage years there. The main camp complex shows a Buddhist influence he picked up there — viewed from the air, the main building would look like a giant bird.

The building’s scope and sprawl make it impossible to photograph in whole, as an architectural historian pointed out to me while I scrambled around on the slope that drops to the lake, looking for an angle to do just that. Apparently, better photographers have tried. And they failed, too.

Among the guests the Pruyns entertained at Camp Santanoni was Theodore Roosevelt, according to a DEC history.

The Pruyn property eventually grew to 12,900 acres, including a gatehouse just off Route 28N in Newcomb, and a farm where cows, pigs, chickens and orchard and garden crops were raised. The state now owns it all, though the farm barn burned down in 2004.

The stock market crash of 1929 ruined the Pruyns. Robert Pruyn died in 1934. His descendants used the camp less than he had and sold it in 1954.

The Nature Conservancy acquired it in 1972, and the state bought it the following year. It is the only historic Great Camp on state forest land and is being preserved for its historic value.

While the buildings have been stabilized, the big rooms have been left open and bare and may never be restored with the kind of furnishings the Pruyns no doubt enjoyed.

Camp Santanoni is open year-round and is an easy hike in summer.

Andrew Davis leaving

Andrew Davis, solid in 2 1⁄2 years as Saratoga County’s director of veterans’ services, has left the job.

Davis, an Army Ranger veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who went to work for the county in 2010, starts a new job next week with the New York Independent System Operator, the nonprofit agency that manages power flow and prices among the state’s electric utilities.

Davis, who helped the county secure $200,000 in state funding for a promising pilot program to provide peer-to-peer counseling for veterans, said he will remain involved in veterans’ issues.

“He has been an articulate advocate on behalf of veterans,” said Day town Supervisor Mary Ann Johnson, chairwoman of the county Veterans’ Committee.

It will be at least a month before a new director is selected. In the meantime, Frank McClement remains as the service officer in the county veterans’ agency.

Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. He can reached at 885-6705 or swilliams@dailygazette.net.

 
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