Carl Heilman grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but from the very first time he headed to upstate New York, the Adirondacks always felt like home.
"The place always called to me, ever since my grandfather bought property up by Brant Lake and we would visit every summer," said Heilman, a professional photographer whose images of the Adirondacks and other natural landscapes has made him a household name for New Yorkers who love the outdoors. "I remember painting a view of the lake when I was in third grade. The Adirondacks have always been in my blood, and when I turned 18 in 1973 I knew that's where I wanted to live, not just vacation there."
Heilman has spent 40 years now living and documenting life in the Adirondacks, and is out with a new book called "The Trails of the Adirondacks: Hiking America's Original Wilderness." It is published by Rizzoli International Publications in association with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and will be officially released on April 28. The book is 288 pages long with 270 photographs by Heilmann and text by Neal Burdick, editor of the ADS's "Almanac," and also a frequent contributor to "Adirondack Explorer" and "Adirondack Life." Author, educator and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote the forward.
"Neil wrote the text for it, and it really takes you on the history of the trails and all the background connected with them," said Heilmann, who still lives in Brant Lake along Route 8 just a few miles east of the Northway. "He picked a diverse selection of trails for me to hone in on, and he wrote a good bit of text to go with my pictures. If you have any of my other books, you'll see this one is quite different, and it has all new photos."
In 2017, Heilman produced "The Adirondacks: Season by Season," and back in 2013 he came out with "Photographing the Adirondacks." While his name may be synonymous with the Adirondacks, he has also produced books on the coast of Maine and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia, and has also worked on several projects involving stock photography of the Rocky Mountains and American Southwest.
"I spent five weeks in Montana and I've also been to the southern desert," said Heilman, who will sign his book at the Open Door Book Store in Schenectady on June 8. "I love being above the timberline, so the western mountains kind of called to me. I thought about pulling up roots and going there, but I also really enjoy the four seasons we have here. I love our lakes and mountains here. I love the hikes and the paddles. This place is home."
Heilmann first picked up a camera in 1975 and sold his first photograph to "Adirondack Life" in 1980.
"The first couple of months up here I worked at a saw mill, and then I did carpentry work for a number of years," said Heilman, who produced his first book, "Adirondacks: Views of an American Wilderness, in 1999. "I made custom-made snowshoes and while I still snowshoe I haven't made any in a while. It's been a long progression since my first book."
For most of the past two decades, he has been strictly a hard-working and successful photographer. As you might expect, he is also a strong proponent of the Adirondack Mountains and seeing them preserved for future generations.
"Carl is a superb photographer, and also a superb environmentalist," McKibben wrote in an email to the Gazette. "He's taught so many of us to see, and motivated so many to go out and seek the beauty of the mountains. Few have evere embodied the spirit of the Adirondacks more completely."
Along with his books, much of Heilman's work has been on display at the Adirondack Experience in Blue Mountain Lake.
"We don't have his original work on display because it's light sensitive but we have a number of reproductions in places around our campus," said Laura Rice, senior curator at the museum. "He is currently featured in our new exhibit film talking about his connection with the Adirondacks, and our screen is a bit curved so you get these incredible panoramas that he does. His work is always popping up in places, and he's been very generous and good to us. We love showing his work."
Now in his mid 60s, Heilmann is still quite an active hiker.
"I still hike the High Peaks and I'm hoping I might still get up Mt. Marcy this winter," he said. "It's a slower recovery time for me after I do some big projects, but I still climb the High Peaks during the winter. I love being above the timberline, but I also really enjoy the climb itself.