A cut above: Tupper Lake sawmill expanding
TUPPER LAKE — This village would not exist without sawmills, and today, though the mills lining the shore of Raquette Pond are long gone, the “lumberjack” occupation carries on.
The logging industry brought families, railroads and business to Tupper Lake in the 1890s, sprouting a bustling community of woodsmen, which has since been a center for veteran care, care for the developmentally disabled and tourism. The Hurd Mill here once set a world record for sawing more than a million board feet of lumber in one day.
Today, Tupper Lake Hardwoods supplies furnishings and boards across the globe, and it is expanding.
The sawmill opened in Tupper Lake in 1994 after moving from a site in Quebec and now takes logs from 25 suppliers within a 50-mile radius, processing around 85,000 a year.
General manager of the sawmill Chris Dewyea said though public perception might be that milling and timber are dwindling industries, hardwood lumber and boards always have a global demand which grows with the rest of the world.
Dewyea said timber mirrors the housing market, and just as the demand dropped during the mid-2000s, it is now on the rise as markets worldwide and domestic are in recovery.
While output of boards has not changed, the number of people needed to produce that amount has dropped significantly with technological advancements.
“One feller buncher can do in a day what 10 men with chainsaws could do 30 years ago,” Dewyea said.
The arrival of high-speed internet in the town also allows the sawmill to update systems in minutes instead of hours and significantly cuts down time.
At the same time, people looking for jobs in the sawmill industry has become less common, to the point where Dewyea has trouble finding enough employees to hire for expansion. He was recently faced with a choice: hire 15 employees or update the mill’s machinery.
He said he was forced to make technological updates because he was not able to find 15 people to hire. Though the mill employs over 20 people and is 30 miles from Paul Smith’s College, Dewyea is the only graduate of the forestry-focused college working there. He said he would like to see more graduates from the institution work at the sawmill that is so close to their school.
Dewyea has worked at the company since 1994, graduating on a Saturday and starting work in Quebec by Monday. After a month, the Tupper Lake sawmill opened and he moved back to his hometown and has worked there since.
“It’s a young man’s job,” he said, referring to the physical nature of the work.
Dewyea said he enjoys the log purchasing aspect of his job, meeting people from around the world and spending as much of his time outside as possible.
Dewyea said there is another misconception about the sawmill industry: Though he feels additional pressure from the state Adirondack Park Agency, he does not want to eliminate the agency nor open up timber harvesting regulations with abandon.
“We are committed to the health of the forest; it is very important to our livelihood,” Dewyea said. “If you did it the way they do it in South America, we wouldn’t be here very long.”
“It’s a waste of a resource, as far as I’m concerned,” Dewyea said. “You don’t have to go through there and clear-cut the Adirondacks; that’s not what it’s about.”
He said he is only bothered by the state buying what he calls “productive land” and restricting timber harvesting on the land forever. Trees are a limited resource, and so is the land they grow on, he said.
“If the state continues on the path that they have been as far as land purchases and stuff like that, we won’t be here 50 years from now,” Dewyea said.
The Forest Resource Consultants-certified sawmill is entering its busy season as freezing temperatures harden the land and open up acres of timber that are difficult to access otherwise. It will build up its inventory from suppliers to last through the muddy spring season.
The mill has one addition underway with another in the works, as well as an anticipated new saw which is estimated to increase production 50 percent.
Tupper Lake Hardwoods delivers board to Asia, Europe, the Middle East and all over North America, carrying on the tradition of the town it bears in its name.
(Corrections: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Tupper Lake Hardwoods is the only sawmill in the Adirondack Park. Also, the Adirondack Park Agency was mistakenly called the Adirondack Park Association. The Enterprise regrets the errors.)