Lee recognized for outdoors writing
A retired forest ranger who has written a weekly column about the outdoors for more than 30 years was recently honored by the New York State Outdoor Writers Association.
The M. Paul Keesler Outdoor Citizen Award “is presented to an individual or organization that effectively has raised the public’s awareness of outdoor recreational opportunities and conservation issues in New York,” according to NYSOWA, and that person last year was long-time Inlet resident Gary Lee.
Lee was a long time Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger in the Inlet area, and with his routine patrols, there was no shortage of topics to cover. Lee said in all the years of writing his column for the The Weekly Adirondack, he’s only missed one week.
“I’ve been writing columns in the Old Forge paper since ’86, and I’ve only missed one in the whole time,” Lee said during an interview this week. “When I was on the fires out in Yellowstone, I mailed it — we didn’t have email back then — and it didn’t make it in time. That’s the only time I’ve ever missed.”
The NYSOWA said in a press release that Lee “spent a lifetime enlightening people on the opportunities of the natural world and outdoor recreation,” but Lee says he never set out to have that big of an impact.
“Being a ranger, you interact with all kinds of people,” he said. “And I just felt, being out there, they didn’t see the beauty that is here in the Adirondacks. When I had the chance to write the column, and every week I write something that I see or something that somebody else hears. Or when somebody screws up. When somebody screws up they always get in my column.”
Lee, who is a dedicated birder and wrote a book called Adirondack Birding with John Peterson, said he doesn’t have particular topics he returns to for his column, instead writing “his mind” each week.
“I just go by the seasons,” he said. “I’m a birder and I band birds and I chase rare birds around to photograph. I’ve always got my camera with me everywhere we go.”
Lee said he is a regular contributor to various photography websites and enjoys seeing his work being shared around the Adirondacks. He is also an avid hunter who nearly missed the awards ceremony due to a hunting trip in Colorado.
“The day after I got the award, actually, we left for Colorado,” for an elk hunt. “When Leo [Maloney] told me when it was, I said ‘Gee Leo, I gotta check on my Colorado trip. I’m not sure I’m going to be there to accept the award.’
“And then I said ‘Well, you beat it by a day,'” he laughed.
Although he’s got hundreds of columns under his belt, Lee said his favorite column over all that time is one that his wife wrote.
“Once in a while she would write my column,” he said. “She’d get ticked off about something and say ‘I’m writing your column this week.’ I’d take the week off, and she wrote about green tea.
“And there was more comments on that green tea. I just couldn’t believe it and I thought ‘I gotta write more about green tea,'” he laughed. “It just blew people away and I just couldn’t believe how many people commented on that.”
Lee retired as a forest ranger about 20 years ago, but said he doesn’t miss it because the job is something that stays with you.
“I know the local rangers and I go out with them and work with them,” the soon-to-be 75-year-old said. “I know what’s going on and I just keep track. I’ve been retired 20 years, but you just never get out of it.”
He also said he’s supportive of the current push by the Police Benevolent Association — the union that represents rangers — for the DEC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to increase the number of rangers patrolling the Adirondacks.
“It’s definitely way down,” he said. “I don’t know about the DEC, but the mountain club [Adirondack Mountain Club] created their own problem. They advertise the thing like ‘Come on up and enjoy,’ [but] you can only get just so many people in the mountains before you don’t have enjoyment anymore.
“I stopped going to the High Peaks. I just couldn’t walk up to [Mount] Marcy and pass 100 people on the trail and call it an Adirondack experience. I can go over here and walk all day and not see a person.”