SARANAC LAKE - It was a picture-perfect day - a day Karen Loffler had dreamed of for 12 years.
Clear blue skies, summer-like weather and a huge crowd greeted the opening of the Adirondack Carousel on Saturday in William Morris Park.
"I haven't stopped smiling all day," said Loffler, who first proposed the idea of building a carousel made of Adirondack-themed animals in 2000. "It's pretty wonderful."
Karen Loffler, right, who came up with the idea of an Adirondack-themed carousel 12 years ago and carved the carousel’s otter, and Rich Kraft, left, who carved its black fly, enjoy the first ride on the carousel Saturday in William Morris Park in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
It was around 1:40 p.m. when the button was pushed, the bell sounded and the carousel started moving, giving its first official ride to the roughly dozen men and women, including Loffler, who had spent countless hours hand-carving its two-dozen animals. The crowd of people that had packed into the carousel's pavilion building, waiting for their turns to ride, let out a huge cheer. So did those who stood elbow to elbow and several rows deep at the building's windows, snapping pictures.
"I was nervous until I heard the bell ring the first time and I saw it move," said the Rev. Randy Cross, who's been the project's manager. "We'd obviously run it before, but you never know. But I think this is great. Having this crowd, great weather, a long line out the door - I think it's what we envisioned for the grand opening. It's awesome."
"It's going to take few weeks for me to fully absorb how wonderful it is," said Rich Kraft of Tupper Lake, who carved the carousel's black fly and served on the organization's board of directors when the project was first getting off the ground. "For me personally, it was just great to be able to contribute my woodworking skills, and to be able to watch these children ride the carousel right now - it's what we had all dreamed about."
After the carvers had their turn, the second ride went to a group of 15 children representing the Saranac Lake area's three elementary schools - Bloomingdale, Petrova and St. Bernard's - who earlier had cut a yellow ribbon to formally open the carousel. The artists who had painted the carousel's animals, its scenic and historic rounding boards and its Adirondack wildflower medallions got the third ride. Then it was opened up to the scores of people who had waited patiently in a line that stretched almost to the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Depot Street.
The rides, which were free all day, drew rave reviews from both kids and adults.
"It was a lot of fun," said Lynn Valenti of Plattsburgh, who led an outing of the Algonquin Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club to the carousel's opening. "I'm a kid at heart, and I've always loved a merry-go-round. I just absolutely love it."
"It was awesome," a young boy told the Enterprise after stepping off the carousel's red squirrel. "The squirrel rocks."
"I recommend the bald eagle; it's the best," said his friend.
Earlier, the crowd had gathered outside the building for an opening ceremony led by Marge Glowa of Onchiota, who has been the driving force behind the $1 million project since 2009.
"What you're going to see today inside is simply going to take your breath away," Glowa said. "It is beyond our wildest expectations, and we are thrilled and delighted."
Glowa described the history and the purpose of the carousel, which is designed to fuse art, education and entertainment, to be a center for educational programs and to be rented out for birthday parties, reunions and other events.
Organizers received $340,000 in state funding that paid for a portion of the pavilion, and several years received a foundation grant to pay for staff, but otherwise the carousel was built through funds raised from private donors and donations of materials and services that Glowa estimated at roughly $250,000. As a result of those contributions, she announced, "This entire project is paid for and debt free."
Glowa also paid tribute to the project's many volunteers.
"We owe the volunteers that worked on this project an enormous debt of gratitude," she said. "Some volunteers worked a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, and many month after month. They were extraordinary."
The community had waited for years to see this day. When the idea of a carousel was first proposed to the village board in 2000 by Loffler and the late Chuck Brumley, Loffler estimated it would take four years to complete. It's taken three times that, for a number of reasons.
Several different locations that were initially considered for the carousel proved controversial and were ruled out, like Riverside Park and the village park at the corner of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue. Organizers eventually worked out an operating agreement with the village to use William Morris Park.
But not long after the site was picked, the recession hit and donations dropped off. In 2009, the carousel's only two paid employees were laid off, and the project was shelved.
"During that first part of the recession we were a bit concerned, and that's when Marge came on board and said, 'We're going to do this,' and she made it happen," Loffler said.
Since 2009, the project has been led by volunteers who closed a fundraising gap of more than $200,000 through donations, in-kind services and donated construction materials.
But those haven't been the project's only challenges. Over the years, the carousel has been a frequent target of some people in the community who've questioned its value as a tourist attraction and whether it can generate enough business, at $2 a ride, to be sustainable.
Cross acknowledged that most of the people who showed up for Saturday's opening were locals, but he says the tourists will come.
"There are carousel enthusiasts like there are roller coaster enthusiasts," he said. "This is going to bring people into Saranac Lake who would never have come here. How many people? A couple hundred in a few years. That's not huge dollars, but it certainly is an anchor. It's a drawing card."
Paula Hameline, who was recently hired as the carousel's executive director, said using the facility for programs and events will be key to its sustainability.
"We hope to do some really great programming throughout the summer and fall that will keep this building alive beyond the rides on the carousel," she said.
"It will be here in 20 years; it will be here in 30 years, as long as there are people who will take care of it," Glowa said. "The programs, the special events, the concerts, season passes and charging for rides will make it very sustainable."
State Sen. Betty Little admitted she wasn't sold on the idea when it was first proposed. Now she's a believer.
"When Karen first came with this idea, I thought, 'What a great idea, but is that really possible?'" Little told the crowd Saturday. "I have to admit I wasn't an early believer, but as this project went along, it was just mind-boggling to see how many people participated, how much enthusiasm there was for it and what a great project it is."
The carousel will be we open on Saturdays and Sundays in June. In July, it will move to a six-days-a-week schedule. Fall and winter hours of operation are to be announced.
For more information, visit www.adirondackcarousel.org.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.