INDIAN LAKE - In late July, this small central Adirondack town will be the focus of a large festival showcasing the Adirondacks, a pet project of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Adirondack Challenge Festival will feature two water races on Sunday, July 21: an invitational whitewater rafting race down the Indian River for local and state government officials, and a flatwater paddling race on the 14-mile-long Indian Lake. Plus, there will be vendors and activities throughout the town, with Byron Park on Adirondack Lake being the epicenter.
The all-day festival will feature live bands, a Taste New York food area featuring New York-made food and beverages, displays including artisan-created watercraft, kids activities including storytellers, crafts and a wildlife demonstration and a race awards ceremony, according to the I Love New York website.
The Adirondack Challenge Festival will feature an invitation-only whitewater rafting race on the Indian River as one of its main attractions.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
While the festival's big day will be July 21, there are events scheduled for the week leading up to it, including a full day's worth of activities that Saturday. Events are also slated to take place in neighboring towns and counties, though many of the specifics have not been made public.
The idea for a big Adirondack event was first mentioned by Cuomo during a visit to the Enterprise's office in late December. He later made it a focus of his State of the State address in January, highlighting the whitewater rafting race with graphics in a Power Point presentation displayed during his speech.
"It was conceived to really open up the entire Adirondacks to the eyes of people who may not be aware of what's available here," said Hamilton County Economic Development and Tourism Director Ann Melious, who is playing a lead role in organizing the event. She is one of about 30 people on a festival steering committee that has been meeting regularly.
Indian Lake is a Hamilton County town with a population of about 1,300, surrounded by recreational opportunities. It is home to the start of a popular rafting trip that begins on the Indian River, continues for 3 miles to the Hudson River, then goes through the scenic Hudson River Gorge before ending 14 miles away near North River. But there's another reason it was picked for the Adirondack Challenge.
"I think we have the attention on us because of the land purchase," Indian Lake supervisor Brian Wells said. "The Finch land purchase."
Many of the former Finch, Pruyn and Co. lands that the state of New York purchased this spring from The Nature Conservancy are in the vicinity of Indian Lake. That includes the Essex Chain of Lakes parcel, which contains the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, and the OK Slip Falls tract, which is home to the 250-foot high OK Slip Falls, the largest waterfall in New York state.
Those lands are added to the town's already impressive array of state land.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful place," said 90-year-old Eris Thompson, who owns the Lake Store and Smith's Cottages in Sabael, a small hamlet on Indian Lake. "And when you're young, there's many things you can do. You can fish, you can hunt, enjoy the lakes and trails. You can make friends that enjoy the same things you do."
Thompson, who rises every day at 5 a.m. and gets to work two hours later, said she hasn't heard a whole lot about the festival but does think it will help draw people to the Adirondacks.
Small businesses, in general, should benefit from the influx of people in town. One of those is Pine's Country Store, located in downtown Indian Lake.
"I think it's great," owner Tim Pine said. "It's great for the community. It's going to hopefully bring some people that have never been here before here, so they realize what they have here and also see what we don't have here that could be here."
Pine moved to Indian Lake in 1984 from southern New Jersey and has been here ever since. He describes living in Indian Lake as being "awesome."
"You're living out in the country. You wake up with bear and deer in your yard - fox, coyote, bear walking across the road at night," he said. "You live in paradise. You smell fresh air, green grass, mountains, great sunrises, great sunsets and everything you possibly would want to do, except going to the mall, which is fine.
"It's endless what you can do up here. It's limited by your imagination."
Pine hopes the visitors - who are expected to include government officials - appreciate the recreation opportunities in Indian Lake, but like he said, he hopes they will take notice of some of those things that Indian Lake needs.
What are some of those?
"Not having a full-sized grocery store here, not having great cell service, high speed Internet, all the things people take for granted," Pine said. "There are so many government restrictions. We're out in the middle of the wilderness, and a lot of these guys that are making laws for us, have never even been here. They think we're overflowing with people and jobs everything. We're not. We need more jobs. We need more stuff in the community. We need to support more people to keep more people here."
While many people are excited about the Adirondack Challenge, they also acknowledge that holding a large festival in July will present challenges.
For one, the festival is taking place during the peak tourist season of July and August, when the region is already bustling with activity. That's on top of the fact that there is a limited amount of lodging and restaurants in the immediate area, especially compared to busier tourist towns such as Lake Placid and Old Forge.
"Some of the organizers for this are finding out, if it's good weather our campsites are already full," Wells said. "Our rooms are already rented. The few restaurants and diners that we have are usually very, very busy."
Wells noted that some of this pressure could be alleviated by visitors taking advantage of facilities in other towns.
"The one neat thing is, the Challenge and I Love New York has built in all the surrounding towns," he said. "You're talking Warren County, Essex County and Hamilton County. They've really spread it out, which is a good thing."
Another issue will be parking. Indian Lake's downtown is essentially one street, and there won't be much parking available there. The one big lot in town, next to Pine's Country Store, will be full of vendors.
However, Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce President Christine Pouch thinks this issue, along with the already existing crowds, will be dealt with.
"We're certainly going to be able to accommodate the people coming into town," she said. "We have plans to provide remote parking spots and bussing people to and from places so they can get there easily. So the traffic in town will be kind of monitored and controlled, so people will be able to walk from point A to point B."
Another challenge will be getting volunteers.
"I think volunteers is our biggest challenge because here we are, we're the state's, by permanent population, we're the state's smallest county," Melious said. "And our hamlets are not real close together, so bringing people together is a little more challenging here. But we're hoping that we get the seasonal population helping out, too. They are trickling in and a lot of these people will be in place by July 4."
Hamilton County had 4,836 people in the 2010 census.
Organizers have pointed out that Indian Lake has successfully held festivals in the past that have drawn large crowds, including a large antique festival and the Great Adirondack Moose Festival, which still takes place in the fall and draws more than 1,000 people.
Even if there's some rough times in putting the event together, most feel it's worth it.
"Oh yeah, it's great no matter what," Wells said. "If they had it on the Fourth of July weekend, it'd still be great. It's a positive, positive step for us."
Melious agreed, even if it can be challenging to coordinate all the involved parties, including officials in Albany.
"(Here,) if we just want to get something done, everybody knows everybody else, and we just call them up and say, 'Can you do it?'" she said, laughing. "This is a little more involved, but in the long run, it's going to come off great. We're really excited."