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Renaissance in Saranac Lake

Good news for Saranac Lake! A string of recent stories in the Enterprise indicates that our village is experiencing nothing short of a renaissance.

“Verizon store moving to former Wilson Farms,” announced a headline last week. For three years, this cornerstone commercial site, across from our town hall and the Riverside Park bandstand, sat empty and forlorn, a nagging reminder that Saranac Lake had evidently fallen on hard times. Not any longer. This eyesore will soon be transformed into an important business venue.

“As for losing what turned into a de-facto parking lot for the town hall,” the Enterprise reported, Mayor Clyde Rabideau “brushed it off by saying village officials are trying to encourage more bicycling and walking.”

Well said by the man who is sparking the revival of Saranac Lake.

More big news. “Dew Drop Inn sold” was another headline last week. “Texas couple closes on landmark former restaurant.” The couple, Calli Shelton and Randy Coles of Houston, had long considered moving to Saranac Lake. The realization of their dream means that 1) another distressing eyesore will be no more and 2) a totally transformed Dew Drop Inn will be back in business on the Saranac River.

This is also a good deal for the River Walk. The new owners will enable the walkway to continue to Broadway on their riverside deck, thereby completing a critical link in this downtown amenity. Just across the river from Dew Drop’s is the upcoming Fiddlehead Bistro, another total renovation that will emphasize locally sourced food and feature an art gallery overlooking the river. And just across Broadway is the Left Bank Cafe, a popular attraction of recent years that will soon include a new bakery next door.

How’s that for downtown revitalization?

Confluence of seized opportunities

The timing for the Dew Drop purchase coincides with two other developments (as Calli Shelton noted in Chris Knight’s story) that will bring more people into downtown: the rebirth of the Hotel Saranac and the state’s plan to build a multi-use trail connecting Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

The renovation of the hotel, the undisputed anchor of the village, has been undertaken by Fred Roedel, a former Saranac Lake rugby player whose wedding reception was held years ago at the hotel. The deterioration and eventual closure of this village centerpiece had caused considerable hand-wringing around town, but the moans have turned to cheers as the restoration progresses.

“Governor green-lights rail-trail plan” was the May 18 headline announcing the final go-ahead for the recreational trail on a 34-mile section of old railroad corridor that runs through the Park. This “Adirondack Rail Trail” will link the Tri-Lakes via a scenic pathway well removed from road traffic and suitable for users of all ages. It will attract bicyclists, walkers, runners, parents pushing baby strollers, nature lovers, history buffs and result in much-improved snowmobiling in season. If the experience of other rail trails is any indication, this one will boost our local economy while providing quality-of-life benefits for generations to come.

Renovated Artists Guild

A key facet of any renaissance relates to artistic expression, and in recent years, our art community has flourished. As a current example, check out the “new look” at the Adirondack Artists Guild on Main Street. This gallery space is more inviting than ever after its recent renovation. What better reuse of Charlie Green’s grocery store, a village favorite for much of the 20th century, than as a focal point for a growing art movement in and around Saranac Lake?

More glad tidings came with the headline: “Investors back start-ups with $1.2 million.” This includes a grant that hastens the reincarnation of the long-empty taxidermy shop on Lake Flower Avenue, at the eastern approach to the village. This handsomely renovated building will soon be home to the North American headquarters of an Irish tent company, a seemingly perfect business for the Adirondacks.

Two more headlines give cause to rejoice: “H’town eyes land to grow recreational center” and “Land trust raises money to buy iconic Harrietstown vista.”

The first story tells us that the town may add 30 acres to the Dewey Mountain Recreation Center, thus expanding this cross-country skiers’ mecca to more than 100 acres. The second story reports on the Adirondack Land Trust’s intention to purchase 238 acres that will save one of the finest roadside vistas in the Adirondack Park – the spectacular outlook from the Harrietstown Hill north of Donnelly’s Corners, on the northwest approach to Saranac Lake. The view takes in Whiteface, McKenzie and Moose mountains, with the Bloomingdale Bog below and the High Peaks in the distance.

Train depot next?

On all fronts – commercial, culinary, cultural, recreational – Saranac Lake is on a roll.

So what’s next? How about revitalizing our wonderful train depot, nicely renovated two decades ago but sadly underused since then, and now in need of further upkeep. Rail trails around the United States have made good use of train stations for restaurants, bike shops, information centers and museums commemorating regional history. When the Adirondack Rail Trail is completed, hopefully by the end of next year, a large number of trail users, particularly bicycle riders, will be streaming into the village. With the influx of visitors, this corner of town will come alive again. The opportunity for fully utilizing our classic Victorian station, which once welcomed multiple trainloads of health seekers every day, is now waiting to be seized as another crucial piece of the Saranac Lake renaissance.

Dick Beamish lives in Saranac Lake, is the founder of the Adirondack Explorer magazine and is a board member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.