Lake Placid/Olympic Region has its own style

William M. Dowd photos

A white sand beach glistens on the shore of Mirror Lake.

Lake Placid village is on Mirror Lake.

Saranac Lake village is on Lake Flower.

Tupper Lake village is on Raquette Pond.

If all that doesn't evoke the image of a region of New York State that does things its own way, you haven't been paying attention.

Welcome to the Lake Placid area, or the Olympic Region, or the heart of the Adirondack Park. Whatever you choose to call it, it is an area with its own special character and attractions.

Just an easy 2½ hours north of Albany, the state capital, it's a straight shot up I-87, the Adirondack Northway, then hang a left for less than 30 miles to end up in downtown Lake Placid.

The area is one of only three in the entire world that has hosted the Winter Olympic games more than once. (St. Moritz and Innsbruck are the others.)

It will forever be known as home to the 1932 and 1980 Games, the latter probably the final time a community so small ever will host the gigantic undertaking that has financially ruined many a more prosperous place.

But the transient population actually is highest in the summer months when, for example, the numbers in the immediate Lake Placid area go from 3,000 hearty year-rounders who brave the lack of jobs and the excess of cold weather to 10,000 or more looking for a relaxed pace.

Everything from leisurely strolls through idyllic downtowns to more vigorous hikes, climbs and cycling activities attract the crowds to the heart of the 6-million-acre Adirondack State Park, which contains one-fifth of all the land in the state and is the largest park in the country.

Olympic ski jump towers loom above the woods.

Some of the attraction stems from leftover Olympic venues -- you can take a professionally handled sled down a bobsled run during the summer; skate at both indoor and outdoor spots in warm weather where shivering Olympians once competed; go up to the soaring ski-jump towers via chairlift or elevator to get a bird's-eye view of the area; ski the imposing slopes of Whiteface Mountain.

All depending on the season, of course.

But, long before there was the Olympics here, there were the High Peaks, 46 of the Adirondack mountains that present a special and varied challenge to climbers. They range from the formal, groomed snowshoe and cross-country ski trails in the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross-Country Center in Route 73, to the less-formal but well-marked hiking trails, and informal spots that vigorous individualists like to use for rock-climbing, boating and camping.

A typically busy day in downtown Lake Placid.

Lake Placid is the only village of any real size. It likes to brag that visitors don't need to make the hour's drive to Plattsburgh to get their mall shopping fix, but they do.

While the village has a few name-brand stores (Starbucks, Izod, Ben & Jerry) it has mostly locally owned craft shops, antique dealers, bookstores (two are next to each other, just five doors down from the public library), real estate agencies, restaurants and lodgings.

However, it has come a long way since it was called the Plains of Abraham, moving into the big time in 1811 when the Elba Iron & Steel Manufacturing Co. was founded and swelled the population to 300. After that it was a mere 89 years until it became an incorporated village, and just another 32 to become an Olympic town.


• Main golf courses
: Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club, Lake Placid, (877) 570-5891; Whiteface Club & Resort, Lake Placid, (518) 523-2551; Saranac Inn Golf & Country Club, Saranac Lake, (518) 891-1402. Go here for others.

Olympic Regional Development Authority, Lake Placid: Seasonal activity listings for summer (mountain biking, bobsled rides, gondola, skating, figure skating, hiking, etc.) and winter (cross-country skiing, skating, biathlete lessons, skiing, luge, etc.)

• Performing Arts (plays, dance, concerts): Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Avenue, Saranac Lake, (518) 891-1854; Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive, Lake Placid, (518) 523-2512.

Adirondack Museum, Routes 28 & 30, Blue Mountain Lake, (518) 352-7311: Open daily from May 23-Oct. 19, closed Sept. 5 and 19. Family-oriented facility that mixes exhibits with special events (barn raising, whimsy and play, harvest festival, rustic fair).

• Lake Placid Horse Shows, Route 73, North Elba, (518) 523-9625: The two-week equestrian competition is scheduled for June 24-July 6 this year on the sprawling grounds just outside the village. Also scheduled: jumping events, shows and children's events.

• The Wild Center: Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, Tupper Lake, (518) 359-7800: A 31-acre complex offers live exhibits, hiking and exploring venues. With naturalist guides or self-guided treks. Family oriented.


• Charlie's
, 2543 Main St, Lake Placid, (523-9886): Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner indoors or on the lakeview deck. Particularly good fusion cuisine on the dinner menu, and a nice Adirondack-style cocktail lounge called T-Bar.

• Blue Moon Cafe, 55 Main St., Saranac Lake (891-1310): Comfy local spot for a snack, breakfast or lunch. Very reasonable prices.

• Milano North, 2490 Main St., Lake Placid, 523-3003: A 110-seat bistro patterned on the original Milano in Newton Plaza in the Albany suburb of Latham, this one is located above a Starbucks and an antiques shop. Good grilled Italian specialties, plus children's menu, and outdoor patio dining.

• Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, 813 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, 523-3818: The brewpub is upstairs and has a deck overlooking the lake. Downstairs is P.J. O'Neill's, an Irish-style pub. The pub, which gets its beers from the company brewing facility near Plattsburgh, is popular for locals and visitors alike and serves a wide range of craft beers.


• Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort
, 2559 Main St., Lake Placid, 523-3353: If you're environmentally aware, you'll be right at home at this iconic hotel that recently unveiled many changes that make it a true sustainable "green" experience: allergen-free rooms, recycled building materials, It's among a small handful of facilities in North America that hold the Audubon Societies' 4-Green-Leaf Eco Rating. From its comfy rooms to its white-sand lakeside beach and a 3,000-square-foot green roof that insulates the facility and acts as a storm water management system that catches pollutants as they drain off the roof, this is a clever hotel.

• Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa, 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, 523-2544: When you stroll on the long brick village sidewalk, you may be excused if you think you'll never get to the end of this sprawling inn. It includes a few lakeside buildings but 95 percent of it sits on a rise that allows an unimpeded water view. It has won about every luxury hotel honor available and advance bookings are strongly suggested.

Note: For listings of more than 300 regional lodging possibilities, go here.

A dilapidated barn adds to this rustic Olympic region scene.

Visitors spend a tranquil moment in a Lake Placid village pocket park.

• Land of Plenty
Raising the bar in Lake Placid
Dowd's Guides

Arts under pressure on Cape Cod

William M. Dowd photos

ORLEANS, MA -- The arts scene is as much part of the soul of Cape Cod as are its fishing fleets and sprawling beaches.

However, a bit of soul-searching unveils an insidious problem: The nationwide economic downturn coupled with the rising cost of living often inherent in a tourist haven is hurting established artists and scaring off the next generation of them.

From Sandwich, the first town a landlubber hits after leaving the mainland, to sandwiches at the iconic Portugese Bakery 75 miles away in Provincetown, there is no lack of creativity anywhere along this storied jut of land that extends from the lowlands of eastern Massachusetts into the stormy Atlantic.

P-town, as it is locally called, got its first formal hold on the arts world more than a century ago when painter Charles W. Hawthorne (1872-1930) established the first summer arts colony in the United States. That helped make the small fishing village a worldwide arts icon by the 1930s, with such painters as Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell summering there.

Eugene O'Neill was involved with the Provincetown Players beginning in 1916 and wrote many of his earliest plays there. Best-selling novelist Mary Higgins Clark today maintains a home on the Cape. The likes of Bette Davis (Cape Playhouse in Dennis) and James Stewart (Falmouth Playhouse) got some of their early acting training locally.

But economics are chipping away at this heritage. Beginning artists are shying away from the pricey Cape to ply their work elswehere, perhaps in hopes of making an affordable somewhere else "the next Cape.''

"You can still make some money in the arts,'' said Joe Realbuto, a professional photographer who moved here from the Albany, NY, area a decade ago, "but the cost of living has gotten so high it really makes it a slim margin. It's scaring off a lot of younger artists who might otherwise have come here, especially if they don't have other means of income.''

Kely Knowles, a 20-year Cape resident who is well known as both a watercolorist and teacher, agrees.

"At arts meetings I attend I rarely see anyone who isn't in my age group, 50 and up,'' she said. "Maybe a couple of 40s, a rare one in their 30s.''

Realbuto, a board member and past vice president of the Artisans' Guild of Cape Cod, said the organization is considering changing its membership requirements to accept non-Cape residents to keep the organization viable.

Visitors may not immediately see a falloff in arts offerings. As a community, Cape Cod today has a huge investment in the arts with more than 300 galleries -- including the Cape Cod Museum of Art (top photo) in Dennis -- devoted to paintings, sculptures, glasswork, wood- and metal-craft, handicrafts, pottery and photography studios, art museums and community arts organizations whose periodic shows pepper the local social schedule.

Venues for theater, writing workshops, dance and the whole range of music from classical orchestral works to Irish pubs also abound, especially during the main tourist season from Memorial Day to the Labor Day weekend. Hands-on classes in many fields are available to residents and visitors alike. As just one example, the Truro Center for the Arts near Wellfleet offers arts and crafts lessons for adults and children. Other facilities cater to summer visitors anxious to dabble in the creative world.

The laid-back atmosphere of much of the Cape, the range of natural light affected by the flat horizons and light from both the Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay, and the rough beauty of the salt marshes, dunes, beaches and rocky shores remain a powerful lure for artists of all stripes to spend time here. In some cases, that time stretches to permanent residency.

Realbuto is a prime example. A decade ago, he and his family, longtime Cape visitors, moved to Pocasset on the Outer Cape as fulltime residents. While he still makes his living as an executive in the field of health care for the disabled, the move enabled him to embrace his passion.

"I'd been a photographer most of my life, and I always knew I would come to the Cape to be an artist,'' Realbuto said. "You can't find the beaches and this light anywhere else.

"Sometimes when I get that light, that incredible light, I just jump up and down,'' he said with a chuckle.

Realbuto has gotten heavily involved in the arts scene as a businessman with interests in several galleries and as a volunteer with the Artisans' Guild. The group acts to promote professional standards and growth, schedules professional arts events and awards scholarships. In fact, when the Guild needed a new logo, brochure and various other materials put together earlier this year, 30 graphic art students from Cape Cod Regional Technical High School submitted their ideas. Senior Ben Hughes, 18, of Dennisport won the contract.

That's just one example of real-world commercial success for the students, the next generation of local artists. Support from the Guild, the school and individual artists has helped nurture the small surge.

Adding up his fulltime work, his volunteer efforts and the time spent involved in digital photography and shows seems to come to more hours than there are in a day.

"I spend anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week just shooting before the season because I like to add five to seven new images to my offerings every year.'' Realbuto said.

"Most people who are at the level I am in pursuing their art are semi-retired, so they have the time to do it. But, if you have the passion you can make the time.''

Knowles is another such passionate artist. She has owned the Rock Harbor Gallery in Orleans since 1995. She credits her husband, David Knowles, with helping make her endeavors work. Besides being an artist himself, he's a flooring contractor and a skilled builder who constructed her gallery.

"I'd love to be involved with other galleries as well,'' she said, "but there's not enough time to do that and run this place and find time to paint. Plus, I'm still teaching and teaching keeps me above water.

"To make things work financially, you have to do a lot of marketing, too. I know a lot of the younger artists don't know how to do that very well, and that hurts their chances to succeed.''

Nevertheless, there remain many persistent artists of all sorts on the Cape, perhaps laboring under the same mantra expressed by the late French writer/philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus (1913-1960) who said, "It's not the struggle that makes us artists, but Art that makes us struggle.''

Cape Cod Museum of Art
Cultural Center of Cape Cod
Cape Cod Writers Center
Arts Foundation of Cape Cod
Cape Cod Dining Guide
A Chowder of Attractions
Dowd's Guides

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