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15 Things You Should Know About the Adirondacks

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New York’s mightiest mountains are as historic as they are breathtaking: The Adirondacks have seen Olympic glory, resurging wildlife, and the sudden dawn of a presidency.

1. THE NAME “ADIRONDACK” IS DERIVED FROM AN INSULT.

Before white settlers showed up, this area was inhabited by two groups: the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy and their Algonquin neighbors. During tough times, the latter sometimes fed on tree bark to survive, and the Iroquois began calling them ha-de-ron-dah, or “eaters of bark.” This jab stuck and later evolved into the modern, Anglicized term “Adirondack.”

2. THE HUDSON RIVER BEGINS THERE.

The 315-mile river is fed by several Adirondack water sources—most famously Lake Tear of the Clouds at Mount Marcy’s base. Leaving Lake Tear of the Clouds as Feldspar Brook, it flows into the Opalescent River, then Calamity Brook; right next to Henderson Lake, it converges with another creek to become the Hudson.

3. A CATHOLIC SAINT WAS THE FIRST EUROPEAN TO TRAVEL THROUGH THEM.

Isaac Jogues didn’t exactly have a pleasant Adirondack experience. The Frenchman, who was born in 1607, went to what’s now Quebec after he was ordained in 1636. There, Jogues did missionary work for the Huron natives. Then, in 1642, he was captured by Mohawks, who proceeded to remove several of his fingernails—and two whole fingers from his right hand. Afterward, they took Jogues to northern New York via Lake Champlain. The journey took them through the vicinity of Saranac Lake, making Jogues the first known European to have ever seen the interior of the Adirondacks.

When some Dutch merchants helped Jogues escape, he’d been a captive for 13 long months. Shipped back across the Atlantic, Jogues received a hero’s welcome in France. In 1646, he returned to the Mohawks to serve as a government ambassador. Not long after, Jogues was accused of witchcraft by the native people and—despite the objections of some clans—beheaded. His story wasn’t quite finished yet: In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized the martyred Jogues as a saint.

4. THE ADIRONDACKS DRAW MORE TOURISTS THAN THE GRAND CANYON.

Every year, 5 million people visit Arizona’s greatest natural wonder. By comparison, an estimated 7 to 10 million annually check out the Adirondacks. A single book is credited with turning the mountains into a prime tourism destination. In 1869, Congregationalist minister William Henry Harrison Murray published Adventures in the Wilderness: Camp Life in the Adirondacks. On top of praising its natural beauty, his text pointed out that the wooded wonderland was a mere 33-hour trip away from Boston and New York City.

That summer, thousands of urban tourists—dubbed “Murray’s Fools” by the press—swarmed the area. Over the next few years, the region’s identity would be transformed forever. In less than half a decade, dozens of hotels were built to accommodate these seasonal visitors. Locals began advertising themselves as guides and huge private lodges were built by wealthy, east coast businessmen. To protect the Adirondacks and other protected areas from all this new interest, a provision was added to the New York state constitution saying that the forest preserve area “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.”

5. THE MOUNTAINS ARE GETTING TALLER.

Geologists have found that the Adirondacks are growing in height to the tune of 1.5 to 3 millimeters annually. At this rate, they’re expected to become the tallest mountains in eastern North America within the next million years.

6. AMERICA’S FIRST TUBERCULOSIS RESEARCH LAB WAS BUILT THERE.

The Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium at Saranac Lake, New York was founded in 1884 to both house tuberculosis patients and be a research lab. The facility was the brainchild of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who himself had tuberculosis. The laboratory component of his sanitarium burned down soon afterwards, so he established the Saranac Laboratory to continue his tuberculosis research. The Sanitarium closed down in the mid-1950s, but the Saranac Laboratory lives on as the Trudeau Institute, whose staff are seeking to unlock the mysteries of several different pathogens. By the way, Dr. Trudeau was the great-grandfather of “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

7. JOHN BROWN IS BURIED IN NORTH ELBA.

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Brown is best known for his unsuccessful attempt to kick off an armed slave rebellion by raiding the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia—an insurrection that led to his execution in 1859. The fiery abolitionist was then laid to rest on his North Elba farm. Located in the eastern Adirondacks, Brown’s grave is now part of a New York State Historic Site.

8. THEODORE ROOSEVELT WAS EXPLORING THE ADIRONDACKS WHEN HE LEARNED OF WILLIAM MCKINLEY’S IMMINENT DEATH.

On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was visiting Buffalo, New York when a former steelworker named Leon Czolgosz—who newspapers would later brand as “either a lunatic or an anarchist”—shot him twice with a concealed revolver. At first, it looked like the commander-in-chief would pull through. Upon rushing to his bedside, Vice President Roosevelt was told as much. Relieved, the Bull Moose returned to his family, who were vacationing in the Adirondacks.

On September 12, Roosevelt was hiking up Mt. Marcy when he received an urgent telegram. According to the grave message, McKinley’s condition had gone south. Shortly thereafter, Roosevelt received a second dispatch—one which revealed that the president was dying. TR wasted little time. He took a hired wagon over 35 miles of rugged, mountain terrain before boarding a train to Buffalo, where he was sworn in as the 26th president of the United States.

9. ADIRONDACK PARK IS A UNIQUE MIX OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAND.

At 6 million acres, Adirondack Park rivals Vermont in size—and despite the fact that the park is the largest publicly protected area in the lower 48 states, a full 50 percent of it is privately owned. New York state owns 2.5 million acres-worth, which have been set aside for conservation. Private lands, meanwhile, fall into an array of regulatory categories designed to keep deforestation under control. “We limit development in areas with significant environmental constraints, and we channel growth to areas of the park that can withstand it—where infrastructure is already in place,” says Adirondack Park Agency spokesman Keith McKeever.

10. THE ADIRONDACKS HAVE MORE TOTAL SHORELINE THAN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND VERMONT COMBINED.

If you’re looking for a place to go swimming, you’ll have plenty of options. Within these mountains, there are about 2800 lakes and ponds—in addition to over 31,000 miles of rivers, streams, and brooks.

11. MOUNT MARCY IS THE HIGHEST POINT IN NEW YORK STATE.

Named after former governor William L. Marcy (who authorized the surveying of the tallest Adirondack peaks), it boasts an elevation of 5344 feet. Today, those looking to scale it have four separate trails to choose from.

12. AT LEAST HALF OF NEW YORK’S BLACK BEARS RESIDE THERE.

Environmentalists believe that the Empire State is home to a minimum of 6000 to 8000 black bears—and anywhere from 50 to 60 percent currently reside in the Adirondacks. After the elusive moose, this adaptable ursid represents the area’s second-largest mammal species, with males weighing up to 600 pounds.  

13. AT THE 1932 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES, AN ADIRONDACK ATHLETE WON TWO GOLD MEDALS IN HIS OWN BACKYARD.

A native of Lake Placid, Jack Shea was born on September 7, 1910. Shea wasn't yet 19 when his tiny village beat the odds and was chosen to host the third Winter Olympic games. Then a sophomore enrolled at Dartmouth University, the young speed skating enthusiast couldn’t wait to rush back home and compete—but the school’s administrators weren’t too keen on letting him go at first. “They finally excused me from classes,” Shea told The New York Times, “but they held me responsible for all the work that went on when I was away. So I spent half the time at the Olympics studying and half the time training, but it worked out very well.” Shea earned the 500-meter speed skating gold medal. One day later, he went and won the 1500-meter contest. When Shea returned to Dartmouth, the conquering hero found several hundred people eagerly waiting to greet him. 

14. THE 1980 GAMES WERE A PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION NIGHTMARE.

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Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics one more time in 1980. American fans mainly remember these games for the U.S. men’s hockey team and how it upset the heavily-favored Soviet squad. What’s sometimes forgotten is the transportation fiasco that turned the whole village upside-down.  

Only about 3000 people live in Lake Placid year-round. But when the Olympics returned, the village had to accommodate 50,000. Things really got out of hand once the local bus drivers went on strike. Thousands of fans—including many who had paid top-dollar to see their teams—were suddenly stranded. Huge traffic jams became an almost hourly occurrence. Five days into the games, the situation had become so chaotic that New York Governor Hugh Carey declared a limited state of emergency.

One Italian journalist summed up the snafu thusly: “It is impossible to be at two places at once, but here in Lake Placid, it is impossible to be in one place at once.”

15. ADIRONDACK BEAVERS HAVE MADE A REMARKABLE COMEBACK.

Before 1600, millions of these rodents called northern New York home. But due to over-hunting and Europe’s insatiable desire for pelts, only around 50 remained there in the 1820s. Thankfully, things changed in the 20th century. Reintroduction efforts brought in specimens from nearby Ontario and, by 1924, the Adirondack beaver population had risen to 20,000 individuals. Since then, it’s only gone up, with somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 now paddling through the mountains. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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For the First Time, You Can Spend the Night on New York's Governors Island This Summer
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Soon, you'll be able to camp out on a 172-acre historical island without straying too far from the conveniences of a slightly bigger island: Manhattan.

This summer, visitors will be able to sleep under the stars on Governors Island in New York City's harbor for the first time, Lonely Planet reports. Collective Retreats will offer a glamping package that includes luxury tents, farm-to-table dining, and activities, which may include live music, culinary classes, wellness sessions, thought leadership seminars, or yoga.

Located a 10-minute ferry ride from the southern end of Manhattan, Governors Island served as a military base beginning in 1755, and was used most recently by the United States Coast Guard from 1966 until 1996. That year, it was designated as a historical district, and by 2006, the island had opened to the public as a car-free green space. These days, visitors can wander among 19th-century buildings, lounge in a hammock on a grassy lawn, tour two historical forts, rent bikes, and see public art.

Collective Retreats offers a premium tent starting at $150 per night. Or, you can spring for a luxury tent at $500 per night. That rate gets you a private bath with full-flush toilets and rain-style hot showers, complimentary breakfast and s'mores, and personal concierge services. Plus, your tent is stocked with a supply of filtered water, a mini library of travel and fiction books, Pendleton blankets, a chandelier, and outlets for your tech stuff. On select nights, you can take advantage of discounted rates and book a night in a premium tent for $75.

The glampsite can accommodate about 100 overnight guests total, and stays are available from May to October, when Governors Island closes for the season. To get to the island, all you need to do is catch a ferry from Manhattan or Brooklyn: rides are even free on Saturdays and Sundays until 11:30 a.m.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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