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Old Forge…A People, A Culture, A Destination

Adirondack Scenic Railroad Tracks, Old Forge, NY
Jeanette Lenoir, WIBX

Old Forge, NY (WIBX) - We planned a weekend trip to Old Forge, NY. It wasn’t our first trek to the area, but this time the trip was strategically planned and executed. We recruited the best possible guide to tour the beautiful Hamlet; Tourism Director, Mike Farmer. The goal was simple—get to know the area beyond the obvious.

We left Utica for the hour drive North on Route 12. The drive is lovely. You feel nature’s embrace through every windy, hilly road you take all the way to, and through Old Forge. And, the recreational options are endless. Most people who travel to Old Forge have a natural appreciation for the outdoors. There are many recreational sporting good stores to entice anyone to rent a kayak, canoe, mountain bike or ski’s to take part in all that Old Forge has to over–you can even go horseback riding in the mountains! Those looking for something less strenuous yet adventurous can go to the state’s biggest and historic water park, Enchanted Forest or pay a visit to the areas new Art and Science Center, View. There’s also the Strand Theatre, a historic movie theater built in the early 1900s. One interesting fact about the Strand is that it also serves as a mini museum thanks to the current owners love of movies. I recommend a tour through the place to see just about anything associated with the film industry. What an unexpected treat it was to see all the antique cameras of all makes and sizes.

Old Forge is small, but it’s the liveliest little place I’ve been to in the area. No where else but maybe Europe, can one be in bumper to bumper traffic along the main strip on a two-lane road in a picturesque town with happy people. The area is well known as a top notch tourist attraction. Its Ambassador—Farmer, a native son who lived in Colorado for 25 years, including in many other parts of the world, before moving back home knows the area very well. The mountains and trails served as his playground as a youngster. All of Old Forge is known to its Ambassador. I challenge anyone to test his knowledge of just about every structure, road, trail, lake or pond. The man knows Old Forge and best of all, he loves it. Farmer’s knowledge and sincere appreciation of the place made our trip there worthwhile.

Farmer enlightened us on the history of Old Forge but the most impactful thing he did was to introduce us to its people and culture. As I mark this destination as part of our 2011 WIBX Travel Series, I also encourage anyone to go beyond visiting Old Forge, but rather to experience all that it has to offer and not only through recreational events, but through its people. Take a trip down some of the side streets. You’ll see the people that call the place home. They may not be part of the tourist attraction along the main strip, which are lovely and relevant too, but they play a vital role in keeping the area forever green and accessible all year round.

One example to highlight the culture I experienced was through Nanette. The Yoga Instructor and Mountain Man employee starts her day with Yoga lessons with those who sign up to join her. If you plan to spend the weekend, I recommend you look her up. She completes her program with a short kayak trip in the Moose River, which sits behind her as she conducts her class for those looking for an added bonus. The other thing we discovered at the same location is a bike riding club that meets for rides at the crack of dawn before the rest of the population begins to stir. And, these are just two options of what Old Forge has to offer.

There’s even an early morning train to Carter Station for people who want to explore some of the mountain biking trails. Along the path you’ll run across a small airport nestled between the many lakes, ponds and streams you’ll come across. It’s a working airport that can only accommodate small airplanes. Did you know you can camp just about anywhere along the trail to Carter Station at no charge? The more than 800 acre of land is owned by the state, which allows its use for recreational activities, including camping. Officials don’t advertise this option in an effort to avoid competing with local businesses who rent out camping spots. Although the area is very well kept, families, especially those with young children may find that renting a designated area for this type of activity is the more convenient option. Biking to Carter Station—usually a 30 minute trip on the train—you can see remnants of “wild” camping activities. Another thing we learned is that the trails are meticulously maintained throughout the year to also ensure a successful winter season—a very popular time in Old Forge.

One aspect of biking in Old Forge is that you really get to see different parts of the area. Who knew there was a beach area right in front of the Visitor Information Center? It seems so out of place, but a lovely and welcome addition to my knowledge of what the area has to offer. Also, going around on a bike you see the people who call Old Forge home. From the local library to the elementary school to seeing the hill kids used to slide down on before officials put a stop to it due to safety concerns. This is Old Forge.

View, the new state-of-the-art Art and Science Center complete with green innovative technology is certainly something to see. The $4 million structure was made possible thanks to the life long dedication to the Arts of its founder, Mernie Kashiwa. Kashiwa started displaying her art work many years ago using chicken wire in her front lawn for all to see. Kashiwa who is in her 80s represents the epitome of Old Forge culture. Her selfless work to maintain a cultural representation of the area is far reaching. Who she is and what she represents is forever embodied in View, and the people of Old Forge are better because of it. The new Art and Science Center is spectacular. At face value, one can say its modern, classic with an adequately simple feel to it. The water color exhibit was absolutely beautiful. And, hearing about the different events and activities it can accommodate for its residents and visitors from across the globe, makes one appreciate its significance. Having the opportunity to hear directly from Kashiwa about its birth and place in Old Forge put it all in perspective.

I have to admit, I’m not a big amusement park visitor. Mainly because I’m afraid of the rides. But having the opportunity to hear the history of the state’s largest amusement water park changed my views. Enchanted Forest is the most organic and green water park I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Being there made me feel like I was part of an old Disney movie. The place was peaceful despite the relatively large crowd. Maybe part of the reason has to do with all the greenery. Usually amusement parks sit in large parking lots where visitors have a consistent connection to the sun, whether they like it or not, but at Enchanted Forest you won’t have a problem finding a nice shady place to take in all it has to offer. I love Enchanted Forest! I also found the most beautiful princess carriage there that I quickly learned is popular with women of all ages.

Of course I can’t leave you without talking about all the great food. Throughout the weekend we ate at two different places along the main strip dotted with businesses and other tourist attractions. The food in Old Forge has never disappointed me. You may have to wait for a table at some of the larger breakfast places but there are plenty of choices to satisfy any taste bud. There are many aspects of Old Forge that I sincerely enjoyed, but taking the time to immerse myself in the culture, I learned that its more than what you may find along the busy main road.

I learned that there are many hard working people there who call it home and work tirelessly to keep it lovely for those who come in for brief moments. I learned that kindness, laughter and sense of community is abundant in that little Hamlet. I learned that despite its small size, it’s importance and significance is wide and far reaching. I learned that despite a tough economy, the people there enjoy and appreciate what they have when they wake up to beautiful mountains in the distance and their relationship with nature. I learned that there is a great respect for the areas wildlife and a desire to cohabitate with them respectively. I also learned that there is a firm and long standing understanding passed down from generation to generation that despite its growth and inevitable development, Old Forge and the Adirondacks will remain forever wild. I know that I barely touched the service when talking about this little big spot in a corner of the world, but that’s why I’ll keep going back to visit. Old Forge is without a doubt one of my favorite travel destinations in New York. For me, it was a glimpse into a sort of preserved American culture many will unfortunately never get to experience. If you do get to visit, make sure to take in the tourist sites and enjoy the recreational activities, but don’t drive or fly away without getting to know some of the people who call Old Forge home…the experience will enrich your life.

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