Development plan stirs passion, memories in Adirondacks 'We can't survive up here on tourists,' one resident says

March 28, 1997|By ALBANY TIMES UNION

LONG LAKE, N.Y. - The water in Little Tupper Lake is clear as gin, the spot isolated except for pairs of loons. It is the largest lake owned by a single person in all of New York. And it is for sale.

Long Lake Hotel owner Art Young recalls fishing Little Tupper in the early 1980s, catching several 20- and 22-inch brook trout prized as a rare, genetically undiluted strain.

"It's so pure and beautiful back in there, it's amazing," said Young, pouring draft beer for patrons at his bar. "But 'forever wild's' a crock. We can't survive up here on tourists two months in the summer. We need year-round development and snowmobilers during the winter, or we're dead."

Young's sentiment is echoed by many throughout the Adirondacks, particularly those who expect to gain if socialite Marylou Whitney is permitted to develop her family's 2,300-acre Little Tupper Lake - along with a sprinkling of seven wilderness ponds and 15,000 acres of pristine mountainous land, roughly the size of Manhattan.

$60 million project

Whitney and her fiance, John Hendrickson, have proposed a $60 million project, calling for construction of a luxury hotel and 40 great camps (26 of them fronting Little Tupper Lake). Lots would average 300 acres and sell for $1.5 million apiece.

"They'll be the most exclusive in the Northeast - the most beautiful camps in the Northeast," Hendrickson said in January when he announced the project.

Since then, Hendrickson has boasted that he has fielded inquiries from dozens of prospective buyers, including celebrities declined to name. (He and Whitney declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Hendrickson has been talking plenty with the Adirondack Park Agency, which has zoning authority on the development project. The town of Long Lake - covering 448 square miles, including Little Tupper Lake, Raquette Lake and numerous lakes and ponds amid tens of thousands of rugged acres, 42 percent of which is owned by the state and 10 percent by the Whitneys - does not have any zoning regulations.

Hendrickson touts a potential revival of the turn-of-the-century opulent great camps. In his 1990s vision, those luxurious outposts would be home to Hollywood stars instead of industrialists, to wealthy people more likely to be known by their company affiliations than an old-money blueblood surname.

Home to celebrities

Already, the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park is home to a handful of celebrities and some of the super-rich, who seem to be discovering the mountains quietly, and on their own, and who guard their privacy.

Country singer superstar Shania Twain has a recording studio and mansion-in-the-making within a 3,000-acre compound near Saint Regis Falls. Brooke Shields has a camp on Chazy Lake, near Dannemora, which is best known as home of a maximum-security state prison. The late Kate Smith was a regular visitor to Lake Placid for many summers.

A century ago, the Adirondacks attracted the leading industrialists of the age. The Rockefellers, Whitneys, Durants, Vanderbilts, Morgans, Posts and DuPonts came with the goal of re-creating their extravagant Fifth Avenue and Central Park lifestyles deep in the Adirondack wilderness.They built estates in the Adirondack architectural style: rustic mansions with gabled roofs, broad porches, rough-hewn beams and massive fieldstone fireplaces complemented by lavish boathouses, extravagant guest cabins and caretaker cottages.

The industrialists were celebrities of their day and traveled with entourages by private luxury rail car, often arriving in black tie to great camps fully staffed with servants and chefs. They dined on succulent oysters and thick steaks washed down by the finest French champagne, at camps they christened Uncas, Sagamore, Kill Kare, Pine Knot, Topridge, Wonundra and Deerlands.

"The Adirondack Park has been a playground for the rich and famous for over a century, but that's missing the point," said John Sheehan, the Adirondack Council spokesman. The 18,000-member group is trying to persuade the state to buy the land and preserve it as wilderness.

"We're convinced Long Lake would be better off in the long run economically by keeping it forever wild," Sheehan said.

The thought of turning sleepy Long Lake into a Malibu of the North has some salivating.

"You bring 40 multimillionaires into town and it can't have anything but a positive impact," said Bob Gibson, a town employee and director of parks and recreation for Long Lake. "We've got a few celebrities now and we don't make a big fuss over them. It's not like they've changed the character of Long Lake."

Descendants of the DuPont family still have a property on Long Lake, and the Whitneys are town residents, retaining a faded version of the cachet of the Gilded Age industrialists.

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