Guideboats, an original SUV of the Adirondacks

The long, narrow, wooden boat seems to skim just above the waters surface as it surges forward with each pull of the long oars. Utilized throughout the 19th century as a woodsmans tool and wilderness water taxi, this is the craft that helped open the great north woods to travelers over a century ago.

Sitting comfortably in the stern seat, I was cradled by the wooden shell of the boat which reached up to my ribs and offered protection from the elements, as well as a place to rest my arms.

Constructed with quarter inch thick, white pine planking, spruce ribs and cherry gunwales, it had the feel of a refined and delicate instrument, a sort of waterborne violin.

It fit the scene, blending with the wildness of the natural surroundings and harking back to the sporting traditions that have formed its unique heritage. I was smoothly gliding along on an authentic piece of Adirondack history.

In modern terms, the guideboat was an original sport utility vehicle, transporting guests and their sporting gear at a time when waterways functioned as the only highway offering access the interior of the Adirondacks vast wilderness.

Designed to be handled by one man at the oars or on his shoulders over a carry, the boat permitted a guide to transport two guests, all their gear and any fish or game taken along the journey. Constructed of native materials, guideboats first appeared in the Adirondacks in the 1830s and evolved, as form followed function, to create a multipurpose vessel with origins that can be traced to the hunters, trappers and fishermen who designed features specific to their livelihood. Guideboats are indigenous to the park and are as integral to the outdoor tradition as a packbasket or a leanto.

Portability, clearly the most crucial design element, was necessitated by the regions elaborate, web-like network of lakes, rivers and overland carries, where in 1869, W.H.H. Murray claimed, one can travel in a light boat for hundreds of miles in all directions through the forest.

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