Adirondack guides: A proud past and a promising future

On June 28, 1891, Adirondack guides gathered in Saranac Lake to form an association to promote and facilitate travel in the Adirondacks, to secure to the public competent and reliable guides for the welfare of tourists and sportsman, to assist in the enforcement of game laws of the State, and to maintain a uniform rate of guides wages. As a result of the meeting, the original Adirondack Guides Association was incorporated. Requirements for membership included being at least 21 years old and an Adirondack resident of at least 15 years, an Adirondack guide with at least three years experience and well equipped, competent and in every way reliable guide. It wasnt until 1919 that New York State began regulating the profession, initially with voluntary registration and beginning in 1924 with enforced, mandatory licensing. According to Adirondack historian, Don Williams, The old-time Adirondack Guide, an endangered species, could kindle a fire, climb a tree, cook a dinner, shoot a deer, hook a trout, or scent an animal quicker than any other man; could get a greenhorn to where he wanted to go, prepare a tasty and nourishing meal along the trail, provide a guideboat for crossing the mountain lakes and construct comfortable sleeping quarters; could enjoy independent solitude as well as entertaining the sports with tales of danger and humor; and knew and loved his Adirondack territory. In modern day terminology, the old, Adirondack guides would be considered naturalist interpreters leading ecotourists on adventure travel expeditions as they ferried sports between the grand hotels and wilderness lodges By the early 1930s the guiding profession was in decline. The advent of the automobile, improved roads, reliable maps, marked trails, declining fish and game stocks and a change in vacation habits combined to spell an end to the storied profession. Though a few guides maintained professional services through the 1940s, the original Adirondack Guides Association was disbanded in 1952. The profession was nearly extinct, except for a few large estates and private clubs. The Ausable Club at St. Huberts is one such time capsule that preserves the profession where it is practiced today just as it was in the 1880s or the 1920s. Even some of the names remain the same as the occupation has been handed down through the generations. Joseph Bernier observed in The Sportsman and his Guide written in 1924, that Guiding at St. Huberts consists of a number of duties of which the following are a few: it is the duty of the guide to get the food ready, tote it along, and be sure that there is enough; row all members of the party to and from wherever they wish to go; act as cook, chambermaid and nurse; bough up the lean-tos; keep the fires burning in the evening and act as a storyteller. The remainder of the time is his own. The guides campfire rekindled
In the late 1970s, a resurgence of interest in guided adventures prompted a need to secure for the public, competent and reliable guides. At the time, the DEC licensing program required individuals to possess little more than $3 and a heartbeat to obtain a license. By 1982, a burgeoning, whitewater rafting industry on the Hudson River pressured the DEC to revisit upgrading the guides licensing program. Guides from Quebec, Ontario, Pennsylvania and Maine were operating for hire on Forest Preserve lands without any state oversight. In May of 1982, the Lake Placid Club Resort, in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Conservation hosted the first convention of New York state guides in over a half century. The meeting gave birth to a new organization, the New York State Outdoor Guides Association which was incorporated on March 15,1983 under the charter of the original Adirondack Guides Association. The guides campfire was rekindled! However, the new organization was no longer limited solely to Adirondack guides. Rather, it brought in charter boat captains from Lake Ontario, off shore anglers from Long Island, turkey hunting guides from the Catskills, rock climbing guides from the Shawangunks and a new breed of others that were leading trips for skiing, ice climbing, eco-tours, bird watching and wilderness skills education programs. The new association worked with the NYSDEC to revamp the guides licensing requirements with categories which now include hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, whitewater activities or rock and ice climbing. Field competencies are required for whitewater and climbing activities. A litmus test for determining if an individual requires a license is quite simple. If leading a guest, for hire on any of New York states lands or waters, a guides license is required. Currently, over 2,000 guides are licensed statewide. Surprisingly, the Adirondacks are no longer their exclusive domain. Though two Adirondack counties (Warren 163 and Essex 152) top the list of licensed guides, Franklin County barely (65) squeaks in at 10th place, behind Oswego, Ulster, Saratoga, Jefferson, Albany, Suffolk and Erie counties. In another welcome twist from tradition, female guides now account for about 15 percent of New York states licensed guides. A profession preserved
The 26th annual Rendezvous of the New York State Outdoor Guides Association is scheduled for the weekend of March 13-16, 2008. It will be hosted at the historic Hulbert House in Booneville, New York. The event will include educational seminars, raffles, a trade show, luncheons and a Saturday evening banquet. Meetings and activities are scheduled to provide guides with an opportunity to share experiences and catch up on the past seasons adventures. For Rendezvous information, please contact Sonny Young at (518)359-8194 or visit the organizations website at www.nysoga.org At the gathering, there will be an opportunity for prospective guides to obtain the necessary training and credentials for licensing, including CPR/First Aid and Basic Water Safety. Additionally, a NYSDEC Guides exam will be administered at the Rendezvous on Saturday, March 15. Prospective guides are advised to contact DEC in advance to reserve a seat at the exam. Guides License exams will also be hosted at NYSDEC Regional Headquarters statewide on April 12, May 31 and September 13, 2008. Please contact the DEC at (518) 402-8838 for further information and registration.

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