Winter 2015 Cover Story: Snowmobiling

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Text by Lorna Oppedisano | Photos by Lauren Harrienger

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For many, snowmobile culture is a way of life to beat the blues during long north country winters.

The dead of winter has the north country in its grips. Everything on the ground is some shade of gray or white. Any sign of life, save the occasional far-off bird call, has left the area. A bright, glaring sun shines down from the clear blue sky, a meek attempt at melting the heaps of snow, feet high in areas. But it’s no use. The burning ball in the sky is not a match for the crisp, almost biting, freezing winter air. It’ll be months before Northern New York breathes a gasp of warm, balmy air.

The conditions are perfect.

A machine roars to life in the distance. And then another. And another. Before long, a fleet of iron sleds races into view, caravanning across the gleaming paths carved into the snow, moving at speeds rivaling those of cars on a nearby county road. Perched atop the machines, the riders lean into the twists and turns of the trail. Each traveler is decked out from head to toe in layers of impenetrable snow gear. The sleds race in single file, and then, as suddenly as they appeared, they’re gone around the next bend, on to their destination.

Welcome to snowmobile season.


[Read more…]

Winter 2015 Feature: An adventure for a non-thrill-seeker

Writer, Lorna Oppedisano

Writer, Lorna Oppedisano

Thrills are not my forte. Adrenaline usually just makes me dizzy. I bit the bullet once and tried a rollercoaster; I can safely say that I never want to be upside-down again in my life. I’m a legs-planted-firmly-on-the-ground type of woman.

A little more than a month ago, my editor mentioned the idea of ‘beat the winter blues’ as the cover story topic. Would I write it? Of course. Would I investigate the culture of snowmobiling? Definitely. Would I get on the back of a snowmobile for the first-hand, in-depth perspective? Gulp… sure. [Read more…]

Customize your snow machine

Investments in gear, equipment can be costly, but worth it

By Lorna Oppedisano

Josh Roes, D&D Racing mechanic, works on a custom-built Arctic Cat XC 1100 turbo, turning it from a 177-horsepower sled to a 600-horsepower drag-racing sled, able to reach 140 mph in 500 feet. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Living.

Josh Roes, D&D Racing mechanic, works on a custom-built Arctic Cat XC 1100 turbo, turning it from a 177-horsepower sled to a 600-horsepower drag-racing sled, able to reach 140 mph in 500 feet. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Living.

Snowmobiling is a beautiful sport. It’s a fun sport. It’s a cold sport. It can be a dangerous sport. [Read more…]

Jump in the car & day trip

A view of Skaneateles Lake. Photo courtesy

A view of Skaneateles Lake. Photo courtesy

Beat the winter blues with 10 Empire State destinations each within a reasonable trek of the north country [Read more…]

Country star Alan Jackson donates 1955 Flat Top to Antique Boat Museum

The Chris-Craft vessel donated by Alan Jackson to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton is seen just before its transport from its storage facility in Tennessee to the north country last week. Courtesy Antique Boat Museum

The Chris-Craft vessel donated by Alan Jackson to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton is seen just before its transport from its storage facility in Tennessee to the north country last week. Courtesy Antique Boat Museum

CLAYTON — The visit country star Alan Jackson made in 2009 to the Antique Boat Museum must have pulled on his heartstrings. He has donated a 1955, 29-foot Chris-Craft semi-enclosed boat to the museum’s collection.

The boat, Flat Top, named after the type of steel-string guitar commonly used by Mr. Jackson, is one of 36 of the model ever built by Chris-Craft. Flat Top is the only one of its kind that has been restored to original condition.

“The museum is grateful for Mr. Jackson’s gift of this remarkable boat,” museum watercraft curator Emmett Smith said. “Boating and country music are both important parts of the American lifestyle, and Mr. Jackson is clearly someone who loves the history of both.”

Flat Top was used and stored on Lake Chautauqua in Western New York by its original owner. In 2002, Mr. Jackson purchased the boat in poor condition and transported it to Tennessee to undergo extensive restoration work at Hickman Boat Works. Under the craftsmanship of Travis Hickman, Flat Top was revived through a nearly three-year restoration project.

A museum official said Flat Top features pristine woodwork and artistry, retains its original look and is considered to be boat-show quality. The six-cylinder boat with a maximum speed of 35 mph is made of mahogany, with white oak framing and decking. It has an oak keel.

Michael J. Folsom, the museum’s director of marketing and communications, said the boat holds a significant monetary value, but that figure is confidential.

“However, once a piece becomes a part of our collection, we recognize it as priceless,” he said.

Mr. Jackson has been a longtime wooden boat enthusiast and has a good relationship with the Antique Boat Museum. In 2009, he made a trip to Clayton for the museum’s annual antique boat show and auction, through ties with local boat broker Peter Mellon of Antique Boat America, which has listed a number of Mr. Jackson’s boats for sale over the years.

In 2009, Mr. Jackson provided five antique boats to be auctioned. During his time in the Thousand Islands region that year, he also cruised with friends aboard his yacht Neon Rainbow, which was docked at the museum.

Flat Top arrived in Clayton last weekend and will remain in storage through the winter. The boat is expected to be available for viewing “in some form” during the museum’s 2014 season. Details and information will be available before the museum’s May 2 reopening.

Mr. Jackson is one of the few top country artists who write most of their own material. Among his hits are “Chattahoochee,” “Livin’ on Love,” “Murder on Music Row,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” “Little Bitty,” “Drive,” “Remember When” and “Where I Come From.”

He performed in Watertown in 2010 as part of the DPAO/Toyota Summer Concert Series. His latest record is “The Bluegrass Album.”

-Chris Brock, Watertown Daily Times

Preserving a treasured place: Grindstone Island fills many hearts on the St. Lawrence River

Barns dot the rural landscape of Grindstone Island. Photo by Leah Buletti / NNY Living

Grindstone Island is a place that seems to straddle two worlds, stuck somewhere between a simple agricultural past in which children attended a one-room schoolhouse and the sole town consisted only of a post office, store and church and a modern world where summer residents occupy well-manicured farm houses and 300 eager boaters flood Potter’s Beach on a typical summer Sunday.

Driving through Grindstone’s bucolic countryside — 15-square-miles of forests, wetlands and farms interspersed with about 130 homesteads — on an ATV, the contrast is apparent, history peeking out from every orifice. The island has a private air strip, but no cars, and hard-packed, well-maintained dirt roads alternate with winding trails in various states of overgrown. But lining the road that leads up from the island’s only public dock are about 15 rusting trucks and cars, slowly becoming part of the landscape, used by some in colder times when the St. Lawrence River freezes enough make the 1.27 miles to Clayton passable. [Read more…]

A taste of the river

Clayton F. “Muskie Ferg Jr.” Ferguson of Ferguson Fishing Charters, Clayton, with his 1951 mahogany-plank Chris-Craft, is a longtime river guide who puts on shore dinners. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ NNY Living

Shore dinners a north country food tradition like no other [Read more…]

Lowville native returns to share passion, talent for tango: Tug Hill Vineyards hosts vibrant evening of dancing lessons

Lowville native Travis Widrick, right, a former high school football star turned tango instructor, returned to his hometown for a night of tango at Tug Hill Vineyards with partner Tiniko Natsvlichvili, of Ottawa. Leah Buletti/ NNY Living

At first glance, it’s a seemingly startling transformation: high school football star raised on a dairy farm in Lowville turned tango instructor.

But for Travis Widrick, who graduated from Lowville Academy and Central School in 1997 before going on to Hobart College in Geneva to study English, where he first started dancing 10 years ago, it was a relatively natural shift. Tango, the erotic and glamorous dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in fact isn’t so different from the movement of a football player, Mr. Widrick says.

“I certainly never saw myself dancing,” Mr. Widrick told a group of about 10 couples at Tug Hill Vineyard’s first tango and wine night on Friday, July 19. “Tango chose me.”

“The movement is really similar to football if you slow down,” he added as he demonstrated slow footwork reminiscent of football drills that indeed looked similar to the movement of tango dancers’ feet. “The basis of Argentinian tango is walking—just being comfortable doing that and nothing more.” [Read more…]

Jefferson County Fair opens Tuesday

Rob Hayhurst, Syracuse, and Anja C. Donoghue, Watertown, ride the Skyflyer at last year’s Jefferson County Fair. The fair gates open on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ Watertown Daily Times

The country’s longest-running fair will celebrate 196 years of entertainment this week.

The Jefferson County Fair will run from Tuesday through Sunday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, dazzling visitors with bear tricks, agriculture shows and gravity-defying rides.

“It’s tradition,” fair President Richard D. Simpson said. “It’s something you can’t get anywhere else. You can go to a theme park that has thrilly rides, but you can come here for a fraction of the cost.”

This year’s big show is Hall’s Bear Mountain Wildlife Show, which will run three times almost every day.

“Last year we had tigers,” Mr. Simpson said. “This year, we had bears.”

And although the fair rarely does the same show two years in a row, the Disc-Connected K9s, a troupe of acrobatic, frisbee-loving dogs, will return.

“These guys were really well-received last year,” Mr. Simpson said.

The fair attracted 51,380 people last year despite sweltering temperatures. Mr. Simpson said he will be happy if at least 50,000 people show up this year.

“If it’s too hot, that’s not good, but if it’s too rainy it’s awful,” he said.

The most popular rides in recent years, such as the Super Himalaya, Sky Flyer and Wild Claw, will be back this year.

Thrown into the mix are kid-friendly rides such as the merry-go-round and ferris wheel. Not counting the multiple funhouses, there will be 18 rides from which to choose.

Mr. Simpson reminds visitors that the fair is not just fun and games. Traditionally, livestock has been a central part of it.

“We have over 150 cows this year,” he said.

Other shows throughout the week will judge sheep, ducks, pigs, rabbits and many other farm animals raised throughout the north country.

“We have a bigger llama show than we have in years,” fair Manager Martha A. Petrie said.

Parking is available at Jefferson Community College’s Lot D. The price of admission is free Tuesday, $5 Wednesday through Saturday and $4 on Sunday. A wristband for the rides is $21. Also, there is free admission Friday, Military Appreciation Day, for those with military identification.

A Mega Pass, which Mr. Simpson said is the best deal for bargain-hunters, includes fair admission and a wristband for a day, and costs $20 before the fair opens and $24 after it begins.

“I feel really good about this year’s fair,” Mr. Simpson said.

-Reena Singh, Watertown Daily Times

Stand up and paddle

SUP Sackets Harbor co-owners Justin and Jamie McGiver instruct staff members of the Hops Spot, Sackets Harbor, in stand-up paddleboarding, a new sport catching on in the north country. Photo by Justin Sorenson/ NNY Living

New paddleboard sport gains momentum in north country [Read more…]