Amid fits of sun and rain, words from President Franklin D. Roosevelt bounced back off Whiteface Mountain.
It was 75 years ago Tuesday that Whiteface Memorial Highway was dedicated to American veterans — at first to soldiers of World War I, then 50 years later to veterans of every U.S. war.
"We've seen many wars and conflicts," said Ted Blazer, CEO of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs the popular visitors route winding up the side of Whiteface.
"But this mountain stands steadfast. It is first and foremost a memorial."
Through breaks in a dramatic sky, actor Doug Lansing revisited the president's impromptu dedication speech from 1935.
"What I have seen today in this wonderful drive makes me more enthusiastic about four little words than I ever have been before," he quoted Roosevelt. "Those four little words are these, 'It can be done.'
"Back in those days when we were talking about this tribute, there were 'doubting Thomases' who said: Let us keep the mountains of the Adirondacks for those who seek to get close to nature, who want to climb to the highest peak on foot, who want to camp.'
"It is only a comparatively small proportion of our population that can indulge in the luxury of camping and hiking. A far greater proportion of the population will be served than if this highway had not been built.
"To me, this is one of the finest things that the state of New York has ever done."
Listening to the commemoration from the back of the crowd, Philip K. McKinney, 92, leaned back on his heels and crossed his arms.
He graduated from high school in Lake Placid in 1935 and the next year joined the U.S. Army, serving until 1963.
"This is a Veterans Highway," he said. "I belong to the (American) Legion, and we have a day we come up, we go clear to the top to celebrate it.
"There's not too many of us left," he said of World War II soldiers.
"I think it's wonderful to have this road. A lot of people couldn't get up there any other way."
Wilmington business owner Al Armstrong, who retired from the U.S. Marines after 20 years and is member of the American Legion, called the highway "a true jewel for Wilmington."
The Whiteface Memorial Highway, he said, "is a magnificent reminder of what is best about the United States."
A gathering of about 50 residents and veterans celebrated with Blazer and Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Betsy Lowe.
Lowe heralded the unique ecosystem Whiteface carries through harsh, changing seasons — the important bird areas and alpine meadows.
The weather research station on top has collected the longest continuous records of anywhere in the country, she said.
NO FEDERAL FUNDS
Doug Wolfe, the scientist who runs the Atmospheric Research Station is also one of the primary historians of Whiteface, its Memorial Highway and construction process.
The highway was not built with funding under the New Deal, he said, clearing up a common historic error.
"There was no federal money involved at all."
A group of local people conceived of the highway in 1922 and started to raise funds and search for financial backers.
By 1927, they had obtained 10-year bond notes backed by the New York State Comptroller's Office.
The total project cost $1,250,000, with road construction coming in at under a million dollars at the time, Wolf said.
"The commission proposed the sale of bonds, as the project was a self-effacing type that the tolls charged would pay off the bonds. The snag was no group would buy them, as the land was state-owned and could not be mortgaged."
In 1931, State Controller Morris Tremaine guaranteed backing through a "sinking fund" agreement by the state using Retirement Fund monies.
The Memorial Highway was officially dedicated in September 1935 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org