August 22, 2013

Editorial: Jefferson's jaunt through the area


---- — As we all know, one of our very strongest tourist pulls is the region’s natural beauty. People from paupers to presidents have marveled at the breathtaking views of our mountains and lakes.

In 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was visiting Isle La Motte when he got word that President McKinley had been shot in Buffalo. Eventually assured the president would recover, he returned to Newcomb with his family and climbed Mount Marcy, where he was delivered a telegram informing him that McKinley had died and he must rush to Washington.

McKinley himself used the Hotel Champlain, now Clinton Community College, as his “summer White House.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt also visited the Adirondacks and gushed over the beauty.

Many of us recall President Gerald Ford coming to Plattsburgh in 1976 to see America’s Olympic team off to the Montreal Games, and President Bill and Hillary Clinton happily strolled the streets of Lake Placid during his incumbency. He proclaimed the qualities of Lake Placid’s Ubu Ale, among other things.

We found out recently, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, that the Adirondacks’ hold on presidents goes back further than we realized. Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson — The Art of Power” notes that the man who would become the third president visited the Adirondacks two centuries ago.

Meacham wrote: “Jefferson liked to fish at home and while away. He had a favorite spot ‘below the old dam’ on the Rivanna, he enjoyed outings on the Schuylkill River when he was in Philadelphia, and he relished a day at Lake George in the Adirondacks on his trip through the north with James Madison in 1791.

“‘An abundance of speckled trout, salmon trout, bass and other fish with which it is stored, have added to our other amusements the sport of taking them,’ Jefferson had written (his daughter) Patsy.”

For some reason, however, which now can only invite speculation, he found his experience with Lake Champlain less rewarding: “He had been as unhappy with Lake Champlain as he had been happy with Lake George, noting that the larger Champlain was ‘a far less pleasant water. It is muddy, turbulent, and yields little game’ – all things Jefferson disliked in fishing as in life,” Meacham wrote.

History — and dozens of national fishing tournaments — have since discounted the great man’s assessment. Muddy, turbulent and yielding little game are qualities we’ve rarely heard associated with the nation’s sixth-largest lake.

Bad press is better than no press at all, they say. In this case, let’s just underscore that the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain have been attracting visitors — the overwhelming majority enthralled — for more than 200 years.

Lake Champlain is a feature worth bragging about — even if Thomas Jefferson couldn’t coax many fish out of it.