The summer sleepaway camps, lodges and campgrounds that draw warm-weather tourists from across the country to tranquil lakes and idyllic Adirondack retreats are no more than a few hours’ drive from the high gray walls of the prison where two murderers escaped last week.
DANNEMORA, N.Y. — The search for two escaped maximum-security prisoners across a swath of New York’s North Country has covered modest, rural terrain: Plodding through marshy meadows and tramping through abandoned houses, the roughly 800 searchers are making their way through an area where small villages interrupt a vast forest and the economy depends on prisons like the Clinton Correctional Facility.
But here and there in the semi-wilderness are tucked pockets of a different landscape: the summer sleepaway camps, lodges and campgrounds that draw warm-weather tourists from across the country to tranquil lakes and idyllic Adirondack retreats — no more than a few hours’ drive from the high gray walls of the prison here.
Nearly two weeks into a manhunt that has knocked Dannemora and its environs off center, however, the summer havens are still a world apart.
At ADK WildHorse Camp, a horseback riding sleepaway camp for girls in Lake Clear, about 40 miles from Dannemora, parents and campers “don’t even realize that Dannemora is so close in the first place, to be honest,” said Natalia DeValinger, a staff member at the camp. “We don’t want to draw attention to it because it’s not worth alerting the parents, to be honest.”
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Somewhat to their surprise, the area’s tourist businesses have found that they have not really been affected, apart from a flurry of worried calls as the manhunt became national news.
“Pretty much everybody has said, ‘You’ve got to get on with your life,’” said Sandy Paben, the manager at the White Pine Camp, a lakeside compound in Paul Smiths, New York, that once served as Calvin Coolidge’s “summer White House.”
There was one cancellation last week, no more than the usual number this time of year, she said. The camp’s 13 cabins have been full ever since.
Several schools have canceled the end-of-year wilderness field trips they planned to make last week or this week to Pok-O-MacCready Camps in Willsboro, New York, taking more than $20,000 of business with them. Even so, no one has yet made any noise about keeping their children out of Pok-O-MacCready’s sleepaway camps this summer — though a handful of flustered parents have called.
Perhaps predictably, a not insignificant percentage of those calls come from New York City.
“One of the more interesting angles is parents from New York City calling who are concerned, when there are probably who knows how many criminals or potential threats in the city, versus up here in camp,” observed Brian DeGroat, Pok-O-MacCready’s executive director.
But with hundreds of searchers swarming through Willsboro, DeGroat is not taking the situation lightly. He has assigned extra staff members to supervise all activities, and is moving hiking routes closer to camp. And he has promised parents that Pok-O-MacCready has an evacuation plan.
But little of the unease across the region seems to be ripening into cancellations.
For the Saranac Village camp, it has been difficult to avoid being associated with the escaped killers: Clinton prison is near a town called Saranac, giving many campers’ parents the false impression that they are sending their children into the center of a major manhunt.
“The first point we want to reassure parents about is that we’re not that Saranac; we’re not next to the prison, and that in fact, there’s some 60 miles of rough terrain in between,” said Terry Swenson, a spokesman for the camp.
Still, they are monitoring everyone who comes onto the grounds, Swenson said, and practicing “extra vigilance.”
Likewise, the owners of Camp Chateaugay in Lyon Mountain, just half an hour from Dannemora, offered a variety of reassurances to the Chateaugay community on Facebook, including the assertion that “because there is so much police and law enforcement presence covering the entire region, the North Country is one of the safest places in North America.”
Around Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and other Adirondack retreats, the lodges and hotels are still enjoying steady business. And out of thousands of campers expected this summer at North Pole Resorts — a campground, inn and cottages in Wilmington — only two or three have canceled, citing the manhunt, said Jim Carmelitano, the owner.
Mostly, proprietors seem to be hoping that if they simply distance themselves from the manhunt, it will eventually pass them by. Several of the summer camps closest to the prison, including Camp Lincoln and Camp Whippoorwill in Keeseville, declined to discuss security with a reporter. Camp Chateaugay, also within about a half-hour’s drive of Dannemora, did not respond to messages.
“I haven’t had any issues,” said Randy, the owner of Relax-N-Reel Fishing Adventures on Lake Champlain.
He refused to give his last name, saying, simply, “There’s too close of an association to the facility.”