Flat Rock Camp has perched on the shore of Lake Champlain in Willsboro, N.Y., for more than a century.
WILLSBORO, N.Y.—On a cool, breezy, sunny afternoon, on a rocky outcrop on the shore of Lake Champlain, about 100 people got together to celebrate 50 years of advocacy on behalf of the lake. And one of the guides for their trip down memory lane had been there since the beginning.
The Lake Champlain Committee’s 50th birthday party took place September 14 at Flat Rock Camp in Willsboro, the easternmost of the Adirondack great camps and the only one remaining on Lake Champlain. Augustus Paine began building the camp in 1890, on land that a local farmer had sold him for $500, believing it to be worthless because it couldn’t be tilled. The camp is located in a rare form of natural community called a pitch pine Potsdam sandstone pavement barren, and the buildings appear to have grown organically from the glacier-scoured rock, blending in with the stunted pines and lichens that have somehow found a foothold on the wind- and wave-swept shore.
Pitch pines and hardy lichens line the road into Flat Rock Camp.
Augustus Paine’s grandson, Peter S. Paine Jr., a lawyer and celebrated conservationist, is one of the founding members of the LCC. He’s also a member of the third of six generations of Paine descendants that have been the stewards of this land, which stretches for three miles along Lake Champlain and two more on the Boquet River. The land is now protected with conservation easements via The Nature Conservancy.
The event began with hors d’oeuvres and beverages as the crowd gathered from all over Vermont and upstate New York.
Peter Paine gave a brief history of Flat Rock Camp, and then talked about the history of LCC. He told the members that they were celebrating 50 years of work on behalf of the lake, work based not on being “emotional antis,” but rather on science and constructive dialogue. He described how the committee got its start in response to plans that would have turned Lake Champlain into a major shipping lane, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lawrence River system with the Hudson River corridor.
Other issues addressed by the LCC over the years have included a proposed nuclear power plant, twice the size of Vermont Yankee, that would have been right on the lake in Charlotte, Vt.; the perils of phosphorous pollution; and the clean-up of PCBs and other pollutants from the lake bottom in Cumberland Bay off Plattsburgh, N.Y. Paine asked the members to consider what the Lake Champlain region would be like had no one been there to advocate for the lake, if the lake was now a shipping lane with a nuclear power plant on its shores, and fish that were inedible because of PCBs and other toxins. He concluded that the Lake Champlain basin would be “a poorer place, in the broadest sense of that word.”
He said that LCC could not take full credit for the progress made on these and other issues, but reminded the membership that many of the proposals that now seem self-evidently wrong had been supported, at the time they arose, by powerful interests, commercial and political. And he urged people to keep working, and keep supporting the efforts of LCC on behalf of the lake.
Gary Kjelleren, chair of the LCC board, was the master of ceremonies for the celebration/annual meeting, which also included a presentation by Sharon Murray, LCC treasurer. Her message: the committee will end its fiscal year October 1 in the black, but it’s never too late to make an additional gift!
Lori Fisher talks about the challenges that will face the LCC in the future.
Lori Fisher, the LCC’s executive director, talked about the future of the organization, and the challenges that the next 50 years might hold. She suggested that they would not be as easy to see as nuclear power plants and supertankers. The issues—such as storm-water management, agricultural run-off, nutrient loads, invasive species, and increased public access—have to be tackled at levels ranging from individual action to federal government programs. And she said it will be increasingly important for organizations like LCC to make their collective voice heard. As such, she and staff scientist Mike Winslow are working on lots of different fronts, political, public policy, and using as many forms of outreach as they can imagine to get the word out.
She thanked members of the board and advisory council, and the many volunteers who work on various campaigns, and urged them to keep up the good work. And she helped Kjelleren hand out a Volunteer of the Year Award to Cliff Landesman, instrumental in setting up the LCC Legacy Fund, which aims to bolster the committee’s endowment; and a “lifetime achievement award” to Peter Paine for his 50 years of service to the Lake Champlain Committee.
Dessert followed, served in the dramatic dining room of the main house at Flat Rock Camp, perched on the rocks and so close to the lake that it gives one the feeling of being aboard a ship. Guests were also able to tour the house, which shows off a century’s worth of Paine family souvenirs. (As Peter Paine has said, “If you’re in here, you have the right to put something up—but nothing ever comes down.”) The fare included cookies, pastries and chocolates from volunteers and local vendors, and a tour of the incredible main house.
Visit the LCC website or follow them on Facebook to find out how to get involved with this relatively quiet but truly crucial institution, and to get a sense of how they accomplish so much with a fulltime staff of three—Fisher, Winslow, and office manager Jessica Ross—and relatively limited resources.