State park proponents work to “leave the community better than you found it”
By Tracy Ormsbee
A wooden sign hangs on a back wall in the lodge at Higley Flow State Park on the Raquette River in Colton, just outside the blue line. “Fuhr Gathering Room,” it says.
The lodge was added to the park in 2014, the product of fundraising, relationships with local suppliers, a helpful park supervisor and cooperation from the regional parks maintenance department. But mostly, it’s there because of Judy and Ed Fuhr, so the sign was added a few years ago with permission from the state, and the Fuhrs were surprised by the gesture from the Friends of Higley Flow State Park.
The Fuhrs don’t care much about taking credit. In fact, they list all the other people who should be recognized instead: Tom French, the first president of the Friends of Higley Flow group; Mary Jane Watson, who wrote the first grant for the lodge; Doug Welch, who kept the records; and Henry Sieg, the park supervisor who made it a reality.
“Without him, none of what’s been done would have happened,” Judy Fuhr says.
What’s happened since the Fuhrs have been involved is 14.5 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, ski rentals, a program to teach Nordic skiing to area schoolchildren, a kid’s ski group and a lodge for families to warm up and grab a bite to eat.
“Once you start something, other people get enthused,” Judy Fuhr says.
The vision was to create a place for people to get warm and change clothes—a small cabin—because the Fuhrs realized families were coming to ski but wouldn’t stay. The project grew a bit in size—big enough for a room with five long tables and bathrooms. It’s already slated to get an expansion to accommodate the use it gets from ski teams from St. Lawrence and Clarkson universities and the community. Judy would like to add a fireplace.
The Fuhrs know how to get things done. They have one of those can-do Adirondack stories of going where the jobs were so they could continue living in the place they love. Ed grew up at his family’s Hollywood Inn and Dude Ranch between Potsdam and Tupper Lake before it was removed and the area flooded over as part of the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Raquette River. Judy grew up in Malone. Both started as teachers, Ed at St. Joseph’s Academy and Judy at the Neighborhood Youth Corps program and then Colton-Pierrepont Central School. Ed went to work for the Adirondack Railway Corp. in 1979 as chief mechanical officer before the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Soon after, Judy joined to work in the dining cars as on-board services officer. They were on the train the night the United States won the medal-round hockey game against the Soviet Union in 1980 and recall celebrations including lots of spilled beer and passengers pulling the brake cord every few miles. Stopping the train like that triggered a mandatory safety inspection each time.
“By law we had to check every wheel of every car,” Ed Fuhr said.
The company’s bankruptcy ended the Fuhrs work with the railway in 1981, but they still speak of the experience fondly and are sad to see trains gone from the Adirondacks.
Ed was offered a job at Montgomery Stone, a quarry in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, and the couple left the area briefly. Graymont Materials took over the company and Judy and Ed were hired to move the equipment to Malone and work at the quarry there, now Upstone Materials. They remained there until they retired—Ed as safety officer and Judy as superintendent.
Ed chaired the St. Lawrence County Environmental Management Council (during disputes about solid waste, he says with a smile) and then the Town of Colton Planning Board. And the couple was involved with the state park.
They like to cross-country ski so they started grooming a few of the trails at the park in the early 1990s using their personal recreation sled before purchasing two grooming sleds. Before then, there wasn’t any grooming of the trails. Soon after, they got others together to create the Friends of Higley flow to raise money for the grooming equipment and, eventually, the lodge. They noticed that people would come to use the trails, but needed a place to get warm, change and use the restroom. So the Fuhrs and some others wrote for a matching grant and in time raised $120,000 toward the lodge.
“We thought we were golden,” Judy said. “Then we got the bids.”
To make the project affordable, the parks department agreed to provide the labor if the Friends purchased the supplies.
Now 100 cars fill the parking lot on a typical weekend day. The Friends purchased rental equipment for a program that teaches school children to ski.
During the winter, the Fuhrs are at the park every day grooming and skiing the trails, except for Sunday, which they take off to add some alpine skiing at Titus Mountain in Malone to their mix. Judy says she is limited in what she does now, after having multiple sclerosis for 27 years. This summer, the Fuhr’s say trail improvements are happening, including a short, easy trail they hope to someday officially make accessible. In other years, the couple also help coordinate a summer bicycle ride and kayak race. Both are in question this year due to COVID-19.
“People who say there’s nothing to do in retirement aren’t involved in life,” Ed Fuhr says. “You’ve got to leave the community better than you found it.”
Favorite Adirondack spot: Cycling over the crest of Norman Ridge Road in the Town of Franklin with the mountain panorama that comes into view.