Community rallies to repair ruts to iconic landmark
By Tim Rowland
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 75 people — young and old, from near and far — gathered at Marcy Field in Keene Monday to meet up with old acquaintances and make new friends, to do some business networking and some amateur sleuthing, to swap recipes, gossip and stories and get a little exercise on a temperate summer morning.
They were also there to help repair the iconic airstrip, which was shredded by tire spinning vandals last weekend, but by the time lunch was served, that seemed largely beside the point. This was a community get-well card, a show of goodwill and support that transcended shoveling soil and stomping sod.
As he raked topsoil into the ruts, Keene Historian Tony Goodwin talked of the nearly century-old landing strip, once the playground of Dr. Alphonso Goff, a lover of fast cars and faster planes, who in the 1930s would fly letters from Marcy Field to Lake Placid so he could brag that the Adirondacks had air mail. When a trooper pulled him over for speeding and sarcastically asked to see his pilot’s license, Goff cheerfully obliged.
Some stories were created on the spot. Leanne Matos was using her late father’s rake — then it snapped. She lost her dad not so long ago at the age of 92, but he’d have been proud that the rake died for such a worthy cause, she said.
Matos works at the Keene Stewart’s three days a week and was on duty last Saturday when word began trickling in that something awful had happened at Marcy Field. Although she lives in Wilmington, Matos sees the Keene-Wilmington/Jay-Lake Placid triangle as one united community, and knew she’d be pitching in when the time arrived. “There are a lot of good community members here, and they all work hard together,” she said.
People came from outside the area too, including members of Champlain Area Trails, the Adirondack Mountain Club and at least one maritime meteorologist — Donald Bullen, who lives in Queensbury, but doesn’t need much of an excuse to head north to his much-loved mountains and trout streams.
Bullen said he decided to lend a hand when he heard James Appleton mention the volunteer effort on his 46 of 46 podcast. “I had the day off, so I decided to come up,” this is an iconic field; it’s absolutely sad and ridiculous that someone would do this.”
Volunteers ruminated on the motive, and the possibility that the perpetrator(s) will be brought to justice. Maybe, they thought, someone would provide an anonymous tip to the town, or the scofflaw would (not entirely out of the question these days) post a grinning selfie of the damage on social media.
Most seemed to be in a moderately forgiving mode. Older male helpers recalled poor decisions made when they were 16. Others hoped the perp, like the Grinch, might see the outpouring of love and come to a greater understanding of community support.
“We all love this place, and we help each other out,” said Mimi McGivney Woltner of Keene. “I hope the person who did this will understand what’s happening here and learn from it.”
Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said the town’s insurance did not cover the damage, but numerous people and businesses have stepped up to help. Contractors, roofing and carpentry crews took time off their jobs to participate.
So did Bob Rose, the unofficial assistant airport supervisor, who keeps a canary yellow 1949 Piper Clipper at the landing strip, and drives up from Cazenovia to fly. When he heard the news, “I was sick,” he said. The ruts in places are “deep enough to knock the hell out of an airplane” in spots he said, at the part of the strip where a small craft might be going 60 miles an hour. “But the support has been unbelievable,” he said. “People just showed up here today by word of mouth.”
Along with a landing strip, the vast meadow with its mountainous backdrop is a popular event center and home to a weekly farmers market. Wilson said it’s unclear when the runway will reopen.