Building a base lodge

From left, Lee Keet, Annelies Cook, and Tom Boothe watch construction crews erect the new lodge at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center.

Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of Adirondack economies. Cross-country skiing, hiking, and more recently, mountain biking and trail running, are North Country traditions, sources of economic vitality and quality of life. Saranac Lake’s Dewey Mountain Recreation Center helps keep this tradition alive, while also producing Olympians like Bill Demong, Tim Burke, and Annelies Cook.

This year, with help from several funds at Adirondack Foundation, Dewey Mountain Friends — a volunteer group that supports the recreation center — successfully raised over $350,000 for the construction of a new base lodge for Dewey’s 22-kilometer year-round trail system.

“The old structure simply could not accommodate the numbers of users we have these days,” says Tom Boothe of Saranac Lake, a member of Dewey Mountain Friends board. The project began in 2008 as a grassroots labor of love. Boothe, a civil engineer, has managed the design of the new lodge. Meanwhile, fellow Dewey Mountain Friends board member Mary Thill spearheaded the fundraising to make it all possible.

“The town board and staff have been involved in the lodge project every step of the way,” Thill says, “but the board also made it clear that they could not pay for a new building without exceeding New York State’s two percent tax cap.”

So Dewey Mountain Friends got to work. They set up donation jars at local businesses, hosted events, and sent letters to households in the community. Discounted construction materials and volunteer labor were pledged by local contractors and lumber yards.

“Over 550 different households made contributions — that’s astonishing,” Thill says. “A 6-year-old even donated his piggy bank.” Yet, after four years, they had raised less than half of what was needed.

“We reached out to Adirondack Foundation in 2012, and they helped us strategize how to get from $100,000 dollars to a turnkey lodge,” Thill recalls. “Dewey Mountain Friends also attended two of Adirondack Foundation’s Nonprofit Leadership Seminars for small nonprofits, which were right on target for our needs. They helped us become an effective team.”

“We clearly needed a catalyst,” says Boothe. He approached philanthropic community members Lee and Nancy Keet, offering to make a big donation to the project if the Keets would match it. The Keets agreed, and suddenly the campaign had surpassed $300,000.

With the finish line in sight, the Arquit Family Fund at Adirondack Foundation awarded two large grants to the project, bringing the total to over $350,000.

“I was attracted to the project because it is the definition of a real grassroots effort,” says Kevin Arquit. “It involved real people working on a real project that will achieve real results.  The group knew what they wanted to achieve and weren’t distracted by the types of preliminary steps so often seen in the world of fundraising today.”