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Editor's Note: Rex Smith, editor-at-large for the Times Union of Albany and a member of the Adirondack Explorer Board of Directors, is guest writer this week while Mike Lynch takes a vacation. Enjoy his Adirondack story below.

By Rex Smith

For the last two decades, we’ve been visiting the Adirondacks right about now. But the coronavirus pandemic has put some favorite moments out of our reach this year: a daybreak plunge into Upper Saranac Lake, a cast for trout at dusk on the West Branch of the Ausable, a pie (anytime!) at the Noonmark Diner. It’s a gap that reminds me that if I had made a couple of decisions differently over the years, my family could have had an Adirondacks life.


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Back in the early 1990s, when I had just become editor of the daily newspaper in Troy, I got a visit from Dick Beamish, who I had met when I was a reporter covering state government for a downstate newspaper. Dick wanted to talk about his dream of a not-for-profit magazine covering environmental and recreation issues in the Adirondacks. I got a glimpse that day of both Dick’s boundless energy and his determination, so I wasn’t surprised when not long after the first issue of his Adirondack Explorer came into my hands.

We soon set a pattern that would last for 25 years: When he came through the Capital Region, Dick would let my for-profit newspaper buy him lunch and he would ask for my advice on some element of the magazine, or proudly show a new feature, or urge an editorial in my newspaper supporting one of the causes he championed. And there was one other element to our talks: He almost always asked when I would be ready to move to the Adirondacks and go to work with him at the magazine.

My wife and I would often discuss it. She was a city girl who became an upstater after attending St. Lawrence University, and for a while before we were married she even owned a huge “cottage” on Loon Lake in Franklin County. I’m from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I grew up camping and hiking. So we were tempted by Dick’s offer. Maybe we could get another place on a lake for our canoe, with a nearby stream to enjoy our passion for fly fishing. But our daughter was in schools she loved, and we had professional ties to the Capital Region – especially after I became editor of the Times Union, the regional newspaper.

So the best I could do was offer Dick some advice from afar. When he was looking for an editor, I affirmed that a guy who had worked for me, Phil Brown, would surely do a fine job; when Dick later decided to turn over the publisher’s role to someone else, I suggested he look at a competing newspaper’s editor, Tom Woodman, who had a place in the Adirondacks. Phil and Tom, I’m proud to say, were extraordinary in their capable devotion to the Explorer’s mission.

Surely my greatest contribution to the Explorer, though, came when a former colleague, Charlotte Hall, became the Explorer board chair, and asked me if I knew anybody who could replace Tom Woodman, who was then about to retire. I hesitated. Yes, I indeed had a great idea of who should be the next publisher of the Explorer, but the notion was painful: I didn’t want to lose Tracy Ormsbee, a senior editor in my newsroom. The second time Charlotte asked, though, I coughed up Tracy’s name. It might be a perfect fit, I recall saying.

So it seems to be. At a time when publications nationwide are struggling, Tracy’s leadership has enabled the Explorer to gain visibility and greatly expand its journalistic ambitions while setting itself on a course for digital growth. Tracy and editor Brandon Loomis and their team turn out one great issue after another. I’ve joined the Explorer board, so I get to see up close how far the organization has come since the days Dick Beamish shared his dream with me.

Thanks for indulging me this story as I fill in for Mike Lynch this week. I just wanted to tell those of you who are Explorer supporters, and who care as I do about the Adirondacks, how proud I am to have been associated with the Explorer for all these years. But, of course, I can’t wait to set aside my reading and get back into those mountains.

How Dick Beamish made the Adirondack Explorer a reality

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