Indian Lakers hope Challenge brings economic boost

INDIAN LAKE – It’s a hot, humid and sunny morning on the Chain Lakes Road along the Indian River. A group of whitewater rafting guides are inflating rafts as their customers don their helmets and life jackets.

A few minutes later, a long line of rafts, each carried by a half dozen paddlers, begins to move down a hill from the road to the put in spot on the Indian River, where each team gets some last minute instructions.

This is the starting point for the Adirondack Challenge, a three-day festival starting Saturday that includes whitewater rafting races down the Indian River and canoe and kayak races on Indian Lake. The whitewater races on Sunday and Monday are invitation-only events featuring politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and possibly some other celebrities.

Bob Rafferty, co-owner of the Adirondac Rafting Company, described what the competitors will experience on the river.

“The water is outstanding. It’s a very reliable release of water from the town of Indian Lake,” he said. “It’s outstanding class 3 (rapids) for almost three consecutive miles. They’ll be paddling for roughly 25 to 30 minutes in this event.”

Rafferty said he thinks the event will be a much-needed promotional tool for the area and its rafting industry.

“I think it’s great exposure for the program,” he said. “There’s many New Yorkers that really don’t know what exists up here. That was the governor’s focus, was to enhance tourism and promote the area and some of the secrets we have here.”

Back in the hamlet of Indian Lake, town Supervisor Brian Wells is giving a tour of Byron Park, where the festival will be based on Saturday and Sunday.

As many as 3,000 people are expected here this weekend. That’s more than double the town’s year-round population. People will ride shuttle busses in from parking lots on the edges of town. Most local motel rooms and cottages had already been reserved for the weekend, so some people have had to look for lodging in surrounding towns.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but we’ve had great partners,” Wells said. “Hamilton County, all the towns surrounding us, the school districts, everybody, the chamber of commerce – they’ve all jumped up to help. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Local business owners are just as optimistic. They hope the Adirondack Challenge will provide a shot in the arm for Indian Lake’s economy.

It’s a community that’s had some great success stories like the resurgent Indian Lake Theater, but its downtown also has its share of vacant buildings and empty storefronts – like its grocery store, which has been closed since 2008.

“I think we’re surviving,” said Tim Pine, the owner of the neighboring Pine’s Country Store. “That’s probably the best thing. We’re all in it together. The better everybody does, the better everybody else does ’cause then there’s more money going around and staying in town as opposed to going out of town.”

Pine said it’s too soon to tell if a one-time event like the Adirondack Challenge will provide a sustained economic boost to the community, but it can’t hurt.

“I guess I’m excited for it, to see if we can bring that many people to town so people can see what the town has to offer, and what’s in our backyard – wilderness for miles and tons of things to do here,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll want to bring their other family members and friends back to see it.”

It’s worth noting that while most of the festival’s events are open to the public, the two whitewater rafting races down the Indian River on Sunday and Monday are not. State officials have said the terrain along the river’s shoreline isn’t suitable to large numbers of spectators. Video highlights of the races will be presented during a Sunday awards ceremony in Byron Park.