When extreme flooding hit the Adirondacks this summer, a community came together behind a prized local resort in the face of adversity. The determination of resilient locals and passionate volunteers are a testament to the strength of those who call the Adirondacks home.
Blue Mountain Lake and the towns surrounding it have endured their share of extreme weather that rocked an otherwise tranquil summer season. On July 11, flooded conditions and copious amounts of rainfall descended upon the central Adirondacks, with several road closures, power outages, damaged homes and businesses, and a shaken summer spirit. Of the businesses affected, Hemlock Hall, a historic lakefront lodge and family resort on the north shore of Blue Mountain Lake, took on severe flooding and damage to the grounds and utilities around the property. For any business, damage via flooding can be devastating, but these conditions are heightened by the lucrative yet short summer season that Adirondack businesses thrive in. With key months of operation being June, July, and August, having to close for more than a few weeks can be detrimental. To survive through each long winter, businesses must shine through the warmer months and attract as many visitors as possible.
In the wake of destruction, Hemlock Hall now had to come face to face with the aftermath during their busiest season. At the time of the flooding, 50 guests were on site, mostly adults with a few teens and one family with young children. To relocate guests to a safer area, the Blue Mountain Lake, Indian Lake, and Speculator Fire Departments evacuated anyone in the cabins by pontoon boat to shore, as Maple Lodge Road leading up to the resort was washed out. Guests were transported to Indian Lake Central School, which was to serve as a Red Cross Rescue Center. Christine Pouch, the Marketing and Events Manager for Indian Lake, has been busy since the flooding took place. When the remaining 12 guests of Hemlock Hall required lodging after the evacuation, Christine was able to recover lodging at Adirondack Lake Cabins in Indian Lake. Because guests were also without their vehicles, still unreachable from the washed-out road, the Town of Indian Lake provided them with a 10-passenger van so they could get supplies and/or go to dinner. After securing the safety of patrons, it was time to assess the damage.
Time to rally
After an event like this, there were endless unanswered questions for Hemlock Hall. What does recovery look like? When and will Hemlock Hall be able to reopen? How extensive is the damage, and where the heck does funding come from? Luckily, locals who’ve been around the block were at the ready. Connie Sahler, owner of Potter’s Resort with her husband Pete Sahler, in Blue Mountain Lake, is no stranger to the challenges of running a business in the Adirondacks.
“I arrived at Hemlock two days after the floods happened. I walked the grounds to see what I could do, I just wanted to give them some help.” Connie said. Like many locals, Connie sprang into action, ready to help their neighbors hit hard by the flooding. After the guests of the resort were safely evacuated, along with any belongings they may have left behind, Connie and Pete came to the aid of Hemlock Hall owners Anthony and Chelsea Provost. “We had to sit with the owners and ask them, what do you need? Can you reopen? And what do you need to reopen?” From there, the group was able to look objectively at what needed to be done.
The volunteers: from near and far
Christine has watched as community support has poured in. “The community response was immediate. People were stopping by my office —Town of Indian Lake Welcome Center — and asking me what they could do to help. Where could they send money? Were there any GoFundMe sites set up? Locals immediately flocked to Hemlock Hall to volunteer with the cleanup.”
On the food front, with all of the provisions for fully prepped breakfasts and family-style dinners unable to be used, the Indian Lake Restaurant purchased food from Hemlock Hall so it wouldn’t go to waste. Down the road, Chef Darrell's Mountain Diner offered free food to flood victims and the various agency workers that came to the area to access and start repairs.
Back at the resort, volunteers started cropping up from every direction. “There was a group of six people who came from a different resort who just started vacuuming and cleaning up the cabins.” Connie said, “People took 3-4 days out of their vacations to come and help Hemlock, two guests camped out on the grounds, just so they could volunteer.”
For many, resorts like Hemlock Hall aren’t just simply vacation destinations, they represent a visitor’s sweet childhood memories on the lake, family outings, campfires all together during a quiet summer night, and spending time with loved ones that they may not see as much as they’d like to. While the memories will never fade, those who visited Hemlock Hall feel now that they owe it to the property and the owners to keep those traditions alive.
Connie has seen this firsthand. “People who had been coming there for twenty years, who were scheduled to come, were excited to volunteer just so they could know their grandchildren would be able to visit in the future, and that Hemlock Hall would still be there.” The incredible response and aid of volunteers has completely changed the trajectory of Hemlock Hall’s future. As she’s kept in contact with the owners, Connie has been able to see just how much the spirits at Hemlock Hall have risen. “They went from putting up a ‘closed for the season’ sign, to now being able to open in two weeks; it really gives you a sense of hope.”
Getting the word out
On top of the immediate reaction to the damage, there was still plenty of work to be done. More volunteers would be needed, and more help from outside the Park was required. That’s where Michelle Bartlett came in. Michelle runs her Facebook and Instagram pages, @lifeinthe.adk which have a combined 130,000 followers, utilizing her following to help these areas in need. Michelle drives all over the Adirondacks and reports back on travel updates, what businesses are opened or closed, and works to push people where they need to go. From a social media page started 9 years ago just to show her life in the mountains, comes the familiar support of Adirondack lovers everywhere. With her following, Michelle has been able to draw in further funding and even potential volunteers, most of whom would have no idea of the devastation in the Adirondacks without their connection online.
The most crucial component in the recovery of Hemlock Hall is of course funding. Christine Pouch has been active on this front, focusing on securing funding for businesses like Hemlock Hall. Hamilton County reached FEMA's $35M in damage threshold, making the region able to apply for funds. While funding will be granted to the region, individual businesses are in need now, if they’d like to keep moving forward for the rest of the season. “We are still waiting to learn if Individual Assistance will be available through FEMA. Unfortunately, Hemlock Hall can't wait. Their work needs to be done now and they need funds now. That's why the Adirondack Foundations' assistance with the SUN Fund is so critical,” said Christine.
The SUN Fund — Adirondack Foundation’s Special and Urgent Needs Fund — is a responsive granting initiative that can assist Adirondack communities and businesses during times of crisis. The funds are especially valuable to organizations needing to address short-term concerns where a relatively small grant can assist with unanticipated gaps in funding. The emergency funds are available for the regions of Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, and Indian Lake to receive aid for flood relief. In the meantime, individual donations continue to be collected, and a GoFundMe page has been put together to help Hemlock Hall with immediate funding needs. There are even t-shirts available for purchase, with the proceeds going to Hemlock Hall. Other donations have been collected all over the community, at a yoga class, at a concert and the farmers market - all to be sent into the SUN fund. “I'm looking forward to learning how many donations came in and how many applications we will begin reviewing on August 2.” Christine said.
The road ahead
Thanks to the concerted efforts of the community surrounding Hemlock Hall, both in and all around the Adirondacks, the resort is able to reopen to its original glory on August 19, 2023, with a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 17. Connie added, “It's been a really good community effort that I've never seen before. It's just people that love the Adirondacks.” The ribbon cutting ceremony is Hemlock Hall’s ‘thank you’ to all of their volunteers and supporters during this time. Connie said their slogan would be “‘Welcome Back Hemlock Hall Family,’ because they serve their food family-style there, everything is about family, every day they ring the dinner bell and everyone comes from their cabins and comes together to share in pass-the-plate-style dining.” When you sit down for dinner, you have the opportunity to meet people you never thought you would, pass stories, and feel united in an appreciation for the Adirondacks and for Hemlock. The owners Anthony and Chelsea work in tandem with their staff of 23 employees, and have completely dedicated their lives to the maintenance and stewardship of Hemlock Hall, and when you visit, you’ll become part of the family too.
See you there
Make sure to stop by for Hemlock Hall’s ribbon cutting ceremony on August 17, 2023, and get to meet all the wonderful faces behind the effort to restore one of the Adirondacks’ best resorts on the water. Even when the waters rise, the determination and hope of those who live in and love the Adirondacks shines through again and again. Learn more about relief efforts, buy some fundraising merch, and donate to their GoFundMe page, as every little bit counts toward securing the future of a great Adirondack tradition.