Adirondack Carousel Board President Martin Rowley, right, smiles with new board member Sandy Campbell at the carousel on Monday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)
SARANAC LAKE — The Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake is Martin Rowley’s “happy place.” It’s a uniquely Adirondack attraction that came together through the community, he said, and he’s been along for most of the ride. Now, he’s hoping to revive that community support to pull the nonprofit carousel through tough times after ridership and revenue plummeted this summer, another financial blow in a string of bad luck that has left the carousel “hurt.” Adjustable Harp
The inside of the carousel building, which sits in the heart of William Morris Park on Bloomingdale Avenue, reflects the community effort it took to build each cog in the merry-go-round machine. Where twinkly lights and mirrors usually hang above a carousel, the Adirondack Carousel boasts paintings of local scenes by local artists. Hand-carved, donated Adirondack animals, named by local students, curve around the carousel where horses would normally stand. Donation plaques engraved with the names of community members past and present adorn the building’s walls — even the ceiling fan has a credited donor. Even the pathway that led up to the carousel from the street was cobbled with bricks engraved with the names of various carousel donors. But in July, that brick pathway was ripped up when the village started construction in William Morris Park as part of its $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative project. Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski told the Enterprise in July that the brick paver walkway with donors’ names will be saved and re-installed. And while the interior of the carousel building remained the same, families weren’t walking through the doors like they used to.
Rowley, who’s the new president of the Carousel Board, said that the Adirondack Carousel signs, flag and gazebo were also removed when the DRI project started. Rowley still remembers the day: July 6, peak carousel season. A few days later, Rowley said, construction crews stopped work for around two months, leaving the park dislodged and the carousel unmarked.
“People thought we were closed,” Rowley said.
In the two months after the DRI project started, Rowley said that carousel ridership and revenue dropped around 40% compared to the same period in 2021; he didn’t provide specific figures for the drop. Rowley found the financial hit ironic, considering the meaning of the “R” in DRI.
“We got unvitalized, if that’s a term,” he said. “But it certainly hurt us.”
This wasn’t the first blow to the carousel’s revenue and ridership in recent years, Rowley said. The carousel, which backs up to the old Adirondack Railroad tracks, took a similar financial hit when the rail bikes stopped riding through Saranac Lake. And when the now-10-year-old carousel needed maintenance last year, the carousel was closed for three months as made-to-order parts were sourced through a fraught material supply chain. Most of the carousel’s revenue comes from riders.
“We keep getting dealt these almost death blows,” Rowley said.
Rowley approached the village board about the carousel’s ridership and the state of William Morris Park in October, saying he’d tried contacting village Mayor Jimmy Williams to help the carousel out, but he never got a response. Village Manager Erik Stender said that construction crews had paused work as the village waited on a state Department of Transportation permit to complete the work, and Williams apologized for not responding to Rowley. Rowley said on Monday that he didn’t fault the village board for the disruption in the park, though — most of the current board inherited the DRI project, which was awarded to the village in 2018. Rowley just wished construction crews had the proper permits to finish the project when they started it. One week after Rowley spoke at the board meeting, he said construction crews started installing a new walkway leading from the street to the carousel. But the carousel still needs help, Rowley said.
The carousel doesn’t just need riders, Rowley said — it needs volunteers and part-time employees, too.
“We came from the community, so now we’re asking for the community’s help once again to help us get through,” Sandy Campbell, who’s new to the Carousel Board, said Monday.
The Carousel Board is also considering starting up a capital campaign in anticipation of the new Tupper Lake to Lake Placid leg of the Adirondack Rail Trail, which is expected to open in fall 2023. Rowley said the board wants to build up the rear entrance of the carousel building to welcome hikers, bikers and other recreationists to stop in for a loop around the whirligig. That’ll take the help of volunteers and donations.
People can support the carousel in a lot of ways, Rowley said — by purchasing a membership, purchasing individual rides for others or making tax-deductible donations to the nonprofit carousel. The carousel has a gift shop, and it’s also available for events and birthday parties for people of all ages.
The Adirondack Carousel originated as a community project. Karen Loffler was a college student when she came up with the idea for a carousel made entirely with Adirondack animals as part of a school project. But when a volunteer board formed around the idea, the project took off. The Carousel Board and volunteers worked through more than 10 years of fundraising, seeking permissions from the village board and building to finally open the carousel doors in May 2012.
“If it wasn’t for the community, this would not exist,” Campbell said.
Rowley knows the value of volunteering for the carousel — he was there when the village broke ground on the carousel, and he was there for the “joyous day” when more than 50 volunteers showed up to help install the 4,000-pound carousel. He spent his career teaching in Long Island, and when he moved to Saranac Lake around 20 years ago, he wanted to become a full-time volunteer. The carousel has helped to make that dream come true. He was the carousel’s first ride operator.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here,” Rowley said at the carousel on Monday. “I call it my happy place, because very rarely will you see somebody behaving negatively here. A lot of smiles.”
Rowley affectionately calls the carousel a “gem,” and he hopes the community will continue to keep it afloat with donations and volunteerism. He said that a lot of people use the phrase “shop local,” but he encouraged Saranac Lakers to also “give local.”
“Shop local and give local to your local gem,” he said.
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