Living virtually in the geographic center of the vast 6.1 million acres that make up Adirondack Park, residents of the town of Indian Lake relish a remoteness and solitude not easy to find in the hustle and bustle of the Northeast.
Here, the early morning quiet never yields fully to an afternoon cacophony of car horns, rumbles of truck engines and swarms of people scurrying to the places they need to be, like it does in Utica and Albany, more than an hour and a half away to the south.
Tim Spring has been the town’s low-key leader of the highway department since 1981, when he was appointed superintendent to fill a vacancy. He won his first election in 1982 and has held the seat ever since. He is a lifelong resident of Indian Lake, except for a brief period from age four to 11, when he and his parents moved out of the area.
Prior to becoming highway superintendent, Tim was busy linking other areas of New York State. In 1965, he worked as a surveyor on the construction of Interstate 87, also known as the Northway, until its completion in 1969. In the early 1970s, he again worked as a surveyor for the construction of Interstate 88, which connects Albany to Binghamton. He also worked in a surveying capacity for several years for a private contractor and became a member of the operating engineers.
Tim loves all the elements of small town life, but Indian Lake’s relative isolation in a constitutionally protected forest preserve presents to him a set of challenges unique to a highway superintendent.
“The number one challenge is dealing with the Adirondack Park Agency,” Tim said. “Unlike most other townships, nearly everything we do must be pre-approved and then monitored by the Adirondack Park Agency.”
The total population of the town of Indian Lake is 1,400. Hamilton County, in which Indian Lake is located, is the third largest county in New York State in land mass but has the lowest population of any county in the state.
Population growth in an area such as this moves at a pace not much faster than the Laurentian Glacier that created the region’s geography approximately 95,000 years ago. While locals may like that, county and town entities, such as a highway department, see virtually no new tax revenue increases for decades at a time.
Tim and his staff have had to learn to make do with limited budgets.
“Being located in an extremely remote area, our resources are very limited,” Tim said. “Things everyone else takes for granted we can’t. For instance, paving stone. We have to have it hauled in from over 40 miles away. Procuring materials and equipment on short notice is difficult and expensive.”
To surmount this challenge, Tim said that his department has its own sand and gravel pit, which produces all of the materials necessary for road sanding and much of what he needs for road maintenance.
Tim is especially proud of the Cold Mix Recycling Program that his department has put into place. Whenever a road needs rebuilding, Tim and his crew tear up and crush all of the asphalt. The crushed asphalt is then used as a key ingredient in a road base recipe that Tim has concocted. They use 55 percent crushed recycled asphalt, 15 percent No. 3 stone, 15 percent No. 2 stone, and 15 percent crushed recycled glass. The crushed recycled glass comes from the county’s recycling efforts. The mixture is then processed through a pug mill. Then 5 to 6 gallons of base mix oil are added per ton. This mixture is then used as the base for the road that is being reconstructed. Finally, 1 to 1.5 in. of driving surface is applied to the base.
In all, Tim and his crew are responsible for 66 lane miles of road and 20 lane miles of county roads in the winter. Twenty-three roads are gravel and only 10 are paved.
“Storm water run-off containing salt will certainly become a bigger and bigger issue in the Adirondack Park, which will result in changing much of what we do,” he said. “Seventy percent of our roads are dirt. That makes for big washout problems, mud problems and road deterioration. We rarely lack for projects that need to be tackled. Getting the dollars to maintain low volume roads, though, is always a problem.”
Tim’s department runs on an operating budget of $900,000 with a CHIPS allocation of $44,000. His departments consists of nine full-timers and two part-time employees. Ted Eichler is his deputy superintendent and Julie Puterko is his part-time secretary.
It is this ever-present funding issue that led Tim to what he said is his most important accomplishment as highway superintendent.
Tim has created schedules for virtually every recurring task or project that the town highway department faces each year. Every employee accounts for his time each day and what projects he was involved in. This allows Tim to put together a cost analysis for every task that is addressed each day. His tracking system yields the actual cost of any project, including materials and labor, which is carefully accounted for and reported to the town board.
Every piece of equipment in inventory is placed on a maintenance schedule, which is strictly adhered to. Snowfall amounts also are carefully monitored so that reports can be generated showing the cost of snow removal on a 50-in. snow year versus a 100-in. snow year. Tim also closely monitors CHIPS related costs.
Tim’s hawkish oversight of department spending does not, however, translate to short-changing his crew. With help from the town board, Tim has improved employees’ overall work-related packages. Health benefits have been improved; an employee bargaining unit was put in place so that crew members felt that they had a voice with the town board; and a sick time accumulation system was put in place along with an employment longevity compensation package.
Tim gets the most he can out of the $900,000 operating budget the department receives, which includes project money.
In the early 1980s, not long after Tim became highway superintendent, he and the Parks and Recreation Department teamed up for the preliminary construction of Byron Park. The highway department constructed the parking area, which was built on top of an area where construction waste had been placed from work on nearby Adirondack Lake Road.
Then in 1990, Tim and his crew performed all of the grading elevation work, which required some adjusting. “The engineering plan didn’t quite match up to what we needed, so I reconfigured all of the elevations,” Tim recalled. The entire project took two years to complete.
In 1999, the department constructed the Utowanna dam. Blue Mountain Lake in the town of Indian Lake consists of three lakes and the dam controls the height of all three. Because the dam was 6 feet high, the department was permitted to do the project itself.
“There are regulations that if a dam is over a certain height you need special permits, and although we needed permits, we were allowed to go in and repair it,” Tim said. “After removing parts of the old dam, we built a cofferdam by putting in stone for rip rap and with assistance from the parks department and water department, we did the form and cement work. It was a joint effort among town forces.”
The seasonal project began in the summer of 1999 and wrapped up in early fall.
In June 2006, a culvert measuring 7 by 7 by 11.5 feet washed out on Parkerville Road.
Tim’s crew acted quickly. The men replaced it with a 40- by 9.5- by 14-foot culvert. They also built the retaining walls, raised the road elevation by 3 feet and widened the dirt road by 5 feet and chip sealed it. Fortunately FEMA and the State Emergency Management Office reimbursed the town for the project, which took only three months to complete.
Flooding is always a concern for Tim, particularly when it comes to Jerry Savarie Road.
“There’s a bridge on the county road that acts like a dam, but the free flow beneath is only about 2 feet,” Tim explained. “As a result, Jerry Savarie Road, which is downstream from the bridge, floods about once every spring.”
When this happens Tim and his crew can be found posting the road and following up to determine if it has been damaged. Hamilton County has been looking to construct a new bridge to alleviate flooding.
Snowplowing is a major responsibility for Tim’s department, as it is for every other department in the state. Tim has five plowing routes with a full, normal loop taking approximately two-and-a-half hours to complete. Here, though, snow is that proverbial double-edged sword. Having to plow all night long is not tops on Tim’s list of things he likes to do, but without the snow, the town suffers because of lost tourism revenue from the local ski resorts. And any extra tax revenue is vital to Indian Lake.
Managing these projects and responsibilities is hard enough, but limited communication options compound it.
“Communication is definitely a challenge in Indian Lake,” Tim said. “There are few cell towers allowed in the Adirondack Park, which, of course, results in the occasional inability of our highway department to communicate via cell phones.”
The department does have two radios, which run on the same frequency as Hamilton County.
Cell phones or no cell phones, Tim has found a way to not only communicate effectively in Indian Lake, but also across the entire Empire State.
Tim has quite a bit more on his plate than just highway department responsibilities.
In 1999 he became an active member of the New York State Association of Town Superintendent’s of Highways (NYSAOTSOH). In 2001 he became an officer of the organization. In 2004 he became a board member for the organization and in 2008 he will serve as president of the organization. During his years of service, he has served on various committees, including the Auditing Committee. He also served as the association representative to Cornell Local Roads Program.
As the association’s new leader, Tim has set ambitious goals.
“We have seen fantastic changes and fantastic growth in the NYSAOTSOH,” he said. “I would certainly like us to start partnerships with other organizations such as the partnership with ‘Superintendent’s Profile.’ These types of arrangements spur growth. Remembering this year’s theme of our organization, ‘Unity is our Strength,’ my number-one goal is to get all of the members of this organization moving forward with a single vision and single goal, which will certainly result in us getting the attention we deserve on the state level, resulting in more money for road improvements.”
Headquartering the organization in Albany has made a world of difference to the association, Tim said.
“Being based at the Capital and with the aid of our lobbyist, Fred Hiffa, we are hearing about legislation that directly and indirectly affects us before it becomes law,” he said. “That makes all the difference in the world. Before working with Hiffa we had no real direction in our lobbying efforts. In 2007, we had the largest attendance [more than 400] for Advocacy Day. There is strength in numbers and our numbers are growing every day.”
Another of Tim’s goals as NYSAOTSOH president is 100-percent participation.
“Currently over 90 percent of New York State’s town highway superintendents belong to the NYSAOTSOH. We cannot rest until that number is 100 percent. Together, as a group, if we stay united and are strong, we will get the dollars that we need to maintain our infrastructure.”
Getting that kind of participation means taking the association to the doorsteps of the town superintendents across the state. One way to do that is through the Web.
“Over the past year, the NYSAOTSOH has launched a marvelous Web site,” Tim said. “It’s a place that highway superintendents can go and get answers to questions immediately. Or, they can become informed on what bills are moving through the legislature and how they may affect us.”
Another way was to make the association’s annual conference mobile.
“A real turning point for our association was moving our annual conference out of the Catskills,” he said. “Our annual event had been held at the same resort in the Catskills for way too many years. Several years ago we started moving the conference each year. Thus far we have visited Alexandria Bay, Lake Placid and Saratoga Springs. The response from the membership has been fantastic and attendance has increased dramatically.”
Tim sees a much more involved leadership team within the association, as well.
“Over the past few years we have received far more support from the association’s committeemen,” he said. “These committeemen take on many of the association’s activities and are responsible for them. There is no longer a large burden for the president to shoulder. It is my belief that we currently have our best committee ever.”
Still, with all his involvement with issues outside of his small town, Tim’s thoughts are never distant from the matters within it.
“It has been a tough few years for our town’s economy,” Tim admitted. “We used to have a large logging industry. That is no longer a factor. The Adirondack State Park Authority makes it very difficult to draw new industries to the region. Therefore, we have little or no industry to support our tax base. Tourism helps a little, but for the past few years we’ve had no significant snowfall and, if you have no snow, there are no snowmobilers and no cross-country skiers. New York’s downhill ski areas make their own snow, but they are located too far away to help our economy.”
The hackneyed cliché, “You get what you pay for” doesn’t apply to Tim, his crew and the entire town of Indian Lake — not even remotely. With very limited resources, Tim has been able to extract the most for the dollars he receives for his highway department. And perhaps most important, he provides what no funding can buy — an unrelenting passion for his work, loyalty to his town and dedication to its residents and his crew.
About the Town of Indian Lake
Indian Lake in Hamilton County was established in 1858 from the now-defunct town of Gilman and from the towns of Long Lake and Wells. Indian Lake was originally formed from Johnstown in Fulton County, before Hamilton County was established.
The town’s total area is 266.2 square miles; 13.4 square miles of that consists of water. Lying within Adirondack Park, the town is bordered on the east by Essex and Warren counties. The Hudson River also forms part of the town’s eastern border.
The Indian Lake Museum contains displays relating to the historic Native American population. The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, a hamlet in the northern part of Indian Lake, has displays of outdoor living in the region. The Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain Lake provides cultural events during the summer season. The Indian Lake Library provides books, DVDs, audio and Internet access.
Once called the “Whitewater Capital of New York State,” Indian Lake remains a haven for white-water rafting on the Hudson River, with several companies that begin operations in late winter or early spring each year.
Indian Lake also blithely refers to itself as the “Moose capital of New York.” The Indian Lake/Blue Mountain Lake region is considered a prime habitat for moose, with thousands of acres of managed forest that supply the animal with saplings and browse material needed to support the moose’s daily 20 to 30 lbs. of food intake.
For more information about Indian Lake, visit www.indian-lake.com.
(Portions of this section — “About the Town of Indian Lake,” were excerpted from the town’s Web site and Wikipedia.)