New York State’s Highest Museum Exhibition
by Elizabeth Folwell
Whiteface Mountain is much more than the slide-slashed High Peak that defines the Olympic village’s skyline. The 4,865-footer offers so many recreational opportunities: alpine skiing, a rugged 11.6-mile out-and-back hike from Lake Placid to the summit, the spectacular scenic highway, mountain biking and on Saturday, June 15, a grueling uphill footrace.
Beginning June 20 New York’s fifth-tallest peak takes on a new role as the state’s highest museum exhibition. Flora, fauna, geology, watersheds, weather and human impacts on the landscape are vividly depicted in stations along trails, in the mountain’s tunnel and elevator and on the rocky top itself.
Riding in a gondola up the slopes you can learn about animal athletes—how a bat senses the surroundings like a hockey goalie or how a downhill skier maneuvers like a kestrel—in videos you see by scanning a QR code with your smartphone. In the castle at the end of the Veterans’ Memorial Highway there are displays and a film about the endangered Bicknell’s thrush, which breeds at high elevations. Inside the tunnel that leads to the elevator (Whiteface’s summit is accessible for those who can climb a step or two) there are interpretive panels describing just how deep inside the mountain you are. At the summit and the research roundhouse you can learn about the extreme weather through banners emblazoned with surprising facts, a wall showing 280,000 images, real-time forecast displays and a funnel-shape cloud collector that monitors water droplets. Whiteface is an important site for studying acid precipitation because it is frequently cloaked in clouds.
“Since opening in 2006 the Wild Center has sought to look beyond its physical campus in Tupper Lake and views the entire six-million-acre Adirondack Park as part of its collection to understand and interpret,” says Tracey Legat, communications manager. “This outreach is best illustrated by the comprehensive Olympic Scenic Byway natural history exhibition on and surrounding Whiteface Mountain, developed by The Wild Center, in partnership with the Adirondack North Country Association, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and other organizations.”
The exhibit can provide a full day of exploring on your own or you can join a field trip led by experts. Guided hikes start June 22 with a bird walk, a geology session on August 21 and hands-on programs in climate studies, alpine flora and other topics.