John Dillon Park is a unique accessible wilderness experience that was built and designed specifically to be used by people with disabilities. It is open to the public every summer (except this year) and free. I want to tell the story; about the people behind its origin, it’s continued operation, and most importantly of the people who have enjoyed memorable experiences while here.
Most people know the unique amenities available….. The facility itself offers;
3 1/2 miles of hard-packed trails, 9 lean-tos, and 1 tent site. All complete with accessible; fire pits, picnic tables, composting toilets, and bear-proof storage units. Services include; bringing your gear to your campsite, providing firewood, and guided tours of Grampus Lake on their pontoon boat.
International Paper Company was one of the largest landowners within the 6 million acre Adirondack Park. In 1995 they were interested in transferring approximately 275,000 acres to the state of New York in the form of a conservation easement. In the process, there were 14 lakes that were considered important to protect from development.
A group of respected conservationists, International Paper employees, representatives from the DEC, and people representing the surrounding communities were formed. They would meet several times to decide the best course of action for these properties in particular. Within that group came about the idea to create some sort of accessible wilderness experience. They were particularly interested in the Grampus lake location due to its proximity to the road and the town of Long Lake.
It would be several years later that John Dillon announced his retirement. John had done many things to improve International Paper as CEO and the company wanted to dedicate something in his honor. This location and the idea for the park was a perfect fit and all ready to go.
After recruiting someone to do the layout, and another to build the lean-tos, the contract with Paul Smith‘s College to manage the park was developed. Ever since it’s opening in 2006, the property has been overseen by students, faculty, and alumni. This gives the students an opportunity to learn, and for everyone to utilize the skills and knowledge that they have gained from their experiences at the college.
I was on campus at Paul Smith’s College in the summer of 1992 and fell in love with the lean-to lifestyle. As a Culinary student, I went on to work as a chef for 10 years. In 2004 I was hired as a chef instructor. Two weeks before I was supposed to have my first freshman class of chef students I experienced a diving accident and became a quadriplegic who uses a power wheelchair. It would be another 11 years until I could get to John Dillon Park. Within those 11 years, I attended classes online and obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. I also worked for several years helping people with disabilities at the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living.
In October 2018 I inquired about being involved and was invited to an advisory board meeting. It became apparent right away that I was in a position to help get more people with disabilities to the park. I presented my ideas to the advisory board in the spring of 2019 and was hired as Outreach Coordinator.
Ever since then, I have been on a mission to maximize the potential and help to foresee the vision set forth by its founders. The more I learn about the park and the amazing people behind the entire organization, the more I realize that people are as big a part of the story as the actual amenities that are there.
I want to tell the story, put together the details and all of the altruistic intentions, combined with all of the people who have benefited from this unique accessible wilderness experience. At the end of the day, the park was built for the people who use it. I want to tell their story in order to find others who will also benefit from this very special place.