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Heart Island: A Love Story (Complete with Fairy Tale Castle and “Millionaires Row”)

14 Sep

Millionaires Row. (Photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Tourism Council)

As a city-bred environmentalist, I’ve put a lot of thought into ways to escape or eradicate the urban “heat island.” But in Alexandria Bay, the thinking is to visit and preserve Heart Island. What a difference one letter makes!

I had the pleasure of cruising a section of the Thousand Islands with New York State Assembly member Addie J. Russel aboard one of the Uncle Sam Boat Tours cruisers. We launched from a pier around the corner from the hotel where I stayed, Capt Thomson’s Resort, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River.

As we passed astonishingly luxurious homes sitting atop tiny mounds arching out of clear water, Assemblymember Russel briefed me on some of the core environmental decisions facing her “River District” constituency. One hot debate centers on whether to build wind farms or maintain a large nuclear generating capacity — a question that resonates throughout the global environmental community. Voters are also divided over whether the government should modify water level policies maintained since dams were built generations ago. New regional growth and transportation models are being considered. As always, ecologists are busy battling zebra mussels.

As we approached Heart Island, the sunny upper deck’s milling crowd hushed and rushed to one side. Was it only the architecture that set this island apart or was it the love story that many read before arriving?

Fairy tale loves, usually involving the very wealthy, hold timeless escapist appeal. Ruth Bottigheimer, SUNY Stonybrook literary scholar and author of  Fairy Tales: A New History contends that fairy tales were not derived from orally transmitted rural folk tales as has long been believed. She posits that they were literary inventions of Italian urbanites.

Boldt Castle. (Photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Tourism Council)

And cramped city folk yearn like no others for fairy tale loves to be set in castles. Preferably their own.  George Boldt was as cosmopolitan as they come. A Prussian immigrant, he made his fortunes as a hotelier. His crowning business achievement came as proprietor of the original Waldorf-Astoria. But his most profound personal expression was this six-story castle he built as a monument to his love for Louise Kehrer Boldt, his wife.

Louise Kehrer Boldt, the castle's muse. (Photo by Erik Baard of painting at Boldt Castle)

Alas, Louise died suddenly. George halted all work on the castle in 1904.

Boldt Castle is an American reverse Taj Mahal. Whereas Emperor Shah Jahan built a mausoleum for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, George Boldt aspired to build a grand living home where love with Louise would always blossom. Her death rendered the effort meaningless. The castle stood incomplete and empty for over 70 years. The love was gone.

Or was it?

“Though the island was abandoned for decades, I dare say a good number of people living in the surrounding area were conceived here,” said Gary deYoung of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council. Couples boated out to Heart Island for trysts on many nights, writing declarations of love on the castle’s unfinished walls. Though restorations, renovations and additions have erased much of this unofficial history, happy traces remain in the basement.

Service tunnel in the basement of Boldt Castle. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Innovative for its time, an indoor pool in the basement of Boldt Castle. Though empty for decades, this room was also evidently popular with lovers. (Photo by Erik Baard)

It's always nice to arrive on Heart Island in the iconic I LOVE NY shirt, with a red or green heart. At center is Gary deYoung of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council. (Photo by Edward Hancox)

Even the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, which undertook care for the castle and island, is in on the love. Landscaping, garden features, a glass dome, furnishings and other elements added to complete the project evoke hearts and harts, or deer. Boldt himself made much of the heart/hart pun, linking his expression of love to the stags in his family crest.

Boldt's heart and hart in glass. (Photo by Erik Baard)

I suspect that Boldt was aware of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem written nearly 400 years earlier that makes use of the same pun. In that poem, the feminine is depicted in one line as “gentle, tame, and meek,” but subsequently the lover declares the author to be the prey, or hart:  “Dear heart, how like you this?”

The children's play castle. This was the only building to have residents. (Photo by Edward Hancox)

The "hennery." It paid to be a Boldt bird. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The grandeur of Heart Island doesn’t stop at the castle. Other magnificent structures include a children’s play castle, an aviary (or “hennery”) and powerhouse.

But if all of this castle business is just too over-the-top for you, perhaps you’d like to spend more time at the quaint and simple little Boldt yacht house across the water on Wellesley Island.

The Boldt yacht house is nearly itself a castle of wood. (Photo by Erik Baard)

A great, green way to get to the region is taking Amtrak to Syracuse, rather than driving all the way up. Or, of course, you could sail, row or paddle in! Our hotel, Capt. Thomson’s Resort, was perfect for sailors and drivers alike. Boat landings at Heart Island are free!

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Thanks for Sharing the 2011 Green New York Adventure!

3 Aug

Greetings from the St. Lawrence River as seen from Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island. (Photo by Gary DeYoung, 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.)

I’m honored to serve my fellow New Yorkers and visitors this year by promoting our natural, outdoor recreational and agricultural riches. For many outside the state, “New York” might be synonymous with big city bustle. I LOVE NEW YORK is proud of the premier city our state offers the world, and there’s so much more to share from our harbors to highlands! The Green Heart NY travel guide is a great way to start, and I hope to augment that wonderful program.

Through this blog we’ll thrust ourselves into adventures, descending together into the deep canyon of Letchworth State Park, biking the Catskill Scenic Trail, whitewater rafting on the Black River, kayaking on Lake Ontario and its tributaries and stand-up paddle boarding on the French Creek. We’ll lace through the Thousand Islands and slip into the Boldt Castle before public hours for a behind-the-scenes tour.

We’ll also delve into history and science (and have lots of fun) with visits to the Seaway Trail Discovery Center, War of 1812 reenactors’ camps, Sandy Island Beach State Park, Fort Ontario, orchards and nurseries, wildlife and agricultural research stations, Niagara Falls State Park, and much more!

We’re very fortunate to have amazing natural resources and farms near a world cultural center. As an urbanite, I hope to learn much from naturalists, historians and rural and small town residents, and to then share those lessons with you. I also hope to promote the positive lessons of life in a dense metropolis, such as the clear advantages of mass transit systems and routines centered on walking and biking.

Upstate and Downstate, we can gain a lot of wisdom and receive a lot of joy from each other!

— Erik Baard, 2011 “Greenest NYer”

And the 2011 Greenest NYer Winner is… Erik Baard!

30 Apr

I LOVE NEW YORK is pleased to announce the 2011 winner of the Greenest NYer title, Erik Baard.  Erik was honored today at Escapemaker.com’s Green Getaways Local Food & Travel Expo in Brooklyn, NY.

In the coming weeks, please keep an eye out for a personal message from Erik as well as many more posts to come!

Here is a bit about Erik, pulled from his contest submission:

“I’m a native New Yorker, the grandchild of immigrants, and I love New York. One of my greatest joys is exploring my home’s natural splendor and food heritages, and finding ways to preserve and share those gifts as a volunteer.

I founded the LIC Community Boathouse, which provides free paddle tours on the East River to thousands of people, arranges beach cleanups, and advocates for marine ecology. I also started what grew into City of Water Day, our harbor’s biggest annual gathering of paddlers, rowers, and conservationists. To promote local eco-tourism, I conceived of the MetroBoat and worked with the MTA and Folbot to execute it.

Where I can’t kayak, I bike. I’m a founding member of the Queens Volunteer Committee of Transportation Alternatives. Each year I marshal several public rides and work continually with the committee to improve transit, bike, and pedestrian options. I also founded the Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration, which donates hundreds of heirloom apple saplings (especially NY varieties) to public spaces throughout NYC each year. We’re also working with UN diplomats to save the ancestral Kazakh apple forest.

As a writer, I advocate for NY’s environment through my Nature Calendar blog, professional articles, and pro bono contributions. Another aspect of my green work has been professional management, overseeing programs, grants, and volunteers for Earth Day New York and Citizens Committee for NYC. I’d be grateful to augment my happy work as the Greenest New Yorker!”

We are very happy and proud to welcome Erik as Ambassador to the Green Heart NY program, and though Kaity’s enthusiasm and passion will be missed, we believe Erik will succesfully fill the big shoes she leaves behind!

Green Travel Resources

8 Mar

“The earth belongs to anyone who stops for a moment, gazes and goes on his way.” ~ Colette (1873-1954), French novelist

To me, every day is Earth Day, which is why it’s important for people to know that helping conserve, preserve and care for Mother Nature serves everyone’s best interests too. So how does this relate to travel exactly?

Well, as we continue to travel to places near and far, we realize it’s a small world after all and how everything and everybody is interconnected. That’s why it’s important for us to be aware of our impact and try to make changes in how as well as where we travel. How would you want visitors to treat your home?

Hmm, I’d like to think of myself as somewhat well traveled, and I promise that New York has something green for everyone, no matter where they come from. Home to accessible natural treasures like the Empire State Building, the Catskills, Adirondack Park, and Niagara Falls, here are some available resources and guides on traveling with green style – nothing that a keyword search for “New York State” and “green” can’t handle!

Green Destinations throughout New York State:

Related Articles:

General Tips on How to Travel Green:

Related Sustainable Tourism Events:

  • Green Getaways, Local Food Travel Expo” at Skylight One Hanson in downtown Brooklyn, NY on April 30, 2011 – hosted by EscapeMaker.com and presented by Amtrak and Zipcar. By the way, we are announcing the next Greenest NYer there too!
  • Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference will feature presentations and discussions to help tourism professionals gain necessary tools to effectively implement sustainability practices. Held from September 19-21, 2011, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA.
  • Find the New York Marketplace at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show held inside the Jacob Javits Center in NYC, November 12-15, 2011.

Quoting John Ur, “From the boats at Ellis Island to the border with Canada, New York takes all comers. It will suck you in” (Cinematic Road Trip: New York – Intelligent Travel Blog).

Green Oscars – no, not Oscar the Grouch…

25 Feb

Can’t believe it’s that time of year again … the Academy Awards that is!

83 years and still going strong, the Red Carpet and the many Hollywood (or Ecollywood) stars who have graced it have made great strides these past few years (ever since An Inconvenient Truth) in transforming this “affair to remember” into a more sustainable one too! For the past nine years, Global Green USA has been supplying celebs with hybrid and alternative fuel rides to the Red Carpet.  Last year, it was the unforgettable film Avatar and the inaugural year of Suzy Amis Cameron’s Red Carpet Green Dress initiative. Who knows what this year will bring, but definite kudos to Ecorazzi, Mother Nature Network, and The Daily Green for highlighting the following Nominees for their green efforts:

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