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It's a beautiful sunny August afternoon and I'm walking across the mudflats of what used to be lake above Marcy Dam, the iconic hiking destination in the High Peaks. A year ago, Tropical Storm Irene struck right here, tearing out the dam, creating a cannonball of water that rolled down this valley toward mountain communities like Keene and Ausable Forks.
"Marcy Dam breaking sent a wall of water down here and everything we had in the fields was affected," says Lesley Trevor, owner of Snowslip Farm on the outskirts of Lake Placid. The day of the storm last August, I walked with Lesley through those ruined fields, through wrecked greenhouses.
Here's part of the story that ran on NPR's Morning Edition.
"Leslie Trevor slogs through silt and water in one of the greenhouses on her wrecked farm just outside Lake Placid, New York. Sunday evening just after dark, the Ausable River surged over its bank, sweeping across her potato fields. Trevor and her husband raced to the barn and found their horses belly-deep in water.
‘The water was freezing. I started getting kind of hypothermic, because I was completely soaked to the skin.’
A crew from Lake Placid's Volunteer Fire Department helped lead the horses down a flooded stretch of road to another barn on higher ground. Trevor says in the dark and the cold, it was terrifying.
‘We took the horses out. The water was at such a velocity, I could barely keep upright. I was holding on to the mane of my horse just to stand up. I almost lost my footing several times.’
Tory Hoffman was one of the volunteer firemen who helped rescue the Trevors. He says the Ausable River just went out of control.
‘It was the most impressive thing I've ever seen. I grew up here. I've never seen the water that high.’”
Twelve months later, Lesley says she still marvels at the effort emergency crews made the night of the storm and in the days that followed. "They got to us by nightfall and the water was so fast and they were trying to get through, literally tying themselves to trees to keep from being swept away," she recalls. "Those guys were amazing."
But that terrifying night was just the beginning of a long, complicated rebuilding effort that still continues. "We've been working every day since the flood and we still have so much more to do. We're just doing it step by step."
Lesley says the storm changed life for her entire family. On the day I visit, her kids, Emily, John and Chris Cummin, as well as a friend of the family, Morgan McGrath, stand outside the barn, talking about their work to bring the farm back to life.
"We raked a lot of silt, I'll say that," Emily says. "It's hard work, but it's rewarding when you see everything come back to the way it was before."
"All of our hay we kept in one barn and it all got wet. We had to throw out eight hundred bales of hay, each one weighd about sixty pounds because they were waterloogged," John says.
Recovery has taken time and patience, and it's also taken a lot of money: New equipment, new tractors. Lesley says that part of Irene's aftermath has been scary: "I've had to put everything I have into it, to bring it back.”
So the last year has been hard. But driving through the fields on a sunny August day, Lesley points to project after project that's been done. She shows me the new horse trails that have been opened.
The place looks beautiful and the view of Whiteface Mountain in the distance is stunning. You can see why Lesley would want to rebuild here. Snowslip farm is open for business again, with horseback rides and a gorgeous stable.
On a day like this, clear and still with the Ausable River running safe in its bank, it's hard to imagine a storm like Irene, how one night of wind and water can change everything.