Sharing the Adirondacks

Wilderness guide Gary Marchuk leads people through the Adirondack Park,
sharing his greatest passion—nature

Story by Felicia C. Bonanno
Photos contributed by Gary Marchuk and Shaun Kittle

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Families paddle after Marchuk on a lake kayak tour.

Loving something means having a desire to share it. Whether it’s a certain type of music or a good movie, enjoyment evokes an urge to share experiences. For Gary Marchuk, that joyful experience is found simply in his love for the Upstate New York wilderness.

Twenty years ago, Marchuk started Bear Cub Adventure Tours in Lake Placid, N.Y., as a way to spread his adoration for nature. His programs range from canoeing and fishing trips to guided tours through the Adirondack High Peaks, and are offered to children and adults. “My programs are a culmination of tracking and geology,” Marchuk says. “They are all-encompassing. They are about learning about the Adirondack Park and introducing people to the outdoors while they are getting exercise and learning about tips and tricks for surviving in our outdoor arena.”

Marchuk, who lived in Connecticut until he moved to Upstate New York in the fall of 1988, grew to love the Adirondack Park after buying a piece of land in Lake Placid. He would go hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and mountaineering, but what really attracted him to the Adirondacks was its vastness. “I don’t think most people realize that the Adirondack Park covers 6 million acres,” Marchuk says. “That’s bigger than the state of Massachusetts, and we have that right here in New York.”

“I don’t think most people realize that the Adirondack Park covers 6 million acres. That’s bigger than the state of Massachusetts, and we have that right here
in New York.”

Marchuk studied environmental conservation through the North American School of Conservation and has accreditations in everything from emergency care to white water canoeing. He became a trained guide in 1990 and has been leading people through our mountains providing gear, food, exercise, and knowledge almost every day since. He does it all on his own, too, in order to “keep the quality of the trips,” he says.

“I hire other guides when needed, but I like to keep it solo. You never know what’s going to be covered unless you’re taking them out there yourself,” Marchuk says. “And for me, this isn’t a job—it’s my passion.”

During his adventures, Marchuk leads individuals, families, and corporate groups around the Adirondack Park every season, happily sharing his joy and knowledge. “The trips involve plants, trees, animals, and survival tips,” Marchuk says. “For example, what if there is a fallen tree? Would it be suitable for fire wood? What plants do we see that are pretty to look at and also edible? Does that track belong to a coyote or a fox?”

“Gary is a survival expert.”

“Gary is a survival expert,” says Gail Sokof, a guest at The Mirror Lake Inn at Lake Placid last February who went on Marchuk’s three-hour snowshoe tour for the second time. “He really gets you thinking about what you would do if you were ever here, stuck in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely learned a lot on the tour, even my second time.”

Identification of animal tracks is just one thing students can learn at Bear Cub Adventure Tours.
Photo by Shaun Kittle

Marchuk caters especially to residents at The Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, since the resort promotes Bear Cub Adventure Tours on its website and brochures.  “We have a longstanding relationship with Gary that started many, many years ago,” says Catherine Cusick, front office manager at The Mirror Lake Inn. “He is definitely one of the best guides in the area.”

Guests at the inn can put their name on a sign-up sheet and ask questions inside. According to Cusick, a lot of guests return to Lake Placid annually to go on Marchuk’s trips. “They really have such a good time when they go on these trips,” Cusick says. “His trips are unique because he doesn’t take you to all the normal trails, but to the secret spots, like hiking spots and fishing spots where they’ll see wildlife that make the trip even more incredible.”

One specific area Marchuk likes to focus on is tracking—teaching people to notice and identify animal tracks, as well as how to identify indigenous plants. He also provides the opportunity for people to make plaster casts of animal tracks they find along their hikes, a task that simply requires pouring plaster, allowing it to dry for 15 minutes, and then carefully extracting the hardened material.  “It gives them something physical to take home after the experience,” Marchuk says. Marchuk learned how to track animals through a program in Greenfield Center, N.Y., 10 years ago.

“His trips are unique because he doesn’t take you to all the normal trails, but to the secret spots.”  

“You actually learn,” Cusick says. “Whether it’s safe ways to do the strokes when canoeing or what to wear to be functional and comfortable when on the trips, you can take those tips back home with you.”

To top it all off, Marchuk provides healthy entertainment through Native American story-telling and folklore about the region―stories he has picked up over the years through forest rangers, woodsmen, and Native Americans themselves.

“My programs are not just for people to get out and hike, but also for them to learn about our natural museum,” Marchuk says.

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Marchuk teaches people how to identify and track wild animals.

Some popular springtime excursions are the wilderness canoe trips and family fishing. “My greatest joy is watching the excitement on a child’s face when he catches his first fish,” Marchuk says. “Bear Cub Adventure Tours is very much about bringing back this awareness to our younger generations who are not getting out into the woods.”

“My programs are not just for people to get out and hike, but also for them to learn about our natural museum.”

Part of Gary’s passion stems from his childhood memories, when all he and his companions would do was play in the woods, using their imaginations. Now, he says, there is all of this technology that distracts from the importance of being outside.  

“If the next generation has no association with our woods, then they aren’t going to know the value in it,” he says of the nature that is so close to him every day.

“I think what he does is wonderful,” Sokof says. “He uses the beautiful scenery of Lake Placid to help people get acclimated to it while they get great exercise. He’s very patient, too. He always stops and checks to make sure everyone is still there.”

“I love what I do,” Marchuk says. “I can hike the same trails for years, but always get a whole new enthusiasm for them when seeing them through other people’s eyes. In a way, I get to enjoy our wilderness twofold. This isn’t just a job for me—it’s a lifestyle.”

Which of Gary Marchuk’s tours would you like to experience?

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