Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the July 17, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Letter from the Lake
of northeastern Pennsylvania, and — with one small but troubling
exception — everything looks the same as last year and the year
before that and that and that . . . going all the way back to when
we first visited here, 40 years ago this summer.
Wrighter Lake offers a summer refuge for a city-dweller or a suburbanite.
It’s a spring-fed, heart-shaped body of water about a half mile-wide
at its largest point, located at almost 2,000 feet elevation roughly
halfway between Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Binghamton, New York,
20 miles of mostly bad road east of Interstate 81.
It is — literally but not figuratively — a cool place. The
boys and I are here this Fourth of July weekend, and we know it’s
sweltering back at the office in Princeton. Here we are enjoying a
warm day, not an unbearably hot day, and we are closing up the windows
this evening and getting out the blankets — it’s going to be cold
tonight. You can drive for hours without seeing a single air conditioning
You are also out of range of conventional television reception, and
your cell phone is worthless. You won’t find a convenience store within
10 miles of the lake and I don’t know where you would go to get a
copy of the New York Times. The nearest movie theater is 40 miles
to the north or south. As a parent of kids ages 8 and 10, I haven’t
tried to go out on a Friday or Saturday night in a decade. But the
last time I went out to Eddie’s in Orson, it offered a fried chicken
dinner and country and western music with a live band for $5 a head.
A few square dance tunes were included in every set. Fun, but not
cool, in that sense.
For me what Wrighter Lake offers mostly is a benchmark in the battle
against urban sprawl. As we watch sod farms turning into big box retail
centers on Route 1, potato farms sprouting apartment complexes in
Plainsboro, some of us look at our surroundings and wonder how much
is too much. Here at home I check out the Institute Woods in Princeton
Township and vow that if the woods go, I will go — can you imagine
a townhouse development (call it Einstein Mews, maybe) with a sales
model (starting from $995,000) located at the site of the bird watching
At Wrighter Lake I will know that the urban sprawl of the Boswash
corridor has gone too far when the lake has sewers, or when there
is a traffic light at the corner of the road to Orson and the road
to Thompson (two nearby hamlets), or when condominiums spring up on
the other side of the road away from the lake.
So far nothing close to that has happened and very little else has
changed since the 1960s and probably since long before that, as well.
When the Symbionese Liberation Army needed a place to hide with Patty
Hearst, they came to northeastern Pennsylvania.
There have been some close calls. About 20 years ago the Department
of Energy proposed a plan for an energy park at a site about 10 miles
away from the lake. An "energy park?" Yes, the ultimate solution
to the fears of NIMBYs, the energy czars had declared, would be a
cluster of up to 20 nuclear power plants and 20 fossil fuel plants,
all situated in a place where there were very few neighbors and few
back yards. The aptly named Ararat Township, one township over from
Wrighter Lake, seemed the perfect spot. Environmentalists beat it
back. Imagine if they hadn’t: What a target it would have been on
Then about 10 years ago an article appeared on the front page, no
less, of the New York Times. Cheap land was still to be had in northeastern
Pennsylvania, the article declared, and smart money was moving in
About that same time I went into a night spot known as the Poyntelle
Hotel — hotel is too strong a word, but the place did rent rooms
out by the week in the space above the bar and dance floor. There
at a Saturday night square dance was a middle-aged man who looked
remarkably like Jim Kilgore, owner of the Princeton Packet. "I’ll
be damned," I thought. "I drive more than three hours to leave
my business behind me in Princeton, New Jersey, and here in the middle
of nowhere, U.S.A., I see a guy who reminds me of my biggest competitor."
I got closer and realized it was Jim Kilgore, who spends most
of his summers here. We exchanged pleasantries but never ran into
each other since. There’s still a lot of country up here.
This year everything seems in place. The lake is still cold, the sky
is still clear (when smoke from Canada isn’t wafting overhead, you
can see the Milky Way clear as an Imax projection). But there is that
one small, troubling exception: Mosquitoes. Old-timers tell me that
mosquitoes have occasionally pestered the lake in the past, and they
attribute this year’s visitors to huge amounts of rainfall in June.
I hope so, because my guess is that they have something to do with
global warming. It’s a cool place, Wrighter Lake, and I want it to
stay that way.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.