NY trooper tackles vast mountainside beat
Trooper Ronald Dacre watches over the most sparsely populated patch of land in the eastern US — an area so sprawling the federal government has declared it a frontier
By Bryan Fitzgerald
WELLS, N.Y. — It's around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, and Trooper Ronald Dacre calls up the onboard computer in his State Police SUV. A map shows every trooper in New York currently on patrol, each on-duty vehicle marked by a dark-blue dot. Aside from some thick clusters on the Northway and Interstate 90, they look rather evenly dispersed across the state — except for Dacre's SUV.
On the map, it looks as though southern Hamilton County could be an empty sea, Dacre's patrol vehicle the lone wayward ship lost in the water.
The only trooper within 30 miles of Dacre is a colleague on his way back to the State Police's Mayfield barracks after stopping to speak with Dacre at his one-room station in this Adirondack town of about 600. That might be the only colleague Dacre sees for days.
But such is life for the trooper tasked with watching over the most sparsely populated patch of land in the eastern United States, an area so sprawling and so desolate the federal government has declared it a frontier.
" 'Round here, it can take you a little while to get somewhere," Dacre says as he heads north on Route 30, one of the three main county roads — three of the only roads he patrols that aren't dirt or dead ends — that connect the six towns and one village on Dacre's colossal mountainside beat.
Those communities cover 1,070 square miles and have a combined population of just a hair over 2,000 by the latest census count. Many of those residents, however, only come up this way in the summer, when the lakes are ripe for boating and swimming. Some of the towns are separated by 40 miles of open roads. Cruising up Route 30 toward Lake Pleasant, Dacre passes more deer than other cars.
"You just gotta stay busy," Dacre says.
The northern half of Hamilton County is covered by troopers at State Police's Indian Lake barracks. For the past 20 years, those troopers and their colleagues at the Mayfield barracks an hour to the south had to take calls for southern Hamilton County in addition to their normal patrols. But in mid-March, the State Police reopened its satellite station in Wells to better position at least one trooper for the area. Though it still can take Dacre almost 45 minutes to get from one town to another, that's twice as fast as Indian Lake and Mayfield troopers could respond.
The cost is minimal. Dacre, an eight-year State Police veteran, was working out of Mayfield before the reassignment. He and Trooper Casey Krul, who was also working out of Mayfield, now work rotating full-time shifts out of the tiny Wells station.
Dacre, 36, seems like the perfect man for a job that must seem undesirable for many of his peers. The Gloversville native grew up near the edge of the city and, in his younger years, would take his motorcycle up to the towns he now patrols to fish. He loves to hunt and snowmobile, too. He and his wife just married this past December and live on 80 acres of land in Hope, about 15 miles from the Wells station. Dacre's wife runs a salon in nearby Northville. The couple just had their first child, 6-month-old Garrett.
"We love it up here," Dacre says. "It's beautiful. Every season is great in its own way."
While many troopers may be looking to make new ranks, Dacre says he's just fine as a trooper.
"Going for sergeant or detective, it's just not for me. It's just extra paperwork; more time behind a desk," Dacre says. "I really like to be out there."
Dacre and his three siblings were raised by their mother. Dacre's father was out of the picture early on, and his stepfather died when Dacre was 7. As a younger kid, Dacre thought he wanted to work in electronics but found out it wasn't for him after a few semesters at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. He entered the Army and served in the National Guard before joining the State Police.
Dacre patrolled out of Indian Lake, often by himself like at Wells, before moving on to barracks in Cobleskill, Fonda and eventually Mayfield. While at Mayfield, Dacre arrested murder suspect James Dibble last summer. On July 1, the Ephratah man allegedly shot his mother, Gwenda Lisman, in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. A few days later, after a long search by State Police, Dacre and his partner spotted Dibble's car on the Mayfield bridge.
"He was just sitting there fishing," Dacre says. Dibble was taken into custody without incident.
Most of the action on Dacre's new beat comes in the form of checking on vacant homes and writing speeding tickets. Homeowners sign up on a State Police list requesting troopers to keep an eye on their houses while they're away. Dacre will drive by every few days, strap on a pair of snowshoes and check the perimeter to make sure no one has broken in.
Though cars can be few and far between, they tend to drive fast on these roads. The speed limit is 55 or 45 mph depending on what route you're on. Dacre sees cars hit up to 90 mph.
"People drive real fast when they see no one else out here for miles and miles," Dacre says.
Just about all of Dacre's 12-hour shifts are spent in his State Police SUV, a hulking Chevrolet Tahoe fitted with a 12-gauge shotgun next to the center console. Routes 30, 8 and 10 are the main roads, connecting Wells, Lake Pleasant, Hope, Benson, Arietta, Speculator and Morehouse. It takes about 45 minutes to get from Wells to Morehouse, a town that covers 197 square miles and has a population of 86, according to the census. Morehouse has about 50 year-round residents.
It would take about three hours to cover the entire circumference of Dacre's beat, from the western edge of Warren County, across Hamilton County to the eastern side of Herkimer County and then back east along the northern border of Fulton County.
"We burn through fuel pretty good here," Dacre says.
Dacre's Wells station is an office no bigger than 10 by 15 feet, a side room in the red brick Wells Municipal Building. There's a desktop computer and printer, some file cabinets, a station for fingerprinting and a pulldown screen and camera for taking mug shots. Anyone in custody will be held there by a handcuff linked to a chain fastened to the floor. There is a wooden chair for a suspect to sit in. Almost two weeks in, Dacre and Krul haven't arrested anyone. The only call Dacre has had these first few weeks was for downed power lines smoldering in the snow at a vacant cabin in Wells.
On this Wednesday, Dacre comes back down Route 30 after heading toward Arietta and making a pass through Speculator. There's not much action, as most people are gone for the winter.
Dacre passes by the only two gas stations within 20 miles of his station. The one open latest closes at 8 p.m. He passes the Mountain Mart as he nears Wells. The store keeps a chalkboard tally of local moose sightings.
"I saw my first moose tracks just the other day," Dacre says.
Darce makes a quick stop at the Wells station before he heads back out for the night. He'll mostly be looking for speeders the rest of his shift. He hasn't issued a ticket yet today, but promises it'll be busier come summer.
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