Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Phil Brown: Assessing The Tupper Lake Resort Vote

In the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Brian Mann asks whether the approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake reflects disarray or weakness in the environmental movement.

The answer: it’s hard to tell.

We do know that in the end the Adirondack Council broke ranks with Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild and endorsed the mega-development. But up until then, the council also had opposed the project and in fact offered an alternative development plan that would have been more environment-friendly.

The council’s change of heart (after revisions to the development) may have given cover to some of the greener commissioners on the Adirondack Park Agency to vote for the project, but it’s hard to believe the last-minute endorsement altered the outcome. After all, the board voted 10-1 in favor of the resort.

Perhaps the environmental organizations could have mounted a stronger case against the resort or galvanized more public opposition, but they weren’t feckless. In one major concession, the developers agreed not to allow further subdivision of the so-called Great Camp lots on lands classified Resource Management, the APA’s strictest zoning category for private lands.

Longtime activist Peter Bauer, the head of the Fund for Lake George, told Mann that he thinks it would have been impossible for the environmental organizations to stop the project outright. He also said this defeat—assuming it is a defeat—is outweighed by the conservation of hundreds of thousands of acres in the past fifteen years.

What does the approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort say about the state of the environmental movement in the Park? Click here to read Mann’s story and let us know what you think.

Photo by Carl Heilman of project site near Big Tupper Ski Area.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

16 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:


    The grassroots local voices for the eco-logy and eco-nomy of their towns are much stronger than they once were. Your question applies very broadly, and transcends those of us who are fortunate to be professionally involved, and paid to be so.

    For instance, for some seasonal and permanent citizens in Tupper, ACR (2004-2012) was their first experience with advocacy, APA and land use regulation. They now are as prepared and knowledgeable as any professional advocate to speak up for what matters most. Other examples – the people who asked APA to better protect their heritage in Town of Franklin (Stickney Pt subdivision); folks in Schroon Lake who stood up to oppose a large marina development. From Lake George to Old Forge and the Tri Lakes, there are many other examples of grassroots environmentalism going on throughout the region.

  2. Paul says:

    “In the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Brian Mann asks whether the approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake reflects disarray or weakness in the environmental movement.”

    There was “disagreement” on this particular project. Does this indicate disarray or weakness?

    No, not really.

  3. TiSentinel65 says:

    If you look at the actions of the state in the past few years you can see an equilibrium of the sorts taking place. As Bauer said ,the state did aprove large parcels of land to be added to state holdings along with approval of ACR. This is not all complete forest preserve adition, but rather a quilt of varied use lands with the premise of preservation at its core. I would not call it a defeat for environmentalist groups of the park. I would rather call it an evolution of their ideas. It is not as if everything they stand for is rejected outright. ACR is a private land holding of few acres compared to Finch Pryuns holdings in the central ADKs. The Council wisely realized that complete resistance to ACR would have put them at odds with popular sentiment in the park. The Adirondack Council itself probably comes out a net winner. In showing that they can be flexible, and compromising, they will probably be able to garner more support for land aquisition plans. This hits at what many residents of the park feel. We are not against forest preserve adition per se, provided our towns can also be free to support ourselves with economic revitilization.

  4. Paul says:

    More land is protected in the Adirondacks today than ever before. I know that Dave Gibson said that this decision “gave away the park” but I don’t think that is really true.

  5. Timothy says:

    My guess is — and a Tupper Lake resident I spoke with today agrees — most of this will never get built.

  6. Ann Melious says:

    “…the Adirondack Council broke ranks with Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild and endorsed the mega-development.” For so many region-particular environmental protection non-profits to survive, they need to differentiate their product in the marketplace. They all compete for the same donor dollars. I would have been surprised if Protect or Adirondack Wild had taken a stand that duplicated the Council’s.

  7. Paul says:

    The folks that run the Council have very good legal counsel. They knew that this was a battle they could not win. When you can’t win it is always best to pack it up and go home.

    Hey John what is with these crazy hard to read words we have to type in to leave a comment? This is probably why there is much less discussion these days??

  8. John Warren says:

    Paul – we’ll be rolling out a new commenting system in the next month or so that should be much better.


  9. Pete Nelson says:

    I agree completely with the idea of balance. We do not simply want to board-up towns and wipe our hands. I think the comments about the rationale of the Adk Council are almost certainly right. They are trying to find the right balance with a much bigger view than just ACR, which – as was pointed out – is small potatoes compared to something like the Finch Pryun lands. Those of us who have followed the Council for years should not be surprised, as we have witnessed their change over the last decade from uncompromising preservationists to advocates seeking dialogue with and affirmation of local residents and their interests and love for the park.

    With that said, being an strong advocate for the environmental welfare of the park may be best served by some sort of balance, but it must also and always be served with a level of integrity and courage that has one calling it like one sees it, calling it as it is, no equivocating. For example, ACR is a stupid idea. One has to put on blinders to Adirondack history and to any basic sense of economics to think such a project has a chance to be profitable. The park is littered with the failures of people who myopically thought big and paid for it.

    I’m willing to negotiate on balanced terrain and I am willing to give some environmental ground for the sake of Tupper Lake, for example. But not for something stupid.

    I think the Adk Council made a reasonable political decision, hoping it will help them in the future. But it was not a very good project on which to make that bargain.

  10. Michael P. McGuire says:

    And who will the ACR employ when it begins to clear land? Whom will they employ when they begin construction? Will residents of Tupper Lake and neighboring communities get first refusal? Will the ACR job-in iron workers from Toronto? Carpenters from Vermont? What about collateral benefits, like say, a 7-11 opening up, or another Walgreens? Who gets hired there for minimum wage? The legacy of huge developments like this always leaves foreclosures and vacated properties in their wake. Balance is a terrific concept. These towns need the ANY boon to the local economies. In practice, things usually look a little different 2 years down the line. Couple that with the burden of potentially higher taxes on the local community and you’ve got problems.
    By the way, have the developers made any pledges aside form “concessions”? In New York City your not going to build a thing unless you pledge to improve the area around you. The Time Warner Center completely refurbished Columbus Circle, for example. Has ACR shown any interest in say, supporting a revamp of the local High School? Infrastructure? The Wild Center? Just asking.

  11. Paul says:

    One area where most environmental groups seem to have consensus on is what should be the economic engine that could lead to the balance that Pete describes. They all seem to think that tourism is the key to economic progress for the park. Pete if there is no market for this project (I think there is not) than how can tourism save the area from the “boarding up” that you describe? I think that a project like this could work if the ski area was in a higher elevation location and in closer proximity to a lake. Those areas are all protected from development. It may already be time to wipe our hands and walk away.

  12. rideadk says:

    McGuire, No the ACR has not offered anything to the local community. In fact they have had their hand out from day one asking what the community can do for them. Just the opposite of most developments. This financial fiasco has no chance of success anywhere near what the developer had predicted. Couple that with the fact they are way behind on all their property taxes and Tom Lawson(project front man) has 3 federal tax liens totaling over $538000. for not paying income tax from 07-09 and you have a sure recipie for failure. Tupper Lake needs this development like a drowning man needs an anchor thrown to save him.

  13. Pete Nelson says:

    To answer Paul, tough question how to invigorate Tupper lake. I’m just spit balling here, but I’d focus on a few things:

    1. High-speed broadband, a strong cell signal and a local network services provider to facilitate people who want to live in paradise and work remotely. This is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in America. Tupper lake has a lot to offer remote workers. There should be a marketing effort to target thise sector.

    2. Build the recreational bike trail. The economic difference between that and the train which doesn’t go there anyhow is a no-brainer. The economic shot in the arm would be something to see. The trail as proposed by ARTA would be marketable on a national level as one of the premier biking experiences in the world. Nothing less than that. With the Olympic, Iron Man triathlon and Mountain biking cache the park already has this is a huge opportunity.

    3. Leverage the recreational trail to promote Tupper Lake as the snowmobile capital of the US. Look what that approach did form Eagle River, Wisconsin: http://snowmobileeagleriver.com/

    4. Develop the observatory and enter in a co-marketing arrangement between it, the Wild Center and the Adirondack Museum. Market the Tupper Lake – Blue Mountain lake corridor as a premier wilderness museum destination. Heck throw in Sagamore, just down the road from BML. The Adirondack Museum and the Wild Center can really help each other, with Tupper lake benefiting the most.

    Just a few ideas, any of them more sensible than ACR, more or less green, and more ownable by the community of Tupper Lake as a whole.

  14. Michael P. McGuire says:

    Great Ideas. The trick is to get the organizations behind The Adirondack Museum, The Wild Center and the Observatory as well as Sagamore to come to the table with a common interest. A lot of that depends on how interconnected these facilities are with the communities in which they reside. They primarily serve tourists so how concerned have they been with the local communities already. Several years ago if you called The Adirondack Museum and asked if there were any lake tours of Blue Mountain Lake they would say no, when in fact The Blue Mountain Lake Boat Livery has been offering several tours of the lake, in beautifully restored Adirondack cruising boats for decades. What a boon for them it would have been had the museum made a better commitment to the it’s host community.

  15. Paul says:

    Pete, these are all good ideas. Personally I think that a rail-to-trail idea is okay but a bit mundane. Revitalizing the whole rail line to accommodate a train like this would be far more unique:


    This train could service riders, mt. bikers, paddlers, x-county skiers, snowmobilers and more. Why not stop fighting and work together?

    This train could open and service new flag stop hiking trail-heads. New put-ins for paddlers. Drop off mountain bikers on new trails. I think a jump at a trail only is a mistake.

    What you want is something unique not just another snowmobile trail or another bike path.

  16. Michael P. McGuire says:

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