Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: A Third Way

wrestlersThis week I am taking a short break from my surveying series, having been inspired by the spirit of a number of important conversations that have recently been unfolding on the pages of the Almanack.

Consider two Adirondack-loving persons.  Both are reasonably decent, honest, clear-headed, thoughtful people.  They work, they raise families, they vote and they enjoy the woods and mountains in their own way.  They have a variety of views on the wide spectrum of issues that affect the future of the Adirondack Park.  Let’s call one Mr. P and one Mr. N.

Mr. P would describe himself as a preservationist who would like to see more wilderness in the Adirondacks.  One hundred percent of his home energy use is generated from renewable energy sources.  He faithfully uses compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycles far more than he throws out.  He commutes by a combination of buses and running.  Mr. P loves nothing more than to be off trail in the middle of nowhere, far from anyone else.

Mr. N wants to see a thriving Adirondack economy.  Mr. N has a business that requires a lot of driving and he enjoys a serious car so instead of owning something like a Prius he has a WRX with a couple little additions that accelerates like an enraged slingshot but only gets mileage in the low-to-mid-twenties per gallon.  Mr. N is comfortable in the urban world and loves places like New York City and Chicago.  Eating a gourmet meal in Lake Placid or riding a roller coaster in Lake George would be just great for him.

Mr. P would love to see the State of New York acquire more land over time and protect it, much of it preferably with a Wilderness designation.  In fact, he would like to see the Wilderness protections made even stricter than they are now.  He would listen to a debate on the merits of a permit system for overused Wilderness areas such as sections of the High Peaks.  He would love to see trail markers removed even though he realizes that might not be a very good idea from a safety standpoint.  He could put together a list of trails and roads he would close if he had the power.  He would be more aggressive in removing nonconforming structures.   He does not support rebuilding the dam at Duck Hole nor any dam in Wilderness.   He would strongly support reintroduction of the cougar and the wolf if a plan for either proved to biologically sustainable.  He supports the Adirondack Council’s vision for the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  He would be disappointed to see the Essex Chain of Lakes classified as Wild Forest.  Mr. P thinks that the labeling of people with his point of view as “extremists” is divisive and ignorant of who he really is.

Mr. N is concerned about the people who live in the park.  He is worried about the health and future of places like Newcomb and Tupper Lake, just to mention two.  He thinks that local points of view have sometimes been belittled and he resents that good friends of his who live in the park and don’t support every part of the environmental agenda have often been marginalized or characterized as if they support cutting down all the trees.  He knows that many of these people are in fact some of the best protectors of land in the park.  Mr. N would like to see an improved snowmobile corridor from Old Forge to Lake Placid.  He supports more mountain biking trails.  He opposes the ACR in current form but supports development to revitalize Tupper Lake.  He imagines developing the Tahawus historic district and the ghost town of Adirondac into a world-class interpreted historic site with an excursion train to take tourists to-and-from using the recently reopened tracks.  He hopes the State supports additional put-ins and take-outs in the river corridors around Indian Lake and Newcomb.  If the combination of the opening of the Essex Chain, more access to rivers and the development of Adirondac led to an influx of people through Newcomb he would be thrilled and would be happy to see some restaurants and a couple new places for lodging open.  Mr. N supports increasing tourism in the park with a more unified and well-funded campaign.  Mt. N wants to see the entire park wired for broadband and telecommuting promoted to draw new permanent residents.

Here are some questions for you about these two gentlemen:

Who is more extreme?

Who is more likely to be elitist?

Who is a better friend to the Adirondacks?

Who more closely matches your views?

Who would win a debate on the future of the Adirondacks?

Who is right?

Those last two questions interest me particularly because the thought of a debate between them is personally unnerving and the possibility that one is basically right and the other is basically wrong is enough to make me run screaming to the nearest psychiatrist.

You see, they’re both me.

Let me assure you that I am being honest with both profiles.  I hold some views more strongly than others; some could be characterized as ideas for discussion more than positions of any great conviction. Nevertheless the descriptions are accurate (and yes, that WRX is a sweet car).

So what gives?  Am I suffering from multiple personality disorder?  Am I some kind of lunatic?  Or am I merely representative of the fact that each of us lives in the middle ground between any number of extremes?

I’ve been involved in politics and activism since I was fourteen.  I can count the number of true extremists and zealots I have met on one hand.   As imperfect and subjective creatures that live in societies, not anarchy, we human beings are naturally creatures of compromise and balance.  So why shouldn’t we act that way in debate and discussion?  Why do we work so hard to pretend otherwise?

It seems to me that our culture is becoming ever more polarized.  Right-wrong, up-down, true-false, win-lose… we seem to almost revel in simplistic thinking and side-taking.  Those who seek a little more nuance than that are denigrated as being wishy-washy; or worse, they are dismissed for expressing mere opinions, uniformed and unqualified, as though any real knowledge or expertise must necessarily put you all the way to one side or the other.  This devaluation of points of view is particularly saddening.

I have my opinions as to why this is.  I think that we are getting intellectually lazy.  It is so easy to get an answer to a question these days that whether or not it has merit has almost become beside the point.   We can push a button on one device or another and get all the answers that could ever be dreamt of.  It is as though we are losing our capacity to think things through, to be patient, to deliberate or ruminate on something even when it is not clear that an answer can be had.  At the same time advances in social technology, especially the web, lure us towards being vain posers and celebrities.  With Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere we can pretend to have a spotlight; hell, we can pretend to be whatever we want.  In particular we can be experts.  We can be right.

I am not naïve enough to think that this cultural evolution is somehow going to reverse, but the stark divides that open up at least provide a clarity that perhaps we can leverage.  Suppose we could actually demand a new standard in our discourse by adopting a simple rule.  Suppose that every time there was an issue where people lined up on two opposing sides, all parties mutually agreed by protocol to commit to finding a third way?  Each polar position would be clearly defined in detail, then put off limits.  A third way, not permitted to embrace either pole as a whole, would therefore be the only option.

It is not a revelation to anyone reading this that this “one or the other” kind of posturing has been a problem in the Adirondacks for decades.  I have written before that I think the Adirondack Almanack comes out pretty well compared to other outlets for opinion but even here I sometimes think the pages should be displayed in black and white instead of color.

Yet over the last two weeks I hear a lot of local voices in comments on various posts looking for a third way.  I find that encouraging.

I’m thinking of Bill Ingersoll, who wrote about five articles worth of comments in the last two weeks, all of them emblematic of what I would call third-way thinking.  I don’t know Bill except by reputation, but he certainly knows what he is talking about.  For example, with the coming proposals for the Essex Chain of Lakes the debate over Wild Forest versus Wilderness classification is hot.  It’s going to be one or the other in a given area, with a host of implications and lots of players to line up on either side.  So here is Bill suggesting we not take positions based upon the equipment we use, the toys with which we play.  Bill challenges us to consider that if we believe it is important that we not continue to dilute the traditional meaning of Wilderness and if Wild Forest is too lenient a classification for a sensitive tract like the Essex Chain, then why not have a third major land classification (he suggests calling it Backcountry) that would accommodate non-motorized activities like mountain biking and canoe access and climbing fire towers and bicycling on existing road networks?  He says he’s the only one talking about this.  Let’s not leave it that way.

I’m thinking also of Tony Goodwin, who I do have the pleasure to know.  Every once in a while he weighs in with a comment which is always reasoned, knowledgeable and occupies a pragmatic and realistic place between others’ extremes.  I can’t name anyone who knows more about the park than Tony; perhaps it is because he knows it so well that he functions as a a classic third-way thinker.

There are plenty of examples of interesting discussions of late on the Almanack: tourism or solitude? State Land or Easements?  Rails or Trails?  How about increased tourism and a telecommuting strategy that employs a land-use policy that actually promotes and enhances solitude?  Is that really an impossible combination or do we just want to yell back and forth that it is?  How about making intelligent decisions to support rail where it makes sense (removing a few millions of tons of accumulated mining byproduct, for example) and a recreational trail where the economic argument is lopsidedly in its favor?  You don’t have to agree with me; just don’t tell me I’m on one side.

How about embracing the Adirondack Futures Project, an exemplar of third-way thinking as wrought by the people of this region themselves, about which I will soon write in more detail?

Of course there will never be a rule that says that given a choice between two extremes we must adopt a third way.  But on the other hand we don’t need a rule.  After all, it is who we are; it is part and parcel of the democracy in which we live.  All we really need are voices like Bill’s and Tony’s and Dave Mason’s and Jim Herman’s.  And yours, if you’re willing.

If we do that then perhaps the Adirondacks can be a model not for only how we find a balance between sustainable living and wilderness but for how we get there, how we talk about it.  We can be a model for how public dialogue can lead to great things if we remember the art of dialogue itself, of persuasion and politics, of reasoned discourse and compromise.

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

21 Responses

  1. Susan Gaffney says:

    Why make your mythical and real people only men? As you know, there are plenty of women with valid and thoughtful viewpoints.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Just to be clear, the mythical guy is not mythical. He’s really me.

      Your question is a fair one and deserves a long answer. I may have to write one in a separate Dispatch. Briefly I would say that in this case it just so happens that the people who specifically inspired me to write this with their commentary and with whom I have had the most in-depth conversations recently have been men. However, I have always found that the kind of third-way thinking I am championing is more typically the provenance of women than men. I think there are good reasons why that is the case.

      You want a master of black and white thinking? Find me the typical guy. That’s why all my close friends are in fact women.

  2. Tim says:

    One of your best posts yet, Pete! And I agree with you. I hike the High Peaks all the time and crave the sense of wilderness I find but I think we should allow some biking on the roads in the new State land purchases. I love trains, usually take Amtrak to New York, and think the snow train to Gore is great, but a bike path between Saranac and Tupper would thrill me. Paddling is murder on my back but the views from Essex and Boreas lakes must be worth it. I’m a tree hugger from way back but harvested my own trees in a sustainable way to build my cabin. Float planes? I don’t know. That’s a tough one. What’s a third way around float planes?

  3. Gerry Rising says:

    Although, as a math teacher, I hate to see a break in the surveying series, I appreciate this post. Of course, we have different views of our wonderful park and we should respect those of others. When I was a child, my family spent two weeks each summer at various state campsites. We made good friends there, swimming together and sharing campfires. But often we did different things during the day. While we hiked and canoed, our neighbors more often visited the “attractions”: the North Pole, Santa’s Village, that kind of place. Thinking back on those times I find myself pleased that they were doing so: they left the streams and the peaks far less crowded. I am certain, however, that both families would support “the park”, while we would certainly disagree over many aspects of that support. We need all of us to seek such common ground.

  4. a says:

    Many of us don’t want to go that far with that much commercial development in Adirondack Park.

    Instead, we would rather see portions of park that are not environmentally sensitive offer a variety of low-impact recreational activities like backcountry and roadside camping, lean-tos, snowmobiling, atvs skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing, paddling, and even motor boats in limited portions of the park that have previously been open to those historic uses.

    Rustic dirt roads and backwoods trails, lean-tos, docks, rustic signage, campsites with outhouses and maybe picnic tables have some very common attributes:

    1) They’re rustic and largely blend into the woods.
    2) They are free for the public to use with some limitations to allow the use by all interested parties.
    3) They are spread out so one group of users won’t likely bother another group with noise or light (e.g. 1/4 mile separation for campsites and lean-tos)
    4) Mankind temporarily uses these pieces of land, but within days packs his gear up, and leaves no trace of his being there.

    The Adirondack Park belongs to the people. It must be open for the use of the people, and offer a variety of “primitive activities”, e.g. those activities that can occur without long-term established facilities except those of most rustic nature.

    As no tree may ever be felled in Adirondack Park, almost all of the park will be forever wilderness, even if its classified as wild forest. Moreover, due to the restriction on cutting, and the prohibition of new highway mileage, it’s unlikely that any significant new forest preserve road, that doesn’t exist today will ever be created.

    So yes to allowing limited recreational activity within the park, no to encouraging non-material extraction commerical activities on private lands.

  5. Bunker says:

    Excellent article…

    I am bias, I have been in the adks for about 23 years. I have seen savior ideas trotted out three-four times by Lake Placid Centric groups — which the Adirondack Futures Project appears to be.

    * we are going to have a regional Olympic bid, but it will be based in Lake Placid
    * tourism needs to be hub and spoke — so all the money goes to the hub (um… Lake Placid)
    * a bridge is out that takes tourist and second homeowners to Lake Placid — fixed in 20 days; meanwhile bridge out in the central adirondacks we have a detour for two months.
    * etc.

    The success in dollars and development has beenin Lake Placid (though ironically the population of LP is down, but not if you count second homes)

    If you want bias people like myself to believe in a different future, it might be wise to quit propping the same leaders up as the guide to our new future.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Thanks for the comment. Having had the deepest connection to the Central Adirondacks for most of my time in the Adirondacks I agree that regions of the park other than those right near the High Peaks have not always been given their due in the past.

      However I would hope you would not dismiss the Adirondack Futures Project too readily, because I don’t see that with this group. I just got their periodic update on heir work. During their most recent activity they gave presentations or did work with groups in Queensbury, Mayfield, Fulton, Tupper Lake, Plattsburgh, Long Lake and Keene. I think they are trying very hard to be as inclusive as possible. Their whole approach comes to nothing if they are not; they would be the first to say it.

      • Bunker says:

        Mr. Nelson

        The gentlemen gave a presentation in Indian Lake, that I attended. I liked it and thought it was a good presentation, from two gentlemen with great credentials. So I know they have been going to various places, trying to elicit those areas to get on board. I know that and on the surface that is great.

        In my heart, I want it to work.

        I know in my brain that Gary Douglas does well and is paid well to make Plattsburgh strong. James McKenna the same for Lake Placid. The are amazing in their ability to bring dollars to their area.

        Not so amazing to bring dollars to other areas. Lake Placid Visitor’s Bureau, with bed tax money was to promote the High Peaks Region and did a good job. If you read the promotions you would have seen that Lake Placid is the center of the High Peaks and Saranac Lake was not on the map.

        Again — great job for the entities with the most money, who didn’t need promotion to gain, only to hold their market share. (If you like I will gladly tell you a couple similar stories.) In many ways I want to congratulate Mr. McKenna for a great job. He IS one of the best at what he does. However, I worked in Saranac Lake at the time and felt there was an inequality .

        So, keep doing the same ol’ and you will ikely get the same ol’.

        Now if Jim and Dave were to say, “No we aren’t going to put the same guys in charge, this time we are going to try Pete Nelson.”

        I would say: “Yeah baby, let it roll.”

        There is a chance the same ol’ will be different, but I haven’t seen it happen in 23 years.

        • Bunker says:

          quick addition:

          Brian Mann:

          Lake Placid:

          30 years or so and the Adirondacks does not have an identity….

          But ask anyone if you know what Lake Placid is…. and all I can say — besides Lake Placid, who is better for that?

        • Pete Nelson says:


          I’ll only say this.

          I really like the Adk Futures Project. I’ll set that aside for the moment. I have been a visitor to the Adirondacks since I was born, more than 50 years ago. Our family’s deepest connection is to the Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake areas. Therefore I fully understand your position. I have seen a town-based mentality, with winners and losers, all that time. I think the development and good care-taking of a park-wide Adirondack image is a vital thing to work toward.

          I hear you and I sympathize with your position.

          • Bunker says:

            And I agree with you as well.

            I believe the gentlemen in charge of AFP will have many problems (they aren’t from the area, they plan to step back after a couple years, and others). I hope and wish them success

            If you aren’t retired or working for a government agency, you will not be able to afford to live in the ADKs if things don’t change in the next 5-10 years. In fact if the current Governor’s budget doesn’t change soon, there will be few schools in the area.

  6. John Jongen says:

    Pete, you postulate a clever dichotomy and invite the reader chose between the two options: binary, i.e. black or white OR a third way, all of the grey shades between black and white. My reaction is ‘it depends’. For the none-existential problem-solving faced by stakeholders in the ADK Park there may be many third way options that are a reasonable compromise solution for the preponderance of issues that arise in enjoying the benefits of this great park. But there are two issues that consume my time daily, climate change and fracking, where solutions must be viewed through a binary lens. There is no compromise: there is only one possible outcome. For us and our planet, to survive we must stop fracking for fossil shale gas, and we must stop burning fossil fuels altogether. These are existential threats where ‘interim’ or ‘bridge’ solutions would only have a brief shelf-life of a few years. So any problem-solving framework depends on the problem you are trying to solve.

  7. Charlie says:

    My thinking is always leaning towards the future Pete.I am an urbanite who goes to the Adirondacks to get away from noise and the thousand-lots of other distractions that take away the serenity that my creative soul seeks.It seems to me that things are going to be either one way or the other – peace or war;love or hate;clean water or eventually a cesspool……… This much i know.Each generation is less inclined towards the natural world than they are towards the material world.In the main people will take convenience and entertainment more than they will all things else,ie….they would rather see a millionaire entertainer passing a ball around in a field more than they will a deer browsing in a field; they will take a McDonalds moreso than they will a home-cooked meal.Without going into a long diatribe let me just say this: This society is a shallow one! I can go on and on (and on) about all of the mindlessness i see on a daily basis.I’m afraid for my grandkids. It is more about the convenience of money than it is about preserving what remains for a future society.It is more about leaving an unoccupied car running for half an hour so that it will be warm when the owner gets back into it,then it is clean air. A beautiful forest to one person is board feet to another………. The Adirondacks is a very special place.Fifty years from now places like it will be much more sought after than they are now,unless of course that generation is much more conditioned into an apathetic,material state moreso than this one is,which is likely. People that need to work are the same people are the same ones that want easier access to a shopping center.If we could just learn to simplify we wouldn’t need MORE. Places like the Adirondacks,and the lesser tracts of eco-system’s that remain,should be forever preserved in their natural state from this point on i believe. If you have been along the Northway lately,and Rt 9,you will see what is headed towards the Adirondacks….development after development,woods with signs that say “150 acres for sale” or “50 acres for sale”….and mini-malls where once were woods. It wont be long before every inch of roadway between Albany and the Adirondack line will be one strip mall after another.Then what? It is really sad what we are doing.There is more to this,and i may have skipped over some things,but I dont see a good future for the Adirondack Park unless we get more creative,futuristic,alternative,simplistic,emotionally intelligent people in charge.

  8. Paul says:

    I think you can also be a preservationist who thinks that we have enough wilderness land in the Adirondacks and would like to see what we have better protected. You can also be a preservationist that understand that some of the best preserve land in the park is private land. It is preserved not for public recreation but for the sake of preservation itself. Preserving that land requires that we preserve the ability for the stewards that live there (people like Tony Goodwin) to make a good living and pass on that stewardship to others. Peter this is the best dispatch you have written and many of them have been excellent (all actually).

  9. Peter says:

    Perhaps this third way has already been achieved and all we have to do is celebrate it. The ongoing argument (love the wrestling match photo) is killing the economy. Rather than celebrating what we have, we fight, and the fight interferes with the identity of the park(or defines it) and prevents a clear and clean definition that would advance tourism dollars. As to the third way being achieved, we have roadside access to every wilderness area. In fact, most wilderness areas are defined on their edges by roads. 99% of tourists appreciate the land from their cars and from experiencing front country. If someone arrived in the park from 1890, they would be surprised by all the easy access. There are more recreational opportunities in the park than anywhere else in the north east. We don’t need more. Most people hike or walk on the easiest access points available, and unlike those of us who live here, I honestly believe they like being with a crowd. Sooooo, preserve the backcountry as completely as possible…optimize easy access on a simple scale (Think Henry’s Woods in Lake Placid), and celebrate what we have.

  10. Lakeman says:


    Great article; open and honest! …..and as always, very well said.

    Thank you for making us step back and think (and hopefully listen a little closer). Also, thanks to all the Bill’s, Tony’s Dave’s and Jim’s who are willing to speak up and share their knowledge, experience and opinions. They all love the Adirondacks, as do I.

    Yes, I believe many of us feel conflicted on many of the issues facing the Adirondacks. Let’s all try to add a little more respect in our quest to look after the future of this place we all love to visit, live and/or recreate in.

  11. Big Burly says:

    hello again Pete. As ever, a great and thought provoking piece. Some sections reminded me of comments I have made over the 50+ years the ADK region has been part of my life.
    I want to take some time to add to your piece — having participated in the ADK Futures work by Dave and Jim, and learning so much more from those who also contributed to the Common Ground vision, the grey areas in the conversation are much broader, the blacks and whites much less appealing.

  12. Tom says:

    Wonderful article and reflects well with ideas I have had about the bi-polar stances from organizations and individuals that have paralyzed the Park. There has to be a better way, third-way, or fourth way. People need to set goals for the park and start delivering on those goals.

    The fact is that this park is settled by communities with a long tradition and history. There shouldn’t be a reason why the Park can’t create a model for community, business, and environmentalism to thrive. I believe in all three areas, yet I see communities like Tupper Lake in trouble. I am 42 and have been going to the Park for 42 years and 9 months! I live far away now but own a place in the park. It’s in my blood like many others and every day I think of being back there.

    I know many of the people on both of these sides love the park. It’s time they came together with that in mind and stopped making stances that can’t be met by either side.

  13. Bob Meyer says:

    yes Pete,
    the 3rd way is it. Adirondack State Park a UNIQUE park, which doesn’t need explanation here. if the grand Adirondack experiment is to continue successfully, there needs to be better wilderness and wild forest protection ALONG with smart growth and development. there has to be a sea change in attitude among enough folks to shift the balance toward the [creative] 3rd way away from the polarization that seems, at present, to dominate the populous.

  14. Dave Mason says:

    To learn more about the project go to

    About two thirds of the participants were residents, the rest non-residents

  15. My mother always used to tell me “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. I never quite understood what that meant, but she grew up in the Depression so it must have something to do with that. I’ve always challenged her and said “yes, I can – why not?” The Adirondack Park can have tourism and development and solitude. Smart people can figure out a way to do this. No right or wrong, but “best” should be the path we choose to follow.

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