One senses some good energy in the Catskill Mountains these days, and interesting initiatives are underway there, including an attempt to quantify visitation to the Catskill’s protected public and private lands and waters, and resulting economic value added to the Catskill economy.
It would make sense if the same evaluation study method were applied to the Adirondack Park.
The Catskill Park is just over 700,000 acres in size, and its state lands, or the Catskill Forest Preserve is just under 300,000 acres. Roughly 15 % of the size of the Adirondack Park and Preserve, the Catskill region also encompasses the safeguarded New York City Watershed, which increases the size of the protected and regulated lands in the Catskills to roughly 1,250,000 acres. Article 14 of our State Constitution – our Forever Wild law protecting the Forest Preserve – encompasses the Catskill Forest Preserve as thoroughly as its Adirondack counterpart.
If Article 14 did not exist, and if New York City’s tough watershed rules did not exist, and if people did not enforce these laws, the cost of filtering the water supply for the Greater New York City Metro region would be in the range of $5-10 billion. Of course, many Catskill communities have for years suffered and resented the extent of the City’s control – direct and indirect – over their streams, rivers, and lives. It may be crudely analogous to the resentments some in the Adirondack Park have directed towards decision makers in Albany. Resentment over real and perceived lack of control is a very human feeling.
Yet, many have fought to overcome that feeling and its negative consequences, and given our Forever Wild law a human face knowing that the Constitution could be turned from a perceived boot on their neck to a uniquely valuable asset not available to other rural parts of New York, and because they also know that Article 14 is not self-executing; local people must make it work on the ground. For instance, in the Catskills many wise residents have concluded that to survive they must shake off mountain isolation like the plague, and come together to fight for, affirm, promote and leverage the region’s wilderness assets with the world, meaning with anyone who will listen.
Sherret Chase is one of those people, and he was honored this past week by the Catskill Center which he co-founded in 1969. I was honored to attend the ceremony. For 44 years, Sherret and his successors have fought the best they could to protect the Catskill environment knowing that it is the Catskill’s human and easily isolated communities that must benefit. Thus, the Catskill Center has promoted over the years Article 14, increasing the size of the Forest Preserve, but also creating a private forest foundation, a land trust, encouraging water quality standards, agricultural success, arts and artists of all kinds, and a inculcating a sense of place in its schoolchildren. Sherret and his co-founders and successors have worked tirelessly to unite the Catskill Park and greater Catskill Region under a “big tent” environmentalism, combined with idealism, very hard work, and love of the landscape they grew up in. And they have done this while the Adirondack Park secured much greater public and private funding and attention.
At the ceremony at the Catskill Center’s visitor center in Arkville near the East Branch of the Delaware River, Adirondack Wild thanked Sherret for his vision, “big picture thinking” and large embrace of our two Parks, and their vast watersheds without which New York State could not offer our people and the world such a wild, green oasis of hope and opportunity.” In 2013, one of Sherret’s successors as leader of the Catskill Center, Alan White, has joined with the Catskill Heritage Alliance and the Catskill Mountainkeeper to commission a study that quantified the economic value of recreational activities in protected public and private land in the Catskill Region.
According to the Economic Valuation Study released last December (www.catskillcenter.org), outdoor recreational activity that relies on public and private protected land attracts over 1,700,000 visitors annually who have an annual economic impact on the Catskill economy of $46,200,000, and who support nearly 1000 jobs. And these results are achieved every year in the Catskill Mountains “without even trying hard” to market and promote and coordinate activities,” said Alan White. But that is changing. The leaders of this Catskill coalition organized the first Catskill Park Awareness Day in the NYS Legislature this year to inform area legislators of the results of the study and to engage them in expanded efforts to protect but also to partner, promote and in a coordinated manner fully capitalize on the region’s natural and recreational assets.
Catskill economic impacts were estimated using the Money Generation economic impact model developed for the National Park Service and used for similar evaluations in parks around the country. Has a similar evaluation model been applied to the Adirondack Park? Numerous economic and recreational studies of the Adirondack Park have been completed or are ongoing. They have evaluated the economic impacts of all manner of outdoor recreation, but none that I am aware of have used the Money Generation economic impact model. More informed readers will please let me know if I am wrong.
In 2012, Henry Kinosian evaluated existing economic studies of the positive impact of open space and wilderness land in the Adirondack Park for Adirondack Wild. He concluded that more Adirondack Park-specific data should be gathered concerning visitors, and the types and frequency of recreational activity:
“Understanding the economic benefit in the market economy of private business is relatively straight forward; however, the non-market economic benefits of state lands are more difficult to measure. A market economy will not provide wilderness resources therefore a market analysis of wilderness cannot provide information about the value of wilderness. Accurate data on the number of visitors using state land in the Adirondack Park are important for management of the Park and to determine the value of the wilderness in terms of recreation and community benefits. Information about the value visitors to the Adirondack Park place on their experience needs to be determined. The types and frequency of recreational activities undertaken by visitors to the Park need to be better understood in order to determine their economic influence and to provide information for Park planning strategies. The non-use value of the wilderness in the Adirondack Park also needs to be determined by surveying New Yorkers about their willingness to pay for preservation of wilderness. More and better information about the economic activities in the Adirondack Park will be useful for local governments, APA, DEC and other organizations to help foster better management of the Adirondack Park for the future”
Catskill organizations are trying very hard to attract targeted investment in outdoor recreation and tourism, and political attention while protecting their environmental assets for future generations. The state and private sectors in the Adirondack Park should collaborate on a comparable economic valuation study using the same modeling. With 10 million or more visitors annually, the results of a comparable Adirondack Park study should be eye-catching. Any Governor and Legislator eyeing these collective numbers in both Parks, conservatively estimated, should recognize the goose that lays golden eggs every year – our forever wild Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve, embedded in the NYS State Constitution, unique on planet earth, and taxable for all purposes.
Of course, we must keep proper perspective and recognize, as Henry Kinosian noted for Adirondack Wild, that since a market economy will not provide wilderness resources, a market analysis of wilderness cannot possibly offer comprehensive information about the value of wilderness. So, I close with these words from the late Jim Marshall, brother of Wilderness Society founder Bob Marshall and a pioneering environmental attorney in New York City. Jim wrote near the end of his life in The Living Wilderness, magazine of The Wilderness Society:
“As my life has moved along I have grown in the conviction that the preservation of wild or undeveloped areas of land and water, places that bar mechanical devices and other works of man, and are free of his refuse, is essential if we are to find an ecological approach to life and death. Men and women need to know, or at least know of the existence in the here and now, of the primitive earth in which they are rooted and to know that man is not the measure or maker of all things, but an interacting partner.”
(Quote provided courtesy of Nicholas A. Robinson from his paper ”Forever Wild: New York’s Constitutional Mandates to Enhance the Forest Preserve” (2007 for the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks).