What follows is a guest essay by Connie Prickett, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. The Nature Conservancy is using $500,000 to create a new grant opportunity for recreation-based development in local communities.
When The Nature Conservancy in 2007 took on its largest single land conservation project in the Adirondacks, we knew success was only going to happen through collaboration. Recent steps by the Conservancy to establish a $500,000 grant opportunity ensures that community involvement continues to be an integral part of the conservation equation and a key element to the project’s overall success. The aim is to help communities position themselves to capitalize on new outdoor recreation opportunities being created through this project.
Here’s a recap of how we got to where we are today: after Finch, Pruyn & Co. decided to sell its manufacturing and land assets, a private equity firm purchased the company’s paper mill and hydro-electric facilities in Glens Falls; the Conservancy purchased the company’s Adirondack forestlands—161,000 acres featuring 415 miles of rivers and streams, 300 lakes and ponds, 90 mountain peaks, and 15,000 acres of wetlands. Without missing a beat, the paper mill immediately began operating under the name Finch Paper, and the Conservancy, in partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, immediately began reaching out to community leaders and other stakeholders.
The lands purchased by the Conservancy touch six counties and 27 towns, with more than 80% located in the central Adirondack towns of Minerva, North Hudson, Newcomb, Long Lake, and Indian Lake. From the beginning we recognized tremendous potential not only to conserve spectacular forests and create exciting new outdoor recreation opportunities, but also to work with communities to shape the outcomes. We rolled up our sleeves, met many new people and learned a lot along the way. Ultimately, the conservation plan calls for a combination of commercial working forests to be protected by conservation easement, new Forest Preserve lands to be purchased by New York State and made available to the public for hiking, paddling, hunting, etc., and some parcels set aside for community purposes.
This is where the project stands to date:
- New York State has purchased a total 24,000 acres from the Conservancy, including the Chain Lakes-Hudson River, OK Slip Falls-Blue Ledge, and Indian River parcels. The Conservancy continues to hold 41,000 acres for future transfer, including Boreas Ponds and stretches of the Upper Hudson and Opalescent rivers.
- 92,000 acres, now owned by a timber investor, is protected by a conservation easement that prevents development, requires sustainable timber harvest operations, and provides for some public recreation. (The public recreation opportunities on the easement lands, such as a new snowmobile connector trail between Indian Lake and Newcomb and fishing access to the Branch River in North Hudson, directly reflect ideas that came from discussions with local community leaders.)
- The towns of Newcomb and Long Lake have purchased from the Conservancy selected parcels for community purposes.
Our hope is that $500,000 in seed money will help germinate new ideas for recreation-based development in host communities touched by this project. Examples of what could potentially be supported include the following: seasonal shuttle service for hikers, bikers, and paddlers; trailhead parking or waterway access on municipal lands; visitor orientation signs, apps and brochures. The Conservancy is eager to see what fresh ideas come out of this process and we look forward to working with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York Natural Heritage Trust to implement this grant opportunity. (A request for proposals will be forthcoming.)
According to a 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association, nationally, more than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives–and they spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation per year. The outdoor recreation industry employs more workers than other large employment sectors, including construction, education, and oil and gas. Each year in New York State, outdoor recreation generates $33.8 billion in consumer spending, $12.4 billion in wages and salaries, $2.8 billion in state and local tax revenue, and supports 305,000 jobs.
The growing consensus in the Adirondacks is that we have tremendous potential to capture a greater market share of this industry. It will take a concerted effort for communities to encourage investment in amenities and to pursue new outdoor recreation-based economic development ideas. The Conservancy hopes this grant opportunity is a meaningful step to help jump-start the process in some of our towns.
We also hope that our continuing work and collaboration can serve as a complement to larger efforts underway like the Adirondack Futures Project of the Common Ground Alliance and the park-wide recreation strategies planning of the Adirondack Partnership.
Photo provided: The Nature Conservancy conducts community outreach in North Hudson.