I write today to urge you to support a Wilderness Classification for the former Finch Pruyn lands surrounding the Hudson River and the Essex Chain of Lakes. After a comment period and series of public hearings that has given the citizens of New York an opportunity to voice their opinion, the decision lies in the hands of the Adirondack Park Agency. But the final approval is yours alone. More important, the chance to lead on an issue of national importance that lies at the heart of our journey into the future as New Yorkers and Americans is yours alone as well.
I challenge you to consider that the effort to protect wild places in a world of ever-expanding civilization and the pressures of altered climate and degraded ecosystems is a moral imperative, essential to our long term future. On issues like the fight for the equality of women or the safety of our children and communities from gun violence you have demonstrated that you have the courage and charisma to lead on principle, not merely politics. The Adirondacks, a region you have shown you love and value personally, needs your passion and commitment just as much. And as with these other seminal issues, what you do here will have significance far beyond the borders of the state you govern.
Those who see these issues drawn on a smaller canvas may think my claim of significance to be grandiose. But there is a larger canvas to work with.
The smaller canvas paints two sides in opposition. On the one side are those who will say that the highest and most historically valid priority for these lands is to insure their environmental protection. They will cite Article XIV of the State Constitution as clear evidence of this priority. Those on the other side will say that the economy of the Adirondack region must be the priority given the unique mixture of public and private land and the dozens of communities inside the blue line. They will advocate for recreational access that ensures the widest possible use and thus bolsters tourism revenue.
These two positions frame an enduring and divisive argument over the Adirondacks that has gone on for more than a century. Every time there is a policy initiative affects the region you can be sure these voices will be heard from. We paint on this small canvas over and over again.
I ask you to consider a larger canvas that offers a hopeful vision for the future relationship between people and wilderness. Suppose that those who say we must choose one side or the other are wrong. Suppose we can evolve to a point where these two perspectives are no longer in opposition. Consider the Hamlet of Newcomb which sits as the gateway to these lands. What if the very best protection we can offer to the precious resources of the Essex Chain and the Upper Hudson River is in fact at the same time the very best economic boost we can give to Newcomb?
“Prove it,” the environmentalists will say. “Prove it,” the residents of Newcomb will say. Governor, with your leadership let’s do just that. State purchase of these lands represents the most significant addition to the Forest Preserve in more than a century. It is the perfect opportunity to change the old, tired arguments forever.
I call upon you to publicly announce your support for a Wilderness classification for the Essex Chain and Upper Hudson. At the same time I call upon you to appoint an Economic Czar to develop a strategy to leverage this Wilderness and implement a specific plan to maximize the economic impact on the region, specifically Newcomb. This Czar can put good minds to the task of promoting ecotourism, low impact recreation, wilderness education and numerous other possibilities that need a vibrant community as much as they need the land itself. Surely if Costa Rica and Norway can do it, New York can do it. And if we can do it in Newcomb, deep in the heart of the Adirondacks and currently lacking the tourist infrastructure of other regional destinations, we can do it anywhere. That’s the kind of proof that could be worth gold to generations of New Yorkers.
Such an initiative would be important to more than just the Adirondacks. Many have referred to the Adirondack Park as a world-leading experiment in how human beings and wilderness can coexist. A specific, measurable plan to tie the welfare of the Essex Chain to the welfare of the people who live and work near it would further that experiment to the benefit of all who would seek to find permanent solutions to our daunting ecological and economic challenges.
Naysayers will dismiss this kind of thinking as wishful nonsense or irrelevant tinkering. By your actions and your leadership you can repudiate that thinking. I urge you to take this unprecedented opportunity to do so.
Photo by Dave Gibson