Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Adirondack Council’s Willie Janeway On His First 100 Days

Entering-Adirondack-ParkWhen I started as the Council’s executive director on May 1, friends in the Park said “welcome home.”  I had worked here for the Adirondack Mountain Club for close to 10 years after graduating from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Economics and Environmental studies back in 1985.

That led to work with The Nature Conservancy, the Hudson River Greenway Council and – for the past six years – as a Regional Director for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region. I continued to visit the park when time allowed and kept myself current on park issues, hoping that someday I would get a chance to return to this special place.

I know the park is a unique and priceless asset – a vast, natural landscape much larger than any four of the most famous national parks out west.  The Adirondack Park guards the watersheds of five major river systems, providing drinking water, irrigation, transportation and recreation to millions of people in the Northeast. Its thousands of lakes and ponds and its constitutionally protected, “forever wild” Forest Preserve draw millions of visitors each year, safeguarding and sustaining rare and sensitive plants and wildlife species, and human communities that have no other home.

The park is also home to 130,000 year-round residents and another 200,000 seasonal residents, who live in and around more than 100 small communities.  Those communities are vital to the region’s history and future.  Many predate the creation of the Park in 1892.  They provide the goods and services needed to make the park a major tourism engine for the state’s economy.  They are where people live and work.

They are the cultural and historic centers and the landmarks that help to define the park’s identity.  They provide a sense of history and a direct connection to the surrounding public lands and waters.  They make it possible for people of all persuasions to enjoy the park’s wild landscape, whether they plan to spend a few hours sightseeing or several weeks exploring.

Without its communities, the park would contain only sterile government buildings.  Uniformed state officials would be the only residents.  There would be no local timber industry, no Olympic sports venues, no ski areas, and no homegrown businesses like Oscar’s Smokehouse, Old Forge Hardware or Hornbeck Boats.

The Adirondack Park encompasses six million acres, or 9,300 square miles.  It always has, and always should, honor the principle that it takes a combination of public and private lands and waters, state and individual stewardship and management, and multiple stakeholders working in collaboration to protect, manage and realize benefits from a landscape as large, unique and challenging as the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Park is unique.  With 70 million Americans and Canadians living within a few hours’ drive, it receives nearly 10 million annual visitors.  Yet, there are few populated places left on earth as wild and unspoiled as the Adirondack Park.  It is one of the few places on earth where modern society is attempting to live in harmony with a wild landscape.  That is important, because the rest of the world needs the Adirondack Park’s example to follow.  This is true nearly everywhere, from rural New York to the far reaches of the globe.

Just before I arrived at my new job, I traveled to Nepal with my family to visit my daughter.  She was teaching English in Katmandu before starting as a student at St. Lawrence University.  I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the Far East.  The scenery was amazing. However, the crushing poverty, the lack of basic services and sanitary facilities and the pressure of rising population were shocking, especially in populated areas.  I returned to the Adirondacks wiser, but with a nasty cough and a jarring memory of horrendous living conditions and poor environmental stewardship.  That is not what we want here, or anywhere.

While my cough went away after a few weeks of breathing Adirondack air again, the memory and lessons of the trip are still fresh in my mind.

Upon return to the Adirondacks the most dramatic change I noticed was in the passion, intensity and civility of the debate over the future of the park.  Unlike the early 1990s, when the Governor’s Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century was being debated, people who disagree aren’t shouting at each other or calling one another names, or vandalizing homes and offices.

There was a stark contrast between those days and this June, for example, at the recent public hearings on the state’s classification and management plans for thousands of acres of new public lands.  At the recent hearings, people with very different views and desires listened patiently as the others spoke.  They politely applauded and waited their turn to calmly deliver their own remarks.  This new spirit of tolerance and respect is very encouraging.

The Adirondack Council helped to bring about that change.  My predecessor Brian Houseal was involved in the founding of the Common Ground Alliance, which just held its seventh annual meeting in Newcomb in July.  One of that group’s first aims was to fend off a threat to the state’s annual property tax payments on the Forest Preserve, upon which many Adirondacks towns rely.  Losing that revenue would have negatively impacted many local communities.

Together, environmental groups, community development leaders and local government officials worked to halt the threat, as well as a similar one that emerged a couple of years later, when severe state budget cuts were enacted.  We learned that working together was not just possible, but felt good, and increased everyone’s chance of success.

This July, more than 200 members of the alliance gathered in Newcomb to discuss how similar our visions for the park future had grown to be, and how small our disagreements had become.  That kind of willingness to work for a common goal made it easier for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to embrace the Adirondacks wholeheartedly.

If the two sides were still arguing, he would be stuck answering questions about the disagreement, rather than promoting ideas everyone can embrace.  He comes here to take his family on vacation.  He traveled to Keene five times to help Essex County cope with, and recover from, Tropical Storm Irene.  And he brought national media attention to Indian Lake by holding whitewater races with other state government officials, the Park’s environmental leaders, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Governor Cuomo gets what the Adirondack Park is all about.  He understands both wilderness and communities are part of its basic fabric.  He wants to spend his time here.  His Regional Economic Development Councils have twice provided more than $100 million dollars to the North Country region in incentives and grants to promote new ideas and to support those efforts that are already working in and around the Adirondack Park.

At the same time, local leaders have made a sincere effort to understand what environmental organizations such as the Adirondack Council have been saying about the need to protect wild landscapes, conserve wildlife habitat on public and private land and preserve pure water.

The Adirondack Council and partners such as the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack North County Association, The Nature Conservancy, The Wildlife Conservation Society and Adirondack Community Trust (just to name a few) have at the same time more aggressively and publically embraced support for a vision of an Adirondack Park with vibrant, economically strong, sustainable communities.

The debate today isn’t so much about whether wilderness should exist, as it was 20 years ago.  Today, the assumption is that wilderness is desirable.  The debate is over how we can best manage, promote and get communities to benefit from being so close to it.

The Council’s collaborative efforts and leadership led to important and exciting results and activities during my first few months.

On Lake George, we helped secure an additional $200,000 from state government for invasive species controls, which local government desired.  In addition, we encouraged state officials to embrace a request from local governments who wanted the Lake George Park Commission to approve an invasive species management plan that includes mandatory boat inspections. That plan was approved late in July and is expected to go into effect in the spring of 2014.

We enjoyed bringing more than 150 of our members and supporters to the tiny hamlet of Wanakena this summer to celebrate our annual Forever Wild Day and cheer for Conservationists of the Year John and Margot Ernst.

On the state level, we helped secure second Legislative passage of two important Constitutional Amendments that would help park communities and the Forest Preserve if voters approve in November. Our support came after the Governor Cuomo embraced our criteria for judging the merits of proposed Constitutional Amendments involving land swaps for Adirondack Forest Preserve.

We also worked to improve outdoor recreation that supports local businesses, while enhancing the park’s wilderness character, by advising the Governor to approve a “Wilderness with Access” alternative for the management of the Essex Chain of Lakes, Hudson Gorge and OK Slip Falls.  This reflects many elements of The Adirondack Council’s original (1990) proposal for a Wild Rivers Wilderness here.

On the regional and federal levels, The Adirondack Council has successfully encouraged officials from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce the carbon emissions cap for electric power plants from nine Northeast states, including New York. Climate change threatens the park’s ecology, as well as its ski and winter sports industries and its timber industry.

In cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, the Council persuaded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to appeal an August 2012 U.S. District Court decision nullifying the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in June to hear the appeal.

Earlier this year, the Council worked with a coalition of advocacy and scientific research organizations to ensure that state agencies conducted proper nesting studies before proceeding with construction of new emergency towers on Little Whiteface Mountain, in an effort to protect the Adirondack habitat of the rare Bicknell’s Thrush.  This not only helped protect a sensitive bird species that does nearly all of its breeding here, it also helps nurture a growing tourism trade.  Bird lovers who want to catch a glimpse of one of the world’s rarest species have begun flocking to the Adirondacks themselves in early spring – a time when tourism is otherwise very slow.

To encourage the local farming economy and associated land conservation, the Council helped secure passage this spring of legislation that will encourage the procurement of local foods at state facilities.  And, to promote the idea of purchasing local products to support the economies of our rural towns, the Council offered a selection of locally made crafts and gift items for sale through our website.

In an effort to protect farms and orchards from the destructive behaviors of wild boars in the Champlain Valley, the Council helped pass new legislation to ban imports of invasive Eurasian boars in New York.

In the months ahead, there are opportunities to keep this momentum going.

We believe there is a chance to make real, lasting changes in the way the Adirondack Park Agency operates by updating the Park Agency Act.  This will help to better protect water, wildlife and private stewardship, while making the rules easier to understand and follow.

We need to work together on solutions to halt the spread of invasive species, especially in the park’s waters.

The state’s newest land acquisitions from The Nature Conservancy, including the former Finch, Pruyn and Company lands, must be properly managed and protected and the APA’s classification recommendation and the Governor’s decision can ensure that this happens.  By finding new ways to promote wilderness and gateway communities together, we will strengthen the link between the two.

The next state budget represents an opportunity to act on our shared commitment to the Adirondack Park’s wild lands and communities, clean water, clean air and private forestland and farmland.  The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) turned 20 years old this August.  It provides only a fraction of the state resources needed in the Adirondacks, and from Long Island to Buffalo, to meet pressing clean water, open space, local community needs.

During my first 100 days, I’ve been humbled and thrilled at the passion, commitment and dedication of those who are stakeholders concerned with the future of the Adirondack Park.  I am grateful for the doors that have been opened, and for the advice and support offered.  Visiting communities across this incredible landscape I realize what a special opportunity we have.  Together, we can and will build a better Adirondack Park.  Our future depends on it.


Related Stories

Willie Janeway is the Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

The Council envisions a park composed of large wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities.

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Council members and supporters live in all 50 United States.

18 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Good article. I think this – “humblwsd” is supposed to be “humbled”. (last paragraph)

  2. Penn Hoyt says:


    While I would like to trust what you say, the experience I have seen with the council (and other like groups) makes me pause. Economic opportunity in the park is, as they say, few and far between. Reading about the youth (latest issue of Adirondack Life)that want to leave the park because they know they cannot find jobs, is highly discouraging. Locking up land as wilderness does absolutely nothing to help people gain productive employment that pays more than $7.50 per hour. Locking up development in useless and protracted legal battles only benefits the lawyers, not the people in the park.

    What I’ll be looking to see is what YOU are doing to help bring jobs, with livable wages, to the citizens of the park. That is what a “council” that claims to represent the Adirondacks should be doing.

    Penn Hoyt
    SLU – ’81

  3. Dave Cotton says:

    The Adirondack Council has grown into a rich person’s club, with members believing the rules apply to everyone but themselves. For example, see that massive, view-ruining house on the shoulder of Porter Mountain.

  4. loggerhead says:

    Can I be nominated for Conservationist of The Year, if I get one of those sweetheart, plutocratic Conservation Easement deals where the public helps pay my taxes on my massive private estate as long as I don’t build any more shacks for the plebeians, and keep if posted from the public that is paying the tax. Can we have a big shindig where the wealthy elites will come, have their cake and eat it too? ( But I only have eight acres)
    The Adirondack Council recently ruled the APA board, now trying a kinder and gentler approach. Who would be skeptical? Common Ground will happen when Adk Council and other members of the Wilderness Only Hydra can embrace and accept Wild Forest. Get real.

    • John Warren says:

      Every single proposal for the new state lands includes Wild Forest.

      There is no organization arguing for “Wilderness Only,” that’s just one of the inaccuracies presented by this anonymous commenter as fact. The Adirondack Park Agency has approved nearly every single permit application it has ever received in its entire history, hardly an agency under the control of the Adirondack Council (another false claim). Also false is the claim that easement lands are really “private estates” closed off from access. Anyone who visits the many new lands opened to the public thanks to easements – including roads, snowmobile trails, and other facilities and recreation opportunities – can see for themselves.

      So yeah, get real.

      • loggerhead says:

        John, Did you read the article …?? Obviously you do not understand the comment.
        And please tell us about any easement lands in Hamilton and Essex county that are truly open to the public. Find out about the private estates recently and in the past given easements on their properties that remains posted and private while NYS taxpayers pony up to protect the castle.
        When 3 Adirondack Council past board members were sitting on the APA board, not a bad effort to take control. Perhaps we will have to wait for the next Republican governor to see that again.

  5. Paul says:

    No matter what kind of classification happens it is going to make the North Woods Club in-holding one of the sweetest real private estates in the Adirondacks. There are not any Council members in that club are there? Willie?

    • Paul says:

      The “mostly” Wilderness options are going to be best for the North Woods Club. They have all the access they need and a Wilderness on those sides will definitely up the value of their property. One of the well documented advantages of Forest Preserve acquisition is the increase in property value of nearby private land. Wild Forest will increase the value of that land as would any FP classification but the(mostly) Wilderness option will be the real score for them.

      • Paul says:

        Actually I found this at the link below regarding members of the club I describe that lies next to this land under classification:

        “Many of our members are or recently have been Board members or employees of environmental organizations such as Trout Unlimited, the National Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, The Adirondack Council, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (now “Protect the Adirondacks!”) and DEC Region 5. Two of our deceased members were founders of the NYS Conservationist magazine.”

    • John Warren says:

      What relevance is this beside your attempt to slander? The Adirondack Council did not make this purchase and has no authority to classify these lands.

      • Paul says:

        John, there is no “slander”. What are you talking about? I was just noting that a Wilderness classification would be better for the property value of the club. More power to them. As far as authority. As many have said (including the APA) those who weigh in with public comments apparently do have a say in the classification. As I understand it the authority is supposed to lie with the people of the state of NY. If I had a personal stake in one outcome or another I might find it best to recuse myself from the discussion. The same was true for the club members on that land that many here had mentioned should avoid any conflicts.

        • John Warren says:

          Why don’t you identify yourself and your affiliations so we can see if you should recuse yourself from the discussion?

          • Paul says:

            The only discussion I am involved with is this one here. I have not submitted any comments or spoken with anyone that makes any decisions regarding this classification. I am recused. Don’t need to be but I am. Comments here have no impact on the decision.

      • Paul says:

        John, also, if you want to accuse one of your readers of slander why don’t you point out in my comments what was false. Thanks.

      • Paul says:

        As I understand it the Nature Conservancy WAS a party to the sale. They were the sellers, no? If that information from the ALA is correct and some of their members are also members of the Northwoods Club there is a possibility that people from that organization also could benefit from a particular outcome here. There is nothing wrong with that but it might be a good idea to disclose the potential conflict. They may have actually done that.

        • John Warren says:

          The Nature Conservancy has more than a million members. If you have some proof to back up your wild accusations, let’s see it. Especially if you are not willing to tell us who you are so we might see who pays you to comment here all day throwing around unsubstantiated accusations of wrong-doing.

          Paul, you are increasingly becoming a problem here. This site was not created to provide you an anonymous place to stir unfounded animosities between people in another region of the state. You may be aware that many sites and most newspapers are beginning to phase out anonymous commenters because of the kind of abuse you are perpetrating.

          Please don’t drive us to do that here (or to simply block you from commenting altogether). You are the only person regularly using their anonymity to launch baseless attacks, fomenting animosities, and spreading rumors, such as you have attempted to do here, every single day.

          Ease up on this kind of nonsense. Take a break.

          John Warren
          Founder, Editor
          Adirondack Almanack

          • Paul says:

            John, I am not paid to comment. Your replies seems to be spinning this into more that it is. Nothing false or baseless was said by me. You control the conversation so I will stand down. Thanks.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox