Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Adirondack ‘Great South Woods’ Ideas Sought

Great South Woods AdirondacksAn effort latter this month hopes to gather public input about how to diversify and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the what organizers are calling the “Great South Woods” – a more than 2 million-acre area of public and private lands in the southern Adirondack Park that includes parts of Oneida, Herkimer, Hamilton, Fulton, Saratoga, Warren, and Essex Counties.

The driving forces behind this new initiative have been Bill Farber, Chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA).

The Great South Woods initiative will begin with an open public meeting 5:30 to 8:30 pm, Wednesday, December 17th, at the Lake Pleasant Central School in Speculator.

According to a press release issued today:

“DEC has sponsored the Great South Woods (GSW) initiative with the goal of creating a destination-based system of trails and recreation assets to stimulate economic activity while protecting the region’s unparalleled natural resources and wild character. ESF will facilitate the participatory process to engage local knowledge about how best to connect recreation destinations and communities through recreation infrastructure.  

“The project will develop a new strategic vision for recreation infrastructure across the vast Great South Woods region, where nearly two of every three acres is State land, and where a diversity of natural settings remain an untapped resource for local communities and tourism-oriented businesses. The new initiative will generate a digital map-based inventory of existing and potential land and water trails and associated recreation infrastructure, as well as lodging facilities and other amenities currently available or needed to support recreational visitors. The process will draw on the knowledge, ideas and priorities of local residents and visitors, as well as guides, outfitters, recreationists, business owners and other stakeholders across the southern region of the Park. Digital and online mapping tools will help to gather and analyze this information, in order to generate new ideas and options for regional recreation planning.”

Statements accompanying the announcement of the initiative signaled the support of Farber, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich, and Dr. Colin Beier, project leader for ESF.  Bill Farber’s statement called it a “unique opportunity to integrate community planning with natural resource planning”.  “I explain this project to others as our chance to plan towards a sustainable tourism economy in the Park,” he said.

A Great South Woods kick-off meeting is scheduled for December 17th in Speculator. According to the announcement:

“The public is invited to learn about this effort and contribute their knowledge and ideas about existing and potential recreation trails and destinations. This meeting will be followed by workshops in individual communities across the region, from January through March, to brainstorm about ways to increase connectivity, diversify recreation opportunities, and improve recreation settings in both the less remote ‘front-country’ areas near communities and transportation corridors, and the core “back-country” areas that offer remoteness and solitude. All information gathered will be combined with existing data to ‘map out’ a variety of options for new recreation opportunities in the GSW. After sharing these initial results with communities, the project will formulate recommendations for a destination-based trail system that ties public lands to the communities in the region and helps to better connect communities to each other.”

For more information about the GSW project and the participatory process, visit the ESF website at

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12 Responses

  1. Heidi Christiansen says:

    Great hopes for an area of the Adirondacks much in need of positive economic development. You missed Fulton County in your list of counties. A beautiful area that is economically barely hanging on.

  2. George Nagle says:

    What do DEC/APA mean by “front-country” and “back-country”?

    Are these criteria to use in planning for state land? If so, then how do they relate to the existing provisions of the State Land Master Plan, and should they not be included in that plan?

  3. Dave Mason says:

    Hi George-

    Front/Back country are not legal terms.

    They might be used in the SLMP update, I don’t know. The idea is certainly relevant but not exclusive to public land. I’ll try to explain.

    The front country concept refers to lands (private and public) that are close to roads, including road corridors, hamlets, villages, nearby recreation opportunities, all are generally easily accessible. Think of it as the front door to the region that most people see, visit, drive through and live in.

    The back country concept refers to more remote lands, public and private, also including conservation easement timber lands. These areas are remote, where one might find solitude and a different set of recreation opportunities.

    You get to back country thru the front country. So linkage between them is important.

    The idea of landscape level planning (also called complex planning) is to better integrate thinking about how state land, the hamlets, easement land, private land all fit together in a whole landscape or ‘complex’. Today we split all this up. There are UMPs. There are the APA’s SLMP and zone maps for private land. Towns and villages have their land use plans and zoning. These are all fine, but none look at the landscape as a whole, how the parts fit together.

    This is an effort to try this sort of integrated approach in the Park.

    I am not connected to this project but that is my image of it. Others can correct me if needed.

    It has been discussed for a long time. It is great to see it take shape in the Great South Woods region of the Park.

    • George Nagle says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thank you for your reply.

      Looking at all the types of land in one area, and thinking about how they may best relate to one another, strikes me as worthwhile.

      But I’m uncomfortable with the terms front-country and back-country.

      They do not appear to be necessary to the integrative planning proposed. Such planning can occur without that overlay.

      The criteria for telling one from the other is unclear. How do we draw the line between the two? Is Newcomb back-country, or does front-country exist as a kind of halo around each settlement?

      The purpose of the front/back country distinction is also unclear. The SLMP classifications such as wilderness rests upon years of research some of which antedate the APA and are associated with the work of Clarence Petty. Would the front-country designation in any way compromise the uses/prohibitions now appropriate for wilderness?

      You describe the back-country as “remote, where one might find solitude and a different set of recreation opportunities.” Really? Different set from front-country?
      Is there not a case for wilderness to be enjoyed close to population centers?

      You point out that the front/back-country terms are not legal terms. If they are to be used at all, which I question, perhaps they should be proposed as legal terms.
      In that way we could consider them carefully and understand them better.

  4. Paul says:

    I wonder how the term “South Woods” will sell? To me that doesn’t sound very Adirondack. But I guess if you are coming from Maine or Montreal it works. Sounds warm?

  5. Trailogre says:

    What happens to the backcountry when the “front country ” is criss crossed with ATV trails?

    Once the Front country goes under there will be no back country

    Motorized wreckreation has no business in front country

  6. Avon says:

    I’m strongly in favor of assessing what there is, in the way of information about the natural resources, and integrating it so that people can find it all. If each person leaving the roads knows where they’re going and how to make the most of their time there, I think there will be less poor woodsmanship, fewer mishaps, more enjoyment and less stress or sheer misery in the back country … and probably less wear-and-tear on the front country.

    But I’m strongly opposed to developing what there is, if it’ll involve more paths and trails and other physical infrastructure, even if it’s only in the front country. Trailogre does have a point. To me, it seems like that’s not what the project proposes – and I’m glad of that.

    So, overall, I’m skeptical that this project can invigorate the local economy much. That kind of economic boom would require development – maybe not as extreme as theme “attractions” (how unattractive they are!) or casinos, but at least something on which visitors would spend substantially more money, and which would draw substantially more people. I can’t think of any such thing that would not degrade all the same “recreation opportunities” that the project is cataloging and integrating.

    Every community – rural or urban, shrinking or growing – seeks to develop more economic vitality. Few can do it without losing something valuable – if not outright shooting themselves in the foot or killing their golden-egg-laying goose. I’d err on the side of caution.

  7. Jeffrey Meuwissen says:

    Great South Woods planning effort

    A crucial step in any kind of recreational/tourism development is connection between points of interests via trail connections that attract and encourage “green” tourism activities such as hiking and bicycle riding. The Northville/Northampton HEPA plan calls for this action. The following item is taken from that plan.

    “Action Item 2.6: Develop additional connec¬tions to the area’s natural amenities includ¬ing Sacandaga Lake, Northville/Hunter’s Lake, Shaker Mountain and Wilcox Lake Wild Forests, and Silver Lake Wilderness.
    Implementation Item 2.6.1: Work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure a diversity of four-season recreation opportunities are included in Unit Management Plans for the Shaker Moun¬tain and Wilcox Lake Wild Forests and the Silver Lake Wilderness.
    -Seek to expand and build trail connections (snowmobiling, hiking, mountain biking) to neighboring communities.
    -Encourage the development of hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking trails for all age levels with a diversity of distances (i.e. 2 hour hikes, 4 hour hikes, etc.).
    -Facilitate the connection of the Northville-Placid Trail into the center of Northville.
    -Seek to bring all trail connections, including snowbmobile trails, into the center of Northville.”

    Essential item:
    The new Northville-Lake Placid trail re-route still requires a number of miles of public road hiking from Northville before the trail actually enters the woods. Acquire trail easements from the “new” trailhead on the Collins-Gifford’s Valley Road in a southerly direction across undeveloped private lands to emerge on route 30 in the vicinity of the Bridge Street intersection. This would require trail easements across 3 to 4 landowners, but would eliminate all public road hiking once the hikers are west of Rt 30 at the Northville Bridge Street intersection. Tax parcels 31-1-2, 31.2-1-28 and31.2-1-10 would be key to this effort. Tax parcels 31.2-1-1 and 31.2-1-6.1 would make a better route if included in this, but could be avoided with not too much difficulty if access could not be acquired across them.

    “-Coordinate trail planning efforts with the SUNY-ESF/NYSDEC “Great South Woods” regional State land planning effort.
    The new initiative will generate a digital map-based inventory of existing and potential land and water trails and associated recreation infrastructure, as well as lodging facilities and other amenities currently available or needed to support recreational visitors. The process will draw on the knowledge, ideas and priorities of local residents and visitors, as well as guides, outfitters, recreationists, business owners and other stakeholders across the southern region of the Park. Digital and online mapping tools will help to gather and analyze this information, in order to generate new ideas and options for regional recreation planning.”

    A highly desirable addition to the area trail systems would be a multi-use, forest based trail from the Northampton Beach Campsite to the vicinity of Sacandaga Park or the Northville bridge. This trail should include the ability to be used by hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders and cross country skiers.

    Connections between isolated and disconnected trail systems should be made wherever possible. Although it is recognized that many trails are single destination, short hike trails leading to isolated ponds, etc., many of the current systems should be connected so that it is possible for hikers to reach various destinations without the need for retracing routes and moving vehicles in order to get from one place to another.
    This could foster a shuttle business whereby hikers could make arrangements to be picked up at various destinations and shuttled back to where their vehicles were parked.

    Also essential in this effort is an easily acquired, clearly explained trail map system which outlines where all of the trailheads and parking areas are located and the connections, via the trail system, to the destinations accessed by the trail system.

    It is very frustrating to have to go to a number of offices, tourism centers, information booths, etc. in order to determine where trail opportunities exist and how to get to them. Most often a visitor finds only bits and pieces of what they need to know at any one location. A good case in point is an effort we made in 2014 to find the Lake Placid end of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail. In spite of all of the activity at the Northville end in conjunction with “relocating” the trailhead into the Village of Northville on National Trail Day, nothing was happening at the Lake Placid end. When we went there later to find the trailhead, we had great difficulty locating it. The DEC headquarters in Raybrook, actually suggested we find the local Forest Ranger who might be able to tell us where it was located.

    In conclusion, there needs to be coordination between State developed plans and local plans in their development stages so that conflicts in philosophy and overriding legal requirements are avoided.

  8. Sunny Day says:

    Why in the world would anyone want to lose the critical and priceless connection to the Adirondack ‘brand,’ even though at the present it is neither well-defined nor well-communicated.

    The Great North Woods designation makes sense for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Great South Woods sounds like some swampy Faulknerian place that’s below the Mason-Dixon Line. It does nothing to convey the distinct northern forest experiences of the Adirondacks, including those in the counties considering the Great South Woods designation.

    A suggestion, based on my more than 10 years in this region in tourism and economic development, branding and strategic marketing development, might encompass something like this: The Adirondacks… For Your Best Nature… Discover, Explore, Celebrate!

    For Your Best Nature plays on the notions of mental, spiritual and physical wellness; active and passive recreation; wildlife and outdoor experiences; adventure; personal fulfillment through the arts, history, and return to core traditions, values, skills, and crafts through the Adirondack experience.

    Discover, Explore, Celebrate are calls to action that encompass the interests of most types of visitors — first timers as well as those on return visits. This common theme could be used distinctively to market all the various experiences throughout all the regions, and begin to unify what are now regional and area-of-interest silos in tourism resource development and marketing.

    This type of destination branding will be especially critical as we compete as for international visitors and will help foster the essential communication, cooperation, and collaboration between all entities in the Adirondacks that will be key for successful, appropriate, and sustainable economic development here.

  9. PictADK says:

    This is a silly branding concept. “Great South Woods”? What next “Great East Woods”, “Great West Woods”??? If this results in less violations on the Preserve (e.g., motors in Wilderness / Wild Forests) and Private Lands (motorized trespassing), then it’s beneficial.

    As for economic development? More whistling in the wind – without broadband / free WiFi access – no towers. The Preserve and protected Private lands are the jewels in the crown, without them, the ADKs would look like northern NJ and vice e versa.

  10. Pete Klein says:

    In the you can’t make this stuff up catagory.
    Did you know the is a Facebook page for Southport, NY – out on Long Island no less – that is titled The Great South Woods.
    And do you recall that in 2000 Peter O’Shea published a book called The Great South Woods.
    And here is the funny part: Peter O’Shea’s “The Great South Woods” is a detailed and heartfelt account of the flora, fauna, geography and people of the Northwestern part of the Adirondack Park.
    Go figure!

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