Governor Cuomo has used that term to describe the $32 million Gateway to the Adirondacks around Northway Exit 29 in North Hudson. This “world class recreational experience will be realized through the establishment of state, local and private partnerships,” said the Governor’s State of the State report. “Transforming this site into an attractive destination will link local and regional resources and provide year round recreation opportunities and services for multiple uses, users and businesses… Drawing visitors to North Hudson to connect with premier opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and boating. This, coupled with commercial business development, will revitalize communities and help transform this region.”
I join others in certainly wishing this Gateway project well. But in a sense every I-87 Northway exit is a kind of gateway for visitors and residents who seek what the Adirondack Park has to offer – not just recreation but re-creation of ourselves in some cases, not just adventure but transformative experience in some cases, not just an automotive gateway but a gateway to the mind, the emotions and the senses that highly contrasts with our response to populous, pressure packed, polluted places and imagery not far away. When you drive into the Park you immediately realize this is not anyplace USA. That’s not an accident but a result of policies to protect the Park.
One reaction to the “world class” Gateway to the Adirondacks at Exit 29 is to say that this is one Park and one world class Adirondack Northway and gateway, not 35 gateways at 35 exits. This is one Park benefiting from a whole larger than the sum of its parts, the power of which Adirondack tourism, environmental and community interests rallied around during the Park Centennial of 1992. That Park Centennial was a remarkable coming together for a fractured Park and its many stakeholders and standard bearers. Its committee leader Barbara McMartin deserves a lot of the credit for that. I would say the Park Centennial/one Park effect has endured to some degree, but bears constant reinforcement and strengthening. In this effort, the State’s administration continues to, unhelpfully, divide the Park into two DEC regions, 3 DOT regions, and 3 Regional Economic Councils.
Governors Harriman and Rockefeller governed during the intense debate about the constitutional amendment and route that required 300-acres of Forest Preserve to be used for constructing the Adirondack Northway. This debate over its route was often acrimonious and badly divided conservationists of that day. I drive the Adirondack Northway today and remind myself today what an incredible feat it was, what a truly world class highway it is, and how lucky we are to have the Adirondacks present so spectacularly beyond our wind screens between and beyond each Northway exit. This was the widespread opinion as the Northway opened, being designated America’s Most Scenic Highway in 1967.
But designation is not protection. To protect the Northway’s scenic values each Northway exit between Lake George and Keeseville – nearly 300 acres in all – were protected and remain protected from over-development by a scenic easement. This was considered groundbreaking at the time. Without these early scenic easements, writes the former DEC director of Lands and Forests Norm Van Valkenburgh, “most of the interchanges of the Northway…would probably be cluttered by garages and fast-food establishments today” (from Van Valkenburgh’s Land Acquisition for New York State: An Historical Perspective, 1985 by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development).
So, the proposed Gateway at Exit 29 has a scenic easement ensuring and contributing to the future attractiveness of the exit and the vision held by the Governor, North Hudson and Essex County.
Not long after the Northway was opened, the Adirondack Highway Council was formed in 1974 to study highways throughout the Park and with federal-state and local support attempt to bring them up to National Park standards in the way of visitor facilities, signage, scenic stops or overlooks, and all manner of green engineering. Today, the Highway Council is long gone, but the struggle to maintain high standards and coordinate to have the Park’s highway infrastructure compatible and integrated with the Park’s natural infrastructure is ongoing and never-ending. Such efforts are worthy of a world class Park and deserve the full support of the Governor and his DOT.
The rest of the world recognized world class-ness in the Adirondacks by designating its entire Forest Preserve as a National Landmark in 1964, and by naming the Adirondack-Champlain International Biosphere Reserve in 1989. This prestigious designation of the Park required formal endorsements from Governors Mario Cuomo (NY), Madeline Kunin (VT) and the Province of Quebec. The 1989 designation by an arm of the United Nations (UNESCO) was honorific in the sense that it imposed no outside regulation or enforcement, but was supportive of ongoing and new scientific investment and study of the Park’s core wilderness coexisting with 102 human communities. Just a single Park conference in the early 90s (at Silver Bay) was devoted to this International Biosphere designation. After that, the designation has been almost entirely forgotten, and that’s a big missed opportunity. Governor Andrew Cuomo could follow his father’s lead, reinvigorate the Biosphere Reserve potential that such a designation still affords, and thereby advance the entire Park scientifically, culturally and environmentally.
Under Governors Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, State agencies worked with the private sector to study other parts of the country and the world about implementing “gateways” that would benefit heritage tourism as one entered all of the Park’s towns and villages. Though chronically underfunded, many small but locally important projects were implemented as a result, yet another example of the “whole Park effect” and the sum being greater than the parts. The two visitor interpretive centers at Newcomb and Paul Smith’s were one result of these efforts.
Not far from the proposed Gateway at Exit 29 lie the Boreas Ponds and other great tracts of Forest Preserve. These are, also, world class forest, lake, river, swamp and scenic, wild environments worthy of addition to the High Peaks and Dix Wildernesses, already the largest in the northeast.
Yet, the Governor’s State of the State says he wants to construct infrastructure at Boreas Ponds for Hut to Hut glamour camping which, to the mind of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, would (if located on Forest Preserve) violate the NYS Constitution, the State Land Master Plan and DEC statutes. We should be mindful that world class conditions of wildness here and across the entire Park requires the enforcement of NY’s unique constitutional and other legal safeguards to endure for future generations.
I conclude that designating Exit 29 as a world class Gateway is trivial compared with the world class Park in which it is already situated. If we bear that in mind and continue to study, promote and protect the whole Park, the project just might succeed.