Sunday, July 16, 2017

DEC Commissioner Eyes Major Changes to Forest Preserve

Hamlet to Hut demonstration project in Long LakeEarlier this year I wrote two articles in the Adirondack Almanack (here and here) about how state agencies had switched their focus from a classification of the Boreas Ponds with various Wilderness-Wild Forest options to a new option that included some form of public lodging facilities. My purpose in writing these pieces was to convey the fears of many at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and state government who were alarmed at these ideas cooked up by Governor Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. These articles in the Almanack triggered a round of press scrutiny and helped to inform the public about how state leaders had changed their focus on the Boreas classification (see some here, here, and here). These press reports also authenticated what I had written.

Last week, we saw an op-ed published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise by Commissioner Seggos making the case for building some kind of rental cabins, lodges, huts, or glamping-style tent platforms in the Forest Preserve. The op-ed talked about the possibility of “full service” and “self service” buildings. It was premised on the idea that the Forest Preserve needs to add a new and different type recreational amenity to facilitate broader public use. The Commissioner promoted the ideas of the hut-to-hut initiative from the Hamlets to Huts organization and listed the ways in which some kind of cabin on the Forest Preserve could provide different opportunities for public use.

The op-ed was light on details and Commissioner Seggos raised far more questions than he answered. While I think many embrace the central concept of the Hamlets to Huts Initiative, especially where people can hike from hamlet to hamlet, through the Forest Preserve, and stay in private existing lodging facilities, many are also concerned about the implications for the “forever wild” Forest Preserve. The Commissioner talked about “Huts,” “primitive platform tents,” and “eco-lodges,” that he envisions for the Forest Preserve. While the Commissioner assured us that these new buildings on the Forest Preserve would be “primitive in nature, temporary and self-serviced,” he never discussed their legality. There are major questions about the legality of these structures.

In many ways the concept of building huts on the Forest Preserve sounds a lot like the “closed cabin” proposal of the 1930s. That proposal to build a series of “warming huts” and “cabins” across the Forest Preserve was voted down by the public in 1932. Any new proposal for public buildings on the Forest Preserve should similarly be in the form of a constitutional amendment and not undertaken through administrative action. The framers of the “forever wild” provision in the NYS Constitution were wise, and showed great wisdom and prescience, when they required that major decisions on the management of the Forest Preserve should be made by the people and not by unilaterally by political leaders or state bureaucrats, influenced by political considerations, subject to political pressure, or corrupt. Major decisions on the people’s lands should be made by the people through a public referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment. A decision like one to build cabins or huts for public use on the Forest Preserve should be undertaken through a proposed amendment and not through state agency decisions, which during the Cuomo Administration have been marked by bending Forest Preserve rules, weakening Forest Preserve protections, secrecy, and ignoring public comments.

The ideas for huts or cabins for public use on the Forest Preserve would be a sharp departure generally with decades of Forest Preserve management and acutely with the last 45 years of management under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

The legal issues for cabins or huts for public use on the Forest Preserve are serious and the Commissioner should treat them so. Here are a few questions for Commissioner Seggos. Has the DEC sought an official Opinion from NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on building huts for public use on the Forest Preserve? Does the DEC Commissioner plan to do so? Has the DEC developed its own legal analysis on this matter? Will the DEC share its legal analysis with the public? When will the DEC inform the public about what “self service” and “full service” lodging on the Forest Preserve entails? When will the DEC release a formal plan with exact locations, structure types, costs, and building schedule for Forest Preserve huts? Does the DEC believe a constitutional amendment is necessary for these huts? If not, why not?

While the Commissioner is dreaming of an expansive hut-to-hut system across the Forest Preserve, perhaps he should give some thought to the futures, and expenses, of buildings that are currently owned by the state that exist now on the Forest Preserve without plans or purposes. These include the log cabin at Duck Hole, Debar Lodge, the old cabin at the 4 Corners at Boreas Ponds, and the old farmhouse at the Outer Gooley Club on the Hudson River. In all cases, the DEC has not released any plans for how these buildings comply with Article 14, Section 1, of the NYS Constitution or how the DEC plans to use these buildings, their public function, or the costs involved.

The Commissioner’s promotion for the idea of building huts or cabins for public use on the Forest Preserve comes at a time of excruciating silence on the classification of the Boreas Ponds. To great fanfare the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) held public hearings on various Wilderness and Wild Forest classification options at the end of 2016. The APA and DEC promised bold and swift action in early 2017, but since then the lights have gone out and both agencies have said little publicly as the months have passed. The key factor delaying the classification of the Boreas Ponds is the singular infatuation by Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Seggos with the idea of building cabins or huts for public use at the Boreas Ponds.

Without providing any important legal analysis, details or plans about his huts ideas, the Commissioner is already out making big promises about their benefits. He says confidently that his hut-to-hut plan can create or support 303 jobs alone in the five towns of North Hudson, Minerva, Newcomb, Long Lake and Indian Lake. That’s a lot of jobs in those communities. We need to check the Commissioner’s math. The DEC should release its specific plan and analyses for just how it will create or support over 300 jobs in the Central Adirondacks.

In his op-ed in the Daily Enterprise, Commissioner Seggos claims that there is “misinformation” being spread about his ideas for building huts or cabins on the Forest Preserve. Seriously, Commissioner? The best thing that Commissioner Seggos could do is to clear the air and answer all the questions above and produce detailed plans and legal analysis about what appears to be a highly questionable and legally dubious idea.

It’s time for the Commissioner to lay his cards on the table and provide information to the public about his grand ideas, which have not only delayed major management decisions on the future of the Boreas Ponds, but also mark a major change in Forest Preserve management.

Photo: Hamlet to Hut demonstration project in Long Lake, courtesy Tracy Ormsbee.


Peter Bauer

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century and Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

He lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks.




37 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Looks like the commissioner knows who signs his paychecks.

  2. Larry Roth says:

    There are many questions that could be asked about who state agencies answer to – fact-based policies developed on the basis of public input and expert consultation, or back-room strong-arming by the governor and whomever has gotten his attention with whatever scheme strikes his self-interest.

    • Boreas says:

      “Fact-based policies?” It is difficult to rely on facts today when people can’t agree on what a fact is. Studies and facts are pretty old-school. Let’s just throw mud at the wall and see what sticks.

  3. Chris says:

    not a good sign…this is how “politics” is done today; a short “signal”, then a fait acomplis that flies in the face of sense and law.

  4. Dennis says:

    Were any of features discussed in the article (rental cabins, lodges, huts, etc.) addressed in the proposals or during the comment and public hearing process in late 2016? As you said, “swift action” was promised. Has the State articulated a reason WHY the action, including Boreas classification, has been put on hold? Given the level of publicity and participation the hearings received, at the very least the State should explain, with some specificity, the reason for the delay. Perhaps they have. To not do do is a mockery the public comment and hearing process. Have any of the various Adirondack based advocacy organizations called out the APA, DEC and Governor on this? I see that updates to the “Latest News” section on BeWildNY’s websites ceased in January. This near silence seems strange that after all that hoopla late last year.

    • Dennis says:

      Ha ha! Meant to say “not do SO”! But the whole process increasingly seems like a lot of do-do.

    • Boreas says:

      Agreed. I think the silence is harming their cause more than helping. It just allows a lot of theories and rumors to run amok. They should at least come out with an official statement stating they are delaying classification for a year or whatever until they explore their options which are very limited without changes to the law. If there are going to be changes, this may take years.

  5. David Thomas-Train says:

    No private enterprise on in the Forest Preserve – the state constitution is clear on that.

    DEC is already hugely over-loaded and the staff is over-worked and cannot possibly manage another major initiative like Hut To Hut, which would be best executed by the private sector on private lands. This would also be an economic incentive to keep those lands as open-space.

  6. Scott says:

    They make exceptions for dams and bridges and boardwalks and leantos and spot zone to keep fire towers and half the people want the railroad so it doesn’t surprise me they want huts or cabins too.

  7. Balian the Cat says:

    …and it happened on our watch.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    Good questions Peter!

    The DEC’s handling of the Boreas Ponds planning and classification most certainly does not reflect any normal process under NYS law…

  9. James Bullard says:

    303 jobs created? That is a pretty specific number, not the sort of number one throws out as a ballpark estimate, which suggests that the proposal is far more detailed than they are making public.

    • Boreas says:

      I thought that odd as well. They never mention any Ranger staffing increases. Perhaps the cooks and caretakers will be trained in search & rescue techniques, trail maintenance, backcountry first aid, and how best to remove a bear from a yurt.

  10. Rick Fenton says:

    Making such a strange proposal the subject of a narrowly-focused constitutional amendment would protect the rest of the Preserve, but it might well pass. Recall the sunny jobs pitch behind the NYCO amendment. And who doesn’t dream of a chance to rent a private place on a wild Adirondack lake? But a very lengthy and costly process. And the nebulous prospect of job creation is less compelling than saving jobs people already have, so a little dicey. And failure would put an end to such efforts in the future. Short of that, the Master Plan would have to be amended. The guidelines for neither intensive use or state administrative areas would accommodate the contemplated structures or uses. A remarkable aspect of the idea of state-provided public lodging on Preserve land is how it overturns the theory, promoted for so many years, that the Adirondack Park is a unique partnership of public and private lands. The pristine beauty of wild lands is an asset to intermingled private lands, where people live and compatible economic activities are encouraged. Tourists come to stay at your cabins or B&B or motel or luxury resort because the big wild Adirondacks are right outside your door. And when it gets to the point that the State is bending over backwards to make jobs in the Park, you have to wonder. To what extent is it the State’s responsibility to make jobs in a place where people want to live because it’s far away from where most people have to live to get jobs?

    • Chris says:

      Did NYCO promise/allude to jobs? And was there any before-and-after report on NYCO jobs?

      • James Bullard says:

        One of the sale pitches on the NYCO amendment was that it would preserve existing jobs. The vein of wollastonite at their current mine was nearing exhaustion (reaching the edge of their land) and they believed it continued under the forest preserve land that they wanted to test drill. If I recall correctly, they said that it would make the existing mine good for an additional 15 years.

  11. Boreas says:

    Elk Lake Lodge seems to have been ignored in all of these articles and talks (but then, so has the public!). This successful, long-standing enterprise could possibly be negatively impacted by this concept. Right now they are unique in the area by offering ‘backcountry’ amenities. I wonder if they are part of these negotiations. Is adding 303 jobs gross or net??

  12. Paul says:

    This sounds like what existed on Forest Preserve land on Lower Saranac lake for many years. What were the negative or positive consequences to the environment and the economy then? This is nothing new. Just new – if you are too young to remember those camps.

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      I am probably old enough, but am unfamiliar with these camps. Any more information available online? I assume the state mandated they be destroyed?

      • Paul says:

        Didn’t see much online. They were long gone by the time Al Gore invented the internet! I think that the leases that they had ran out in the 70’s. Not sure how it worked – not supposed to lease FP land. Tom Monroe (the region 5 DEC commissioner at the time) sent his boys out to burn them down one winter. A very unpopular thing locally at the time. He was a good man – he passed away just a few months ago. Surprised that no one in the environmental community did much to memorialize him. The forest rangers stood watch over his coffin at the wake it was a very nice tribute.

        Clarence Petty also grew up in a cabin on state land near Coreys. A great advocate of the Forest Preserve and wilderness. If he was a kid now folks here would be reaming him and his family for their “abuse” of FP land. Some folks now demonize you if you try and burn a few dead logs in a campfire.

    • Jack Spula says:

      I remember those Lower Saranac camps very well, having stayed numerous times in the 1960s in one belonging to family members. They were pleasant places — but totally unconstitutional, a de facto privatization for the benefit of a lucky few. There were also numerous violations, in the form of constructed walls, boat slips, “improvements” to the platform tents, etc., and little apparent oversight or enforcement in this regard. Though I have good memories of my stays there, I’m glad these camps are long gone. And I hope nothing like them will ever be allowed again in the Forest Preserve.

  13. MOFYC says:

    If Seggos and Cuomo want to do this, fine. Have them amend the state constitution. Until then, no way. Not even spinmeister Andrew can sell “glamping” as consistent with “forever wild.”

  14. Richard Rosen says:

    Peter is right. Time to move the classification. Huts on private land, not in the Forest Preserve.

  15. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    Peter,

    The cabin at Duck Hole was removed in 1977. Did you perhaps mean Marcy Dam?

  16. James Marco says:

    No to the cabins. No to the Hut-to-hut proposal. Wilderness for Boreas Ponds.

  17. scot says:

    If this involved tents, not cabins, it would likely be just fine. Nothing wrong with nice tents, multiple tents. Calling it glamping is no crime either. It means people pay for guides and outfitters and that’s a good thing/

    • James Bullard says:

      The ‘cabins’ referred to were erected on sites leased from the state by individuals. The intent was a long term lease on a campsite which could include a tent platform but the platforms evolved and I can remember seeing them at Mountain Pond on Rt 73. For all practical purposes, they were full fledged cabins except that they had a canvas roof over the rafters instead of shingles. By using canvas roofing they got to call them “tents”.

      The problem was that the state campsites were then limited to the individuals who leased them and passed the lease on to their heirs. I now see people camping at Moutain Pond most times I pass there on a first come, first served basis using real tents or mobile campers. Much more appropriate IMO. My only complaint on the location is that they have let the road go badly. It needs gravel fill in the pot holes and some grading. At the rate it is deteriorating, it won’t be too many years before people can no longer get to the campsites.

      • Paul says:

        It’s true that road going in there is terrible. Its a bit better if you take the long way in from the road further north on 30.

        My point on the state camps (as we called them) was simply that it does provide some context for how it would positively of negatively impact the environment or the economy. It’s not a new experiment but and old one. One thing I did like about those camps is that it was a way for folks of very modest incomes to experience a taste of what some of us are lucky enough only to experience because we can afford a second home (and all the costs that come with it).

        Things here make it sound like some totally unprecedented thing. It is different in some ways. You are right there was a problem with succession with those old camps. That is a lesson that could be applied here. Doesn’t sound like they have any interest in having something like that. A yurt seems more temporary than a lean to?

        • Bruce says:

          Paul,

          Wasn’t it in the 70’s when the SLMP came into being, laying out specific rules regarding what could and could not be done on specific classifications of public land? State forests are public land, look what can be done on them.

          • Paul says:

            Yes, but they are not under article 14 like the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Anything in the ASLMP must be cool with article 14. Now the plan does allow for intensive use areas so you can probably do it but maybe not with a Wild Forest designation and certainly not with a Wilderness one – unless maybe you add yurts to the list with lean-to’s. Now could the state just ignore the plan? Well, they probably did when they bought this land since the plan specifically says that commercially productive timberland (these tracts prior to the sale) should be put under conservation easements rather than purchased in fee simple. Green groups don’t want the state following that law.

  18. William Snide says:

    Open up the Adirondacks to more public use. The current usage is low. The APA has caused high unemployment. Many residents are moving out of the Adirondacks due to no jobs. There is not going to be any residents left to cater to visitors. The entire Adirondack Park is a very poor idea formed by a bunch of NY City residents that wanted their own personal playground.

    • Geogymn says:

      Yes, lets use it up while we can, we ain’t getting any younger. Use it up and then we will have one less thing to fret over. Live in the now! Ohm!

    • Balian the Cat says:

      “The entire Adirondack Park is a very poor idea formed by a bunch of NY City residents that wanted their own personal playground.”

      America 2017 – Repeat the same baloney over and over until a segment of the population see’s it as factual.

  19. ARDY BALLARD says:

    Leave the Forest preserve alone my god why do we need to build more crap? Andrew Cuomo & company need to go back to NYC were they can build away. The people spoken! They do not want huts built throughout the forest or Boreas Ponds. Leave the forest alone its not yours to destroy Cuomo. I remember the days before the 1980 Olympics came and went. Now we deal with too many people and our great government would like nothing more than to bring in more people. Cuomo will destroy what other great men saved from the ax many years ago.

    • Paul says:

      Yes, prior to the olympics is when we had all those camps on state land that were described above, and where this particular land (Boreas) was well protected in private hands.

  20. Tim says:

    as a lease holder in the Boreas Ponds area i am pretty disgusted by what the Prince of New York City is doing. Current lease holders must have their camps and anything else removed from these lands by September 2018. Now tell me why would they want all the camps gone from these lands(all of six,oh by the way the log cabin at lebiere flow is from the 1800’s)if they are just going to make it a tourist destination with lodging?Finch Paper had the most beautiful lodge built on the ponds and the state destroyed it using tax payer monies, why wouldn’t they leave the structure and use it as a ranger station? Now they want to spend more tax payer monies to make glamping sites. Would it not make sense to let these camps stay and get some revenue for taxes? I can see how they would want to protect these lands but come on, at least when the lease holders still have their leases the local towns get tax money for the lands being leased. I have been going to these lands for over 35 years and the communities surrounding these areas are not prospering from all the tourists visiting the ponds. Most of anyone that signs in to go to ponds are locals. I guess I’m confused and aggrivated at the moves of the State. We need people making decisions about the North Country that are from the North and not the City, only the North knows what they need and what will work for their communities. Oh and I think the Prince’s idea of spending 32 million on the old Frontier Town lands is another BS move by the state. Now the local campsites are going to have to compete with the state, who do you think will win this competition? Keep your NYC mentality in NYC and let the North govern themselves! Locals know what is needed to survive and it isn’t glamping sites at the ponds and a new campground at Frontier Town. Use the money to fix infrastructure and keep sewage from going into the rivers and lakes of the North..Rant over. Stay out of the North Country Andy you traitor.

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