With New York State officials contemplating new ways to induce economic development in the Adirondack Park, the idea of connecting communities more directly to the surrounding Forest Preserve makes plenty of sense.
As Governor Cuomo said at the 2017 Adirondack Challenge this summer:
“You want to develop the asset (the Adirondack Park) because we need jobs, we need the economy, we need tourism. It has to be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt or deteriorate the asset. Because the Adirondack Park is not just an economic asset, it’s not just a state park, it really is a gift from God. I believe that. There is a spirituality to the Adirondack[s] … that is undeniable. And the last thing we would want to do is diminish that asset. Our goal is to leave it even better than before for our children.”
In the most popular host communities, development of new hotels is an obvious answer to the need for more tourist accommodations. Indeed, a new hotel arose in Lake George recently. A long-closed downtown hotel in Saranac Lake is under renovation, and set to reopen soon. But in order to spread the economic benefits to smaller, more remote communities, smaller and less expensive options are needed.
Around the world, small communities near wild places are using hut-to-hut excursions to help bring hikers and paddlers to trailside businesses. The huts offer comfortable lodging, food and supplies that make the trip a little easier to manage. Even near national parks, private business is connecting to public lands in new ways without creating a lot of new construction. In Europe, this is made easier because their national parks incorporate private lands. Sound familiar?
The Adirondack and Catskill parks are among the few in the United States that are similarly designed, with private lands incorporated into the fabric of the landscape. A little more than half of each park is comprised of private land and communities. As such, there are opportunities here in the Adirondacks for private enterprises in our 130 rural hamlets and villages to make the most of their proximity to the wildest lands in the Northeast.
A rising number of local businesses are already capitalizing on the interest in upscale camping experiences by making use of private lands adjoining the Forest Preserve. In one case, an otherwise idle county fairground has been put to a new use. Such businesses provide an enhanced back-to-nature experience. They give their customers a taste of outdoor camping without the need to invest in gear or to learn all the skills needed for backcountry survival. Off-site trips are carefully planned and guided.
In turn, the business doesn’t need to invest in a large construction project or commit to serving a fixed number of guests. Specially insulated tents, canvas-walled cabins, yurts and other semi-permanent structures are being employed to provide three-season or year-round camping opportunities. Unlike hotels, tent sites can be reduced or expanded to fit the demand. If properly sited and permitted by the Adirondack Park Agency, these new businesses can help expand the park’s economy and the park’s visitor options.
Best of all, this private-land infrastructure doesn’t compromise the multiple layers of legal protections that exist in the Park, and in particular on the State-owned Forest Preserve. The NYS Constitution has protected the “forever wild” Forest Preserve since 1895. We guard and defend those protections to ensure future generations will also be able to enjoy and benefit from our forever wild legacy.
Large areas of well-protected Forest Preserve are the attraction that visitors come to see and explore. But the mix of public and private lands throughout the park – often in a patchwork pattern – makes it possible to establish private lodging quite close to the public Preserve. Outdoor experiences in the Park range from a simple campfire or cookout to whitewater rafting, backcountry trekking or big game hunting. For many, it is the first time to experience an overnight stay under the stars. One local glamping business even offers pony rides for the kids.
Camp Orenda in Johnsburg is a luxury camping retreat on Mill Creek, a tributary to the Upper Hudson River. Orenda provides all meals, hot showers and canvas cabins on tent platforms outfitted with all the comforts of a pricey hotel room. It was featured in a New York Times story on best places to visit and saw its business triple recently.
Yurt rentals are catching on throughout the park, too. Yurts are circular, grand tent-like structures erected on a platform using a collapsible frame and center pole.
Falls Brook Yurts in Minerva is open all year. Minerva sits amid some of the wildest of the new lands the state has purchased from The Nature Conservancy, such as OK Slip Falls, and the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, as well as Gore Mountain Ski Center.
You can rent a yurt from a variety of private owners on AirBnB.com as well. Don’t bring a gun or all-terrain vehicle to the yurt rental listed in Elizabethtown. The owners don’t allow trail riding or hunting on their 85 acres.
In fact, the web site GlampingHub.com now lists yurt and platform tent rentals on private lands in the Adirondack communities of North River, Chestertown, Bakers Mills, ranging in price from $51 to $248 per night.
In Warrensburg, Warren County officials and the local glamping business Adirondack Safari have come to a mutually agreeable relationship in which Adirondack Safari uses the idle county fairgrounds for its tent sites.
Adirondack Safari’s web site says its tents are large enough to host three queen-sized beds. Sites also include a shaded picnic table, lawn furniture, charcoal grill, rest rooms and a shower trailer. The fairgrounds’ interior road network and pavilions lend themselves to easy reuse. There is even a horse ring for pony rides. Situated alongside excellent family paddling and angling on the Schroon River, and only a short drive to Lake George Village, the $99-per-night price tag seems like a bargain.
In each of the cases above, the owners are using private Adirondack lands and other non-Forest Preserve lands coupled with free access to public waters and the Forest Preserve. They are not encroaching upon the Forest Preserve with their structures and accommodations.
This stands in stark contrast to the idea of establishing lodging, huts, yurts, infrastructure and related camping facilities on the constitutionally protected, publicly owned Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park.
The Adirondack Council supports development of hut-to-hut lodging and dining facilities, and hamlet-to-hamlet infrastructure, on private and state easement lands in the Adirondack Park. In fact in June we wrote a letter of support for a grant to Leading E.D.G.E., which proposed a “Community-based Trails and Lodging System” with “lodging on private, state easement lands, where legal…”
Leading E.D.G.E. has identified plenty of private land options. Even in the few places where routes are proposed along with consideration of lodging in the Forest Preserve, there are other options making proposals for lodging on the Forest Preserve unnecessary.
The expansion of lodging facilities and glamping on private lands outside the Adirondack Forest Preserve can help local communities to capitalize on the economic value of state lands, while honoring and sustaining the legacy of forever wild for generations to come.