The State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) is accepting comments on a major and much needed multi-million dollar upgrade to its facilities in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. In particular, ORDA is proposing multiple improvements at Whiteface and Gore Mountain Ski Centers through amendments to each facility’s Unit Management Plan (UMP). Proposed improvements include the addition or replacement of ski lifts, widening of trails, creation of new trails, and re-classification of Forest Preserve lands.
While these improvements appear to be needed to modernize the ORDA recreational facilities, they must to be legal and demonstrate responsible environmental stewardship. The public can provide written comments until February 9, 2018 and are strongly encouraged to add their voice to the larger discussion.
It’s important to recognize that the Adirondack Park and ORDA facilities are world-class destinations that need to be maintained, updated, funded and protected. As a whole they complement our region’s world-class wilderness areas and provide for necessary recreational opportunities across a wide spectrum of users. When run properly, these facilities thrive in areas designated for intensive recreation in the largest wilderness park in the contiguous United States.
The ORDA facilities are an important part of the Adirondack and Catskill parks, our economy and our cultural identities. These facilities have played a vital historical role in shaping the vibrancy of our North Country communities.
Lake Placid, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and the surrounding communities have long fostered an Olympic tradition that celebrates the modern winter athlete. Whiteface Mountain – chosen as the host-site for the 1980 alpine events – and Gore ski center continue to be incubators for skiers of all abilities and aspirations. They play an important economic role across the region.
It should be noted that some of these facilities (including part of the Gore Mt. proposal) aren’t located on state land. The rest are on the Forest Preserve, so the proposed management actions need to be legal; run in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner; meet current international sporting event standards; and, provide for the competitive needs of professional and amateur athletes.
From the outset of the public engagement process, ORDA has been open and transparent about their intent to move forward with significant UMP actions. ORDA staff have taken the time to conduct meaningful outreach explaining their plans while taking questions and feedback on technical elements within their proposals. This was appreciated and important.
The details of the plans, and implementation (where approved), will be of critical importance if we are to realize the recreational and economic benefits of this huge investment of taxpayer dollars. To be compliant with the strict legal protections for the environment in the Adirondacks, the details of these proposals are important.
- Compliance with Forever Wild: The facilities on state lands must comply with the strict and not always convenient requirements of the “Forever Wild” clause of the constitution. These requirements include amendments that provide for functions and facilities at Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre that would not otherwise be allowed. Total miles and widths of downhill ski trails are tightly restricted by the constitution. There can be no new tree cutting, clearing, disturbance, or expansion to year-round activities beyond what is now allowed without a new constitutional amendment.
- Planning Sensitive to other Regional Adirondack Needs: A component of these state lands and operations (Whiteface) are part of a larger network of state lands, recreational uses, trails, and trailheads within the very popular High Peaks region. As the state looks at making needed and important upgrades to the ORDA facilities, and simultaneously develops plans to manage the overuse of the NYS Rt. 73 corridor and the High Peaks, planning needs to be coordinated. For example, one element of overlap could be relocation of parking for the Cascade and Porter Mountains on popular weekends to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg complex, as was done on an experimental basis on Columbus Day weekend in 2017.
- Climate Smart Energy Smart Models: Climate change threatens to redefine Adirondack winter recreation as we now know it. The ORDA facilities can and should combat climate change and be showcases for the visitors from across the country and around the world for the latest and best in climate smart renewable energy practices. The facilities should support the Governor’s renewable energy goals.
- Additional Environmental Issues: This upgrade provides an opportunity to:
– Improve protections for fish and wildlife, including the rare Bicknell’s Thrush on Whiteface and Adirondack trout in the Ausable River.
– Address light pollution, especially at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. Increasingly rare dark skies should be protected.
– Protect water quality, expand recycling.
– At Gore Mountain proposed amendments to increase state land dedicated for intensive use should be combined with expanded Wilderness in the same area for a net positive for Wilderness.
In closing, the Adirondack Council supports the constitution and the legal protections that keep the Adirondacks a national treasure, a legacy we’ve inherited from our ancestors that we enjoy, and hold in trust for future generations. The Adirondack Council’s written comments will support ORDA plans, as long as the facilities and operations are legal and environmentally responsible.
Photo courtesy ORDA.