Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Willie Janeway On ORDA Facility Upgrades

whiteface mtnThe 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.

They include:

  • 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.

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Willie Janeway is the Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

The Council envisions a park composed of large wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities.

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Council members and supporters live in all 50 United States.

9 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Link for comments? Couldn’t find it.
    I’m hoping they can upgrade Van Hoevenberg to meet the standards for world-class cross country skiing events. I don’t believe they are presently qualified.

    • Paul says:

      Tim, I think they are unless something has changed. They have hosted a few World Cup events. I was working there when the biathlon world championships where held there in 1987 (they also had them in 73). Just hard to get any WC level FIS nordic events here in the US. Like with alpine all the sponsorship money is in Europe where people really care about skiing.

      • Henri Hamel says:

        The cross country venue may be up to snuff but the biathlon facility is deteriorating and is not world-class by any means. The targets are obsolete and have had few new parts since they were obtained by ORDA after the Nagano Olympics. The range does not qualify for a World Cup because the entire facility is inadequate. The last World Cup biathlon races were in Maine where the venues are appropriate. Unfortunately, there isn’t alot for the European athletes to see and do up there so they do not want to come. Lake Placid is a much more inviting spot but thus far ORDA has done it’s best to shortchange the Mt. Van Hoevenberg facility.

  2. David Thomas-Train says:

    Good point, Willie, on the light pollution from the bobsled/luge runs – can see it most nights from Keene Valley.

  3. Paul says:

    “they must to be legal”

    Got an extra to in there.

  4. Paul says:

    In the constitution for WH:

    ” twenty-five miles of ski trails thirty to two hundred feet wide, together with appurtenances thereto, provided that no more than five miles of such trails shall be in excess of one hundred twenty feet wide”

    I think we are at 22 miles now. There is lots of room to work especially on widening trails.

    Why should expanding intensive use be paired with expansion of Wilderness? You can do it but you are talking about relatively tiny amounts of acreage.

    Lights are only on when they are sliding right? Seems like a waste of electricity if that isn’t the case. Having night skiing ay Van Ho would be pretty cool and bring it in line with the type of facilities we see in Scandinavia. Kids have many more skiing opportunities there with all the lighted skiing they have (of course it gets dark there pretty early in the winter!).

  5. Dick Carlson says:

    Gore Mountain’s Ski Bowl expansion is of dubious necessity and the land swap proposed is mostly smoke and mirrors if you think this small bit of property added to wilderness means anything substantial. Of more concern is the loss of a popular ski/hike trail in the Rabbit Pond area from the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest. The new alpine ski trails really only benefit the development proposed by Front Street. BTW this development is now entering it’s 10 year of “permits in place” for an extensive ski in-ski out resort development. Just 4 duplex buildings have been built with little sign of additional development in the near future. Also the signature lift from the Ski Bowl, the 46er chair, that connects to the rest of the mountain has operated sporadically at best in the last 10 years. It is still not running this ski season.

    Some of this Gore Mt. Ski Bowl expansion does have merit especially anything that could offer improved Summer activity, a much needed boost toward a year ’round facility.

  6. Tony Goodwin says:

    No question that the biathlon venue needs be upgraded, but the cross-country venue also needs some serious work to come even close to current international standards. With the advent of freestyle (skating) races and with many event now mass starts (for crowd and television appeal) the trails need to be considerably wider. The other change is that races can now be multiple laps compared to the requirements in 1980 that no race could be more than two laps. Hence, only a relatively small portion of the trails leading out of the cross-country stadium would need to be significantly widened to meet current standards.

    To see what a modern cross-country course looks like, click on this link Then click on “Most Current Race” and choose either the men’s or women’s mass start event. If you choose the women’s event and stay to the end, you can watch American skier Jessica Diggins leading four Norwegians across the finish line. Seefeld was the site of the 1976 Olympic cross-country events, but obviously that venue has been modernized from 40 years ago.

    And if you do stay and watch the whole event, you should appreciate the complete coverage with intelligent commentary that most of us have lost now because NBC has taken over all Olympic and World Cup skiing coverage.