Thursday, July 30, 2020

Adirondack Wild: Conservation of Whitney Park an Urgent Priority

Yesterday’s announcement by landowner John Hendrickson of  his intent to sell the remaining 36,000 acres of Whitney Park in Long Lake ought to command the immediate attention of state and private land conservation and planning organizations, says the non-profit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

“Fortunately, a great deal of work has already been done to prepare for this moment,” said Adirondack Wild’s managing partner David Gibson. “The Whitney landscape lying at the very heart of the Adirondack Park has been well studied in the past by conservation scientists and planners at the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Park Agency and by others.”

In the early 1990s, members of the Whitney family invited conservationists and regional planners to visit and see the landscape in some detail and appreciate its ecological integrity, environmental context and cultural significance. “At the invitation of the family, I was privileged to tour the property and can attest to the conservation importance of the entire tract, especially its interlacing network of lakes, wetlands and streams. To look north towards the tract from the shores and surface of Forked Lake and then to have had the chance to look south from the main camp, called Deerlands, at Little Forked Lake are unforgettable experiences,” Gibson added.

“Even during the pandemic, this project ought to rise in levels of priority and urgency,” he said. “The Department of Environmental Conservation and the land conservation community need to dust off prior studies and immediately resume efforts to work with the landowner and a variety of Park stakeholders to conserve the tract. The Town of Long Lake must be involved, as must the DEC’s Region 5 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee, which has not met in quite a while,” continued Gibson. “The Region 5 committee has discussed this area quite a bit in the past since Whitney Park was listed as a High Priority project in the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan starting in 1992.”

“Naturally, Adirondack Wild is interested in the wilderness character and potential to re-wild portions of the tract. Future expansion of the current 15,000-acre William C. Whitney Wilderness would be seamless and make a great deal of management and stewardship sense to us, particularly at places contiguous to the existing Wilderness, like Salmon Lake and Slim Pond.” Gibson said.  “In other places which have greater cultural significance, conservation easements or other state land classifications might be more appropriate. The key is to pull people together at this stage, dust off the prior planning studies and re-start the conversation. The need for a coordinated conversation about conserving this property should re-commence immediately.”

In December, 1997 Governor George Pataki, The Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Land Trust and the DEC coordinated with landowner Marylou Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson to announce the sale of 15,000 acres of Whitney Park’s Little Tupper Lake and nine other lakes and the former Whitney headquarters for $17 million. The land and its lakes and connecting streams became part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and, therefore, taxable for all purposes.  William C. Whitney, for whom that eventual Wilderness was named, and the founding owner of the land in 1898, was a trustee of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks starting in 1902.

More on this story on the Adirondack Explorer.

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21 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Quite interesting that this is on the market for more than 10 times the previous parcel (at twice and a half the size) plus the owner’s comment about how the previous purchase was not cared for to his liking. I can’t imagine the previous expectations were at these terms?

    • Bill Ott says:

      Real estate always has been a great investment. But if you run a few numbers, the price comes down to just 2 cents a square foot. I think I’ll put in for a few square feet myself.

    • Steve B. says:

      My math tells me that the ’97 purchase of 15,000 acres for $17.1 million was about $1140 an acre. This asking price of $180 million for 36,000 acres would be $5,000 an acre. It’s only an asking price though. Marylou Whitneys third husband – John Hendrickson, threatened to develop and subdivide the (current) Whitney Wilderness property back in ’97, is what made the state move on it. He’s doing the same thing now but has not as yet, threatened to develop. Problem is does the state have the cash to buy him out ?. Even if they get the same price per acre as in ’97, it’s still $40 million at a time the state coffers are empty.

      You look at the map and can see it’s a significant piece of property surrounded by state forest or wilderness (excepting Brandeth). It’s one of the most important land purchases the state could make for the Adirondacks.

      • Bill Ott says:

        Steve B,
        Your math agrees with mine. Another calculation shows that the $40,000,000 purchase divided by 19,450,000 NY residents comes to $2.06 per person.

  2. Robert White says:

    Turn it into one great big gigantic year round campground with bike trails, snowmobile trails, atv trails, four wheel drive trails.

  3. Lorraine P says:

    It must be preserved – not divided into parcels and sold to people
    unconcerned about the “total” picture. Hard for me to conceive of
    anyone at any time with the kind of money to own so much property.

  4. Mike says:

    Word has it that the ACR developers are going to buy it and put in 500 Great Camps, a water park, 3 golf courses, 4 Equestrian riding sites, 5 Shooting ranges and 100 miles of ATV and snowmobile trails. And they say they have the money to do and the customers are already calling from all over the world, ready to invest. NOT!

  5. Zephyr says:

    I find it very hard to believe the state will spend big bucks for land acquisitions when they are in the midst of an economic crisis that will mean 20% or more cuts across the board in state spending, plus huge tax increases.

  6. Boreas says:

    At $5000/acre, I say let the family continue their excellent stewardship of the land. I don’t see a developer paying that.

    • Steve B. says:

      The inheritor is Hendrickson. Marylou had a daughter (divorced mother of one, according to Wiki, lives in Ithaca) but only a peek at the will would indicate if she has any rights to the property. And we don’t know what other members of the family (Whitney/Vanderbuilt) has used it or wants it.

      From all I’ve read, the family has been a good land steward and JH has stated he is not inclined to sell to the state as he’s been unhappy with how the DEC managed the Whitney Wilderness.

      I can only assume that JH is hoping a like minded and wealthy individual would be interested in purchasing the property.

  7. Chris says:

    How much did they Ali Baba founder pay for how much land a few years ago?

  8. ADKscott says:

    The owner didn’t like how the prior sale lands were managed? Hmm. What was the problem? Too much timber cutting? But that’s how these deals get done. Buy it, cut the trees, declare it wilderness, done. Surely the Whitney’s knew that. Surely they know that would happen again if TNC and NYS bought it.

    Seems like a crazy high price esp for NYS today. But maybe a private owner would be better for the long term care of the resource. There are people on the planet who would be able to do this. Maybe it could be sold in a few large pieces, 9000 ares each. That ought to be enough land to get an APA permit or two.

    Jack Ma (chinese) paid $818/acre for 28,100 acre Brandon Park. It was largely under conservation easements already. See the Almanac Article here: https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2015/06/brandon-park-sold-to-chinese-conservationist.html

    So maybe NYS should just buy development rights in the form of conservation easements. Skip trying to own it outright. The timing is poor.

    • Bill Ott says:

      ADKscott,

      I have been following this thread today and earlier I wondered what would be possible with a conservation easement wherein the state does not buy the land outright. I am sure this crap has been flushed ten times, but maybe a little has stuck to the seat so that people like me could ask why is it still there.

      Bill Ott
      Lakewood, Ohio

  9. Laurie C. says:

    It must be preserved as is ..I could agree with bike trails but anything else would destroy the beauty of this area. I spent my childhood holidays in this beautiful part of NY and it would be a travesty if it is not preserved with the beauty and solitude I remember it for !

  10. Wayno says:

    It sounds like they want to keep it private to avoid the issues that resulted from greater public access to Little Tupper, namely the introduction of bass that have destroyed the heritage strain of brook trout. Too bad but its difficult to keep something truly pristine and wild if there is public access and you can drive right up to it. If they are true to their word then they will sell their property intact to a single buyer with covenants that will prevent future sub division and development. The asking price does sound steep so will likely be for sale for a while, but it really is a one of a kind property that would be near impossible to duplicate elsewhere in the lower 48. It does not seem likely that it will come into State ownership though. Given the recent history of State acquisitions there would be enormous pressure to open it up to easy access, forever wild ain’t what it used to be.

  11. Charlie S says:

    Bill Ott says: “Steve B, Your math agrees with mine. Another calculation shows that the $40,000,000 purchase divided by 19,450,000 NY residents comes to $2.06 per person.”

    I’d be willing to have my taxes go up for that mere amount!

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