The 36,000-acre Whitney Park is up for sale. This tract, which includes 22 lakes and ponds, and over 100 miles of undeveloped shoreline, has been at the top of New York State’s land protection priority list for 50 years. Over the decades, the property has been lightly developed by the Whitney family, which maintains a large complex of buildings in a mountain estate called Deerlands on Little Forked Lake, and two inholdings totaling around 400 acres on Forked Lake and Plumley Pond at the south end of the tract.
To paraphrase a great American moral leader, the moral arc of the Adirondack Park bends towards preservation and protection. Each year that passes, the Blue Line shines brighter because the protected lands inside grow more critical. The 3-million-acre Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills is one of the great success stories in New York State. It has been built through a fine multi-generational, bipartisan conservation tradition from 1885 right up until now. Whitney Park has been eyed by generations of Adirondacks conservationists as a cornerstone for a protected Adirondack Park, a vital missing link for historic canoe routes, as a grand landscape that one day should become part of the public Forest Preserve.
The future of Whitney Park
Whitney Park is being marketed for sale by John Hendrickson, the widower of Saratoga Springs socialite and philanthropist Mary Lou Whitney, who died last year. Mrs. Whitney bequeathed Whitney Park to Hendrickson, who is asking $180 million for the property, around $5,000 per acre. In the two weeks since he announced that Whitney Park is for sale, Hendrickson says he has rejected a half dozen bonafide offers from those who planned to develop the tract. Hendrickson says that he will seek an agreement from a buyer that they will not develop the tract. Hendrickson says this agreement will be enforced with a handshake, not by deed covenants, a conservation easement, or a binding contract. This agreement, he argues, will protect Whitney Park for decades into the future.
The public listing of Whitney Park for $180 million has brought out sentiments that these lands must be protected, just not by the state. The argument goes that the Whitney family has protected Whitney Park for generations and that a new private owner will carry this legacy forward. The State of New York cannot adequately manage public lands, we’re told, so the state should not buy Whitney Park. In addition to Hendrickson, this argument was most forcefully made in an editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (August 8th editorial, subscription wall prevents a link), followed by a published interview with Hendrickson in the Explorer, where he stated he would not sell to the state. Hendrickson and the Daily Enterprise tag-teamed the argument that the Cuomo Administration is not up to the task of managing sensitive natural resource areas like Whitney Park.
Though the Adirondack Park is a landscape characterized by active debate, there is broad consensus that we need better management of the Forest Preserve. The lack of investment in Forest Preserve management by Governor Andrew Cuomo over the last 10 years is mystifying. Though Governor Cuomo has shown extraordinary competence and zeal in some areas, he is inept at public lands management.
The Governor knows the Adirondacks. His ex-girlfriend long kept a house in Saranac Lake. He has personally promoted the Adirondack Park, using his star power to encourage people to visit the region with his annual raft races. And while people have visited the Adirondacks in record numbers since 2010, the Governor has refused to adequately invest in improved management to educate and control the crowds.
The dramatic increase in public use of the High Peaks, and other places in the Adirondacks, mirrors trends across the country as wild and beautiful places are overwhelmed. The rise in public use of the Forest Preserve, most keenly seen in the High Peaks and hiking trails around Lake George, is also clearly evident in any trip to Rondaxe Mountain in Old Forge in the western Adirondacks or Kane Mountain in Caroga in the southern Adirondacks, among many other popular trails. The boom in public use has revealed longstanding weaknesses in the management of the Forest Preserve.
The argument for private ownership
The Daily Enterprise argues that a private organization or Billionaire X should buy Whitney Park and preserve it by letting it remain as is and keeping the public out. This is the same line taken by Hendrickson.
These sentiments show the sad state of Forest Preserve management, where there is no confidence in Governor Andrew Cuomo or his hamstrung agencies – the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency – to adequately manage the public Forest Preserve. This is a truly sad state of affairs.
However, the answer is not to put up fences around wild places and keep people out or rely upon some group or Billionaire X to protect critical natural resource areas. In New York, the Forest Preserve is the people’s land. And, while some people who use the Forest Preserve need basic education in public lands use and stewardship, the vast percentage of the Forest Preserve today stands wild, intact, unblemished, and beautiful. And, while there are popular trails where the state has not adequately provided safe parking areas, educational information, and restroom facilities, the vast majority of trailheads throughout the Forest Preserve are safe, easily accessible, and clean.
We should not give up on the Forest Preserve because of the poor management of one Governor.
By the logic of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, just because some people toss their cigarette butts or spit out their gum on the sidewalk, we should give up on public sidewalks. Only half of Americans vote, a stark failure compared with most other major democracies in the world, so perhaps we should give up on that too.
The Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park underwrites our local quality of life. The Forest Preserve underwrites our local economy. The Forest Preserve keeps the waters in our many world-class lakes clean. The Forest Preserve has inspired and made memories for millions. It would be a profound mistake to give up on the dream of the Forest Preserve because some people who hike there are poorly educated about how to use it.
John Hendrickson and the Daily Enterprise talk about the loss of the native fishery in Little Tupper Lake after its sale by Mary Lou Whitney in 1997 to Governor Pataki. The loss of the native fishery was sabotage, not an error of state management. This was done by aggrieved people who opposed the Wilderness classification, and in retaliation they spiked Little Tupper Lake with bass. The bass flourished in the lake, and connected waterways, such as Rock Lake and Round Lake, and the 4,500-acre native fishery was lost. The Whitney family made it quite clear to the Pataki Administration that they wanted Little Tupper Lake classified as Wilderness. Governor Pataki pushed through a Forest Preserve classification that combined Lake Lila, then a Primitive Area, with the 14,700-acre Little Tupper Lake tract to create the William C. Whitney Wilderness area.
Let’s not abandon the Forest Preserve
It would be a grave mistake to give up on the dream of the Forest Preserve and let those who sabotaged the native fishery on Little Tupper Lake win.
My kids are their 20s. They grew up camping on Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake. I remember a friend’s daughter as a five-year-old yelling out of her tent at the grown-ups sitting around the fire to “tell the loons to shut up” because their continuous and loud tremolos that night awoke her. At other trips, we sat on the sandy beaches huddled in sleeping bags listening to coyotes howl across the water. At others, we marveled at the Milky Way reflected magnificently in the dead calm black waters. And yes, the native fishery has been damaged, but my kids pulled in many a fine bass from Little Tupper Lake and Round Lake over the years as well as native brook trout.
Here’s the reality. Despite the challenges facing the High Peaks Wilderness in particular, and management of the Forest Preserve generally, the public is extremely happy with their opportunity to hike and explore these marvelous public lands. They keep coming back! Yes, we need to improve public education, and we need more Forest Rangers, Wilderness managers, trail crews, and a visitors center for the High Peaks, but it would be a grave mistake to give up on the Forest Preserve.
The residents of the Adirondack Park have benefited mightily from the public Forest Preserve and the significant purchases that have expanded it in the last three decades. The benefits of the Forest Preserve redound to Adirondack residents, whose easy proximity to these abundant lands is a huge part of our quality of life. The benefits of the Forest Preserve redound to visitors as well, who flock here by the millions to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy these extraordinary wild places.
Thankfully, short-sighted thinking was resisted by past Governors who acted boldly to protect the Adirondacks during their terms in office. The naysayers did not win out when Governor Charles Evans Hughes purchased Mount Marcy, Redfield, Allen, and Skylight mountains or when Governor Al Smith bought Lake Colden. Imagine today if the state’s highest mountain was privately owned. Thankfully Governor Thomas Dewey did not listen to the naysayers when he bought islands and long stretches of wild shoreline on Lake George.
Thankfully, Governor Nelson Rockefeller bought the Moose River Plains. The millions who have camped on the Cedar River-Limekiln Lake Road or snowmobiled there for 50 years are pretty happy that these lands belong to the people.
Thankfully, then DEC Commissioner Peter A. A. Berle and Governor Hugh Carey bought Lake Lila and Armstrong Mountain, Basin, Blake, Colvin, Dial, Gothics, Haystack, Saddleback, Saw Teeth, Upper Wolf Jaw, Lower Wolf Jaw, and Noonmark Mountain. Anyone who has hiked the Great Range or gazed upon it in wonder from any number of High Peaks is pretty happy that these mountains are part of the Forest Preserve. Anybody who has camped at Lake Lila is pretty happy these lands are Forest Preserve.
Thankfully, Mario Cuomo bought Low’s Lake, happily paddled by hundreds of thousands since. Fortunately, George Pataki did not listen to naysayers when he bought Little Tupper Lake, Round Lake, the South Branch of the Grasse River, Lyon Mountain, and Madawaska Flow, among many other places.
Seriously, have our dreams grown so puny that the frustrations of inept management by one Governor’s administration will cause us to give up on the 125-year success of the public Forest Preserve? Are we to be a country with public lands that belong to the people, and are managed by the people, and for the people? Or, are we to be a country where the people are dependent on the benevolence of Billionaire X to provide for us our American birthright of wild spaces?
Mr. Hendrickson says that he will not sell Whitney Park to the state and will sell to the highest bidder with a handshake agreement that they not develop the property. These lands deserve better. These lands deserve to be part of the Forest Preserve.
Don’t give up on the dream of the Forest Preserve. Save Whitney Park by purchasing it for the public Forest Preserve.
Click here to sign a petition in support of the state buying Whitney Park. Help make these lands Forest Preserve.
Photo: Salmon Lake in the foreground with Rock Lake and Little Tupper Lake in the background. By Nancie Battaglia.
While Mr.Bauer makes some very good points, I can not agree with the Whitney Lands becoming part of the Forest Preserve. While I thank God that there is a forest preserve environmentalists have wielded far too much political power in the classification of these lands. As a consequence I have seen existing infrastructure burned or closed. I think of places like the Hudnut Estate at Fox Lair, the Crane pond Road debacle in Schroon, and the Old farm Road near thirteenth lake as examples.I strongly believe in multiple use and the opportunity to enjoy by all ages and physical ability.Closing roads that have been there for over a hundred years just to satisfy some preservationist makes no sense at all.Destroying existing buildings also. I do not believe in having wilderness that only the youngest and physically fit can enjoy. I do agree that Cuomo and DEC have mismanaged the preserve,not only the forest, but the fish and wildlife as well. all the more reason not to put these lands into it. I am against development as does Mr.Hendrickson wishes and I do hope they remain wild with public opportunity to enjoy them.
Often I disagree with Mr. Bauers articles, and they’re usually too long but that’s another beef. This time I think he’s spot on. This would be a good opportunity for Mr. Hendrickson to leave a great gift to the citizens of NY and visitors of the Adirondacks. After all, you cant take it with you. As for the resources to manage public lands in NY, maybe it’s time to view the popularity of the Adirondacks as an opportunity rather than a problem. Leave the camps in place and charge rent, make lean tos reservable and charge a fee. NY taxes are already too high and this could be a way to fund more rangers and ease the burden. The national parks do a good job of leveraging their facilities this way. Why not ADK?
I meet 70+ year old pensioners in the back country all of the time. Stay fit, control your weight, enjoy the Adirondack wilderness regularly, live long and happy. That’s what I’m planning. I’m 62 now.
Christ that’s my plan!
There are good points in what you are saying Al about how the state removes structures that probably could and should stay. They had a requirement under the wilderness designation to remove the Ranger outpost at West Canada Lakes and did so, then decided to keep the caretakers cabin at Lake Colden and as such, it seems the DEC at least, has been very inconsistent with how and where they enforce the rules, witness the attempt to get a bridge over the Cedar River in the Essex Chain, despite it being a clear violation of the rules governing Scenic Rivers.
I would thus hate to see Deerland placed in a Wilderness area and have the state burn it to the ground, that would be a poor choice.
But these are the choices that would be decided after extensive public input. My hope would be that Deerland would be given to an organization like the Adirondack Mt. Club to run as an interior lodge. The road structure could be maintained, some of will need to be retained as there are private inholdings on Forked Lake that would maintain access. Likewise, some of the road structure could be maintained as ADA access to certain lakes and interior camping areas, this is done currently at Boreas and the Essex Chain, so it needs not be a scenario of land set aside that only the fit can access.
Bottom line though is a “handshake” deal for a future landowner to not develop, is not going to be in the best interests of the citizens of the State of NY. Only outright ownership by the state, with all the attending pitfalls that can happen, is the beat option
Christ that’s my plan!
Great commentary Peter Bauer. Right on the money. Speaking of money, let’s put this purchase into perspective. $180 million ÷ 8.4 million New Yorkers = $21 per person. A nominal amount for such a crown jewel. There is enough land to divide up into uses to make everyone happy. Wild B&B at the great camp, museums at the historical buildings, plenty to stimulate the local economy, as well as preservation of most as wilderness.
And that is the definition of socialism.
Stop with the bullshit about socialism. Learn what the WORD ACTUALLY MEANS. You literally enjoy the benifits of it everyday, yet blindly whine about how bad it is?
“Hendrickson says that he will seek an agreement from a buyer that they will not develop the tract. Hendrickson says this agreement will be enforced with a handshake, not by deed covenants, a conservation easement, or a binding contract.”
Which is the same thing as “no agreement.” A handshake will not do if this tract were to be left free of vermin, ie…developers.
“These sentiments show the sad state of Forest Preserve management, where there is no confidence in Governor Andrew Cuomo or his hamstrung agencies…”
Governor Cuomo…. the good republican that he comes off to be too frequently.
“Only half of Americans vote,”
To think how easily this problem would be solved if we would just put into law that makes it mandatory to vote else be fined, or even prosecuted. If we must do jury duty when called upon to do so, why should it not be the same for voting? This would work against the politicians most assuredly….is why they don’t make it a law!
Respectively Charley, if mandatory voting became a law then that is yet another freedom lost. Because voting is a right then we do have the right to vote or not to vote. I do choose to vote and wish everyone did but it’s still a choice. If all things became law and mandatory then freedom is lost. Just saying……
“Thankfully, Governor Nelson Rockefeller bought the Moose River Plains….”
…whom Paul Schaefer saved from being flooded over back in the day. Nelson’s brother Laurance is the one whose desire it was to make a national park of a good swath of the Adirondacks back in the 60’s. This event back then encouraged a big movement which pushed for the state to be in more control of the Adirondacks. We forget about these things as a generation or two passes and here we are being reminded again with this Whitney Park sale of what could happen with this land if we don’t make the right choice.
Perhaps Mr. Hendrickson should consider the moral position on creating public lands taken by other wealthy and privileged individuals. The intention of maximizing his personal gain is bad enough in this case….absent charitable donation, reasonable sale to the public entity should be his default position. Additionally, there can be no confidence placed in any “handshake” arrangement as “Billionaire X” may very well wish to improve his standing in the Forbes list after acquisition.
It is a tragic outcome when greed and obstinance overtake social responsibility.
Just keep it out of the hands of the Trump administration.
Maybe it’s time to reimagine the Adirondack Park. If the state wants to buy the Whitney track then the state might have to give up something in the park. I truly believe that’s central Adirondacks And high peaks should be protected and preserved. This could be said about most of the land in the preserve. If you were to go To the fringes of the blue line and places like Fine degrasse Claire Harrisville, the land is beautiful but it’s not pristine. As a resident of Fine we are not really part of the Adirondack Park more just a buffer. There are many acres of state land that has been bought through the years that have been logged ,driven on for generations but now are considered wild forest. These are the lands that the state should consider selling in order To buy the more desirable lands such as the Whitney track. Then the towns that make up the blue line control their own destiny promote economic development and have unbridled access to the natural resources in the towns
“I remember a friend’s daughter as a five-year-old yelling out of her tent at the grown-ups sitting around the fire to “tell the loons to shut up” because their continuous and loud tremolos that night awoke her.”
I am reminded of the movie “My Cousin Vinny” where the scene is late night early morning…the camera is high up in a tree looking past an owl perched on a limb, who was hooing away, and down below was the cabin in the woods where at once Joe Pesci comes flying out the door into darkness firing his pistol blindly away into the air in angst over the owl keeping him awake. Too funny! There is another scene where Joe is in overnight lockup in a local jail down south, the place as loud as all heck what with all of the restless inmates……and there was Joe, out like a light! I’ll never forget those scenes which, in a big way, are a reflection of what is real in this society……that being some of us just need noise!
Hand shake agreements are meaningless when it comes to preservation. Even if that purchaser honors it, if he/she dies their estate is not bound by it. It was an informal agreement between two individuals. Only a codicil written into the deed or purchase by the state with forest preserve designation is long term protection.
I think the “hand-shake” statement is just another scare tactic in this bizarre, public negotiation. Obviously a verbal agreement won’t mean a thing when money is to be made. And even if Billionaire X abides by it for a few years, his successors have no obligation. And if a corporation is involved – forget it.
Why the new owner is employing this unconventional tactic at this unusual time during the pandemic is beyond my ken. He holds the megaphone right now. My take is that he would sell to the state in a minute for half of what he is asking, which is still overpriced. I believe he is just making a high-profile case for the state’s failures in the past to protect land properly. As in the Little Tupper fiasco, once you open land and water to the public, it is nearly impossible to protect it. Anyone can sabotage a body of water – look up what happened when Lake Trout were illegally introduced to Yellowstone Lake. It not only destroyed a fishery, it seriously damaged an entire ecosystem effecting elk and grizzlies alike. There is always this risk with ANY lands/waters regardless of ownership. Anyone with a bucket of fish can destroy a fishery. Nothing new.
Let the new owner pay taxes on the land for a few years. Perhaps it will be re-assessed at 5 times its current assessment if it is so valuable!
The timing of this land coming to the market is unfortunate. NYS is beyond broke. Just wait to see what happens with the budget. So lack of funds is one problem.
The price is another problem.
The lack of ability to manage the property is the biggest problem. How many staff work on that land now? How many staff would NYS bring to it? It will not be protected. Some member of the public will treat it like Little Tupper and dump bass there. That’s not protection. The counter example is Follensby Pond, which TNC decided to keep instead of sell to NYS so it’s fish are truly protected.
While acquiring it is a nice idea, it isn’t the best idea for land protection at this time. It is a wilderness. Let is be a wilderness. Public access will ruin it.
Sounds like a wonderful idea. Mr. Bauers article doesn’t address the outlandish asking price. Reality check….the state paid less than $700/acre for the Finch forest lands 10 years ago. Realizing that Whitney has some infrastructure that has value, although I don’t know exactly what, but let’s say $10 million, and if the state paid $1,000/acre for the 36,000 acres, that adds up to $46,000,000….a far cry from the asking price of $180 million.
That’s what I’m saying James! It seems to me John Hendrickson wants his money and that’s it. Even though he says he rejected offers from developers, there is evidently no concern in him for what happens to the land after the “handshake.” Money will do that to a person you know!
Now that the word is out it wouldn’t be too much effort for a snake oil salesman developer to make good on Mr. Hendrickson’s offer, then in a few years, or less, start selling off parcels which he or she has every right to do because after all there’s no law in a handshake. Seems to me there is pretense in Mr. Hendrickson when he says “he has rejected a half dozen bonafide offers from those who planned to develop the tract. I mean after all….if he was sincere about his desire to keep the land free from development why doesn’t he just come right out and do what needs to be done to achieve this? The answer is easy. Because money comes first and he wants his five grand per acre come hell or high water. If he was sincere about what he says, and less bent on riches, he would sell to the state for a lesser price. Other landowners have done so because they really did care. Maybe I’m wrong on this but it sure does seem this way with Mr. Hendrickson who has every right to do what he chooses with what is his.
“Respectively Charley, if mandatory voting became a law then that is yet another freedom lost. Because voting is a right then we do have the right to vote or not to vote. I do choose to vote and wish everyone did but it’s still a choice. If all things became law and mandatory then freedom is lost. Just saying……”
Once you get to the booth Jack it’s your choice what you do, even to not fill in the blank spaces. You don’t have to vote for anybody on the ticket if you do not wish to. I don’t see another freedom lost here Jack with voting being mandatory. I see more freedoms being lost because of the ignorance in this country and what our leaders get away with because of that ignorance! If more people voted these monsters we now have in power would most likely not be in power….is why they like things the way they are, ie….only 50% of the population voting!
The last person discussing this issue should be Peter Bauer. See his May 2020 rant entitled “Before The Flood”. Bauer wants NYS to purchase the Whitney Park property so he can qualify who can and cannot use the property and how they can use it. This personal editorial highlights his lack of leadership to any ADK issue or any organization he is associated with.
Keep the it private and get the socialists out of the picture!! Thank God this country still believes in private property.
If there is no public land, then where will hunters and hikers go? For years it has been the tradition in the Adirondacks for the locals to tramp on and hunt on neighboring private land. Sometimes it was by permission of the landowner, or many times they just trespassed. Most of the locals do not have enough land to fire their guns on or hunt on. There are no gun clubs for them to practice. Times have changed and property owners are not willing to let non family members hunt and hike because of liability and risk of lawsuits. Insurance companies will not insure them for the risk if someone gets hurt or killed. I have neighbors with arsenals that have small acreages but have hunted for years on nearby lands owned by unaware absentee owners or friendly neighbors. Now that empty land is being subdivided and built on, and the new owners do not want to hear any gunshots and will call the police. In the meantime, locals like some of the posters here are complaining that the state should not own forest land.
If the state can take land from private owners by eminent domain and also allow taking of land by eminent domain for private development projects deemed “for the public good”, then why can’t the state do the same for the last of the wild lands in the Adirondacks? The answer is of course that they don’t want to upset those very wealthy owners. Small landowners that can’t fight back are the ones that the state picks on. Do a google search of private utility rights of way land takings for proposed gas pipelines, unwanted high electric transmission lines that people have been fighting against, and the NYS Public Service Commission and the courts almost automatically give the big companies the right to take the land with the least amount of compensation. Small people with little resources that fight back by hiring lawyers don’t have a chance. Don’t the land hog wealthy owners of vast estates owe the people of the state anything? Most likely they have used the land for tax writeoffs and probably have also been undertaxed on the land. Why not “claw back” some of this land that the family probably got for almost nothing in the first place as political favors? Some one should take a look at the deeds on these properties as far back as originally acquired to see if there are any loopholes to allow some of this land to revert back to the state. If some of it was owned by a person with no resources to fight back, it probably would have been done and taken by the state a long time ago. As a landowner I have seen the recent upsurge in of out of town land predators and developers prowling around to see what they can cheat gullible landowners out of. It seems that all of sudden the Adirondacks are in their sights. Don’t expect that buyers of the Whitney land will keep it undeveloped.
He says it’s not for sale to the State. End of story; move on! Respect a private landowner’s decision.
YES!!! A great article.
Save Whitney Park! Don’t add it to the Forest Preserve! While the Forest Preserve may have the best legal protections of any Public land in the country (Art14) it also, quite possibly, maybe the worst administered public land in the country. Why add to the burden of the previously defunded DEC.
I hear you Scott. And I don’t see DEC funding for feet-on-the-ground patrolling increasing any time soon, especially with the current commissioner. But hear this – most people with any interest in the backcountry support your case for more Rangers wholeheartedly. But for some reason, we don’t seem to be able to translate that support into appropriate manning and funding. Until the Seggos recognizes the dangers that lack of funding and patrolling pose to both people and the resource, not much will change. Do we have to march on Albany to get attention?? My letters go unanswered.
So I agree – why add more territory to patrol with this type of management? Seems to be a formula for more neglect of the resource. Is damage from misuse somehow better than damage from development?
I love the Adirondacks. I’ve been exploring the Adirondacks for more then 50 years and have witnessed the wear and tear of over use and those who abuse the lands by leaving trash, cutting down trees and trampling over delicate flora. My pack is often filled with trash I pick up on the trails n camp sites. I resent having to clean up after those who do not respect the forests and often befuddled how one can be out enjoying the beauty n trash it at the same time. I support preserving the lands and will do my part to help