Park a Place of Refuge amid COVID 19, Begins Coping w/Overuse; Whitney Estate for Sale
The Adirondack Council released its 2020-21 State of the Park report today subtitled “Landscape of Hope,” noting that the park has become a place of refuge during the COVID-19 crisis, which has only increased the park’s popularity.
The report also notes that the state is beginning to make progress on addressing the overused trails and campsites of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, detailing what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. A third major focus of the report – taking up its entire center spread – is the pending sale of the 36,000-acre Whitney Estate in Long Lake, Hamilton County.
The 28-page illustrated report State of the Park: Landscape of Hope awards a positive or negative rating (thumb up or down) for 105 government actions taken between September of 2019 and now.
This 39th edition of State of the Park also profiles nine conservation and community successes accomplished by other organizations, businesses and individuals, in its Tip of the Hat section. The report also features an overall report card on top 2020 Adirondack conservation priorities and a list of updated priorities for 2021.
Rising popularity of the park
“We give Governor Andrew Cuomo high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in New York, including his work to prevent Upstate/Downstate conflicts among residents,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Many retirees with vacation homes in the Adirondacks have moved here full time to avoid the congestion and potential contagion of big cities. Houses are selling for cash in a matter of days in towns with the largest school districts, and young couples appear to be bringing their children here too.
“The trails and campsites are again filled with people looking for a safe place to recreate and get some exercise,” he said. “Search and rescue missions are up among the forest rangers over this time last year. Sadly, so is the amount of human waste and trash. All of this is happening while the Canadian border is closed, so the number of Americans in the Adirondacks is way up over past years, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 percent.
“That’s OK as long as everyone continues to practices the safety measures provided by state and county health officials,” Janeway said. “The Adirondacks have been a place of hope and refuge in the past, for example, during the tuberculosis crisis of the 20th Century, and have been a place of healing for veterans following both World Wars, the Korean War, and the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The surge in demand for Adirondack Park open space highlights the need for the state to continue and intensify the progress is has made in curbing overcrowding and overuse on the park’s most popular trails, campsites and destinations,” he explained. “Better education, parking enforcement, investments in infrastructure, additional personnel and limits on use such as parking reservations all need to be part of the solution to this escalating problem.”
Janeway said the recent passing of Marylou Whitney was an important moment in the park’s history. It marked the end of a long family tradition of caring for a very large (two-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan) and very wild part of the Adirondack Park. The entire estate has been placed on the market by her widower John Hendrickson.
The land is central to a 1988 Adirondack Council proposal to create a 408,000-acre Bob Marshall Great Wilderness by combining these lands with surrounding public Wilderness Areas, other Forest Preserve, and private lands acquired from willing sellers. Saranac Lake summer resident Marshall was one of the first to climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks. In his work for the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930s, he identified all areas in the nation still capable of holding a development-free, motor-free wild landscape of 300,000 acres or more. This area was one of them, and remains wild enough today to fulfill this mission.
The Council later expanded and modified the plan into a 600,000-acre Bob Marshall Wild Lands Complex, with the wilderness at its center and nearly 200,000 acres of non-wilderness buffer, consisting of well-protected public and private forests. The state has adopted a similar proposal in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan. It is called the Oswegatchie Great Forest in honor of the river basin in which it is located and Native American tribe that once lived there.
Adirondack Council’s Top Priorities for 2021:
- Preserve Wilderness: Complete and implement plans to address overuse, expand education, build infrastructure, pilot enforcement of Wilderness resource capacity limits and increase personnel, to protect natural resources, and secure community benefits.
- Win Conservation Funding: Reauthorize a $3-billion Bond Act for water, climate, and overuse and fully allocate the $300-million Environmental Protection Fund, plus $1 billion for clean water projects, including funds for the Adirondack Park.
- Combat Climate Change and Acid Rain: Promote clean energy and continue implementation of the new climate law, expand renewable energy, restore federal protections against acid rain, and enhance research funding.
- Stop Invasive Species: Achieve comprehensive boat inspection compliance Park-wide.
- Support More Vibrant Communities: Provide funds for planning, smart growth, communications, health care, jobs, housing, and recreation.
- Expand Park Diversity Equity and Inclusion Efforts: Plan and start to implement actions for a more welcoming, inclusive Adirondack Park that celebrates all kinds of diversity.
- Approve Environmental Agency Reforms: Increase funding, staffing, and oversight of the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency, and update planning and conservation tools to better incentivize private land stewardship.
- Defend the NYS Constitution: Defend the integrity of the “Forever Wild” clause of the state constitution, and secure second passage of the “Environmental Bill of Rights” so voters may approve it in 2021.