Thursday, November 19, 2020

Although it is historic, Debar Lodge can’t stay

The Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed that the ultimate removal of Debar Lodge from the Debar Mountain Wild Forest in Duane will require a full Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. The scope of that EIS has been out for public comment on the Adirondack Park Agency’s website.

DEC considers the following proposed mitigation for the Lodge’s removal: reclassification of 41-acres where the Lodge is located from Wild Forest to an Intensive Use Day Use Area to become a “recreation hub” involving expanded parking; pavilions; picnicking; bathrooms; trail development; and exhibits.  DEC appears to believe that the more intensive the recreational use allowed at the former Lodge location, the faster folks will forget that the Lodge ever existed. I doubt that is the case.

Regardless, important interpretive exhibits about the Lodge and new recreational opportunities there can be accomplished without large parking lots and picnic pavilions and in fewer than 41 acres. I think most visitors will want the current peaceful, tranquil, and magnificent Wild Forest character above and around Debar Pond to be maintained even as the story of the Lodge is told on site. There is no demand I am aware of to intensively develop Debar Lodge site, and there is another DEC Intensive Use area and campground at Meacham Lake not far away. There will be plenty of time for public comment about this as the DEC’s Unit Management Plans for Debar Mountain Wild Forest and the proposed Debar Lodge Intensive Use Area are drafted.

DEC has equivocated about the need to remove Debar Lodge for a long time. Designed by the noted architect William Distin, it fits beautifully within its environment. Its cedar logs have stood above Debar Pond for 80 years. It has been surrounded by the forever wild public Forest Preserve since 1979. The land was acquired for the public then, but the structure itself was reserved to a private party for the next twenty-five years. That reservation ended in 2004 when the State became the full fee owner of the Lodge and outbuildings.

Up until that moment, the State could have made an arrangement with a willing private party (such as Adirondack Architectural Heritage) to keep the Lodge out of the Forest Preserve and to preserve and maintain it through a conservation easement, or to disassemble the Lodge and reconstruct it off the Forest Preserve. That did not happen.

After 2004, DEC knew that Article XIV of the State Constitution, the Environmental Conservation Law, and the State Land Master Plan required the structure’s removal. Time passed. Maintenance and decisions in the form of a unit management plan were deferred. DEC Forest Rangers lived there for a time.  As in our own lives, it is easier to defer and delay than to decide.

Camp Santanoni

I go further back in time. In 1972, Camp Santanoni in Newcomb was acquired for the Adirondack Forest Preserve from The Nature Conservancy. The future of those structures on the Forest Preserve remained in legal abeyance for more than decade. Article XIV and the newly created State Land Master Plan required their removal but as interest in and commitments to historic preservation rose no one in authority wished to tear them down. Tensions flared.

In December 1982, the Adirondack Research Center convened a colloquium on historic-preservation issues in the Adirondacks. A number of distinguished preservationists and environmentalists attended to address how the state was to deal with historic structures on lands acquired for the forever-wild Forest Preserve. The context included a proposal then on the ballot, a constitutional amendment of Art. XIV to preserve the outbuildings at historic Camp Sagamore which the public approved in the following year. Absent a similar amendment to Article 14 authorizing continuance of Santanoni’s historic structures, many believed that the Santanoni’s buildings must be torn down. What to do?

At that moment the respected chairman of the NYS Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, Maurice Hinchey, rose to tell conferees about his bill to address Camp Santanoni and put an end to the state’s acquisition of land containing historic structures. Hinchey’s legislation, later enacted into law as Environmental Conservation Law 9-0109, mandates that pre-existing structures on lands acquired for the Forest Preserve can remain only if all three of the following criteria are met:

  1. The land and structure were acquired by the state prior to 1983 and the structure was built prior to the date of state acquisition.
  2. The structure is listed on or deemed eligible (by the state parks commissioner) for the state Register of Historic Places.
  3. The state environmental conservation commissioner finds that the structure can be maintained for the public’s understanding and enjoyment of the Forest Preserve or for DEC administrative activities necessary for the protection of the Forest Preserve lands.

The Hinchey bill is plainly unconstitutional, as Article XIV says the lands of the state are to be forever kept as wild forest lands. No legislation can override the Constitution by allowing structures to permanently occupy such lands.  Nonetheless, Assemblyman Hinchey’s wisdom was to limit the effect of his bill by drawing the line at Camp Santanoni. He felt that his bill, now ECL 9-0109, would prevent long running debates about the future of other buildings deemed “historic” on the preserve.

Debar Lodge met the second test in the law. It is eligible for listing on the Register, but it fails the first and third tests of ECL 9-0109. The land was acquired in 1979, but the structure itself, built in 1939, was reserved to a private party for 25 years. The State never became the full fee owner of the buildings until 2004, long after enactment of the 1983 statute. Also, the DEC commissioner has not issued a finding that the structure can be maintained for the purposes described in the law.

To conclude, DEC must honor the Environmental Conservation Law, the State Land Master Plan and Art. XIV of the State’s Constitution. The Lodge cannot remain where it is. Its historical story and significance should be exhibited without overdeveloping the site or transforming its wild forest character.


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

28 Responses

  1. Gary and Nancy Hartwick says:

    We are so tired of the absurd destruction of the history of the Adirondacks and the gross mismanagement of the Park that we no longer support the APA and think it is in the public’s interest to abolish it.

    • SLMPDefender says:

      I’m sorry – do you have the money to keep this building standing upright and insure it? Or were you hoping the Government would send even more NYC dollars upstate? The building has sat vacant for years, and is quite underwhelming. It would cost unreasonable dollars to rehabilitate and it sits on Forest Preserve… it’s not possible for a private enterprise to set up shop there. So why get hung up on this place? It’s not worth the mental energy.

      When the residents of the Park start looking forward and stop looking in the rearview mirror with nostalgia, their local economies will take off. Look at Tupper Lake… finally buying into a community-based recreation economy with the remsen-LP rail trail and rethinking the ski hill.

      The modern tourism economy is a booming business for those with the mindset to tap into it. Debar lodge is not a resource to the region.

      • Greg Keefer says:

        Perhaps the residents of the Park don’t want their local economies to “take off” – there are other important considerations.
        The booming modern tourism economy you mention may not be for everyone.

        • Steve B. says:

          That’s an understandable sentiment that is also in conflict with the opinions of other locals who complain about how the APA has done nothing for the local economy. Some tourism economy is needed, folks that have businesses pay taxes, pay wages, etc….

          Obviously the DEC is searching for ideas as to what to do with this property. The state constitution will likely require the demolition of the buildings, what to then do with the rest of the property becomes a question. Many have stated that there’s no need for yet another developed facility in this region and I suspect that is correct. It’ll likely be years before this shows up in any state budget, so there’s plenty of time to get public input, is my thought.

      • Tim-Brunswick says:

        Good for you SLMPDefender….time to move on and PLEASE let’s dispense with the agonizingly long dissertations by Dave Gibson.

    • Tim-Brunswick says:

      I’m no fan of the APA, but do you honestly believe the APA gives a hoot about whether or not you support them……..seriously???

  2. gabe susice says:

    most “common” people i know have never supported the APA.
    its time to defund the APA.

    • Steve B. says:

      Without the APA, Lake Placid, Old Forge, etc…. would have ended up like Branson, MO., or Gatlinburg, Tenn., schlock tourism run amuck.

      No thank you.

  3. Ann Congden says:

    Why is this needed when Meacham Lake is just down the road and the day use area is never full. If there is money to be wasted, upgrade the beach and picnic area at Meacham, Maybe the money could help out flood victims in the state who are still suffering from last Halloween. Did Whiteface really need a multi-million dollar lodge when flood victims were struggling??

  4. Marty says:

    We don’t need another “ day use” area there are enough of those already. Expand the facility at Ames ham if they really need more capacity Debar Pond is special for what it is don’t ruin it’s serenity with another public gathering place.

  5. Kathleen Morrock says:

    Leave well enough alone.?

    • Tim-Brunswick says:

      Kathleen…with four very well chosen words you’ve pretty much summed it up. Tear the place down, grade the area, classify it as wild forest and move on…period….end of story….!

  6. T. Stuart says:

    The state will do what they want anyway, no matter what the majority of the people want. We have seen this before. The environmentalists want all the land turned back to as it was, but don’t you dare trespass on it.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    It isn’t that old, and it’s historical, why? Bulldoze this and let nature recover this blighted pile…

  8. Boreas says:

    How historic can it be? How many people in NYS even know it exists? EVERY home, lodge, camp has “history”, but what makes a structure truly historic? So far I see no compelling reasons that this structure is particularly historic. If someone wants to dismantle it and move it off-site, fine, but taxpayers can’t be expected to save every old structure on state lands.

    • Paul says:

      Apparently (according to the article) the place is eligible for an historic classification so there must be something more than the regular history you describe.

      This is probably part of the reason the owner of a place like Whitney Park would never sell to the state because he knows they will just bulldoze his family’s history into a “blighted pile” – if given the opportunity?

      The state shouldn’t have to pay to maintain it. Open it up as a lodge like they do on state land with Whiteface. People are dying to get out of the crowded areas these days. This about as away as you can get.

      • Boreas says:

        Places are torn down every day that are on national historic registries. It is typically up to the owner. In this case, NYS. Evidently the state doesn’t view its value as a particularly historic structure. Best case is to have it relocated if someone wants to make a lodge out of it.

  9. Ed says:

    Could it be sold and removed ?

  10. LeRoy Hogan says:

    The state has removed a whole lot of stuff or mysteriously burns down.

  11. Edward Hooper says:

    I am in favor of leaving Debar Pond Lodge right where it is presently located.

  12. JohnL says:

    I apologize for being a downer, but hasn’t this almost insignicant subject been talked to death already? Certainly there must some really interesting subjects to pursue. Asking for a friend.

  13. ShayTway says:

    They should tear down the State Capitol building instead , it’s useless.

  14. sailboat scotty says:

    I would consider myself an environmentalist and supporter of forever wild, but I think there there should be more ‘room’ for historic structures like these to remain in place. These great camps are part of the Adirondack’s historical DNA…some could argue as much as the flora, fauna, and crusty peaks.

  15. Karl says:

    How about a permanent moratorium on the state buying/taking over land. Problem solved. Theres too much of it.

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