A new coalition launched this week, advocating saving the Adirondacks forever, through a campaign for clean water, people and wilderness.
The Forever Adirondacks Campaign Director Aaron Mair released a bold 15-point agenda for protecting clean water, creating new jobs and preserving wilderness in the Adirondack Park. Elements of the platform have already gained crucial support from a broad array of Adirondack residents, activists, educators and elected officials.
“The focus of this campaign is on three goals: cleaner water, better employment opportunities and wilderness preservation,” said Campaign Director Aaron Mair. “I am thrilled to say we are building a strong and diverse coalition of support for these goals, starting here inside the park and moving outward as we go. We want everyone to know that the coalition will welcome support from all those who love the Adirondacks — whether you are lucky enough to live nearby or come to us from far away.
“Together, we can set aside any small disagreements that might distract us from the outstanding opportunities before us today,” Mair said. “Together, we can achieve real benefits for both the park’s communities and its ecology. But the threats to people and nature are real and they can only be addressed — and people and nature thrive — if there is bold action now.
“It is especially important that we act now, while the Biden administration and state government are both expressing interests in the Adirondacks, water, jobs and wilderness,” Mair explained. “The recently approved American Rescue Plan contains tens of billions of dollars for aid to states for use in areas such as rural broadband expansion, drinking water and wastewater treatment projects. Those needs are great in the Adirondacks. Fulfilling those needs will bring new jobs. Making the park’s communities more vibrant will bring additional economic opportunities and fund additional conservation efforts.”
State officials are about to set their budget priorities for the 2022-23 fiscal year, so now is the time to make the park’s needs known to the newly elevated Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature, he said.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm for Adirondack initiatives, especially following the visit of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus this fall,” Mair said. “There are dozens of State Legislators who just discovered how amazing, and threatened, the Adirondack Park is. So we are in a very strong position to gain state government’s attention and action for Adirondack projects. At the same time, we are seeking the advice and support of Adirondack communities, many of whom have agreed to be our partners in this effort. They don’t have to support all 15 items on our platform, but if they like even one or two, we want them on board.”
“The Town of Chester has been working to expand job opportunities, leverage our forest assets, and develop an effective land use program in order to build a vibrant and strong community,” said Craig Leggett, Supervisor of the Town of Chester, Warren County. “By engaging with the Forever Adirondacks Campaign we see a way to bring these community-driven elements to life sooner than later. Together, we have the ability to make short term gains that will provide long term returns for the benefit of our residents and businesses.”
“I want to congratulate Aaron on the launch of the Forever Adirondacks campaign,” said William Farber, Chair of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors and member of the Common Ground Alliance. “The Adirondacks are consistently challenged by the lack of communications technology, the cost of water and wastewater systems, and a variety of other community challenges. We are beyond the days when everyone feels the need for a debate around a vibrant economy versus supporting the environment. I hope this campaign affords us the opportunity for diverse allies to join forces to bring much needed resources to the Adirondacks.”
“Many Adirondack small businesses rely on Adirondack wilderness to bring customers into their towns, often from hundreds of miles away,” said Mohammad “Mo” Ahmad, owner/operator of the newly renovated Frontier Town Gateway Restaurant and visitors’ center at Exit 29 of the Northway (I-87) in North Hudson. “Serving travelers who come to hike and paddle will be a big part of our business. But a new store and restaurant here also means more jobs in North Hudson and a place where local residents can get gas, groceries and a hot meal without driving for an hour. We need to encourage both public and private investments in the park. This campaign can help people understand what is at stake.”
New Jobs and the Skills to Hold Them
“The Forever Adirondacks clean water, jobs and wilderness initiative is the vision and the substance we need now to achieve the Adirondacks we want tomorrow,” said Paul Hai of Newcomb, Essex County, who is Associate Director of the Adirondack Ecological Center of the Northern Forest Institute for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “We are extremely excited about a model civilian climate corps initiative to create ‘Headwaters to Harbor Careers Pipeline,’ which starts working today with college-aged youth of New York to create a pathway for them to become the next generation of environmental stewards, scientists, managers, leaders and wilderness protection advocates.”
Hai and Mair said they saw opportunities for both college internships to give students a leg up on professional conservation jobs, as well as hands-on training for blue-collar opportunities in land management and infrastructure creation (new water and sewer systems, trails, rest rooms, solar installations, broadband, general construction, maintenance and operation of new equipment and systems).
“The Adirondacks have been the birthplace of so many important things — but few would match this pipeline of jobs, accomplishing work that badly needs doing and that would pay off in innumerable ways for the future,” said Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org and a homeowner in Johnsburg, Warren County. “The Hudson runs downhill from the North Country to the city, but we need the flow of talent and inspiration running the other way too, enlivening these woods along new and old channels!”
“Having grown up in the Adirondacks and worked as a Forest Ranger in the High Peaks Wilderness for 25 years, I had a unique understanding of the importance of stewardship and protecting the park, the environment and its visitors,” said Scott van Laer, Director of Paul Smith’s College Visitors Interpretive Center. “As a year-round resident I was very fortunate to have a career that allowed me to live here, earning a living wage, having a family and watching my children grow up here. It is essential to have an adequate number of jobs that protect the park and allow Adirondack human communities to survive and thrive.”
Mair said part of that effort would likely be an appeal to state government to replace the jobs being lost Upstate to prison closures by offering job training to corrections officers who want to stay in the area and work in conservation — and by creating more conservation positions (rangers, conservation officers, land managers, engineers, trail crews, planners, etc.) and expanding recruitment efforts statewide.
“There are lots of Black and Latinx students who would love to be forest rangers, but they never met anyone who looked like them and did that job, and they don’t know how to get the training they need,” Mair said. “They need some exposure to the work, and they need the training and credentials to get and hold these great jobs. It’s time to make that possible.”
All New Yorkers Working Together
“The idea at the heart of this coalition is that Adirondacks are worth investing in,” said John Foppert, Head Forester and Assistant Professor of Silviculture and Economics at Paul Smith’s College, in Franklin County, near Saranac Lake. “Thriving towns; a more productive, better protected landscape; pure, clean water—these are all worth working for. Part of that work means making our case to the lawmakers who could underwrite those investments. Much of it means tapping into the energy, resources, and determination of people right here, who live in and care about the Adirondacks. But whatever it involves, it simply won’t happen if we don’t work together in good faith. And that’s what I’ve signed on to this coalition to do.”
Mair said the coalition would work together in the spirit of the suffrage settlements of the 1840s where poor white and black men worked in concert to earn civil rights they had been denied by powerful political interests. They all gained the right to vote by accepting 40 acres of land from abolitionist/suffragist Gerrit Smith. At the time, state law granted the vote only to men who owned $250-worth of property. One of the more famous white farmers in the suffragist settlements was abolitionist John Brown. Following his execution for the raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry and planned slave rebellion Brown’s remains were interred at his farm and gravesite, now a state historic site, in Lake Placid.
“John Brown Lives! is looking forward to working with so many partners in the Forever Adirondacks campaign,” said JBL! Executive Director Martha Swan. “Our commitment to telling the deeper history of this great region is an important part of increasing diversity and access, both for those of us who live here, and those who come to visit. All are welcome in the Adirondack Park. This is foundational to protecting and enjoying the resources the Adirondacks offer for everyone.”
“The work of the Forever Adirondacks coalition is rooted in shared reverence,” said Jenn Jubin, owner of the Cascade Cross Country Ski Center near Lake Placid, Essex County. “By honoring a diverse set of perspectives, we can move the dialogue from red and blue to green … in order to protect our biggest assets: Adirondack wilderness and the resilient character of its people and wild places.”
“In the proposed federal Build Back Better legislation, millions of dollars will be allocated to expand forest canopies across the US for their carbon sequestration climate mitigating benefits,” said Roger Gray, Chair of the Adirondack Committee of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “In the Adirondacks, thanks to Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, the ‘forever wild’ clause, we already have that. Now, in the face of climate change and increased use, we need to double-down to protect it. The Forever Adirondacks Campaign coalition’s proposal for an ‘Adirondack Green New Deal Jobs Pipeline’ is just that — a bold plan to create jobs while preserving pure waters and wilderness. We look forward to working with Aaron and the coalition on this.”
“This campaign should be held up as a national Green New Deal model for the way it so effectively integrates wildlands protection, natural climate solutions, and a jobs program that celebrates wild places and access to nature,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, forest ecologist with the John Muir Project.
Initial funding for the Forever Adirondacks Campaign and the clean water, jobs and wilderness coalition comes from the Adirondack Council. This new Adirondack coalition is a group of organizations and individuals who support some aspect, or all, of the campaign’s goals to protect clean water, create new jobs and preserve wilderness in the Adirondack Park.
Campaign Director Aaron Mair is a retired epidemiologist for the NYS Dept. of Health, a Navy veteran and a lifelong environmental activist. Mair founded several environmental justice organizations, served as the 57th president of the Sierra Club (the first Black person to serve in that role).
Aaron Mair photo by Nancie Battaglia, provided by Adirondack Council