Thursday, January 19, 2023

Turn Moriah Shock into Adirondack conservation hub

moriah shock prison

By Aaron Mair, NYS Sen. Dan Stec and NYS Assemblyman Matt Simpson

The Adirondack Park and its “forever wild” Forest Preserve are the heart and lungs of New York, taking in the carbon that causes climate change and exhaling fresh, clean air to reinvigorate our atmosphere. New York needs more personnel in the Adirondacks to manage the forests it already owns, as well as forests it hopes to protect in the future.

The closure of the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility in the tiny Adirondack hamlet of Mineville is an opportunity: Several state conservation initiatives would benefit from an additional state building in the Adirondacks. Leaders of Adirondack environmental organizations joined with local elected officials in Mineville last month to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul not to mothball the Moriah facility but instead to reuse it to bolster conservation, social justice and employment in the North Country.

Until it closed in 2021, the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility was a minimum-security corrections facility reserved for nonviolent offenders who chose to participate in a highly structured regimen of physical exercise and community service. It operated similar to a military training camp. The property, which remains in excellent condition, could be reused for training of a different kind – training people for careers in conservation.

Managing our forests – and their millions of annual visitors – will take people from all over New York, from all kinds of backgrounds and with many different talents. They will need a place to learn about the Adirondacks and experience the wilderness for themselves.  A training facility for conservation careers would provide them with the skills and credentials they will need to be rangers, forest managers, scientists, planners and environmental engineers – all part of the climate solution.

Transforming this campus from a prison to learning center could transform the way people of color view Mineville and the Adirondacks. Rather than being part of a criminal justice system many have learned to fear, it would become a place that creates opportunities for new careers and lifestyles.

This summer, the new Timbuctoo Summer Climate Careers Institute in Newcomb will begin bringing students from Brooklyn to Essex County for two-week programs. The Mineville campus would provide the next steps in career training for those who want to go further.  It could identify and guide new candidates to the ranger/conservation police academy.  Both forces have made strides in recruiting women, but both remain predominantly white.

The transformation would be good for Mineville, too.  In 1989, it welcomed this prison when many communities would not have.  Its goodwill should not be repaid with abandonment.

The facility could even be the headquarters for a new Civilian Climate Corps, tackling large public works projects related to conservation.  It is close to the High Peaks Wilderness Area, by far the area where trails are in direst need of conservation work. CCC trail crews will need somewhere to live; workforce housing is quite scarce in the Adirondacks.

moriah shock

Adirondack environmental and community leaders gathered in Mineville Dec. 13, 2022, at the entrance to the Moriah Shock Correctional facility  to urge the state of New York not to mothball the facility but to reuse it for other state programs to bolster conservation and boost employment. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Moriah could also become a hub for scientific research. New York needs more air quality monitoring and climate science inside the park. It can establish a new facility for research, monitoring, and wilderness management using funds from the federal Inflation Reduction Act and other initiatives designed to protect forests and combat climate change.

It was wonderful to see what a diverse group of supporters stood up on the frosty morning of Dec. 13 and declared support for reuse of the Moriah facility. All agreed that they don’t want to see Moriah suffer the same fate as other former prisons in the region – Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, Lyon Mountain in Clinton County, Camp Gabriels in Franklin County, Chateaugay in Franklin County – whose campuses are shuttered and deteriorating.

Reuse by the state would help a small Adirondack community recover from the loss of jobs and business opportunities associated with the closure of the state institution. Why squander a multi-million-dollar asset when it could serve such a useful purpose? The governor and the Prison Redevelopment Commission can find a stable, long-term use that provides a new opportunity for New York’s forests and its people.

Aaron Mair is the director of the Adirondack Council’s Forever Adirondacks Campaign. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, represents the 45th Senate District. Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Brant Lake, represents the 114th Assembly District.

Photo: One of the buildings at Moriah Shock. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com




12 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    This is an obvious no brainer and a win win solution all around.

  2. An Adirondack Resident says:

    Do not “mothball” it an leave it to rot like Camp Gabriels or other properties that the state has taken over. “Forever wild” is a great idea but not if taken to extremes. If the state can’t figure out a way to economically reuse the facility, then look towards some other public or private entity. Lease it to therm for a dollar a year if necessary.

  3. Mike says:

    Maybe it should be used as a prison.

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      Or you know, not. The state closed the prison because it has too much capacity.

      No one wants a prison except for the correctional officers or private prison companies.

      no one wants to visit or buy real estate in a prison town except for the correctional officers.

      All of the proposed uses in this article actually benefit the whole local community not just the few with jobs there.

  4. Bill Keller says:

    Maybe the funds to build a new Buffalo Bill football stadium for the wealthy elite could be repurposed for the Moriah facility’s rebirth.

  5. Jim Sutherland says:

    While this is a great idea and very much needed in the Adirondacks, I fear that it will be a constant uphill battle to accomplish. My former employer, the Department of Environmental Conservation, has experienced harsh budget cuts ever since Andrew Cuomo became Governor which, by the way, was exactly the opposite situation when his father, Mario, was in office (those were the days when we had sufficient funds to pay attention to the environment, e.g., acid rain). The key to success in this present situation is to somehow get the attention of Governor Hochul, and it isn’t clear to me that she even realizes the importance of the Adirondacks.

  6. Paul says:

    Won’t it require a constitutional amendment? It would take years. Welcome to NYS.

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      I don’t think so. It’s not taking Forest Preserve land and using it for another purpose. It’s using property already exempt from Forever Wild.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    Use it to incarcerate Adirondackers that keep using propane ranges after they’ve ordered illegal…😱

    It might be possible to institute a concealed cooking permit for those whose cooking initiates possible public anxiety! 😎

  8. Rob says:

    Interesting read, I trust these guys don’t you.

    will take people from all over New York, from all kinds of backgrounds and with many different talents. By far the area where trails are in direst need of conservation work. CCC trail crews will need somewhere to live; workforce housing is quite scarce in the Adirondacks.

    reuse it to bolster conservation, social justice and employment in the North Country

    Transforming this campus from a prison to learning center could transform the way people of color view Mineville and the Adirondacks. Rather than being part of a criminal justice system many have learned to fear, it would become a place that creates opportunities for new careers and lifestyles

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