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 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