Sunday, January 7, 2024

Opposition Grows To The Proposed Debar Lodge Constitutional Amendment

Through most of the last few years, Protect the Adirondacks stood alone in its opposition to the proposed amendment to Article 14, Section 1, the famed Forever Wild clause of the New York Constitution, to privatize and remove six acres from the Forest Preserve at the north end of Debar Pond. The affected lands provide the best public access to a popular beach and canoe launching area on Debar Pond in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest area and include some decrepit buildings that should be demolished and removed around the boarded-up Debar Lodge. Protect the Adirondacks has made the case that the Debar Lodge site should be reclaimed and restored to a wild forest setting and the site should remain highly accessible and easy to reach for swimming, hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, and camping, and be a place that can grow wilder each year and one day be like another Lake Lila.

At the end of December, the Town Board of the Town of Duane, in Franklin County, where Debar Pond is located, passed a resolution that opposed the amendment to privatize the Debar Lodge site. The Town is concerned about the loss of full public access and a change to their enjoyment of a local popular amenity. The Town Board explicitly states in its resolution that it “does not want the existing buildings associated with the lodge at Debar Pond and the land around them to be sold by the State to a private entity.”

Around the same time, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates completed their review of the proposal and published a thoughtful statement of opposition to the proposed Debar Lodge amendment. AWA stated it has “decided not to support the amendment, in favor of preserving the natural beauty of Debar Pond – in our view, the one truly unique resource worthy of protection” at this site.

Other organizations and regional leaders have also been in contact with us and expressed their concerns about the proposal and will likely make their formal opposition public in the next few weeks and months.

The proposed constitutional amendment would convey into private ownership a 6-acre area around the Debar Lodge complex of buildings. These buildings are dilapidated and in disrepair and will costs millions of dollars to restore for their proposed new use as some kind of private institute that hosts small conferences or events like weddings. If the deal goes through, public access will be sharply reduced from what we all enjoy today. This is a bad deal for public recreation, for wild places, and for the Forever Wild Forest Preserve.

Under the New York Constitution, an amendment must pass the State Assembly and State Senate in two successive Legislatures, followed by approval the voters in a statewide ballot proposition. Supporters of the Debar amendment are pushing for “First Passage” this year in the current Legislative Session, with hopes of then pursuing “Second Passage” next year after elections this fall elect a new State Assembly and State Senate. If “Second Passage” was approved in the 2025 Legislative Session, then an amendment could be placed on the ballot in November 2025.

Last year, a draft constitutional amendment to clean up problems at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Winter Sports Complex received First Passage. This amendment enjoyed broad support from across the Adirondack political spectrum. An amendment to remove from the Forest Preserve the closed Camp Gabriels state prison passed the Senate but not the Assembly. The Debar amendment passed the State Assembly but not the Senate. With growing opposition, the Debar amendment will continue to face major hurdles.

There are many problems with the effort to privatize the Forest Preserve around the Debar Lodge complex. In brief, these are:

  • The funds to rehabilitate these buildings will run into the tens of millions of dollars. Supporters have never made public any kind of business plan or report on the conditions of the buildings. This project would require considerable state funds for years to come, an even bigger drain on state funds than what we see with Great Camp Santanoni, which depends on state monies, and is a complex of building that are only “stabilized,” and not rehabilitated for full-scale occupancy for groups of people.
  • Public access on the Debar Pond site would be changed considerably as the paying guests of the lodge would dominate the use of the site, no matter what concessions are made to allow the public to continue to use the grounds. The public, which now owns the land and has carte blanche unfettered unrestricted access all year round, will be seen as a nuisance and second-class citizens to the paying customers if the site is privatized.
  • The world needs wild places, where intact ecosystems can flourish with minimal interference from human activity, far more than we need a rehabilitated old exclusive vacation home complex.
  • Supporters propose to pay for the six acres and buildings to be removed from the Forest Preserve by providing 400 acres of logged forestlands. On its face, a 6-acre for 400-acre swap may seem like a good deal, but the 400 acres proposed contain no shoreline. This is hardly an equitable trade. This 400-acre trade tract is assessed by the local town at $223,000 at full market value. It’s enrolled in the 480a Preferential Forest Tax Taw abatement program so it’s land that has been logged. Vacant and logged forest lands run at about $1,000 per acre these days, so the 400 acres, far from just about everything with no trails, vistas, or lakefront, is probably something like $400,000 in value or more. There are many lakes in the Adirondacks where one cannot even buy a marginal building lot for $400,000. The exclusive setting of the Debar Lodge complex on what is basically its own private lake makes this trade uneven, a rip-off of the Forest Preserve and New York State taxpayers.
  • Debar Lodge was built in the 1940s, contains many modern building features, and is far different from the many preserved Adirondack Great Camps built in the Gilded Age of the 19th century in the years after the Civil War. Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Debar Lodge is younger than many current Adirondack residents, indeed is younger than my parents.
  • Many Adirondack Great Camps, constructed in the 19th century, and recognized for their architectural and social history are protected and have been restored by private owners or organizations across the Adirondack Park. Many of these provide public access for a fee. One can take a tour or attend an event at Great Camp Sagamore, take a tour or arrange to stay at the SUNY Cortland Great Camp on Raquette Lake, or rent the Lake Kora Great Camp, hike, ski, or bike to Great Camp Santanoni, rent a room at The Waldheim on Big Moose Lake, visit Eagle Island on Upper Saranac Lake, or arrange a visit or stay at White Pine Camp outside of Paul Smith’s. There’s plenty of other Great Camps beyond this list that are protected and do not require forsaking public access and the wild Forest Preserve.

Protect the Adirondacks believes that there is no greater gift to future generations than what could be passed on with wild spaces around a restored, re-wilded, and motorfree Debar Pond. The world needs more wild spaces, which each year grow fewer and smaller. We need wildness far more than we need another private lodge or retreat center. Let’s continue to oppose the Debar Lodge amendment and let’s clear the site of the buildings and make Debar Pond into another Lake Lila. For those who want to add their voices to this effort, please click here to sign our online petition opposing the proposed Debar Lodge amendment.

Photo at top provided by Peter Bauer.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.




51 Responses

  1. Ellen Safir says:

    I feel public access would be maintained and enhanced with the Debar buildings being restored via Private control. Obviously necessary since their beauty and usefulness is not appreciated by those who think they know what’s best for the rest of us. There is plenty of wild natural area to enjoy without Debar fitting into the pristine agenda. The truth is, the majority of mankind will never enjoy the truly wild areas of North America, they don’t care to and the rest of us want both access and a taste of the old style cabins and lodges.
    I for one am happy there is more opposition to the supposed “constitutional” correctness.

    • ADK Native says:

      Amen Ellen. Totally agree.

      • Eleanor wall says:

        Amen totally agree as did
        The most recent poll. No one interviews in this peice AARCH, billy Jones or Dan Stec our nys senator who are all lobbying and proposing amendment to save debar pond lodge. So the opponents would rather see a picnic platform and port a potty’s in place of the lodge? . This would enhance the beauty of the place ? This is what nys Dec has proposed. Eleanor wall local resident

    • Amen totally agree as did
      The most recent poll. No one interviews in this peice AARCH, billy Jones or Dan Stec our nys senator who are all lobbying and proposing amendment to save debar pond lodge. So the opponents would rather see a picnic platform and port a potty’s in place of the lodge? . This would enhance the beauty of the place ? This is what nys Dec has proposed. Eleanor wall local resident

    • That really doesn’t make much sense and it underestimates what happens when you chip away at principles and privatize land. NYS Dems are looking to a new home for a half million migrants bused up from Texas. Do you think a 20 story residence can look good on that local in a few years?

      The assumption is that if you improve it as a lodge through privatization you will get what you want and expect. That is not right.

      Becareful for what you wish for. As for most never see wild areas of North America…. well, I grew up in NYC and seem to have enjoyed it from time to time. Really wild locals have no access. That would not include any part of New York. Maybe Hudson Bay.

      Lets not let our politicans invent new ways to chip away at the nature perserve.

  2. Big Burly says:

    Mr. Bauer …

    You and your organization do many good things. THIS IS NOT one of them.

    The proposal to put this property into the hands of a highly responsible private organization that will preserve the lodge, assure responsible public use of Debar Pond (nobody is espousing motorized use!), in exchange for new land for the Preserve is a desirable outcome and will add to the tourism assets of the local communities.

    Find something else to do. Enough.

  3. John powers says:

    I’m from NJ. Visit on a regular basis over the years. Trudged up Whiteface to cheer the Mahar brothers on. I’m not entitled to take sides. The intended use sounds sketchy. Weddings and conferences? Those uses are speculative requiring loss of public access?

  4. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Peter,

    I respectfully submit that you needlessly exaggerate. There is no beach, and I would not say that the shoreline of the site is all that popular. Surely “there is no greater gift ” is a stretch.

    I don’t know enough about the facts to have reached a conclusion, but hyperbole is not helpful.

    Phil

  5. Bill Keller says:

    This is from a previous Adirondack almanack,” From July 29 to Labor Day, averaging five days a week, the non-profit organizations Adirondack Architectural Heritage and Debar Pond Institute conducted a public opinion survey on the shore of Debar Pond to ascertain public attitudes about the future of Debar Pond Lodge. 97% said they favored an outcome for Debar Pond Lodge that would, “Preserve the buildings; use the Lodge for educational programs, public lodging and tours; and allow the public to access the shoreline of Debar Pond for picnicking, swimming, paddling and hiking.” 2% preferred to “Remove all the buildings and allow the public to access the shoreline of Debar Pond for picnicking, swimming, paddling and hiking.” 1% were uncertain”. Seems like the public has other ideas.

  6. Raymond Johnson says:

    We do not need another millionaires retreat saved. That land belongs to the people and not to a private developer.

  7. Smitty says:

    I agree with Mr. Bauer completely. Anyone that believes public access under private ownership will be as good as it is now is a chump. This property (not the building) is a gem that should remain in public ownership.

    • Phil Fitzpatrick says:

      Smitty,

      You can see that other folks disagree with you. Calling them names is not the kind of dialogue we use on this forum.

      Phil

      • Smitty says:

        Sorry. You just may not care about public access. That’s one thing. On the other hand if you believe the promise that equivalent access will be provided with the property transfer then I maintain that you’ve been deceived.

    • M.P.Heller says:

      Have you ever heard of the ADK??!!

  8. Tim says:

    Before deciding where you stand, please read the link in the above article:
    https://adirondackwilderness.org/keep-debar-pond-forever-wild/

  9. Real Cerise says:

    “There’s plenty of other Great Camps beyond this list that are protected and do not require forsaking public access and the wild Forest Preserve.”

    hmm- There’s plenty of forest too!

  10. Mary cronk says:

    I agree with Mr. Bauer.

    This changes the policy of removing buildings from forest preserve .

    There is plenty of private acreage in the park for wedding and party venues.

    How about investing in the old ski lodge on mount morris in tupper lake? Very nice spot for wedding venue.

    I am sure there are other locations where you do not need a constitutional amendment.

    This is just another political move to change park rules.

  11. Pete says:

    Agree with Mr. Bauer on this one. I frequent DeBar pond and fear that if the proposal is
    is passed, that my use of the area will be restricted. I can foresee signs at the gate saying “wedding or conference in progress NO Public access” and having to use the old trail through the swamp to get to the pond.

  12. Boreas says:

    I don’t have a dog in the fight, but I don’t see the appeal of this building for myself or the general public who are not likely to ever see it if a private entity were to take it over. What is in the “better good” for taxpayers?

    • Paul says:

      If an entity like Historic SL supports it – I trust the experts judgment on the value of preserving this.

      Yes, it is different than some great camps but is not just a “shack” either as Peter likes to mis-portray it.

  13. Paul says:

    The lodge is not blocking any public access. Also, any agreement between the state and the buyer could have this explicitly stated for enforcement purposes. Also, I guess I hang out with a different crew in the area but I continue to hear lots of support for this deal? Was at a Historic Saranac Lake event this fall and all I heard was positive stuff.

    The lodge stays and is maintained by someone else, the state gets an additional 400 acres of Forest Preserve (Peter, sure it may have been recently logged but once added to the FP it will never be again -right), and the access for canoers is still there. Seems crazy not to support it?

  14. Stephen D Garrity says:

    I have visited Debar Pond many times. Its uniqueness is a combination of beauty and solitude – although not remote, one has to hike in or portage paddlecraft from the parking lot. On or off the water, the atmosphere is truly meditative. The lodge is impressive, but not a true “great camp”. The site would be improved by its removal, or just by letting nature slowly take it back. Having s sketchy “private entity” control most of the access dismays me.

    • Paul says:

      Organizations that are involved in this project. The Preservation League on NYS, Adirondack Architectural Heritage, and now the Debar Pond Institute are not a “sketchy” private entity like you describe. They have years and years of collective experience in historical and architectural preservation. This description is a very insulting and frankly false description of the private entities involved. One that I am sure people opposed to the project appreciate.

  15. David Gibson says:

    As several have pointed out, this all started when in 2020 our NYS DEC recommended Intensive Use picnic pavilions, expanded parking areas, bus lanes, and multiple signs to the peacefulness that exists today at Debar Pond and the former Lodge. Opposition to what DEC proposed is common ground that unites us all, and led to the constitutional amendment proposal. Preserving the Lodge, on the state and national register of historic places, can be accomplished by an amendment to Article XIV, or by a Historic reclassification under the State Land Master Plan, so long as the Lodge meets the definition for Historic. I think it may. The peacefulness, existing public access, and the high quality of Debar Pond, all crucial, can coexist with the Lodge’s preservation and upkeep. This combination can be seen at Santanoni Great Camp on Newcomb Lake. I think that is a better analogy than attempting to compare Debar Pond with Lake Lila.

    • Ellie wall says:

      The lodge is already on the historic register thanks to the now retired Steve englehardt atAARCH. Erin Tobin now the director has continued to battle with the opposition and hopefully the powers that be will listen to the majority who feel that the lodge should be saved and when this happens access to this magnificent site will be Improved and not be replaced by a picnic pavilion, porta potty’s, and the remnants of what used to be a beautiful lodge. There would be improvements, including moving the parking lot up to the top of the road so that people who are unable to access it now can do so.

      • Smitty says:

        And will the public have the same water access as paying customers or will they have to use a long and difficult trail around the privately held property? I believe that this is the principal issue.

        • Ellie wall says:

          If you look at map the public walkway goes from the new parking lot down to the boathouse area which does allow access to water , views and lodge. That parking lot will be where the outhouse is currently located. No more gate by the road. However I just got an Email from erin Tobin at a a ARCH and she says because duane township has written some document that says they’re not supporting saving tthe Lodge any longer that this really will cause a problem with passing amendment. That’s a real dissappointment..

          • Paul says:

            They are making a big mistake, and agree this is a problem for the project. That is why it was jumped all over here.

    • Paul says:

      David, I can’t say this often. But I completely agree with your assessment here.

      I think that sometimes folks who work extensively as environmental activists rarely can do something like this, perhaps Peter in this case. They get into a mindset where they simply can’t compromise, it’s like they can’t take “yes” for an answer.

      Now, I grew up exploring the woods very close to debar pond, I have never been there, or will I probably ever visit. But that is the thing about preservation you do it so that others can experience it someday.

      • Smitty says:

        Well ok then! I see room for a nice compromise. Provide a closer parking area for the public with a nearby hand launch only permitting unpowered or electric motors, maybe a picnic table or two, and provide for private rehab of the lodge. Maybe everyone’s happy then. I just don’t want to lose reasonable access to the pond.

  16. Gary Algier says:

    If Protect the Adirondacks gets the area cleared of old buildings and it becomes wild forest, there won’t be vehicle access to the boat launch. Careful what you ask for. Perhaps a compromise is in order?

    • Ellie wall says:

      Oh believe me if this amendment Fails and the lodge is torn down There will be access to the water and what you’ll be seeing is a picnic pavilion with out houses and a very little maintenance of the property mowing, etc.that’s forever wild it’s a shame..so once again the voice of the people is not heard.

      • Smitty says:

        That would work for me. But in the spirit of compromise and making things work for everyone, how about just selling the building and minimal area surrounding it to those that wish to preserve it, and leave the remainder of the property, including the “beach” and parking area, in public trust?

        • Ellie wall says:

          Hey I’m all for compromise but nys is not. I worked with a great organization homeward bound adirondacks who really wanted the property but nys and Dec gave them such a runaround for several years they ended up with another property on lake Titus about 5 miles from debar. Town of Duane who also wanted property has apparently given up too.

    • Tom Paine says:

      Compromise is nonexistent word in Mr. Bauer and his follower’s world. Their word is comply, to our religious vision.

  17. upstater says:

    Peter, I assume NYS resident can contact their state legislator and senator to voice opposition. Is there a bill #, or is it sufficient to reference the land swap at Debar pond amending Article 14, Section 1.

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      Assembly Bill 7535A and Senate Bill S7868. I called Senator Dan Stec’s office to express my concern about limiting public access to the Pond. I was told by a staff member that the details of the plan would only be worked out after the amendment is passed. What? A private entity then dictates use on what is now public land.

  18. Todd Eastman says:

    This is not a “Great Camp”, but rather a “Lesser Camp”…

    … bulldoze it.

    • Paul says:

      Leser camp. That is a good description! According to the historic preservation people it is a good example of of Saranac Lake based architect Distin’s smaller projects. But not a regular old log cabin by any means. I guess that is why it is on the National Historic Register, you can’t bulldoze it that easily, sorry, that would be against the law.

  19. M.P.Heller says:

    This is such a biased and therefore meaningless article. It’s like saying that you have 3 stupid friends who agree that you should jump off a bridge. Probably not the proper advice and maybe you should do better to listen to more reasonable minds.

    If the elected officials in Duane think they should turn their backs on making a legitimate destination in their town that doubtless would create jobs and generate much needed tax revenue to support the residents of their community, that is their prerogative. This attitude could have an impact at the next election.

    The view from my house tells me that the lodge could partner easily with the PS VIC to create a unique experience for visitors to enjoy an unparalleled opportunity that combines a minimalist lodging component away from the bustle of the Tri-Lakes with an educational component that benefits the visitor and the Park as a whole at the VIC. This is an underutilized area of the Route 30 corridor within the Park that could easily absorb some traffic from the nearby resort towns without disturbing the relative quiet that defines the characteristics of the area.

  20. Ellie wall says:

    Unfortunately these ideas are a little too
    LateSeveral years ago pre Covid my husband asked Adk folk school if they might be interested in doing satellite program at lodge . They decided against it due to remoteness which turned out to be foolish. Since Covid our area right next to debar owls head now has general store, community center, brew pub two thriving restaurants all of which could benefit from an entity like Vic or folk school. I do not know what prompted Duane town fathers to change their minds but probably time red tape $ all are factors. But the area is thriving and debar lodge could have been part of it..

  21. Ellie walk says:

    Unfortunately People in Power are reading these articles by this author and it is influencing The decisions that are being made about the debar pond . The suggestion to contact, Paul Smith, Vic is a little too late. Pre-Covid. My husband contacted Adirondack folk school To See if they might be interested in running a satellite program at debar Lodge, and they declined, saying it was too remote. However, since Covid our area which is owls head right next to debar is booming. We now have a general store, community center, brewpub, and two good restaurants in our town, and we certainly would’ve benefited from programs at de bar lodge. I do not know why Dwayne Township change their mind about supporting Debar lodge being saved, but it may be related to time, red tape, money politics, who knows and as a result, we probably will be facing the lodge being torn down.

  22. Susan says:

    I agree with those that state that there is an increasing amount of land being added to the forever wild lands, but a decreasing number of historical properties being saved. So let’s save this one while we still can.

  23. william c hill says:

    Once again, the world as seen through Peter Bauer’s eyes…

  24. That really doesn’t make much sense and it underestimates what happens when you chip away at principles and privatize land. NYS Dems are looking to a new home for a half million migrants bused up from Texas. Do you think a 20 story residence can look good on that local in a few years?

    The assumption is that if you improve it as a lodge through privatization you will get what you want and expect. That is not right.

    Becareful for what you wish for. As for most never see wild areas of North America…. well, I grew up in NYC and seem to have enjoyed it from time to time. Really wild locals have no access. That would not include any part of New York. Maybe Hudson Bay.

    Lets not let our politicans invent new ways to chip away at the nature perserve.

  25. DONALD says:

    i agree with MP HELLER. i will not be reading anymore articles penned by BAUER

  26. Raymond Budnick says:

    Definitely public access should never be removed from any lands. But, to cherry pick the National Register of Historical Places designation weakens the argument for protecting any other such registered structures.
    We are capable of anything we put our minds to. Compromise that is effective is possible if we think out of the box. Nothing has to be all or none.
    Our two Visitor Interpretive Centers very nicely conjoin buildings with wild settings. As well as the private lodge on the Adirondack Mountain Club property. This too could be the case for the Debar lodge as a place for the public to utilize in conjunction with enjoying our great gift we’ve been given.
    Debar sets on the edge of some impressive scenery that is way under utilized. New trails from the lodge to Debar mountain, Black Peak and Bald face mountain. As well as perhaps low trails connecting Debar to Hays brook and Mountain Pond. Allowing for extended trips into the back country.
    At a time when traffic and parking are becoming crises in the high peaks area, this could begin to lift the burden from those over utilized areas and allow us to enjoy this relatively new opportunity way to the north in the Adirondacks.

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