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 Preserve
During 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.
At the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) monthly meeting in September, Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board made some very confusing statements about transferable development rights, or TDR.
He expressed the notion that annually leased hunting and fishing cabins on the former Finch Pryun lands constitute a guaranteed building right which can be transferred elsewhere “for affordable housing and for facilities needed for tourism.” The state’s acquisition of these lands for the public implies a loss of forestry jobs and taxes, he argued, which should be compensated by transferring building “density” to help the local tax base somewhere else. He further confused matters by stating that eventual loss of some of these camps would deprive Newcomb, for example, of places to stay overnight. » Continue Reading.
Months after approving the largest subdivision in its history (Adirondack Club and Resort), the NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has approved another residential subdivision on substantial acreage in Resource Management – the Park’s most protected private land use classification. In August, APA approved a 13-lot subdivision off Styles Brook Road in the Town of Keene, part of a beautiful farm and landscape of 1,336 acres lying between the Hurricane Mountain-Jay Mountain Wilderness Areas, parts of the NYS Forest Preserve.
Moreover, the subdivision lies in an area identified by the Northeast Wilderness Trust as important to protect a wildlife movement corridor linking the Split Rock Wild Forest along Lake Champlain to the Jay-Hurricane-Giant-Dix-High Peaks Wilderness areas to the west. » Continue Reading.
This Thursday, August 16 beginning at 1:30 PM there will be a public tour of the river restoration project now taking place along the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene Valley.
The tour will be at Rivermede Farm. For more information, contact Dave Reckahn of the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225, [email protected], Corrie Miller at the Ausable River Association, [email protected] or Dan Plumley at Adirondack Wild’s regional office in Keene, [email protected]» Continue Reading.
It’s been my honor and privilege to know some great Adirondack conservation leaders in the late 20th century. One I feel deserves a lot “more ink” is the late David L. Newhouse, a native of the Midwest and graduate of Purdue University, who arrived in New York State following World War II to become a leading metallurgical engineer with the General Electric Company in Schenectady.
His interest and leadership quickly expanded into the Adirondacks for, as Dave wrote rather formally and very modestly in a biographical paragraph: “My interest in the Adirondacks and Catskills had its roots in my developing recreational use of them, for hiking, climbing, camping, and canoeing in the Forest Preserve and other wildlands. I learned about pressures for competing and incompatible uses of these lands that threatened their character, and became very involved in conservation of their values and in education as a means of gaining popular and political support for wilderness and wild forest values.” » Continue Reading.
The woods are dry out there. This week, forest fire fighters needed state police helicopters to douse a carelessly set, poorly extinguished fire up on Sawteeth Mountain. In such cases, the informal NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) policy is to fight and extinguish the fire as part of its legal responsibilities for care, custody and control of the Forest Preserve.
Ought there be a state policy of graduated measures to address forest fires in the Forest Preserve, particularly in remote areas? Greater dialogue and sharing of information on the subject of forest fire in the wilds of the Park, public or private, would be helpful. » Continue Reading.
I write in praise of the scope and content of Adirondack Explorer’s current lead article “The Future of Open Space” by Phil Brown, but wish to add emphasis to one very important aspect. The article rightly notes that “it is vital to have an APA staff and board willing to use their authority to protect the backcountry.”
Attempts to strengthen or change APA laws and regulations that protect the open spaces of the park are for naught if APA lacks the will to use the legal tools available to it. That was the case with Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR), where APA had plenty of legal authority, but lacked the courage to deny ACR, greatly modify the project, or reopen the hearing to obtain evidence missing in the hearing. » Continue Reading.
News comes this week that the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad (Iowa Pacific Holdings) has gotten federal go-ahead to extend commercial rail uses to and from the former mine at Tahawus, Newcomb. I extend the company and the towns through which the spur line passes a thumbs-up and good luck, not just for its rail rehabilitation and future commercial success, but for its educational success.
That said, the State of New York, by failing to hold public hearings to share information and hear opinion about the complicated issues behind re-extending the line from North Creek to Newcomb, failed its responsibilities for the Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.
A proposal may come up for a vote in the State Legislature this year that would amend Article 14, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution, ‘the Forever Wild” clause which safeguards our New York State Forest Preserve. The amendment and implementing legislation addresses land titles on the shoreline of Raquette Lake in Hamilton County.
Each time the Legislature and the People of the State are asked to consider an exception to Article 14 represents a new opportunity to affirm the Article’s fundamental principle and mandate that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve… shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” No other state in the country has such a large (now about three million acres in both Adirondack and Catskill Parks) Forest Preserve, much less one embedded in its State Constitution. » Continue Reading.
Rivers policy and history, stewardship of our Forest Preserve, and positive interactions with young people from Albany came together on Arbor Days, April 27-28, north of Lake Luzerne. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve was pleased to play a role. First, let’s review some history.
The role of Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack Hudson River Association: Many years ago, the utility giant Niagara Mohawk power company owned land along the upper Hudson River in Luzerne, Warrensburg and North Creek. One of their goals was to create large hydroelectric dams at Hadley-Luzerne, and the shoreline was considered flowage, where water levels would fluctuate up and down 50 feet or more during power generation, and reservoir filling. Other mega-dams on the Upper Hudson were being planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would flood the river as far north as Newcomb. » Continue Reading.
Public wild lands protected by law in New York State can fall under the public jurisdiction of a variety of state agencies. Some of them are part of the system of state parks administered by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). In northern Saratoga County and across the Hudson River in Warren County lie more than 4,000 acres of beautiful and protected public wild land, part of the Moreau Lake State Park. Much of this land was acquired by the nonprofit Open Space Institute from Niagara Mohawk, and then sold to the public in 1998.
Moreau Lake State Park tripled in size at that time, and is now the largest state park in the region. The six million-acre Adirondack Park north of Moreau Lake, of course, has a completely different legislative history and legal context. It is not part of the OPRHP system of state parks. This past week, I joined an enthusiastic group of state park officials, staff, park friends, volunteers and concerned citizens at Moreau Lake State Park. The occasion was an Earth Day ribbon cutting at the park’s new nature center, led by NYS Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. Moreau Lake State Park’s director, his educational staff and the volunteers of Friends of Moreau Lake were given appropriate credit for this new space and added capacity to work with school groups, some of the 400,000 annual visitors to this park. The facility “showcases State Parks’ commitment to environmental education…shared by experienced and passionate outdoor educators,” said the Chair of the Saratoga-Capital District State Park Commission Heather Mabee.
This was visible progress. I once worked as a part-time naturalist and recreation staffer at Moreau Lake and Saratoga Spa State Parks, so it was gratifying to see the greatly improved educational facilities, interpretive exhibits, and dedicated staff that did not exist in the mid-1980s. On the other hand, even in those days I experienced a strong connection to the Adirondack Mountains and the solitude and beauty of the wilderness each time I went to Moreau for a program or a hike. The forests at Moreau do, in fact, act as a transition between the Appalachian oak-pine forests and the northern mixed hardwood forests of the Adirondacks, while the elevation gains to the park’s ridge trails resemble those on many Adirondack hikes.
I was invited to the ribbon cutting for a different reason. Four years ago, Saratoga County Water Authority’s water intake and pipeline from the Hudson River were constructed through a section of Moreau Lake State Park, in violation, we felt, of our State Constitution’s “forever wild” clause that protects the Forest Preserve as defined in State law. Saratoga County is one of 16 counties in the state that fall within the legal definition of Forest Preserve. The vast majority of Forest Preserve lies within the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, but some falls outside these boundaries in the named counties.
Moreau Lake State Park was no legal exception, and it certainly has public wild lands characteristic of the Forest Preserve, so we challenged OPRHP’s allowance of the county water line’s construction through parts of this park. As readers know, the State Constitution’s Article 14 states that lands constituting the forest preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands,” and “shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private…” The Saratoga County Water Authority, a public corporation, had, in our view, unconstitutionally taken parts of Forest Preserve at Moreau Lake State Park.
Ultimately, the water line was constructed. Although the coalition did not go to court on these grounds, we came to a legally binding agreement with OPRHP that commited $300,000 of public funds to build educational facilities, like the park’s nature center; other funds to add to the park’s wild land acreage; and a commitment to manage large segments of the park as if it were Forest Preserve – although OPRHP is reluctant to name it what I think it truly is. A professional management plan is in place at Moreau, most of the wild land is managed appropriately as Park preserve land, and there is a visible educational and passive recreational emphasis at the park. There are well-advertised hikes, an educational staff is in place, and an active friends group helps the small staff serve the public, including area schools and youth groups.
In short, I am glad we reached the agreement we did. On the other hand, vigilance is still called for. All state agencies responsible for New York’s “wild forest land” should understand and embrace those responsibilities, and resist any kind of taking and exploitation of our wilderness for commercial or expedient ends. After all, our wilderness is a big part of what distinguishes New York State; and our “forever wild” Constitution is the envy of every other state, and every other country on earth.
Photos: Hemlock grove; springtime on the trails; nature center at Moreau Lake State Park.
A columnist from the Old Forge area, Mart Allen, recently wrote for the Adirondack Express about the late Harold A. Jerry, Jr., and he inspired me to do the same. Judging from his experiences with Harold along a trap line during the winter in Herkimer County, Mart Allen concluded that Harold Jerry displayed a depth and integrity of character that should be the measure we take of all our fellow human beings, but often isn’t. That observation about Harold rang very true for me. » Continue Reading.
1988 was a long time ago, and not just in years. It was a different time in America. It does seem like yesterday in my life, but that’s because I’m in my mid 50s and time is speeding up. In the Adirondack Park of 1988, as in the rest of the country, a real estate boom had been underway for some time. Speculators were getting into the game. At the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the number of permit applications was way up.
The park’s Resource Management and Rural Use lands – the “backcountry” – were under considerable real estate pressure. The Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century would be established by Gov. Mario Cuomo the following year. In contrast with today, in 1988 a majority of Agency commissioners viewed themselves as agenda setters. » Continue Reading.
Will New York build upon its historic leadership as a steward of our protected Adirondack Park, home to people and wild nature, exhibiting the highest standards for ecosystem management? Or will that promise be lost to the lowest common denominator, where the most specious claims to the economic bottom line win the argument, a “go along-to-get along” mindset? Following the issuance of a permit by the Adirondack Park Agency for the sprawling Adirondack Club and Resort, citizens around the state are wondering. Remember what APA permitted in January: 706 residential units, 332 buildings, 39 large “great camps,” 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electric lines, fences and posted signs spread across 6,200 mostly undeveloped forest acres – 75 % of which is in the most protected private land classification in the park, Resource Management. Remember what this permit jettisons: a variety of traditional backcountry recreational uses, including hunting leases as well as forestry operations. The permit sanctioned real estate estimates shown to be highly exaggerated and completely unreliable. The applicant’s payments in lieu of taxes scheme is probably illegal. This is speculative development at its worst. » Continue Reading.
For more than fifty years, woods walkers in the Adirondacks and elsewhere have learned not to take the beautifully smooth, “thin-skinned” bark of the American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) for granted. Our grandparents grew up suddenly missing the American chestnut as the blight of 1900 quickly decimated that species as a dominant tree in our eastern woodlands, along with its innumerable cottage and industrial uses, and its sustenance for so much of our native wildlife. » Continue Reading.
Will the Adirondack Park Agency reform the way it identifies and assesses impacts to wildlife habitat from new development? Will it employ 21st century ecological understanding by evaluating the ecological impact zone of houses built in the Adirondack backcountry? Will habitat fragmentation, perforation, edge effect, spatial configuration and connectivity, land alteration and additional indicators of ecological impact that Dr. Michale Glennon introduced as evidence at the Adirondack Club and Resort hearing be used as evaluative tools? For that matter, will testimony at future adjudicatory hearings actually matter? » Continue Reading.