Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adk Music Scene: From Bluegrass to Opera

There’s a little something for everyone this weekend. You can experience dinner with some opera, bluegrass in Jay, free blues in Long Lake and music from the French Revolution in Redford. Musicians can perform at an open mic, and fans can give back to one of our most talented Adirondack musicians, Dan Duggan. He is a generous man whose health crisis has created the need for a benefit. The options, times and venues are listed below.

Tonight P2’s Irish Pub in Tupper Lake holds an open mic from 7 pm to 10 pm.

Also tonight a performance of music from Italian operas will be presented at Little Italy in Tupper Lake, 144 Park Street. Tickets are $22, which includes the performance and a pasta dinner. Update: This event has sold out.

On Friday JEMS presents the Covered Bridge Coffeehouse (located in the Amos and Julia Ward Theater in Jay). The Homegrown String Band (a mom, dad and two daughters, one of whom reportedly plays a smokin’ fiddle) takes the stage to perform bluegrass, country and folk at 7 pm. Call (518) 946-7824 for more information.

A BluSeed Benefit concert for Dan Duggan begins at 7:30 pm Friday, $15. Reservations recommended. Roy Hurd, Dan Berggren, Jamie Savage, Rustic Riders and Joey Izzo. Another update: This concert has sold out. If you want to help Dan, please send a check payable to Dan Duggan care of BluSeed Studios, 24 Cedar St., Saranac Lake, NY 12983

In lieu of Bluseed you could listen to live Irish Music Friday night at O’Reilly’s Pub in Saranac Lake, 33 Broadway. Call (518) 897-1111 or email Morgans11Pizza@gmail.com for more information.

Blues legend Ernie Williams and his band will perform Saturday @ 2 pm at Quakenbush’s Long View Wilderness Lodge in Long Lake on Rt. 30. The 3-hour show is free of charge.

The Champlain Ball, a Champlain Quadricentennial Celebration event, will be held at 8 pm Saturday at the Plattsburgh Elks Lodge. The ball will feature authentic social dance popular in France and England in the 16th and 17th Centuries; Dance historian Michel Landry of Montreal will lead the dances and give preliminary classes at 2 pm. The Baltimore Consort will provide music. Call (518) 293-7613 or visit Hill and Hollow’s Web site for reservations and information.

Last but not least: Early music ensemble The Baltimore Consort presents “La Rocque ‘n’ Roll: Popular Music of the French Revolution,” a Hill and Hollow event, on Sunday May 17 at 3 pm at The Church of the Assumption in Redford. Tickets are $15 and it’s free to kids twelve and under.

Photograph: The Homegrown String Band will perform in Jay Friday night.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Access to DEC Region 5 Forestry and Wildlife Info

This morning we heard from DEC forestry and wildlife representatives from Region 5 (which covers most of the Adirondacks). Tom Martin, DEC Forester, kicked it off with a discussion of the explanation of the role the agency plays in local forests, public and private. Martin was followed by a DEC Wildlife Biologist who pointed out a number of important resources for landowners, including a few cool internet tools.

Region 5 contains more potential commercial forest land (about 3 million acres) than forest preserve land. The region has three part-time people who handle private land services who are basically foresters who help people develop land management plans.

Martin reviewed recent large land transfers in Region 5. “Every single large forest products company has sold their land,” he said. Those include Champion, International Paper, Domtar, and Finch Pruyn. Lands not bought outright by the state (or a third party like the Nature Conservancy) have been purchased by timber management investment companies which Martin said have much shorter term financial goals (and shorter tenure) than the original owners.

By the way, DEC has paid full taxes on land the state owns in the park since the 1880s. The companies that have sold their land all enjoyed 480a tax breaks that reduced their assessments by 80% (that includes state, county and school taxes).

Following Martin, Region 5 Wildlife Biologist Paul Jensen reviewed DEC resources for forest owners including the agency’s beaver damage management program. The program includes nuisance beaver permits that allow trapping and killing of nuisance beaver and the removal of beaver dams; the DEC no longer traps beaver for relocation. Jensen also briefly touched on whitetail deer management, a significant factor in understory regeneration.

Here are a few resources Jensen pointed us to for getting a closer look at public and private forest lands:

Environmental Resource Mapper – enter your property location and find about wetlands, significant natural communities, and rare plants and animals.

Landowner Incentive Program
– provides information and access to funds and/or tax breaks for forest land owners whose land contains at risk species.

State Lands Interactive Mapper – provides a lot of information on state lands.

We’re off to Tupper Lake for a sawmill visit, then back here for tree identification. This evening – Adirondack mammals. I’ll report again after dinner.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Opinion: Hiking, Drinking and News at Adirondack Papers

Why, in a time of newspaper shrinkage — in circulation, ads, staff, content — are local papers creating new vehicles for fluff? The Adirondack Daily Enterprise this month launched an outdoor-oriented bimonthy (it’s possible some stories were missed by one, two, three or four of the park’s other outdoor-oriented bi/monthlies). The 16-page tabloid is called Embark. Now we hear that around Memorial Day the Glens Falls Post-Star will begin publishing a new weekly called the Edge, for the Lake George area. 

Here’s what an Edge staffer blogged that the thing (not magazine, not quite shopper, not newspaper) will be covering: “It will be around 16 pages of light-hearted feature stories such as weekly Q and As with bartenders.” The dailies are not hiring new reporters or investing in high production values for these throw-away publications. They take staff away from covering issues and redirect them to hike Mount Marcy or flab about how crazy their friends got at Lemon Peel the other night. That’s not news. It’s killing trees to put the most trivial of blog content to paper. 

Admittedly blogs should have better things to do than dogpile on print media in a time of hardship (here, here, here and here are some of the dailies’ own accounts of budget cuts). I don’t aim to join that pack. Most online news sources would be nothing without the hustle and dig that real reporters give them to link and amplify; herein should be the strength and future of newspapers. Anyone with an opinion and a laptop can have a blog, but it takes a business plan, structure and a good staff to provide timely, well-edited coverage of courts, cops, public policy and yes sports on a multicounty level.

I subscribe to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and depend on it for a lot of information. It needn’t care what I think, but the fact that only two out of sixteen pages of Embark are covered with ads while the front page of the paper has been filling space with photographs of tree branches and worms should tell the publisher something.

I also like the Post-Star. It has some of the best journalists in the North Country and Capital Region and did especially solid reporting on the Lake George Ethan Allen tragedy. The paper gets competition from the alternately interesting and weird weekly the Chronicle, whose publisher’s personality comes through loud and clear, giving it kind of a bloggy voice. But the Chronicle is nowhere near as informative. It’s unfortunate to see the Post-Star moving in that direction. Edge, a crayon-font attempt to take ad share away from the excellent but shoestring real community newspaper Lake George Mirror, seems ill-advised at best, mercenary at worst, wasteful either way. If the Post-Star will be editorializing about how important the existence of newspapers is to our democracy, I hope it will then explain why it’s squandering diminishing resources to cannibalize a colleague. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Master Forest Owner Training, SUNY-ESF-AEC

Well, I’m here at the Huntington Research Forest / SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center (AEC), checked in, bag unpacked, and we’ve already made some general introductions and had dinner together at the dining hall. Laurel Gailor, Natural Resources Educator for Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell Department of Natural Resources Program Director Gary Goff (who is primarily leading the training) welcomed me with internet access and a map and schedule.

There are twenty folks here for the training including large landowners and small representing 3,400 combined acres in Warren, Essex, Hamilton, Tioga, and even Broome County. Most are retirement-age men, but we have a handful of women. The group looks pretty diverse as far as experience. Several have been foresters or in the forestry industry for many years, one dairy and maple producer, three engineers, two corrections officers, one college administrator, one principal, two teachers, an anthropologist and a superintendent of highways. One trainee working on his town’s comprehensive plan.

The highlight of tonight’s session (yes, I said tonight, the schedule runs to 8 or 9 pm each night) was an introduction to the Huntington Forest and the Adirondack Ecological Center by the center’s program director Paul Hai. Hai reviewed the history of the Huntington Forest, so I thought I’d relate some of what he said here.

SUNY-ESF is the oldest college in the US solely dedicated to the study of the environment. It was founded in 1911 as the College of Forestry at Syracuse, although Cornell University actually established the first New York State College of Forestry in 1898 under Bernhard Fernow. It was the first professional college of forestry in North America but didn’t last long. Fernow established a research forest near Saranac Lake (I’ve written about that in the past), but opposition from local wealthy landowners and pressure applied to the state legislature forced the closure of both the research forest and Cornell’s Forestry School in about 1909.

Syracuse took up the mantle in 1911 and in 1932 the Huntington family (famed for their connection to the trans-continental railroad and first owners of the Pine Knot Great Camp) donated some 15,000 acres to the College of Forestry. The Huntington Forest allows “research on a landscape scale,” according to Hai, largely because it is private land and therefore outside the constitutional “forever wild” clause. The goal at Huntington is to study the wildlife and biology of the Adirondack / Northern Forest Ecosystem, but also the dynamics of a healthy forest products economy. The AEC has been conducting one of the longest whitetail deer studies in America, and more recently they have been studying how road salt affects amphibians.

In the 1950s cutting-method blocks were established in the Huntington Forest, and later this week we’ll be able to walk through a half century of forestry methods in just a few miles.

Much of what has been learned through research being conducted published in a variety of peer reviewed journals. AEC maintains a list of publications online.

Breakfast at 6:45 am – I’ll try and report more around noon.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

7th Annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration

Seven years ago Brian McAllister, then volunteer coordinator at the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center, had an idea: why not host a birding festival in the Adirondacks? After all, birders are committed hobbyists who will travel great distances to add new birds to their life lists, and this would be a great way to promote the Adirondacks and the boreal birdlife that makes the Park special. Fast forward to 2009: the Great Adirondack Birding Celebration (GABC) is still going strong and has a line-up of speakers and field trips that will appeal to bird (and outdoor) enthusiasts of all abilities.

This year the GABC, which will be held June 5-7, is hosted by the Adirondack Park Institute (API), the Friends Group of the Visitor Interpretive Centers. One of the changes for 2009 is a registration fee ($35 for individuals, $50 for families), which not only includes entry to all the programs and field trips, but also to the Dessert Reception and Owl Prowl at White Pine Camp (June 5), the BBQ lunch at the Paul Smiths VIC (June 6), and a one-year membership to the API. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ADK Music Scene: Music tonight in North Creek!

Tonight at BarVino in North Creek the Fat River Kings perform from 8 pm to 10 pm. There is no cover charge. They offer an eclectic dinner menu as well as having an impressive wine and beer selection. BarVino is located on 272 Main Street in North Creek, NY, (518)251-0199, info@barVino.net

Tomorrow P2’s Irish Pub in Tupper Lake holds an open mic from 7 pm – 10 pm.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lake George Upland Development OK Reversed

Warren County State Supreme Court Judge David Krogman issued a decision in a lawsuit by the Lake George Waterkeeper against the Town of Lake George that nullified the Town’s approval of the controversial Forest Ridge subdivision. The judge struck down a plan that would have put new lots on 180 out of 190 acres of the subdivision, all overlooking the west side of Lake George. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has now also asserted jurisdiction over the possible future reconfigured subdivision.

Last spring, the State Attorney General and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) joined with the Lake George Waterkeeper in its legal action against the Town alleging violation of state laws in its approval of the Forest Ridge development. The APA recently asserted its jurisdiction over the future subdivision. The developers will need new approvals from both the APA and the Town of Lake George to proceed.

According to a press release issued by Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky:

This follows an earlier decision from June 2008 where Judge Krogman suspended approval of the subdivision and ordered that the Town of Lake George to substantiate the record regarding its initial approvals of the subdivision. Unsatisfied with the Town’s response, the Judge struck down approvals of new lots on 180 out of 190 acres of the subdivision, overruling the Town’s approval of lots 5-10. (Lots 1-4 are small lots on an existing road, which were sold prior to the commencement of legal action by the Waterkeeper and were authorized by Judge Krogman to protect the purchasers, two of whom had started houses).

Poorly regulated subdivisions and poor administration of stormwater regulations by local governments are contributing to the steady decline in Lake George water quality.

“We remain extremely concerned about the continued failure of the Town of Lake George to properly administer its stormwater management regulations and segment its environmental reviews.” Navitsky said, “We hope that this legal victory will be a wake up call to the Town to improve the way in which it does business when it administers stormwater management regulations and reviews subdivisions.”

The Lake George Waterkeeper will work with the landowners to ensure environmental sound stormwater management for the remaining lots. According to Navitsky “although this is the responsibility of the Town of Lake George, the Town has continued to refuse the need to comply with the Town Code despite the original decision by the judge. We hope that with the APA involved a comprehensive review will be undertaken and a sound stormwater management plan will be incorporated on these lands and that we’ll see a much better subdivision in the future.”

The Lake George Waterkeeper has repeatedly appeared before the Town of Lake George Town Board and Planning Board to point out what it calls “the inadequacy of the Town’s environmental review process.” Here is a time line of legal history of this development supplied by the Waterkeeper:

* The Forest Ridge subdivision is a 191 acre residential subdivision on Truesdale Hill Road on the steep hillsides west of Lake George. In April 2006, the Town of Lake George Planning Board approved the first phase of the three phase subdivision without an adequate environmental review as per the State Environmental Quality Review Act and segmented the stormwater management review. The Waterkeeper actively intervened in the Town’s review to point out its failure to comply with local and state laws.

* In May 2006, the Waterkeeper challenged the Town’s approval of the Forest Ridge subdivision pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practices Laws & Rules of the State of New York.

* In June 2008, Warren County State Supreme Court Judge David Krogman suspended the approval of the subdivision and ordered the Town of Lake George to justify its approval.

* In October 2008, the Planning Board rescinded the original approval for 6 lots, except for four lots that had been sold. These four lots, according to the conclusion of the Court, were illegally excluded from major subdivision review, and failed to comply with the Town’s stormwater regulations. In addition, the proposed 3-phase subdivision received segmented environmental review. The Waterkeeper objected.

* In December 2008, the Adirondack Park Agency and the State Office of Attorney General filed an Order to Show Cause with the Court, supporting the position of the Lake George Waterkeeper.

* In February 2009, Judge Krogman issued a final decision. He rescinded approvals on 95% of property, 6 lots, while protecting landowners on 4 lots on 10 acres, which had been purchased lots prior to the Waterkeeper’s lawsuit.

The mission of the Lake George Waterkeeper is to defend the natural resources of the Lake George watershed for the common good of the community. The Lake George Waterkeeper is a program of the FUND for Lake George and was started in 2002.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Local History Column ‘Adirondack Attic’ Is No More

After more than six years, Saranac Lake resident Andy Flynn’s weekly “Adirondack Attic” column is no more. Flynn, the Senior Public Information Specialist at the NYS Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths, wrote regular pieces on Adirondack history centered on artifacts from the Adirondack Museum.

At its height Flynn’s column had run in five northern New York newspapers but in the last post to his Adirondack Writer blog, Flynn reported that his column had been cut by the Lake Placid News and Adirondack Daily Enterprise to biweekly. “In November 2008, the Plattsburgh Press-Republican cut my column,” Flynn told readers, “In 2006, the Glens Falls Post-Star also cut my column. The publishers and editors all cited the economic situation for their decision.”

In a letter to publishers this week Flynn wrote, “Effective immediately, I am discontinuing the ‘Adirondack Attic’ newspaper column. Due to the declining number of newspapers that carry the column, and with the economic forecast uncertain, it is no longer a financially feasible product for me to produce. There is simply not enough income to cover the time and cost of production.”

Flynn had written more than 300 columns and collected them in a series of books published by his own Hungry Bear Publishing; part of the proceeds were donated to the Adirondack Museum’s Collection Improvement Fund.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reporting From NY Master Forest Owner Training

I’ll be reporting regularly this week beginning Wednesday evening from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York Master Forest Owner (MFO) training at SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. The program, which is being held in the Adirondacks for the first time, combines classroom and field experience in general forestry. My goal is to simply learn a little more about the variety of local forestry issues we cover here at the Alamanack. Forest ecology, wildlife management, water quality issues, timber harvesting and management, invasive species, sugar bush management, and more are all on the schedule.

The MFO website explains why the program is valuable:

Over 14 million acres of woodland in NY State are privately owned by approximately 500,000 nonindustrial forest owners. That’s over 3/4 of New York’s total forest area! It is estimated that less than 1/4 of the state’s private forest holdings are purposefully managed despite the educational programs and technical services available. In order to reap the benefits of this vital resource, sound stewardship is necessary. Stewardship objectives involve management practices that ensure ecologically sound forest productivity. Forests represent a precious commodity that, if wisely managed, can generate a variety of economic, ecological, and aesthetic values to forest owners and their communities, generation after generation.

I’ll regularly report my experiences and some of what I learn here at the Almanack, as I did with the Wild Center’s climate conference in November 2008.

You can find out more about the program and training schedule here.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Adirondack Scenic Byways Site Coming

The Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) will launch the a new website for the Adirondack North Country Region Scenic Byways program and release the 2008 Scenic Byways Visitors Survey. Both will be formally presented to the public on June 4, 2009 at the Adirondack Museum. The Adirondacks includes 13 designated scenic byways.

During the program, ANCA will introduce what they are calling a “state-of-the-art website that will increase state, national, and international exposure for the 45 towns along the Adirondack Trail, Central Adirondack Trail and Olympic Scenic Byways.” ANCA will also present the results of a comprehensive visitor survey (based on face-to-face interviews) conducted in 2008.

“Comprehensive trip planning information about the area, including community features about arts, history and cultural resources, services, the natural environment, outdoor recreation, and special events will be featured,” the ANCA said in a letter to supporters. “The site will serve as a companion resource to Chamber and tourism websites and will profile Byway communities by promoting the unique experiences and quality of life sought after by leisure travelers.”

Those who would like to attend the June 4th program should complete and return the Reservation Form [doc] by mail, e-mail or fax. There will be a $10.00 registration fee to cover the cost of lunch. At the close of the program, guests will have the option to tour the museum at their leisure and ANCA’s Board will host a director’s meeting.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NYSEG Ordered to Open Ausable Chasm to Paddling

Serious whitewater boaters are frothing at the prospect of access to a Class IV multidrop stretch of the Ausable River along Upper Ausable Chasm. Word on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ordered New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) to develop a plan to enable kayakers to cross its land to reach the river for the period between Memorial Day and October 31.

But patience: paddlers are saying it’s doubtful NYSEG will be able to comply in time for this season.

The Adirondack Mountain Club and American Whitewater, a national organization, have battled for years for the right to use NYSEG’s land to get to a 3.4-mile stretch of the Ausable, from the NYSEG powerhouse below Rainbow Falls Dam to the Route 9 bridge. “BOO YAH. That thing runs ALL SUMMER,” comments one paddler on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board, which has more information. The run is expected to draw boaters from around the Northeast because of its consistent water.

NYSEG and the Ausable Chasm Corporation, which operates a tourist attraction at the gorge, had argued against boating access because the steep and narrow canyon, 150 feet deep in places, makes rescue difficult. Ausable Chasm Co. also offers tubing and rafting for paying guests on the lower portion of the chasm. But ADK and American Whitewater countered that FERC had a duty to maintain public access to a public waterbody that had become obstructed by the power dam.

This YouTube video offers a preview of the drops and rapids.


Monday, May 11, 2009

ADK Club Pushes Environmental Access to Justice Act

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) is asking the state Senate to pass the Environmental Access to Justice Act (S.1635, A.3423), which would allow individuals and organizations to bring environmental lawsuits without having to prove they have suffered an injury different from the harm to the general public. According to the ADK the Environmental Access to Justice Act would restore the original legislative intent of the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Passed in 1975, SEQRA was supposed to provide the public with a voice during the environmental review process for projects throughout New York State, but as denizens of town planning boards across the state know, SEQRA review of projects has become watered down by the influence of corporate and pro-development interests.

Under SEQRA, the public was supposed to have the right to petition the courts to review a state agency’s or local government’s compliance with the law’s environmental review requirements. According to “The Treatise on New York Environmental Law,” because no government agency is charged with ensuring compliance with the provisions of SEQRA, that responsibility “has fallen on the shoulders of individual members of the public, civic and environmental organizations and governmental bodies aggrieved or injured by an agency’s failure to comply with the requirements of the statute.” They have traditionally fought that battle in the courts.

But in 1991, in case known as Society of the Plastics Industry vs. Suffolk County, the New York Court of Appeals greatly curtailed the right to bring an environmental claim under SEQRA. The high court ruled that in order to have standing, or the right to bring a lawsuit, the plaintiff had to suffer a unique injury or damage that was different than the harmful impact suffered by all members of the public. That decision turned the intent of the legislation on its head.

“Without the ability of the public to seek a court review of the SEQRA process, there is no way to ensure that government has followed the law and properly reviewed the potential environmental consequences of a project,” according to Adirondack Mountain Club executive director Neil Woodworth. “If citizens have no right to sue when SEQRA provisions are ignored or compromised, there is nothing to stop development-obsessed government officials from ramming through ill-advised projects regardless of the cultural, social and environmental costs.”

Of the 16 states with environmental review statutes, New York has the most stringent standing requirements, and this continues to affect environmental cases according to the ADK which provided these examples:

In 2002, a state court ruled that the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and several of its members lacked standing to seek review of a development project in the Long Island Pine Barrens. The society claimed that the project would impact the water supply aquifer beneath the Pine Barrens, but the court ruled that the potential harm to the plaintiffs was no different than the potential injury to any member of the public. The society was shut out of court before it could prove an open and shut case of environmental harm to the eastern Long Island aquifer.

In 2002, a citizens group was denied standing in an attempt to block destruction of a row of 19th century buildings in the village of Catskill, Greene County. The historic buildings were demolished.

In 2007, the Basha Kill Area Association was denied standing to challenge approval of a 200,000-square-foot mushroom plant atop the Shawangunk Ridge in Sullivan County.

In 2008, members of Save the Pine Bush were denied standing to challenge an industrial development project in Clifton Park, Saratoga County, that threatens habitat of the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

The bill has passed in the Assembly and has been approved by the Senate Environmental Conservation and Codes committees. It awaits action by the full state Senate. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Adam Bradley, D-White Plains.


Monday, May 11, 2009

$120M In Grants Targeting Upstate Communities

Governor David A. Paterson announced late last week that $120 million will be made available from Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund for grants to finance business investment, infrastructure upgrades and downtown redevelopment. Paterson believes the fund will support projects that help provide a framework for future growth in regions with stymied development. The Blueprint Fund will be administered by Empire State Development (ESD). Applications due June 15, 2009; Awards will be announced August 17, 2009

According to a press release from the Governor’s office: “The Fund will invest in projects that advance local development and small businesses, for instance making improvement to industrial parks and providing loans for purchase of equipment, real estate or other needs. Eligible applicants include municipalities, businesses, academic institutions, and non-profits and awards will range from $100,000 to $5 million. The program will give a preference to requests for loans, with principal repayments able to be recycled for future projects.”

To ward off corruption, all applications will undergo a competitive review process by ESD’s Regional Office Directors, with the support of the central ESD. Requests for business investment assistance will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and requests for infrastructure and downtown redevelopment assistance will follow a quarterly calendar, with the first round of applications due June 15, 2009, and awards announced August 17, 2009.

Upstate Regional Blueprint Funds application forms are posted on Empire State Development’s Web site at www.nylovesbiz.com. ESD is New York’s primary economic development agency which also oversees the state’s “I LOVE NY” marketing campaign.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Know Your Rights: Canoe Passage

I’m accustomed to setting out on an article knowing less about a subject than the people I interview. A recent assignment went the other way, to a surprising extent.

The topic was navigation rights in New York State. The editor of the Adirondack Explorer, Phil Brown, and I wanted to know why, ten years after a state high-court decision affirmed canoeists’ rights to carry around obstacles, paddlers rarely test rivers that flow through private Adirondack land (you can see the article here).

Out of five riparian landowners I spoke with, three stated that their rivers were “closed” because bridges, dams or downed trees block the streams and paddlers are prohibited from carrying around them. That’s a pre-1999 view. Obstructions have not been grounds for denying canoe passage for a decade, I explained, no matter who owns the riverbank.

All three landowners then responded that the rivers were probably impassable anyway and who would want to paddle them. (A sixth landowner who in the past claimed that passage is closed between Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook did not return phone calls or e-mails; I have no doubt from a trip through that property myself that it is a navigable stream with one quick carry.)

Frankly I expected landowners on disputed rivers to know the law because they have the most at stake. I expected to find the confusion on the paddlers’ side of the issue, and there is plenty among that group too. This first page of the 2008 Paddlesports Press guidebook Adirondack Paddler’s Guide states: “Most private lands, however, are just that — the public is not allowed.” Zero effort to explain the river access that paddlers fought decades to earn. The next sentence: “In fact some private reserves are patrolled and huge lawsuits have ensued for trespass.” There was one lawsuit, and it changed everything: A group of four canoeists and one kayaker provoked a test case on the South Branch of the Moose River in 1991, and the ensuing trespass suit sought $5 million in damages, which a judge dismissed. One of the defendants says the dollar figure never weighed on the group. It did take seven years and three courts to reach a final ruling, which contains vague language that only rivers proven to be “navigable in fact” are open. Nuanced, but not a blanket ban and not a reason to monger fear.

These examples prove a point made by Charlie Morrison, a retired Department of Environmental Conservation official. Morrison is lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill that would make the 1999 Moose River decision statutory. He says he does not want to change the law, just to codify it so it doesn’t get lost again.

Navigation rights are not new; they derive from common law and interpretation of that law by courts. The late canoeist and author Paul Jamieson pointed out that travelers crossed the Adirondacks freely by small craft in the early 19th century. Gradually, transportation became land-based, landowners began posting rivers, law enforcers began upholding the land-posters, and rights of passage faded. The 1999 ruling restored them.

Jamieson and the Moose River paddlers righted a century-old wrong, which is not to say the landowners’ instinct to protect their privacy is wrongheaded. Some told me off the record that members of the public who have passed through their land left fire rings and litter. If a paddler gets hurt — and these are generally tricky rivers, not flatwater cruises — landowners are the ones who’d have to come to the rescue. The Moose River case affirmed the right to travel through, but they do not give paddlers the right to stop, picnic, fish, hunt, camp, even take a pee. If you can’t run a river through somebody’s property in a day, then that river is not navigable, at least under existing state law. The West Branch of the St. Regis River below the St. Regis Canoe Area probably falls into that category.

One obstacle Morrison faces in Albany is the disorganization of the state Senate. Assembly sponsor (Democrat Sam Hoyt of Buffalo) needs to find a counterpart in the next week or two. Another obstacle is the passive resistance of the Adirondack Landowners Association, which seems to prefer the inhibiting effect of the reigning confusion: if the law is not spelled out, canoeists will stick to publicly owned waters where they don’t have to decipher access rights.

And over the past 15 years the state has acquired miles of new public waterways, so the situation on the ground is relatively peaceful. But keep an eye on the Beaver River connecting Lake Lila to the Stillwater Reservoir: The landowners and guerilla padders I interviewed agree it’s really only runnable after snowmelt, and then for a week at most. Whether that makes the Beaver “navigable in fact” may take another court to decide.

Photograph: The Beaver River near Lake Lila; by MWanner, from Wikimedia Commons


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sliding Sports Museum Proposed For Lake Placid

At the 1932 & 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum Board of Directors’ April meeting, newest member Joe Clain donated $1,000 to kick-off the creation of an International Sliding Sports Museum in Lake Placid. Clain made the donation on behalf of his father Gus Clain and the Linney Family in the hopes that other prominent families in the history of sliding sports will come forward and meet the challenge.

Angus (Gus) Clain was the brakeman for the four-man sled piloted by Robert Linney, which qualified at the 1939 trials in Lake Placid for the 1940 Olympic Winter Games. Because of WWII, the Games were not contested in 1940 or 1944. The family of Gus Clain previously created and donated a very rare exhibit consisting of the sweater and jacket issued to the 1940 Olympic Bobsled team, and which is on permanent display in the Olympic Museum.

The Sliding Sports Museum at Mt. Van Hoevenberg will be an annex to the already existing Olympic Museum – located within the Olympic Center – and as such will come under the same chartering agency, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York on behalf of the State Education Department. The future museum will share the same 501(c) 3 not-for-profit status making all donations eligible for a tax deduction.

“The next logical step is to create an advisory board of interested community members who share the same passion for preserving, displaying and educating future generations on the rich history of sliding sports in this area,” said Olympic Museum Director Liz De Fazio in a press release issued this week.

For more information on the proposed International Sliding Museum, or to make a donation, contact De Fazio at (518) 523-1655, ext. 226 or ldefazio@orda.org.


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