I confess to being a groupie of the Port Kent-Hopkinton Turnpike, a 19th century transportation artifact that ran from Lake Champlain 75 miles inland to an outpost in the northern Adirondack foothills.
A lonely ribbon through the wilderness, significant mileage exists today exactly as it did in 1833 when it was completed. It tiptoes through the lovely community of Loon Lake and bobs and weaves its way past the underappreciated Loon Lake Mountain trailhead.
North of that, it passes the entry to Debar Pond Lodge, a site of consequential history and, over time, three major lodgings, the last of which, built in 1940, still stands. Perhaps most notably, the land in the late 1800s was owned by the son of a German brewer who planted a record-setting 300 acres in hops.
Senator Dan Stec (R,C-Queensbury) has announced he’s sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment to save Debar Pond Lodge. Senate bill S7868 would allow New York State to transfer the lodge to the Debar Pond Institute in exchange for 400 acres of land in the Adirondacks. This amendment would enhance the size and beauty of the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks, while also ensuring the historic lodge remains protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The Debar Pond Lodge Land Exchange Amendment is also sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Billy Jones. With strong bi-partisan state and local support, this amendment could be on the ballot as early as fall 2023.
The Adirondack Forest Preserve is celebrated as one of the world’s best-protected wilderness reserves, but of course this is New York State, not the distant, untrodden surface of Venus; with precious few exceptions all of the lands that are now “forever wild” were once privately owned, and many parcels were developed to one degree or another before the state acquired them for the Forest Preserve. If you’ve enjoyed any of the Adirondack Park’s “blockbuster” purchases over the last quarter-century, such as Little Tupper Lake, Round Lake, the Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, or Madawaska Flow, you have explored land that was once populated by dozens of modest hunting camps.
I was an early visitor at all of these properties, exploring their secrets while the ink was still wet on the deeds. In 1998, just weeks after the “William C. Whitney Area” opened to the public, I found a small cabin on the north shore of Little Tupper Lake that even DEC staff didn’t seem to know about. At Madawaska Flow in 2004 and Round Lake in 2006, I ventured into recently abandoned cabins that stood on expired leases, quietly awaiting their demolition. These structures reminded me that what I had come to explore as “wilderness” had been perceived and used as something slightly different a few years earlier.
Because of these experiences, as well as my interest in Adirondack history, I have never been deluded into thinking our wilderness is a people-less place; it may be the natural landscape that attracts me and fills my daydreams, but I am also familiar with (and fascinated by) the human story that haunts the Forest Preserve.
Debar Lodge, a grand camp complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Franklin County, has been a dilemma for New York State since it took ownership in 1979 and possession in 2004.
Located on the shore of secluded Debar Pond in the Debar Wild Forest unit of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, the lodge and associated buildings were designed by leading Adirondack architect William Distin and represent an outstanding example of rustic log construction.
Although Debar has great potential for public educational programs and lodging, the state has been unable or unwilling to find legal and appropriate uses for the structures. Rather it has recently proposed to tear down the buildings and reclassify the land as an Intensive Use area for camping, boating and day use.
Fortunately, there is a better solution—one that preserves and uses the historic buildings in the public interest AND allows public recreational access to Debar Pond and the surrounding Forest Preserve.
Last week’s Adirondack Park Agency meeting was a humdinger.
Board members, state Department of Environmental Conservation staff and APA staff all discussed two major projects that have led to plenty of passionate public comment. Those included visions for the Debar Mountain Complex and some changes to the Essex Chain Lakes area.
About three hours into this meeting, with the above-mentioned projects taking up the majority of the time, board member Chad Dawson announced his resignation. Dawson (pictured here) has been a wilderness advocate on the board, whose membership leans toward local government and economic development.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), as co – lead agencies, have determined that the Integrated Series of Proposed State Land Management Actions in the Vicinity of Debar Mountain Wild Forest may have a significant adverse impact on the environment and have prepared a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) and Final Scope. NYS DEC and the APA announce an opportunity for public comment on the proposed actions.
The APA proposes re-classification of approximately 41 acres of land from the Debar Mountain Wild Forest to be classified as Intensive Use, on the shore of Debar Pond. The reclassification proposal will be reviewed for compliance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and will be in conformance with the Programmatic EIS. The proposed reclassification is located in the Town of Duane.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed that the ultimate removal of Debar Lodge from the Debar Mountain Wild Forest in Duane will require a full Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. The scope of that EIS has been out for public comment on the Adirondack Park Agency’s website.
DEC considers the following proposed mitigation for the Lodge’s removal: reclassification of 41-acres where the Lodge is located from Wild Forest to an Intensive Use Day Use Area to become a “recreation hub” involving expanded parking; pavilions; picnicking; bathrooms; trail development; and exhibits. DEC appears to believe that the more intensive the recreational use allowed at the former Lodge location, the faster folks will forget that the Lodge ever existed. I doubt that is the case.
Debar Pond Lodge is an historic Great Camp designed by noted Adirondack architect William G. Distin, a protégé of Saranac Lake architect William Coulter, and built in 1940. This spectacular rustic-style log lodge stands on the shore of scenic Debar Pond in the northern Adirondack town of Duane (Franklin County). It is listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has released a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) that calls for the removal of the historic lodge and other outbuildings. AARCH has advocated for the preservation and public enjoyment of this historic site for more than 15 years and has developed multiple alternatives for the site that are legal and compatible with its Forest Preserve setting. That NYSDEC has so completely and thoughtlessly dismissed these alternatives flies against its obligations under the State Historic Preservation Act and sections of Environmental Conservation Law.
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