In a field bordered by forested hills and rocky ridges, Dan Plumley unfurled a zoning map of the Adirondack Park. The color-coded map was a reminder of how much private land lay before him, and how potentially fleeting the natural views from Marcy Field could be.
He pointed to a bald patch on Corliss Point above the valley, where lights from a house inconspicuous by day blaze into a flying saucer at night, one of many signs that growth in the backcountry is creeping higher.
“Hundreds of thousands of people drive by on this road every year,” said Plumley, gesturing toward Route 73. “They see this view and think it will always be there. I’m here to say that the way this land-use plan is being implemented, the transcendental beauty and ecological integrity of this scene is in jeopardy.” » 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.
The New York State Board for Historic Preservation has recommended the addition of five Adirondack and North Country properties to the State and National Registers of Historic Places, including the nationally significant War of 1812 Cantonment in Plattsburgh, and Putnam Camp in St. Huberts.
Listing these properties on the State and National Registers can assist their owners in revitalizing the structures, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.
The Mountaineer and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides have teamed up to host the 10th annual Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival on March 3 and 4, 2012. The event celebrates the ski experience both here in the Adirondack backcountry and in the greater ranges of the world.
This year’s event features guest athlete Glen Plake, star of many ski films and an accomplished backcountry skier, guide and instructor based in Chamonix, France. He will be skiing at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown on Saturday and offering a presentation on Saturday evening at the Keene Central School. Guided ski tours will be held on Saturday and Sunday, led by Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides and a group of local ski guides. Skiers with intermediate nordic skills can join the classic Avalanche Pass ski traverse, while intermediate to expert downhill skiers looking to get into backcountry skiing will want to join the Intermediate Tour. Expert skiers with prior backcountry experience and their own gear can refine their skills on the Advanced Tour. Space is limited, so check out their website to register.
Free demos and mini clinics will again be held at Otis Mountain on Saturday. The Mountainfest is benefit event, with all proceeds supporting the New York State Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic racing programs and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, stewards of the Adirondack Park’s backcountry ski trail system, including the Jackrabbit Trail.
Call The Mountaineer at 518 576 2281 or visit www.mountaineer.com for more information and to register for the clinics.
Burlington College students, under the direction of their instructor, Adirondack Almanack editor John Warren, will conduct Oral History interviews to record the Tropical Storm Irene stories of Jay and Keene residents on Saturday, December 3rd, at the Keene Community Center, (8 Church Street, in Keene), between 10 and 4 pm. The public is invited to share their stories; the resulting oral histories will be added to the collections of the Adirondack Museum. Participants can schedule a time on December 3, or walk-in anytime between 10 am and 4 pm. It will only be necessary to spend about 15-20 mins at the Community Center where participants will be asked a number of questions about their experiences with Irene and will be provided an opportunity to tell the stories they think are important to remember about the events of this past late-summer.
To schedule your participation contact John Warren via e-mail at [email protected] or call (518) 956-3830. The public is invited. Walk-ins are welcome.
How much rain fell during Tropical Storm Irene? Seems like an easy question, but it’s not.
The National Weather Service relies on volunteers to collect rainfall, and given the variance in rainfall and the finite number of volunteers, there are bound to be gaps in the data record.
For the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Nancy Bernstein created a rainfall map based on the Weather Service’s own maps. It shows that more than seven inches of rain fell in Keene, Jay, and Au Sable Forks. But how much more? The Explorer’s publisher, Tom Woodman, measured eleven inches at his home in Keene. » Continue Reading.
Carl Schwartz, US Fish and Wildlife Service and John Braico, NYS Trout Unlimited will lead a walk of the Ausable River on October 24 focused on rebuilding and repairing streams effected by flooding. Funds recently secured by the Ausable River Association (AsRA) for restoring tributaries damaged during Irene flooding are being considered for allocation.
Both Schwartz and Braico have worked extensively throughout New York to repair rivers and restore aquatic habitat. Schwartz works actively on river restoration projects and operates an excavator to build natural channels. The Ausable River Association and the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District are inviting and encouraging Citizens, Town Council members, Town DPWs, County DPW, DOT, DEC, and NonGovernmental Organizations to attend.
Date: October 24, 10 AM; Meet at the mouth of John’s Brook at the Rt. 73 bridge in Keene Valley; 2 PM Meet at the Gazebo in Ausable Forks.
For more information, contact the Ausable River Association.
What follows is a guest essay by Naj Wikoff, a member of the Keene Flood Recovery Fund steering committee.
“The hardest thing I had to do this week was let three employees go today,” said Rob Hastings, owner of Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley. He and I were standing amongst a crowd of over 200 residents attending a pig roast, block party and benefit for the Keene Flood Recovery Fund on Market Street in Keene Valley Friday, September 9. The event, which raised over $21,000, was further buoyed by the news that Route 73, the hamlet’s vital artery to the Northway that had been closed since Irene’s 11 plus inches of rain washed away major sections, would open on Monday. Just seven days earlier Governor Cuomo, countering DOT estimates that the roadway might be opened by Columbus Day but possibly not till December, stated that unless it was opened within 10 days, “Wheels will roll or heads will roll,” a statement followed by his suspension DOT and DEC restrictions on construction, such as requirements of going out to bid for contracts. Since then in a near 24-hour cycle DOT trucks have poured in with load after load of boulders, gravel and other road foundation materials.
The closure of 73 as well as 9N north to Upper Jay, and DEC media and web announcements that all trails in the eastern High Peaks were off limits to hikers, brought visitor traffic in Keene Valley to a dead stop and caused dozens of cancellations of room reservations during Labor Day weekend, the second busiest holiday of the year for local stores. Thanks to a massive volunteer effort that put hundreds of people at McDonough’s Valley Hardware and elsewhere scraping off mud, pumping out basements, cleaning shelves and merchandise, most stores, B&Bs and restaurants had managed to reopen, but what was missing was the people.
“Road Closed” said the sign to Keene Valley. “Don’t even think of going there” was the message. The hamlet of Keene was hardly better off as it was the center on incoming politicians and state officials, the media, National Guard, DOT trucks and Labor for Your Neighbor volunteers so that what visitors made it through the gauntlet scurried west to the relatively untouched Village of Lake Placid, though a fleet of water ski boats sank during the storm and River Road and Snowslip Farms were certainly torn up.
No question the attention by Governor Cuomo, who visited the hamlets on two successive weekends, and the outpouring of volunteers, the National Guard and DOT transformed the hamlets along with Upper Jay, Jay and Ausable Forks bringing them back from what appeared to be war zones to a somewhat sense of normality, though deep scars and uncertain futures remained.
Knowing this outcome likely to occur, a grass roots effort was launched while the rains were still falling and fields flooding to create the Keene Flood Recovery Fund with perhaps a greater sense of urgency than the media’s scramble to film the unfolding disaster. Jim Herman and Dave Mason, the soon to become president and vice president of the Keene Community Trust, lead the effort. Working in partnership with the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT) a small team was assembled. The goal was simple; raise as much money as fast as possible and begin giving it out in grants to local residents and business to help cover critical needs not met by FEMA, other government sources, insurance or sweat equity.
The process was not unlike the building of the Continental railroad wherein the trains followed the rails as they were built. The public relations and fund raising effort was launched simultaneously with the recruiting of five people to serve on the allocations committee while application and funding guidelines were being written, the Keene Valley Trust board reorganized, agreements with ACT negotiated, and web and Facebook sites created.
The Nature Conservancy provided the forum for committees to form, meet, and stayed energized with hot coffee available morning till night. Critical was the early blessing and support by Keene supervisor Bill Ferebee, agreement by the Keene Community Trust to take on a project of such scope, the talent pool assembled, and the full support of the Adirondack Community Trust, aided in no small measure that their president Vinny McClelland and donor recognitions officer Melissa Eissinger were residents of Keene. Another was the sheer mass of community development knowledge stored in the brain of Henrietta Jordan, who could draft funding guidelines the way some can cast a dry fly into an eddy on their first try.
As of this writing about $100,000 has been raised and the first wave of grants has already been approved, but the amount needed to raise is far, far higher if they are to reduce layoffs like those already done by Hastings. While to the casual observer the hamlets might not look so bad, the damage done has been severe. Over a dozen families are not able to move back to their homes and are in need of temporary housing, just two businesses lost over $200,000 in inventory, the Keene Firehouse has to be relocated and rebuilt, the public skating rink replaced, the Keene Library, which also houses the Food Pantry, needs an aggressive abatement program to keep mold from settling in, and one third of Rivermede Farm’s sugaring lines have to be replaced along with all their storage tanks and two greenhouses. The first 12 applicants’ losses, which does not include many of the previously listed, have totaled over $2.5 million, this before FEMA and insurance are factored it.
Meanwhile a recently constituted Keene Business Committee (aka chamber of commerce) is attempting to stop plummeting income and lure back visitors. Led by Rooster Cob Inn owner, masseuse and rustic furniture salesperson Marie McMahon, they have taken on the DOT, DEC and later the State Police to change their signs that announce the closing of High Peaks trails, detour visitors to Placid via Plattsburgh and other actions that discouraged traffic to local businesses. Plans are underway to host events over Columbus Day and a conference for high school and college geology professors to showcase the wide array of major environmental changes that include the largest landslide in recorded state history, 22 new slides in the high peaks, and the rerouting of streams and waterfalls creating what can be best described as moonscapes in some locales.
“Our goal is to help the community come out stronger,” said Herman. “One benefit of all these landslides, rerouting of streams, and other environmental changes is that there are many new features for hikers, geologists and environmentalists to see and experience. We are trying to get the word out that now is the best time to come see them while they are fresh. We have some new vistas of Giant that didn’t exist before and old streambeds that have been hidden for centuries are now revealed. New growth will cover them up. The time to see them is now.”
Another benefit was the Governor discovering that Keene Valley had no cell phone coverage. “Where can I get cell service?” Cuomo asked Ron Konowitz, a local volunteer fireman and on-the-ground coordinator of volunteers. Konowitz told the governor not only that he would have to travel three miles down the road and stand in the middle of Marcy Field to pick up a signal, but in fact there was a cell tower in place, had been for four months, though had yet to be turned on by Verizon, a consequence that had hampered communication amongst all the various state agencies, volunteers, rescue workers, civic leaders, the media and one governor and the outside word. The piercing brown eyes of the wheels-will-roll governor swiveled and locked on the “Frankenpine” hidden amongst the tall White Pines behind the Neighborhood House. Two days later a frantic Verizon worker stuck his head in the Birch Store asking if anyone could help him locate their cell tower. Pam Gothner did and the next day the hamlet had cell service.
The Keene Flood Recovery Fund can be reached at www.keenerecoveryfund.org Photo: Keene Valley flooding during Tropical Storm Irene; Volunteers at work.
Naj Wikoff, a member of the Keene Flood Recovery Fund steering committee, is local artist, columnist for the Lake Placid News, president of Creative Healing Connections, which organizes healing retreats for women living with cancer, women veterans, and other special audiences, and arts coordinator for Connecting Youth and Communities of Lake Placid and Wilmington (CYC).
What follows is a special report by Tom Woodman, publisher of Adirondack Explorer, who resides in Keene.
I live in the Town of Keene just outside the hamlet and so I had an idea of how damaging Irene was. Starting with our rain gauge, which measured 11 inches of rainfall from the storm and including seeing the shower of pine branches brought down on our house by the winds, it was clear we were in the middle of something bad.
But it wasn’t until I grabbed a camera and started surveying the area on Tuesday morning that I understood what we had experienced.
The hamlet of Keene is an astonishing and deeply saddening sight. The fire station has been torn in half by rampaging waters of a tributary of the East Branch of the Ausable. Buildings that house the dreams of merchants and restaurateurs, who have brought new life to Keene, are battered, blanketed in mud, and perched on craters scoured out by the flood waters.
I headed east on Route 73, which has been closed to traffic, to see what damage I could reach and how bad it is. In Keene Valley, shops had piles of merchandise outside for drying and cleaning. Before I got to the road-closing near the Ausable Club, I parked near the entrance to and headed out on foot to explorer St. Huberts, a small community tucked on the banks of the East Branch. It’s badly hurt. A bridge that carried the one road over the river is collapsed into the waters. Upstream the river has cut under a house, leaving an addition and part of a garage hanging in air. The roadway is buried in mud a foot or more deep and trees and utility poles lean at sharp angles.
From the west, Route 73 is closed at the entrance to the Ausable Club. Parking there, I again set out on foot. Within sight of that entrance are two washouts at least four feet deep and chewed most of the way across the two-lane highway. One has Roaring Brook tumbling through it, the river having changed its course during the flood so that it now flows where the highway is supposed to be.
Several other washouts eat into the highway between the Ausable Club and the overlook for Roaring Brook Falls. A couple cut deeply into at least half the width of the road. Others are slides at the edge of the highway. Guard rails dangle over these, the ground that had held them, resting fifty feet or more below them in the river’s valley.
I’m not qualified to estimate how long it will be before this road, the major entry to the High Peaks Region from the south, will reopen. But it seems months away at best.
Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, assured us this afternoon that despite the heavy damage Route 73 will reopen before winter. That’s good news for Keene Valley, Lake Placid, and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area. Breen said DOT expects to reopen Route 9N, which connects Keene and Upper Jay, in a few days.
For news on the storm’s damage to the backcountry, check out these posts on the Outtakes blog on the Adirondack Explorer website (the most recent is listed first):
For more than a month, millions of tons of earth and millions of dollars in property value have been inching down a Keene Valley mountainside. As 82 acres of trees and homes continue to break loose, a state geologist says other Adirondack slopes could fail.
The slow-moving landslide on the side of Little Porter Mountain is unnerving residents in the town of Keene, which includes the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley. The year-round population of 1,000 is nearly doubled in summer by wealthy seasonal residents, many who live upslope for the lofty views of the High Peaks. Four half-million-dollar houses at the top of the slide have been affected—pried wholly from their foundations or partially destabilized—and at least one vacation home appears to be in its path below. The value of the land in motion is expected to be reduced from about $3 million to zero, while sales of similar properties are thrown into limbo. Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the town has begun to seek emergency state reimbursement to help make up anticipated losses in property tax.
Andrew Kozlowski, associate state geologist with the New York State Museum, says the slide is the largest in state history. It’s nothing like the quick tumble of trees and thin humus familiar on high Adirondack terrain. This one started as a subtle shift below 2,000 feet on a 25–35 degree slope. It was triggered by the melting of deep snowpack compounded by more than a foot of rain in April and May. The slide does not seem to pose a risk to human life, but it is reactivated when new rains slip into soil cracks that are growing wider every day. Because it’s logistically difficult to drill borings in shifting soils to measure their depth, Kozlowski can’t estimate when the mass will stop moving; he says it could be months or years.
A dirt road runs parallel to the top of the landslide. Keene residents are questioning whether mountainside building is responsible for altering drainage patterns. “Does the development help? Probably not. Was it the actual cause? Probably not,” Kozlowski said.
There were pre-existing conditions, he explained. He detected on the site signs of a landslide hundreds or thousands of years ago. At the end of the last ice age, Keene Valley was submerged by a glacial lake, and deep sand on the hillsides is evidence of 12,000-year-old beaches.
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery collected by aerial survey can provide high-resolution digital images and help identify shifty soils, he said. Eight New York counties have collected LiDAR data but none in northern New York, which has the state’s steepest topography. Keene Supervisor Ferebee said aerial images could be useful to all towns in Essex County, and he is exploring how the county might cover the $150,000 cost.
Residents are also concerned about the future of homes on other Keene mountainsides. “There is danger of this happening elsewhere,” Kozlowski told a group of two dozen citizens who gathered at the community’s K–12 school earlier this month. “Will it happen on this scale? We don’t know.”
Real Estate and Rain
Annual rainfall in the Lake Champlain watershed is three inches greater on average than it was during the mid 20th century, when the first houses were built on the side of Little Porter Mountain, according to United States Historical Climatology Network data. A range of climate models predict the Champlain Basin could receive 4 to 6 inches more precipitation a year by the end of this century, with heavy storms becoming more frequent, according to a 2010 report by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack and Vermont chapters.
The Little Porter slide has suddenly become an unforeseen example of something other Adirondack mountain communities must consider in a potentially wetter future.
“Throughout the Adirondacks there is going to be a lot more concern about this now,” said Martha Lee Owen, who owns vacant land on the failed slope. She is a real-estate broker whose father, Adrian Edmonds, lived at the base of Little Porter and pioneered homebuilding on Keene’s mountainsides. “He’d be just heartbroken,” she said. “It’s just terrible that it’s affected so many homeowners.”
Owen said it never occurred to her to recommend that potential buyers hire a geologist to evaluate slope stability, but she will recommend it now. She would also like to see LiDAR data collected for Essex County. “Of course it’s a huge concern to me in terms of selling properties, not just my own but selling any properties,” she said. “So far buyers aren’t asking a lot of questions, although everyone is just sort of shocked by this. You have to get used to it before you take it all in.”
Jane Bickford, a Saranac Lake resident who has a summer home beneath and — she hopes — outside the projected path of the slide, said the mountain-climbing mecca of Keene Valley is more than an investment to people who own property there. “The piece that’s important is, Can we keep living there?” she said. “The financials are pretty terrible but Keene Valley represents to people a touchstone. It’s where my kids grew up and where they are bringing their own kids up. This is where children’s values are developed. To the people who go to Keene Valley it’s not just a house. It’s a place where families get together and where bonding happens.”
James A. Goodwin, 101, passed away peacefully April 7 at Adirondack Medical Center of complications of pneumonia. Born March 8, 1910 in Hartford, CT, his parents were Howard Goodwin and Charlotte Alton Goodwin. His long association with the Adirondacks began when he spent his first three summers at his grandfather Charles Alton’s resort, Undercliff, on Lake Placid. After a few summers in Connecticut, the family returned to the Adirondacks and spent many summers in Keene Valley, starting at Interbrook Lodge on Johns Brook Lane when Jim was nine. By the age of 12, Jim was guiding parties to Mt. Marcy – a career that only ended on Saturday, March 26 when he was the guest of honor at the New York State Outdoor Guides Rendezvous luncheon. Jim attended Kingswood School in Hartford, CT, graduating in 1928. He then graduated from Williams College in 1932 and went on to receive an M.A. in English from Harvard in 1934. After Harvard, Jim returned to teach at Kingswood (later Kingswood-Oxford) School, teaching there until his retirement in 1975.
During the 1930′s, Jim made many trips west to climb in the Canadian Rockies, ascents by which he gained admission to the American Alpine Club. He also continued to climb in the Adirondacks, making the first winter ascent of Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike in 1935 and becoming Adirondack 46-R #24 in 1940.
In 1941, Jim married Jane Morgan Bacon, daughter of Herbert and Isabel Huntington Bacon. After Pearl Harbor, Jim enlisted in the 10th Mountain Division where by virtue of his membership in the American Alpine Club he served as a rock climbing instructor, first in Colorado and later at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. Afterwards, he served as a medic during the division’s combat in Italy. Discharged in 1945, Jim returned to teaching at Kingswood School where he was instrumental in starting a ski team and an outing club.
Jim’s heart, however, was always in the Adirondacks where he spent most of his summers until moving to Keene Valley permanently in 2002 and living in the cabin he built in 1940. Starting in 2007, he was a resident of the Keene Valley Neighborhood House. During his summers in Keene Valley he both cut new trails and maintained existing ones while also guiding many aspiring 46-Rs on the peaks. The new trails he cut include Porter Mt. from Keene Valley (1924), Big Slide from the Brothers (1951), Hedgehog(1953), Ridge Trail to Giant (1955), and the Pyramid Gothics Trail(1966). His long association with the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, as both director and trail maintainer, led to the new, 1998, trail to Rooster Comb being named in his honor.
Jim’s memberships included the Adirondack 46-Rs, Adirondack Mountain Club, American Alpine Club, and NYS Outdoor Guides Association. At the time of his retirement in 1975, Bill Dunham, then AMR President made him an honorary member of the AMR. In that same year he assumed the presidency of ATIS, an office he would hold for a total of eight years between 1975 and 1987. Jim also served as the AMR’s field representative in the extended negotiations that led to the 1978 land sale.
He is survived by sons James, Jr.(Tony) and wife Emily Apthorp Goodwin of Keene and Peter and wife Susan Rohm Goodwin of Wolfeboro, NH. Additional survivors are nephews James and Christopher O’Brien of Clifton Park and Troy as well as grandchildren Morgan, Robert, and Liza Goodwin of Keene and Hunt and John Goodwin of Wolfeboro, NH. He was predeceased by Jane, his wife of 50 years, as well as his sisters, Margaret (Peg) O’Brien and Charlotte Craig.
There will be a memorial service on Saturday, April 23 at 3 PM at the Keene Valley Congregational Church with a reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Kingswood-Oxford School, 170 Kingswood Road, West Hartford, CT 06119 or Keene Valley Neighborhood House, P.O. Box 46, Keene Valley, NY 12943.
Photo: Jim Goodwin, age 9, on top of Hopkins Mountain.
A list of post offices slated for permanent closure includes those at Keene Valley and Sabael (in Hamilton County). The list, titled “Post Office / Station/ Branch Suspensions” is dated February 28, 2011, but was released yesterday by the Postal Regulatory Commission (FRC) despite the desire of the U.S. Postal Service to keep the full list secret while they roll out the closures.
The Post Office in Sabael, located on Route 30, has been closed after it was destroyed by fire at the end of January. Despite a Postal Service announcement that it would be reopened, that is apparently no longer the case. The Sabael mail is currently being handled by the Indian Lake Post Office, where the approximately 80 Sabeal PO Box holders now get their mail over the counter.
The Keene Valley Post Office closed in November 2010 when the building lease agreement was up. Keene Valley residents have been driving the five miles to the Keene Post Office. The Keene Valley Post Office was established in 1865, before that Orson Phelps carried the mail to Keene for six months for free.
An informational hearing held by Postal Service representatives in Keene Valley February 1st drew about 100 people concerned about local postal service.
“I’m hopeful that, as we move forward, we can find a solution,” Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said at the time, according to a report in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (ADE). “At least before the summer hits, because we all know what kind of problems this is going to cause.”
“No decisions have been made at this point,” Margaret Pepe, manager of customer relations for the Albany district of the Postal Service said at the meeting. “We’re here to listen to your concerns and gather feedback and input. We are not making a decision here tonight.” Pepe did say that there was no funding available for a new building.
Among the options floated at the meeting was to cluster mailboxes in centralized areas throughout the hamlet or a privately operated facility under contract with the Postal Service such as a Contract Postal Unit or a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency.
The ADE reported at the time that the Postal Service representatives would submit the community feedback they garnered and a decision would be made with 60 days, followed by a 30-day appeal process.
The Post Offices in Plessis, Jefferson County, and Kenwood, Oneida County, are also on the list. The Churubusco Post Office in Clinton County is not on the list, despite rumors that it was about to be closed on the heels of the slosure of the local border crossing.
The New York Citizens Advisory Committee to the Lake Champlain Basin Program is inviting the public to a Watershed Stewardship Summit which will present the successes and challenges in aquatic invasive species spread prevention in the Lake Champlain basin and Adirondacks.
The summit will held on Tuesday, March 29, from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm at The Nature Conservancy Office on Route 73 in Keene Valley. » Continue Reading.
The South Downs emerged from under the weight of 1000 years of English history to gain National Park status in Great Britain in 2009. Never heard of it, you may say. Well, William the Conqueror came here one day in 1066, and changed our English and American history forever.
Nearly a millennium later, no one did more to achieve a National Park for the South Downs than Paul Millmore of Lewes, Sussex (Paul’s home is contained within the Park) who campaigned vigorously for the National Park for decades. He joined Adirondack Wild the last week of December, 2010 in Adirondack Park’s Keene Valley for part of our Dialogue for the Wild. In this case, it was community discussion about the South Downs, and to exchange notes about parks and protected areas on either side of the Atlantic. First, a bit about Paul Millmore. He is a rural planner by trade, and a pioneering international conservation consultant. He is the author of the National Trail Guide to the South Downs Way. For over 20 years, Paul has consulted widely in North America and in the Adirondacks on a wide range of conservation topics, including planning, countryside management and tourism, heritage trails and walking paths, ranger services and stewardship, cultural and natural resource inventories, conservation record-keeping and more. He last spoke in Lake Placid in 2001 about “Citizen Lessons in Environmental Discovery.” As you can see, Paul can relate to the Adirondacks pretty easily.
As Paul’s slides of the South Downs moved along, the audience of about 25 in Keene Valley’s Congregational Church (Van Santvoord Room) received a crash course in South Downs ecology. On the Downs proper, there are rarities everywhere, rare butterflies, rare plants, all low to the ground, with the sky above, not trees or shrubs. These rarities are here because of sheep, and infertile soils. Remove 1000 years of sheep grazing, or unnaturally fertilize these great downs, and you lose biodiversity. This ecological wisdom requires a shift in our mindset, as we in northeastern North America might tend to view sheep, and infertile soils as bad for rare life forms. However, we might see a parallel in Adirondack low elevation boreal rivers. These low fertility boggy riverbanks, if allowed to gain nitrogen from a warming climate and hastened decomposition, would be overrun by shrubs and trees, shading out the rarities. Thus it is that on the South Downs, grazing keeps the land in ecological balance.
The Downs are often symbolized by the dramatic 30-miles of steep chalk cliffs facing the English Channel, symbolized by the “Seven Sisters” shown here. Created out of the calcium rich bodies of small sea creatures, this wave cut escarpment of chalk is, as Paul points out, the only true wilderness in the South Downs – indeed, in all of England. The Adirondacks may have far more wilderness, but far less human history! Along the escarpment is the South Downs Way, one of the great countryside walks in all of England.
Paul went on to describe Countryside, as defined in English law. By law (1948) and tradition, housing and industrial development is concentrated in Great Britain within hamlets, or towns or cities. The countryside outside of these zones is simply not available for such development. There is no private property right to develop it. Despite it being private land, there is a public right to access it, so long as that access is appropriate and does not harm the private owner. Here lies the great tradition, and burgeoning tourist attraction and economic benefit of countryside walking from inn to inn, from town to bed and breakfast, and back again. This business is critical to the life of the South Downs. It is also critical to know that these countryside “parks” are locally managed.
As for the culture and nature divide, Paul is a lumper, not a divider. From his viewpoint, all forms of culture and all forms of nature in the countryside (and the town) deserve our attention, our concern, our protection, our stewardship. He knows there are important lines not to cross, and knows that our wilderness has its own critical cultural, as well as legal and spiritual importance. Yet, he reminds us that we are part of nature, so our culture and its history are critically important. Paul views the Adirondack “debate” as pointless. Embrace wilderness and human cultural history together, he urged. Don’t forget the mining history and centers at Mineville, for example. Celebrate it, preserve it, just as you preserve the High Peaks Wilderness.
Remember, too, he reminded us, to measure the economic benefits of wilderness and cultural and historic centers throughout the Adirondacks. Measure and report these results to government on a regular basis. These may be the ultimate “received bits of wisdom” from our much older English cousins across the pond.
As for the South Downs National Park itself, Paul sees this is just the first and most logical victory. The Park is managed by local people, not by London, and Paul is one of the many locals who have moved from Park creation to Park stewardship. Stewardship money must be locally raised, he argues, and he has successfully raised a lot of it himself. In one example, he persuaded the reluctant local powers that be to screen with native vegetation an enormous parking lot built for Countryside walkers and sightseers. He did this by writing the first check to acquire the necessary tree seedlings, and by shaming hundreds of others to write their own checks. The trees are now mature and screen the sun’s reflection off hundreds of automobiles, which would otherwise have been visible from thirty miles away. Imagine the visual impact from Owls Head, Hurricane or Cascade Mountain of a 15-acre, unscreened parking lot at Rt. 9N and 73 in Keene!
Now, Paul has other campaigns in his sights, including the first marine sanctuary in Britain on and off the South Downs coast. Also, he will fight for ecological restoration of the only undisturbed estuary in all of England. The River Cuckmere forms a beautiful meandering floodwater through the Downs, cutting through the escarpment down to the sea. Yet 19th century Englishmen cut a straight channel before it reaches the sea to stop it from flooding. This cut has sealed the meander off from nutrients, and starved the floodplain of its potential richness. Bird life and all life forms suffer. These days, the economic value of biodiversity and birdwatching far exceeds losses from floodwaters, so don’t count Paul Millmore out. More ecological and cultural gains, on the South Downs and elsewhere, are within his determined reach.
Photos: Above, The Seven Sisters, coastline bordering the English Channel and part of the South Downs; Below, Paul Millmore, successful advocate for the South Downs National Park in Great Britain, and friend of the Adirondacks.
The 15th annual Adirondack International Mountainfest takes place this weekend, January 14-16, 2011. This year’s event will kick off with a slide show by Freddie Wilkinson on Friday night. Saturday’s speaker will be renowned Exum guide and mountaineer Mark Newcomb, and Sunday’s entertainment is Vermont’s star climber Matt McCormick.
Freddie, Mark and Matt will join local guides Chuck Boyd, Emilie Drinkwater, Jeremy Haas, Carl Heilman, Matt Horner, Chad Kennedy, Colin Loher, Don Mellor and Jim Pitarresi to lead instructional clinics on ice climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and avalanche awareness on Saturday and Sunday. All Participants must register in advance.
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