The Adirondack Council released its 2020-21 State of the Park report subtitled “Landscape of Hope,” noting that the park has become a place of refuge during the COVID-19 crisis, which has only increased the park’s popularity.
The report also notes that the state is beginning to make progress on addressing the overused trails and campsites of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, detailing what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. A third major focus of the report – taking up its entire center spread – is the pending sale of the 36,000-acre Whitney Estate in Long Lake, Hamilton County.
The 28-page illustrated report State of the Park: Landscape of Hope awards a positive or negative rating (thumb up or down) for 105 government actions taken between September of 2019 and now.
This 39th edition of State of the Park also profiles nine conservation and community successes accomplished by other organizations, businesses and individuals, in its Tip of the Hat section. The report also features an overall report card on top 2020 Adirondack conservation priorities and a list of updated priorities for 2021.
“We give Governor Andrew Cuomo high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in New York, including his work to prevent Upstate/Downstate conflicts among residents,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Many retirees with vacation homes in the Adirondacks have moved here full time to avoid the congestion and potential contagion of big cities. Houses are selling for cash in a matter of days in towns with the largest school districts, and young couples appear to be bringing their children here too.
“The trails and campsites are again filled with people looking for a safe place to recreate and get some exercise,” he said. “Search and rescue missions are up among the forest rangers over this time last year. Sadly, so is the amount of human waste and trash. All of this is happening while the Canadian border is closed, so the number of Americans in the Adirondacks is way up over past years, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 percent.
“That’s OK as long as everyone continues to practices the safety measures provided by state and county health officials,” Janeway said. “The Adirondacks have been a place of hope and refuge in the past, for example, during the tuberculosis crisis of the 20th Century, and have been a place of healing for veterans following both World Wars, the Korean War, and the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The surge in demand for Adirondack Park open space highlights the need for the state to continue and intensify the progress is has made in curbing overcrowding and overuse on the park’s most popular trails, campsites and destinations,” he explained. “Better education, parking enforcement, investments in infrastructure, additional personnel and limits on use such as parking reservations all need to be part of the solution to this escalating problem.”
Janeway said the recent passing of Marylou Whitney was an important moment in the park’s history. It marked the end of a long family tradition of caring for a very large (two-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan) and very wild part of the Adirondack Park. The entire estate has been placed on the market by her widower John Hendrickson.
The land is central to a 1988 Adirondack Council proposal to create a 408,000-acre Bob Marshall Great Wilderness by combining these lands with surrounding public Wilderness Areas, other Forest Preserve, and private lands acquired from willing sellers. Saranac Lake summer resident Marshall was one of the first to climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks. In his work for the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930s, he identified all areas in the nation still capable of holding a development-free, motor-free wild landscape of 300,000 acres or more. This area was one of them, and remains wild enough today to fulfill this mission.
The Council later expanded and modified the plan into a 600,000-acre Bob Marshall Wild Lands Complex, with the wilderness at its center and nearly 200,000 acres of non-wilderness buffer, consisting of well-protected public and private forests. The state has adopted a similar proposal in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan. It is called the Oswegatchie Great Forest in honor of the river basin in which it is located and Native American tribe that once lived there.
Highlights from individual sections of State of the Park:
Overall Report Card – Thumbs up for the state beginning to act on overuse and making progress on climate change, road salt and diversity. The Legislature passed an environmental bond act, but the Governor cancelled the vote. Thumbs down to the federal government for acting to eliminate key clean air, acid rain and climate change protections, and to the state, for failing to improve the Adirondack Park Agency’s rules for development.
Governor – Thumbs up for national leadership in the fight against COVID-19; appointing an overuse task force; an improved slate of nominees to the Adirondack Park Agency board; and closing the last coal-fired power plant in the state; funding for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative and backing up his commitment with an investigation when someone tried to intimidate the new director with racist graffiti (plus three more items). Thumbs down for cancelling the vote on a $3-billion environmental bond act; failing to improve the APA’s rules for development or staff shortage; and not devoting adequate staff and funding to solve the overuse problem.
Legislature – Thumbs up for passing a $3-billion environmental bond act; passing legislation to curb road salt use in the park; providing some new funding for overuse and wilderness protection; and extending the invasive species transport law (plus six more items). Thumbs down for taking no action on bills that would create incentives for better private forest and farm management, legislation to address the misuse of ATVs and UTVs, and a law to prevent the destruction of the Park’s most sensitive private wildlife habitat, via new, conservation-minded subdivision rules.
Senate – Thumbs up to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Manhattan, and EnCon Committee Chair Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, for the bond act. Thumbs down to Senator Little for urging the Adirondack Park Agency to abandon its successful policy of concealing cell towers and other tall structures, which helps to preserve the park’s wild character. Plus a farewell to Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, who announced she will retire at the end of the year, and a thank you to the Senator for the work she did for the Park and its residents.
Assembly – Thumbs up to Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, for the bond act. Thumbs down to Assemblyman John Salka, R-Oneida, for a bill that would allow owners to register dunebuggy-like Utility Task Vehicles (UTVs) for use on public lands. Plus a farewell to former Assembly EnCon Chair and Adirondack Council Legislator of the Year and Conservationist of the Year Richard Brodsky, who passed away in April.
Courts – Thumbs up to federal appeals courts for upholding new federal pollution standards and for ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect New York and New Jersey from as many as 350 upwind coal-fired smokestacks; Thumbs down to state courts for decisions that weakened protections under the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act; and to federal appeals judges for failing to protect Maryland and Delaware from 36 coal-fired power plants in upwind states.
Attorney General – Thumbs up for winning a key lawsuit requiring the EPA to protect New York and New Jersey from smog an acid rain; working toward formal abandonment of the Tahawus Rail Road so local and state officials can determine its fate; and suing to protect wetlands and clean water.
Local Governments – Thumbs up for helping to spread the word on the need to address overuse of wild lands, prevention of invasive species infestations and excessive applications of road salt; pressing state officials to complete the park’s broadband network; and to the local government lobbying group (Adirondack Assoc. of Towns and Villages or AATV) for dropping its call for float plane access in Wilderness (plus five more). Thumbs down for pressing ahead with a constitutional amendment for an emergency tower when it wasn’t clear the amendment was even needed and to the Town of Clare for moving ahead with another plan to open an all-terrain vehicle trail on a Forest Preserve road, despite losing a lawsuit to the Adirondack Council on the same illegal act a year ago.
The State of the Park report includes a thumbs down for AATV dropping a statement of support for new conservation standards for the Adirondack Park Agency in their printed agenda of priorities. AATV has subsequently reiterated their continued support for this, and for that the Adirondack Council says they deserve a thumbs up.
Dept. of Environmental Conservation – Thumbs up in three items related to progress on addressing overuse of wild lands, including capacity limits; producing a new 10-year Forest Action Plan; cleaning up diesel-fired peak-power plants in the NYC Metro area; helping Lake Placid build a municipal salt shed; its reaction to new forest pests on the Forest Preserve; and a new plan for threatened and endangered species (plus two more). Thumbs down for rushing forth with two ill-advised constitutional amendment proposals that were cast aside by the Legislature; balking when asked to exercise its authority to require permits or reservations to protect the overuse High Peaks Wilderness Area; refusing to use its existing authority to close illegal roads in (motor-free) wilderness areas (plus five more).
Adirondack Park Agency – Thumbs up for approving a new trail-free section of the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area; approving sensible tent site standards; and for working with a cell company to conceal a local tower while providing good coverage to the Town of Elizabethtown hamlet of New Russia; working to restore the natural flow of the Ausable River and its tributaries following two hurricanes; and imposing record $1.5-million penalty for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act scofflaw (plus three more). Thumbs down for opposing improvements to its land-use code; approving a cell tower likely to create an eyesore in an otherwise wild landscape in the Town of Duane, Franklin County; pretending that “co-locating” two highly visible Frankenpine cell towers next to one another on Route 28 in Raquette Lake, Hamilton County, was just as desirable as the single, well-concealed tower requested by opponents; and refusing to assess the cumulative impacts of clear-cutting by timber companies despite warnings that Adirondack private forests are being cut faster than they can regrow.
Federal Government – Thumbs up to the New York Congressional delegation for ignoring President Donald Trump’s call for a 30% cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and approving increases instead; to the delegation for gaining approval in the House for budget language calling on EPA to sponsor comprehensive acid rain data collection in the Adirondacks and deliver reports; and for approving much-needed relief funding for the economic victims of the COVID-19 crisis through August of 2020 (plus one more). Thumbs down to the Trump administration for making New York sue the EPA to regain protections from summer smog pollution that should be automatic under the Clean Air Act, allowing excessive upwind pollution to harm New York residents from 2017 to 2020; allowing Midwest polluters to increase their coal-fired emissions of acid rain-causing chemicals by 200% to 323%, resulting in pollution spikes, dirtier air and dirtier clouds in New York; refusing to enforce a raft of clean air regulations that protect public health; proposing to gut the National Environmental Policy Act; weakening rules protecting seasonal wetlands and streams; and publishing misleading statistics about clean air and public health to try and justify reductions in public health protections.
Other Agencies – Thumbs up to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) for trying to clean up its past constitutional issues regarding use of the Forest Preserve before constructing new facilities for the World University Winter Games in 2023; to the state for helping fund Adirondack Experience and The Wild Center initiatives to increase diversity among their employers and interns; the Lake George Park Commission for managing to stay on top of mandatory boat inspections during the COVID-19 crisis, which left it with limited personnel and resources to carry out its mission; and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for his audit showing that New York must do a better job of stopping aquatic invasive species from spreading. Thumbs down to the State Police, for using ORDA’s biathlon training facility at Mount Van Hoevenberg for police weapon target practice – the much-louder, faster-firing, higher-caliber weapons threw a scare into residents, schools and businesses for miles around Lake Placid as shots echoed off the surrounding mountains.
Adirondack Council’s Top Priorities for 2021:
Complete and implement plans to address overuse, expand education, build infrastructure, pilot enforcement of Wilderness resource capacity limits and increase personnel, to protect natural resources, and secure community benefits.
Win Conservation Funding
Reauthorize a $3-billion Bond Act for water, climate, and overuse and fully allocate the $300-million Environmental Protection Fund, plus $1 billion for clean water projects, including funds for the Adirondack Park.
Combat Climate Change and Acid Rain
Promote clean energy and continue implementation of the new climate law, expand renewable energy, restore federal protections against acid rain, and enhance research funding.
Stop Invasive Species
Achieve comprehensive boat inspection compliance Park-wide.
Support More Vibrant Communities
Provide funds for planning, smart growth, communications, health care, jobs, housing, and recreation.
Expand Park Diversity Equity and Inclusion Efforts
Plan and start to implement actions for a more welcoming, inclusive Adirondack Park that celebrates all kinds of diversity.
Approve Environmental Agency Reforms
Increase funding, staffing, and oversight of the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency, and update planning and conservation tools to better incentivize private land stewardship.
Defend the NYS Constitution
Defend the integrity of the “Forever Wild” clause of the state constitution, and secure second passage of the “Environmental Bill of Rights” so voters may approve it in 2021.
Janeway said that the Adirondack Council’s State of the Park Report was the most detailed and comprehensive report on any park in the United States. The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It contains most of the motor-free wilderness and Old Growth forest remaining in the Northeast.
“Our world-class park deserves world-class oversight and management,” said Janeway. “This organization interacts with public officials on every level of government, from the park’s nine village boards to Congress and the White House. Most importantly, we are non-partisan. We give credit and find fault with the actions of Republicans and Democrats alike.
“Our freedom to publish a frank and unvarnished critique of the actions of public officials is due to the support we receive from private citizens inside the Park, in New York, across the United States and around the world,” Janeway said. “We rely upon private support to maintain an independent voice for the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.”