Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. “Willie” Janeway will step aside at the end of the summer, after 10 years as leader of the Adirondack Park’s largest environmental advocacy organization, the Council confirmed Tuesday.
As part of the transition, Deputy Executive Director Raul “Rocci” Aguirre will become Acting Executive Director.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as Executive Director and lead the Adirondack Council team since 2013,” Janeway said. “With many partners we have accomplished a lot and we can all be proud. I have valued and appreciated the support and generosity I have received from countless individuals along the way.
“Today, the Adirondack Council is strong. Our mission remains as vital and relevant as ever. Our long-range vision for the park reflects our values,” he added. “The Council is in the perfect position to help the Park realize this vision, working with state agencies and other stakeholders, using an ever-evolving set of tools and strategies developed by the excellent staff.”
“It is not possible to fully express our gratitude toward Willie or our appreciation for all he has done for the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Council over the past ten years,” said Sarah Collum Hatfield, Chair of the Adirondack Council’s Board of Directors. “He has been an inspirational and dynamic leader. His strategic skills, his enthusiasm, his boundless energy have allowed the Adirondack Council to improve environmental policy and funding in Albany and Washington, while also improving the quality of life in the park’s 130 rural communities.”
“His successes also inspired others to help us achieve our mission,” she said. “That led to a period of significant growth as an organization. We have added staff to handle the challenges of rewilding and wildlife migration in a time of climate change; the Essex Farm Institute and its mission to promote sustainable agriculture and a green economy; clean water infrastructure for the park’s rural communities that lack the multi-million-dollar resources needed to protect our lakes and rivers; and, preserving water quality in the Northwestern Adirondacks, where the Moose, Beaver and Raquette rivers begin. Most recently, the Council created the Forever Adirondacks Campaign to elevate the need for Adirondack clean water, jobs and wilderness with a national and global audience – and hired environmental justice pioneer Aaron Mair to run it.”
As the organization grew, so did its support. Starting in 2016 and every year since then, the Council has received the top rating (four stars) from CharityNavigator.com, the leading independent charity-rating service. Staff grew from 13 to 21, the budget grew from $1.5 million per year to more than $3million per year, and the Forever Wild Fund (a quasi-endowment) increased from $2.5 million to more than $9 million. The Council balance sheet and donor family have never been stronger.
Hatfield lauded Willie’s efforts to produce a second 30-year plan full of recommendations for the protection and management of the Adirondack Park, VISION 2050: Fulfilling the Promise of the Adirondack Park. This successful effort was directed by Julia Goren who later left the Council to become Deputy Executive Director for the Adirondack Mountain Club. In December the Council adopted a new three-to-five-year strategic plan for the organization.
Janeway said he felt the time was now right for a transition. He also said he appreciated the praise, but added that he had accomplished nothing on his own.
“I offer my heartfelt gratitude to the Adirondack Council donors, advocates, board members, volunteers, and dedicated staff and interns with whom I have had the pleasure to work with over the past decade,” he said. “Together, with partners, the Council will continue to shape the future of New York’s Adirondack Park and preserve the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondacks, for current and future generations.”
“As I step back from the Council, I call on others to step forward,” he said. “I am not retiring. I wish the team and our partners the best, and hope to stay in touch. My resignation will be effective September 15 to provide time for and to support a smooth transition. I want to be sure that the Council sustains the growth and momentum it has built over the past decade.”
John Sheehan, Adirondack Council Communication Director for more than thirty years recounted a list of issues and events over the past decade where Janeway led Council efforts that had a positive impact on the Adirondack Park’s wild character and ecological integrity, as well as the economic health of local communities.
Sheehan pointed to new laws mandating comprehensive boat inspection/decontamination prior to launch of motorboats in all Adirondack waters – the most effective method of controlling the spread of aquatic invasive species in public waters. He pointed to the protection of the Boreas Ponds tract and the vast expansion of the High Peaks Wilderness Area as signature wins for the Adirondack Park. So too were motor-free protection plans for the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River Gorge, he said.
Sheehan noted that the Council during Janeway’s tenure hired David Miller who helped Adirondack communities secure more than $88 million in clean water capital funds, for installation and replacement of municipal sewage treatment and clean drinking water facilities. Such facilities are needed to preserve and improve water quality, but the costs are far too high for property taxpayers in the park’s small, rural communities to handle alone.
Sheehan said the Council was proud to have been one of the driving forces behind the creation of a new state task force designed to improve management of park visitors and the trails, campsites, parking, refreshment and sanitary facilities they need. Rocci Aguirre was a key part of that task force and the state is now working to implement those recommendations and to incorporate Leave No Trace outdoor ethics into its management of the park and its public education efforts as recommended. The Council also helped to spur the creation of a state effort to reduce the use of road salt on park roads, to protect both stream ecology and underground water supplies.
Janeway was among the first group of volunteers to convene what would become the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, and later, the New York State Adirondack Diversity Initiative, Sheehan said. The initiative leads local efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, identify biases and work to overcome and eliminate them.
Last year, Janeway and Mair celebrated the first victory of the Forever Adirondacks Campaign, when the NYS Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus chose the Adirondacks for its annual retreat. This gave the Council and the Caucus an opportunity to identify and work toward common goals. That agenda includes clean water, clean air, green jobs and an Adirondack Park where all feel welcome.
Janeway has worked to bring political attention to the Adirondacks from all over New York and the nation, Hatfield said.
“Willie has been very good at reminding people in positions of power that the Constitutionally protected, ‘forever wild’ public lands of the Adirondacks belong to everyone,” Hatfield said. “He has reminded Governors, U.S. Senators and members of Congress that New York has a responsibility to protect the Adirondack Park. It really is a national treasure. He has also worked hard to reach out to community leaders around the park and hear their concerns.”
In 2016, Janeway and the Council helped to secure overwhelming voter approval of a complicated Constitutional Amendment that created a land bank designed to prevent future conflicts over local municipal projects. The park’s public lands are subject to unique NYS Constitutional protections requiring that “they be forever kept as wild forest.” (Article 14, Section 1, the “forever wild” clause.)
Now, towns don’t need statewide voter permission to acquire tiny pieces of “forever wild” Forest Preserve so they can install power lines, broadband communications, utilities, water and sewer lines on roadside rights-of-way. The land bank limits all such future land swaps to a cumulative total of 250 acres.
The Council helped to win approval of the land bank amendment while simultaneously persuading voters to reject a ballot proposal calling for a Constitutional Convention, where delegates could propose wholesale changes to the “forever wild” clause, he noted.
Janeway and the team worked to gain voter approval of a constitutional amendment resolving century-old title disputes between the state and private landowners in Raquette Lake. The settlement brought an important new shoreline tract into the Forest Preserve and cleared up land ownership disputes that had prevented sales and tied up estate settlements for generations.
In 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would halt $80 million in annual state property tax payments to Adirondack towns that host Forest Preserve. He proposed replacing the mandatory tax payments with a convoluted system of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Janeway was among the first to publicly object and sound the alarm that defeated the plan.
Janeway also worked to make sure the universe didn’t become invisible from the Adirondack night sky. His team worked to secure passage of New York’s Dark Skies Law, which helps curb light pollution and preserve astrological visibility at the Tupper Lake Space Observatory and other Adirondack locations.
More recently, the Council also helped to persuade voters to enact a new clause to the Constitution that protects each citizen’s right to clean water, clean air and a healthful environment.
Janeway is a relentless networker, bringing a myriad of voices to park-protection effort, Sheehan said. “He and his team built an incredible coalition to protect Boreas Ponds as Wilderness.” He enlisted Clarkson University to study the economic impact of wilderness, showing previously unappreciated benefits to the park’s communities and private landowners.”
In 2018, Janeway, with assistance from Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli gently persuaded Warren Buffett to order the removal of scrapped Berkshire-Hathaway oil train cars from those public Adirondack Forest Preserve lands. A failing local railroad company had resorted to using its tracks as a scrapyard on a rail that crosses public lands next to the protected Upper Hudson River. The Tahawus rail corridor is now used for recreation.
From his first day on the job, Janeway worked in coalition with many partners to promote the need to increase state support for environmental capital projects. During his time at the Council, the state’s Environmental Protection Fund rose from an annual level of less than $200 million to $400 million in FY2022/23. The Council also worked for voter approval of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which will provide an additional $4.2 billion for state environmental projects.
On the federal level, the Council pressed for the creation and improvement of the federal Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which curbs air pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest that cause acid rain and smog in the Adirondacks. The Council remains a leading advocate for federal clean air and climate measures, as well as the scientific data collection needed to confirm that the rules are working as intended.
In 2014, Janeway helped to lead the opposition to a Federal Communications Commission proposed rule that would have harmed the park’s wild character, he said. The FCC later amended its plan to avoid conflict with the Adirondack Park Agency’s long-established policy requiring telecommunications towers to be sited in places where they are mostly invisible.
Last fall brought the greatest breakthrough on climate, as Janeway joined U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer on the shore of Heart Lake in the High Peaks to celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The act brings unprecedented federal incentives, investments and standards to fight climate change. It also reopened four air pollution monitoring sites in New York that had been shuttered by budget cuts. The cuts would have prevented the collection of evidence of acid rain, smog and soot pollution in the Adirondack High Peaks and on Haudenosaunee lands at the Akwesasne Reservation on the border with Quebec and Ontario.
When diplomacy and networking were not enough, Janeway led the Council to court. Despite two disappointing losses in state Supreme Court prior to his arrival, Janeway backed a lawsuit by Protect the Adirondacks! (via friend of the court briefs) that forced the state to stop building a new network of wide, flat snowmobile trails. The state’s highest court eventually agreed that the network would destroy the wildness of the Forest Preserve.
The Council also filed suit against the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, forcing it to live up to its obligations to protect public health and Adirondack ecosystems from air pollution. In that suit, it had help from friends at the Environmental Defense Fund and NYS Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau.
Janeway concluded that: “My grandparents’ grandparents started hiking in the Adirondacks in the 1800s — appreciating and working to protect them. My family and I will always maintain a special connection to and appreciation for the Adirondack Park. I will continue to support the Adirondack Council and its efforts to restore and preserve the East’s greatest Wilderness, for the benefit of all.”
Janeway joined the Adirondack Council staff team in February of 2013, replacing Acting Director Diane W. Fish, who took over for Brian Houseal, who had been executive director from 2002 until 2012.
Prior to joining the Council staff, Janeway had been a Regional Director for the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation for six years, overseeing the Catskill – Hudson Valley region.
Janeway graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Environmental Studies. He served as trails coordinator and director of North Country operations for the Adirondack Mountain Club (1985-1994); Executive Director for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission (1994-2000); and Governor Pataki’s Executive Director of the Hudson River Greenway (2000-2001). He was director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy from 2001 to 2007 and co-founded and co-chaired the Friends of New York’s Environment, which promoted creation and passage of the Environmental Protection Fund.
Janeway is an avid Adirondack 46er, having climbed the 46 major High Peaks, and won the Adirondack Life “Adirondacker Award” for his early work building partnerships and protecting the Adirondacks.
Established in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. It is the largest environmental organization whose sole focus is the Adirondacks.
The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. It envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, core wilderness areas, farms and working forests, and vibrant, diverse, welcoming, safe communities. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States.
Photo of Janeway and US Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on the shore of Heart Lake, summer 2022.