Debar exchange gets support from conservation group
DUANE — A conservation group is lending its support to a proposed land exchange that would preserve the Debar Pond Lodge while adding acreage to the state Forest Preserve by nearby Meacham Lake.
Adirondack Wild has endorsed a joint legislative resolution to amend Article 14 of the state Constitution and authorize a land exchange between the Debar Institute and the state, according to David Gibson, Adirondack Wild’s managing partner.
The proposed amendment would allow for the preservation and educational use of the Debar Pond Lodge and six surrounding acres in Duane, while adding more than 400 acres to the state Forest Preserve, according to Gibson.
“The lodge sits on the Forever Wild Forest Preserve at Debar Pond. Its continued presence is therefore unconstitutional and cannot remain on public land,” Gibson said. “By authorizing a land exchange, the Legislature and ultimately the voters can preserve the lodge on just six private acres, ensure appropriate public uses of the lodge and sustainable public access to the pond, while adding over 400 acres to the public’s Forest Preserve at nearby Meacham Lake.”
Gibson said currently the wild forest does not extend from Meacham Lake to Route 30, and this amendment would address that issue.
“This would extend the wild forest character and actual status out to Route 30, that is my understanding,” Gibson said.
An amendment to the state Constitution is required because Article 14 of the document states that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed.”
Gibson said it was in the early 2000s when the ownership of the land around Debar Pond reverted to the state.
“The Department of Environmental Conservation tried to have a forest ranger live there for a while knowing that this was a large building on the Forest Preserve that could not stay there. It is just not constitutional on wild forest lands as defined in Article 14,” Gibson said. “We have been aware of that lodge for many years. At one time we said the department needed to tear it down. There simply wasn’t a statute that could overcome the constitutional prohibition.”
The lodge’s preservation for the public will help protect the water quality of nearby Debar Pond, according to Gibson, while also affording reasonable public access to the scenic body of water, with an easement ensuring appropriate preservation and use of the lodge’s buildings.
“The amendment meets our land exchange criteria because it is narrowly defined, specific in purpose, limited in scope and provides public services or serves a public need, as opposed to serving a mostly private interest, which cannot be provided in ways other than through an amendment,” Gibson said.
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, sponsored the proposed land exchange constitutional amendment.
“To be approved it must pass in two successive state Legislatures and in a public referendum,” Gibson said. “The earliest that can take place is in fall 2023. An implementation bill has to follow and should be incorporated in its second passage so the public knows this is how the bill will be implemented, if approved.”
Gibson described Adirondack Wild as a group dedicated to the state’s forest lands.
“We are dedicated to the wilderness values and wild forest character of the public lands in the Adirondacks and the Catskills,” Gibson said.
Gibson said Adirondack Wild started in 2010 following a reorganization of a previous group, which was founded in the 1940s.
“We reorganized an older group called Friends of the Forest Preserve, kept that name and added Adirondack Wild to it in 2010,” Gibson said. “Friends of the Forest Preserve was founded at the close of World War II in 1945 by Paul Schaefer, who was one of the foremost wilderness organizers in the Adirondacks.”
Debar Lodge was built in 1939 by Adirondack architect William Distin, and sits in a stand of tall pine trees on the shore of Debar Pond.
Stec visited the lodge with Duane town officials in April 2021, and efforts to save the building were prompted by the unveiling of a new state management plan in 2020.
In November 2020, the new management plan for the state-owned site called for the addition of a new day-use area and the removal of the lodge.
“We learned of a unit management plan for Debar Wild Forest. It called for a special management plan for the lodge area that would remove it and create an intensive use area of some 40 acres that would provide picnicking and other recreational opportunities for people,” Gibson said. “We objected to that as having not analyzed all of the alternatives. Debar Pond is a really beautiful pond and a natural resource. An intensive use classification right up against the pond did not seem appropriate to us. We want to maintain the high water quality of the pond itself.”
In January 2021, Duane town officials passed a resolution in support of a proposed land exchange at Debar Lodge, aiming to preserve the historic site and promote recreational opportunities in the area of the camp.
Similar resolutions were passed in Bellmont and Malone, and by the Franklin County Legislature.
“Suddenly we learned of the interest by private citizens of forming the Debar Institute and their proposed land exchange,” Gibson said. “We asked a number of questions, called them up, just to get more dialogue, and the more we studied their proposal and the more it was amended it seemed to be taking a good direction in terms of an Article 14 land exchange.”