APA, DEC skimp on public meetings

The state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Conservation have announced a joint public comment period on major changes to both the High Peaks Wilderness and Vanderwhacker Wild Forest, and while the plans for those two areas put forth by the DEC are generally good, the lack of public meetings on the plans is seriously deficient.

The two forest units comprise about 350,000 acres in some of the most visited areas of the Adirondacks, and the release of the two unit management plan amendments represent the most significant updates to these lands in well over a decade. The plans include a wide array of changes, from parking to trails to accessibility issues.

But the APA and DEC have scheduled just two public meetings on the plans: one in Albany and one in Newcomb, both on the same day, a Wednesday.

These meetings, while important, are also severely wanting. These lands belong to the people of New York, and folks near New York City, in Syracuse and Buffalo, Watertown and Ithaca all deserve to have APA and DEC staff come explain what the plans mean and hear the public’s concerns. Together, the two UMP amendments run to more than 300 pages, and it would be beneficial to the public to have them explained by the people who wrote them.

Yes, the agencies will take written comments via mail and email, and there will no doubt be a lot of them. But not everyone has the time or background to read and digest hundreds of pages of government documents.

And why are the APA and DEC not holding a public meeting in the Tri-Lakes, arguably the area most impacted by High Peaks users? Lake Placid, Keene and Keene Valley are the main entrances to the High Peaks, and the economies of these communities rely on the influx of summer hikers. Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, the Adirondack Park’s population hubs, also adjoin the High Peaks Wilderness. Both the DEC and APA headquarters in Ray Brook are capable of hosting large crowds, as are any number of venues in Lake Placid. Agency and department staff should schedule at least one meeting in the “Heart of the Adirondacks.”

We applaud the effort that went into the state’s purchase of new lands and the staff that worked on the complex issues, but the agencies should do more to present these issues to the people they work for, the taxpayers of New York state.

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