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Is it Time to End the Adirondack Park “Experiment”?

February 17, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
(Part 1 of a 2 Part Series) You often hear many residents remark “We’re doin. We know we could make more money if we were not in the Adirondacks, but we love it here and are willing to make sacrifices.” Or how about the sad joke that you can always tell a real “Adirondacker” because they need to have 3 jobs to survive here?

When you talk anywhere at length about our Adirondack way of life, you often hear the expression “Well, after all we are part of the great experiment you know.” Whether they are environmentalists, developers, residents or government leaders, they often say this with a disconcerting laugh or a dismayed smile that gives you the sense that this “experiment” of managing this quilt of private and public lands is not working as they would like. The thoughtful or bewildered look on their faces gives you the idea they may be unsure what the true intent of this “experiment” really was or how it will end.

If you polled this question to people walking downtown in anyone of our communities I would imagine it would start off well, something like “to protect the land.” But if you would ask them to explain that answer by “what land” and does that include our communities, history, architecture, way of life, I think you would get as many answers as there are species in this wonderful place we call a “park.”

In some cases, some would say this “experiment” is almost 120 years old with the advent of the forest preserve.

Others would say it started in 1973 with the Adirondack Park Agency Act.

Either way, I wonder if it is time to conclude the “great experiment.”

I looked up the word “experiment” in the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and it is defined as a “tentative procedure or policy…carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect or law, to test or establish a hypothesis.”

There have been attempts to re-examine this “experiment” with the 21 C Commission and more recently with a review of the rules and procedures of the APA. And perhaps that is part of the rub; we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the APA. Perhaps we do not spend enough time stepping back and looking at the whole “park” concept. Exactly what do we mean by the “Adirondack Park?” Is it a regulatory region? Is it a natural habitat or a historical and unique way of life? Why is our “park” dissected by so many overlapping jurisdictions from regulatory agencies to tourism? What about the “Blue line” itself? Is where it is even still appropriate today? It has been moved before, should it be moved again and if so why?

When you are in business, it is often difficult to change your management approach unless you have an overall clear vision of what your goal is as a business. Perhaps it is time to conclude this “great experiment” by re-examining the vision of what this “Park” is suppose to be. It is a wonderful opportunity for a new state administration that is all about new visions for government to stamp a legacy for the 22nd century. Hopefully, the new regime will learn from the mistakes of past efforts to look at this iconic land beyond the well known regulatory definition of the “Adirondack Park.”

I decided to look up the word “park.” Its definition was interesting and included: “A piece of ground in or near a city or town kept for ornament and recreation” or “an area maintained in its natural state as a public property” or finally “an area designed for a specified type of use.”

I am not sure how the Adirondack “Park” definition fits here and began researching “parks. Much of the information related to “parks” centers around national and state entities in which one of the first federal parks was Yellowstone in 1872.

By the way it is not just one government that weighs in with national parks with international organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas. According to the IUCN, there are about 7000 national parks worldwide.

State parks abound not only in the U.S. but elsewhere such as “provincial parks” in Canada and state systems in Mexico and Australia.

I began to google some of these state parks concentrating solely on the U.S. Some of the oldest state parks include Georgia's Indian Springs State Park, Mackinac Park in Michigan and Pennselvania’sValley Forge all with their roots in the 19th C. Many state parks were created in the 1930’s under the Civilian Conservation Corps.

When you begin to look at these national and state parks you begin to wonder if we should be using the word “park.”

For example, when you do a google search for Yellowstone, Yosemite or the state parks of Georgia's Indian Springs State Park or Valley Forge, you just need to type in the first 2 letters and they usually pop up. Further, when you look at the all imporant first page on Google it is clear what they are about. Yosemite dealt with natural wonders and activities incl a cool matrix related to “lodging - plan your visit – current conditions – things to do – photo gallery.”

The same is true of others including state parks.

When you google “Adirondack Park” it is a bit of a different story. As you type in, at least in my research, a myraid of organizations from real estate to enrionmental advocacy pop up. Further on the first page of my google search, 3 of the top 6 dealt with regulatory or environmental advocacy organizations. If I were a potential visitor deciding which “park” to go to, I have more of a clear vision of what these other places are about and what kind of experience you can expect.

More importantly, it is clear to me why they are a “park” in the first place with a great deal of information on their natural wonders, wildlife, history and native species. I am not sure we have taken full advantage of all the things that make the Adirondacks a “park.” I began to think about our use of the word “park” and if are holding true to the original intent.

It appears that there is an inordiante amount of information on the Park as a regulatory region and if that was the original intent than perhaps it has been somewhat successful. If it was also intended to enhance opportunities for sustainable economic activities, promote our historical legacy for others to appreciate or to protect our native species like other “parks” seem to have made clear, then perhaps we need to take a fresh look at our definition of a “park.”

So what are we as an “Adirondack Park?” What was the real intent of this “great experiment?” Should we analyize the results? Do we even remember what the orginial “hypothesis” was based on and what its overall intent meant to mitigate or new idea it was to test?

Is it time to examine the results of this “great experiment,” come to some kind of conclusion and think about what has been good and not so good and perhaps consider a revised or new vision?

Next week we will conclude our discussion on "Is it time to consider a new 'Park' model?"


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