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Is it Time to End the Adirondack Park “Experiment”? (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)

February 26, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
In the book “The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park” edited by William F. Porter, Ross Whaley and Jon D. Erickson, a compilation of various individuals provide their views on conservation history and land preservation in the Adirondack Park.

As recently as this past fall, Brian Mann on his NCPR blog entitled “Yes, Some Adirondack Park Agency Commissioners Should Be Elected” talks about how this strategy would provide the opportunity for groups to “articulate their own vision” and behind this debate of electing APA commissioners are “some good ideas for reforming the APA and making it even more ambitious and idealistic experiment in Park management.”

The Adirondack North Country Association Scenic Byways on-line site has a short history of the Adirondack Park that details “how this ‘Great Experiment’ came about and how it has evolved over the past century.”

Should we look at New Models? Is it time to end this rather long “experiment?” Is it time to go back and analyze the hypotheses (challenges, threats and opportunities) that brought about the “park” in the first place? Should we examine the data and review what has worked and what has not?

More importantly, can we use the results from this “great experiment” and answer the question “Are we happy with the results? If not, why not and what can we change to make this a better holistic habitat of man, environment and nature? Does the Park truly function as a “park” and accomplish all that it was meant to do or reach its full potential of what it can be?

A Fresh Look is Often a Requirement In these challenging economic times businesses are constantly being implored to “think out of the box” to survive. The February issue of the Harvard Business Review talks about “How to Reinvent Your Business Model.” I am constantly reminded in article after article in magazines like Entrepreneur, Inc. and Strategy & Business that we need to continually look at our business plan assumptions, test and monitor them and be planning ahead as new threats and opportunities arise everyday in this fickle, recessionary economy.

Business 101 talks about the need for a vision, a plan to enact that vision and monitoring tools to evaluate and change if necessary, that vision.

Locally we have heard of the need to update comprehensive plans and master plans. HUD and the Economic Development Administration require community plans to qualify for funding. The Federal Aviation Administration requires our local airports to do a 10 year master plan and of course any business knows that don’t even bother to walk into a bank for a loan without at least a 3 year plan.

There is no such requirement to update a plan for this place we call a “park.”

New Challenges and Opportunities? Think of what we could do if there was a clear vision of the Park that listed priorities – just in terms of possible funding from international public and private resources like the United Nations or “green philanthropists.”

With funding becoming tighter from traditional resources that have funded many Adirondack Park or community projects we may need to develop new models such as “hybrid value chains” that create formal partnerships between businesses in the community and non-profit citizen based groups.

These are more than conversations at “mixers” but actual partnerships that are formed for example, between business and community non-profit organizations to deal with the diverse issues of our Park such as planning, environmental protection, affordable housing, transportation and economic opportunities.

With the economy, state and federal belt tightening, we may need new Park-wide private and public partnerships including local, state, federal and international organizations to address regional and local issues.

We may need to help ourselves.

Taking More Advantage of Who We Are As one of the most truly unique parks in the world that has a unique quilt of man and habitat, we could wield a big stick if we could articulate a clear vision of what we want to be.

With “sustainability” an ever increasing buzzword with more and more businesses and communities trying to figure out how to accomplish this, I believe there would be a multitude of new partners including international organizations and businesses that would love to become “branded” with new strategies for the Adirondack Park.

We need to take leadership - and ownership - and come up with new Park-wide strategies. If we did that, I think we would excite a whole new set of partners that are looking to attach themselves to “sustainable models” that can be replicated elsewhere across the globe. This could become an opportunity to be the dog and not the tail and have our way of life be an asset and not an economic compromise.

Opportunities with a new vision of “what-exactly-do-we-mean-by-a-Park” could help achieve our goals on environmental, recreational, historical and community issues. For example, do enough of us know how to take advantage of our role as an internationally recognized biodiversity region to attract green funding from international organizations and foundations?

But it’s not just a money thing; it is about a clear vision with focused dialogue and input from an inclusive range of groups ranging from local residents to United Nations experts on how to take advantage of our biodiversity. Is it time for real change based on new ideas? I believe much of our acrimonious debates on the future of the Park may be mitigated if we had a vision of a true Park: a holistic habitat of man and nature.

Struggling to Find Solutions Based on Old Thinking? The reason that private and public sector institutions require updates in community and business planning is because not only do things change but what is the saying “the best laid plans…” mean nothing until exposed to the reality of implementation. Even naturalists conduct species “audits” on a regular basis.

Social, environmental, community and economic planning is an ever evolving topic and we saw this evolution nationally with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. You and I hear it locally with comprehensive and master plans, affordable housing and economic development strategies.

These are often subject to the vernacular, philosophy and perceived threats at the time.

On an economic development basis, for example in the 1970’s, big corporations ruled the U.S. economy. The Park was dotted with large natural resource based companies in terms of mining and wood products. In the U.S. and in the Park, economic development equaled “industrial recruitment” which was to lure big companies on the outside of a region and bring them in. The result was a concern for large scale development and regulations were created to mitigate that threat.

As entrepreneurship and the micro-enterprise movement really were not born until the 1980’s, 15 to 20 years after the Temporary Study Commission concluded its findings; there was little language to deal with smaller, benign projects. Thus, many small business projects are sometimes reviewed in “industrial” terms.

Further, in the 1970’s there was not a lot of discussion related to the threats and opportunities that face small scale enterprises that have become a hallmark of our economy – and to come up with a Park-wide plan to enhance their presence. The result has been a scattered matrix of local, under funded and sometimes overlapping economic development initiatives who should be given the red badge of courage for accomplishing as much as they have. With increasing belt tightening, this cumbersome system may find it difficult to continue to create even marginal success.

What can be done? Next week we will discuss several ideas that will hopefully initiate a larger discussion on concluding this experiment and moving this “Park” forward.


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