LAKE PLACID - A nonprofit adventure-based counseling program that has served at-risk and visually impaired young people in northern New York for decades has shut down, it announced Wednesday.
In its place is coming a new presence by a cancer center and Cornell University.
Adirondack Experience closed because the Adirondack Loj Road property it has leased at no cost for 22 years is slated to come under new ownership. The property is owned by the Van Brunt family and is scheduled to be transferred to the state of New York, according to the Adirondack Experience website. The state would then transfer some of the land to private owners, said Matt Marshall, assistant clinical coordinator of Adirondack Experience.
He said he did not know the exact terms of the "complicated" land deal, and a call Wednesday to attorney John Caffry, who represents the Van Brunt family, was not returned by press time today. However, a letter by Adirondack Experience Executive Director John Marshall on the program's website stated the property's farmhouse and about 60 acres will be transferred to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University.
Adirondack Experience has been working out of a 100-year-old farmhouse on the 230-acre property that includes the West Branch of the AuSable River, forested land and open fields.
Matt Marshall said Adirondack Experience was notified earlier this summer that it would have to leave the property, and it shut down Sept. 1. He said the staff doesn't have any problem with Peter Van Brunt, who holds family responsibility for managing the land.
"We're very appreciative of what Peter's done for us," he said. "We're not leaving on any bad terms."
That message was echoed on the program's website.
"We have certainly been grateful for the on-going generosity of Mr. Van Brunt for allowing us to use this property for the past twenty-two years," John Marshall wrote. "It has been an ideal location to provide adventure-based counseling and to create a fun and wholesome environment to help people with many aspects of life. The AE staff have helped countless individuals during the past 22 years and hope to continue in some fashion for many more years. Whatever can be done to save the program will be attempted."
The press release from the organization states that "the organization has served thousands of youth and families in crisis, visually impaired teens, adult drug treatment providers, local school groups, church groups, athletic teams, college students, and corporations.
"Designed and directed by John Marshall throughout its existence, the program provided overnight stays and day programs that included many outdoor adventure activities, such as rock climbing, rappelling, high and low ropes courses, hiking, orienteering, swimming, canoeing, camping, skiing, snow-shoeing, and ice climbing. It blended such activities with traditional counseling and group educational sessions."
Children enter the program through referrals from the various county departments of social services in northern New York. The program serves children as far south as Albany, east to Lake Champlain and west to Watertown.
Adirondack Experience is open to continuing the program on another property, but it probably doesn't have the money to pay for a lease, at least in the beginning, Matt Marshall said. He said its funding comes from social service programs and private donations. The program has four full-time staff and six-part part staff, he said.
"The AE staff have helped countless individuals during its existence and hope to continue in some fashion for many more years," John Marshall wrote. "If a suitable location can be found, AE will attempt to reorganize."
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi told the Enterprise he has made attempts to help the organization relocate recently.
"I have talked with John Bernardi of United Way (of the Adirondack Region)," he said. " I have tried to reach out to several influential people tied to the recipients of the gift to see if it would be possible to stall that imminent transition. Nothing has come of it yet.
"I think that that particular entity does a lot of good and it's too bad. But then again, I also recognize the property is owned by someone else and they certainly have a right to make those decisions. You try and work it out, or you move on and continue it."
The roots of the program began in 1973 within St. Francis Academy - sometimes called Camelot, now called Mountain Lake Academy, a residential treatment center for boys.
"Persistent requests from referring agencies for a preventative program that could be accessed directly, led AE to become a stand-alone program within Saint Francis Academy (SFA) in 1990," the press release states "This was also the time AE developed its home on the Van Brunt property, where it has been ever since. In 2004, AE left the umbrella of SFA and incorporated as a private non-profit organization."
Enterprise Staff Writer Chris Morris contributed to this report.