LAKE PLACID - State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens praised The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter for its efforts in engaging communities in recent years when working on the historic acquisition of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands.
Martens' comments came during his keynote speech at the Conservancy's annual meeting at Heaven Hill Farm last Saturday.
"It was absolutely an amazing process," Martens said. "They went to the towns. They asked the towns what they wanted to get out of the deal, where they saw the opportunities. They talked about things like snowmobile trails. They talked to them about drawing tourists into areas of the Park that had never experienced it before."
Mike Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, looks at a photo presented to him by state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens Saturday at the Conservancy’s annual meeting at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid. The photo is of the two of them paddling the upper Hudson River this past spring to promote lands the state purchased from the Conservancy.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Martens said this approach was a change from the past when local communities were often left out of the land acquisition and planning processes for the Park. He cited former Gov. Mario Cuomo's Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century, which was created in the late 1980s as one body that failed to adequately establish a dialogue with local leaders.
"That is the big mistake we made in the past," Martens said. "We didn't engage communities. We didn't convince communities that the Adirondacks is really important to them."
The purchase of the former Finch, Pruyn & Co. land was a complicated process that began in 2007.
In June of that year, The Nature Conservancy purchased 161,000 acres from Finch, Pruyn & Co in the Adirondacks for $110 million. In 2009, the Conservancy sold 92,000 of the acres to ATP Timberland Invest, a Danish pension fund, for $32.8 million. In 2010, the state paid $30 million to purchase conservation easements on 89,000 of those acres.
In addition, 1,100 acres were set aside for community purposes in local towns. Long Lake and Newcomb both purchased property from TNC in 2012. In addition, the Conservancy has offered up $500,000 in grants for recreational-based development in the towns where the various purchases occurred.
The final part of the land purchase involved the Forest Preserve lands. Last August, the state announced it will purchase the remaining 69,000 acres over a five-year period for a total of $49.8 million. As the land is bought, it will be added to the Forest Preserve.
The first phases of that process occurred in December and April when the state purchased the 18,300 Chain Lakes-Hudson River parcel and the 9,885 Indian River and OK Slip Falls-Blue Ledge tracts.
During this process, especially early on, Conservancy officials, led by Adirondack Chapter Executive Director Mike Carr, sought out dialogues with local towns to determine how they could benefit from this transaction. Part of those discussions resulted in the purchases by Long Lake and Newcomb. Carr also convinced 27 towns to pass resolutions in favor of using Environmental Protection Fund monies for the purchases.
There was pushback against the Forest Preserve aspect of the deal from towns, but that occurred after Carr had laid a strong foundation that ultimately held up.
In recent years, the key component for the Forest Preserve deal, which was the most controversial, was getting the governor's support. According to Martens, a former Open Space Institute official, this wasn't hard to do.
"As it turns out, I didn't have a lot of convincing to do," Martens said. "Mario Cuomo was an enormous fan of the Adirondacks, but he looked at it from a helicopter. He looked at it as an intellectual concept, a spiritual concept. He was not a hiker. He was not a fisherman. His son, on the other hand, actually loved the Park before he came in office. He came here to visit. He brought his kids here. He loves to fish. He likes whitewater. He loves the Park, so it wasn't much of a sell job on my part."