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Little presses for funding of Keene hiker center

State Sen. Betty Little speaks at a retirement party for her Jan 23 at the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

In her last year in Albany, state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, is pushing for state funding to support the construction of a hiker information center in Keene Valley.

During a more than eight-hour joint legislative hearing on environmental conservation funding Monday, Little used part of her time to question state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos on whether the department plans to invest in helping to build the proposed information center.

“Is there any money in the $55.2 capital (funding) that would help with the hiker center that we have plans for, that’s being proposed for Marcy Field in (the town of) Keene?” Little asked.

The Executive Budget includes $55 million in capital funding for the DEC to “improve access to State lands, rehabilitate campgrounds, and upgrade its recreational facilities, all as part of the Adventure NY program,” according to the governor’s budget book. “This funding will also provide for health and safety repairs to State infrastructure, including dams, wetland restoration, State lands, and fish hatcheries.”

Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. unveiled preliminary plans for an information center at Marcy Field during a community meeting this past November. The lodge would provide a central location for visitors to go to get some direction when trailhead parking lots are full, he said at the time, and could also function as an outpost for DEC staff.

Cars fill the Marcy Field parking lot in Keene Valley on a Saturday in early October 2019. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

In November, Wilson reflected on a confrontational encounter he had with a couple from Montreal earlier this year, an incident about which a story was published in the Enterprise. He said he thought more about why the man, Michael Farmer, had been so angry after he had informed him he was parking illegally. Farmer alleged at the time that Wilson was the one who was angry.

Wilson said he thought about how to reach hikers with information about hiking in the High Peaks before they made the journey, and ways to better receive them when they arrive.

“I think with these huge numbers that’s going to be more and more important,” he said. “Getting to hikers is going to be a big component to how we manage this.”

At the time, Wilson estimated the building would cost between $1 million and $1.2 million to build. He said he was reluctant to put the remaining expense on taxpayers of the town, which has a population of around 1,000 people. Wilson said the project likely wouldn’t move forward unless the town could secure outside funding for the project. Little has pledged $300,000 toward the project.

After asking about funding for Keene’s info center, Little told Seggos he didn’t “have to answer now.” He didn’t.

Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr., with town councilor Teresa Cheetham-Palen at his side, speaks to residents about ways the town tried to accommodate the influx of hikers this past summer during a meeting at the Keene Valley firehouse in November 2019 — Elizabeth Izzo)

This session marks the last for Little, who is retiring after serving 17 years in her seat. Before being elected to the Senate, she served as a state Assembly member and a member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

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