State of the Park: Collaborations are key

The Adirondack Council released its 42nd annual State of the Park report Tuesday. The report, titled “Stronger Together,” outlines what the Elizabethtown-based organization considers successes and shortcomings of governmental departments, lawmakers and policies as they relate to the Adirondacks.

In his introductory letter to the report, Adirondack Council Executive Director Raul J. Aguirre emphasized the necessity of cooperation — between people and nature, citizens and lawmakers — in order to preserve the Adirondack Park for future generations.

“Success will only be possible if both the human and natural communities flourish,” Aguirre’s letter reads. “And this will only be achieved if we find new ways to tackle old problems, rethink what is possible, and build on new opportunities. … By working more closely with advocates and community leaders across the state, we continue to redefine how essential the Adirondacks are to everyone and the power they have to influence our collective lives in a positive way.”

Aguirre said that the Adirondacks are important even to those who do not live in the region — for instance, the headwaters of the Hudson River, which runs to New York City, are located in the Adirondacks.

“When we say we are strongest together, that ‘we’ needs to continue to grow, upstate and down,” he said. “Our collective success is dependent on it.”

Local government

The report had mostly positive notes for local governments this year, though much of the report’s feedback was directed at other regions of the Adirondacks — not the High Peaks.

Officials in the towns of Newcomb and Long Lake were recognized for acting “swiftly and responsibly” during flooding caused by heavy rains in July, noting the towns’ sensitivity to aquatic habitats and the possibility of future flooding as they dealt with the aftermath. The $2 million grant Essex County and the town of North Hudson received for the rehabilitation of historic buildings at the former Frontier Town amusement park by was also given a thumbs-up. The funding will be used to connect the site’s DEC campground to the restored A-frame visitor’s center nearby. The village of Tupper Lake was applauded for receiving a grant that will fund half of its ongoing microfiltration drinking water project, which could see a defunct water filtration plant retrofitted into a microfiltration plant.

Recent attempts by local governments to answer the area’s prolonged housing crisis by regulating short-term vacation rentals were met with the council’s seal of approval. Essex County’s decision to hire local community development organization PRIDE of Ticonderoga to boost affordable housing stocks was also recognized.

The council gave a thumbs-down to local opposition across the Adirondack Park to the Conservation Design Bill. The bill, proposed by Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), would have amended the Adirondack Park Agency’s rules for development on the park’s “most at-risk resource management lands” to move construction toward lands that would be able to handle such heavy use while conserving other open spaces to protect both flora and fauna.

State government

Gov. Kathy Hochul received a mixed report card this year, with five thumbs-ups and four thumbs-downs. The council approved of her election as governor, as well as her administration’s decision to hold public listening sessions about how the $4.2-billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act would be put to use. She was also given the council’s stamp of approval for funding Adirondack initiatives in the fiscal year 2023-24 budget, for the release of the late-arriving Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force Report, and for giving a $10 million downtown restoration grant to the town of Ticonderoga.

Hochul was given a thumbs-down for failing to nominate anybody to the APA board as of August, and another thumbs-down for allowing the APA to remain understaffed. The report compared the 100 staffers designated by the New York City Department of Environmental Production to oversee the Catskill watershed to the 54 staffers the APA currently has. The Catskill Park is less than one-eighth the size of the Adirondack Park. The report also criticized Hochul’s failure to “advance any significant proposals” to address the affordable housing crisis in the region.

The council gave a thumbs-up to the final state budget negotiated in the state legislature, which earmarked $2 million for a survey of climate and Adirondack lake ecosystems; $2.1 million for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, which was created by the council in partnership with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and CUNY Medgar Evers College; a total of $420,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, whose core team includes Aguirre; $8 million for Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve Stewardship; and $100,000 for the High Peaks Information Center operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) was recognized for his work with Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Mount Kisco) to sponsor legislation that would bring facilities at Mount Van Hoevenberg into compliance with the “Forever Wild” clause of the state Constitution. The legislation has a long road ahead — it must be passed again by the next legislature before being put on the ballot in November 2025. Jones was also given a thumbs-up for sponsoring a resolution to allow the sale of the Debar Lodge estate in Brighton to the Debar Pond Institute. The institute planned to add several hundred acres to the Forest Preserve in exchange for the property, which they wanted to use as a site for educational programming. The Assembly passed the resolution but the Senate did not.

The Assembly received a thumbs-down for blocking Sen. Dan Stec’s (R-Queensbury) resolution to allow the sale of Camp Gabriels near Saranac Lake for private redevelopment. Stec got a thumbs-up for sponsoring this resolution.

Environmental agencies

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation received a mostly positive feedback from the council. The report recognized the DEC’s management plan, which established boat decontamination siting at its campgrounds, as well as the record number of female graduates at the New York Ranger Academy. The hiker parking reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve Property on state Route 73 was also given a thumbs-up, with the council urging the DEC to expand the system to other overcrowded trailhead parking areas.

The council criticized the DEC for implementing a draft work plan for trail construction on the Forest Preserve before the APA formally adopted the plan, violating “the checks and balances and environmental safeguards established by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.” The report also gave a thumbs-down to the open season on coyotes that lasts from October to March, saying it has led to the accidental killing of protected wolves that look similar to Eastern coyotes and excessive hunting of the coyote population. An additional thumbs-down was given to what the council describes as the DEC’s lackluster rules for statewide inspection and maintenance of septic systems.

The APA’s report card was evenly split between successes and setbacks this year. The agency was given a thumbs-up for listening to concerned public feedback after proposing tighter rules for public participation in agency meetings and actions. The APA — and board member Benita Law-Diao in particular — were also praised for rejecting a second request to expand a non-conforming boathouse on Spitfire Lake in Brighton. The report gave additional commendations for APA board member Zo Smith’s vote against the approval of an untested herbicide to kill Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake Luzerne and for the APA’s dedication to developing response guidelines about changes to the inter-agency directives for invasive species management in the Adirondack Park.

The council criticized the ongoing existence of a loophole in the APA’s policy concerning the mileage of roads on the Forest Preserve, as well as the APA’s failure to assess the ways in which its work aligns with or breaks from New York’s climate goals. For the second year in a row, the agency was given a thumbs-down for neglecting to improve its policies and procedures concerning large-lot subdivisions in remote locations. For the third year in a row, the agency was also criticized for failing to measure and enforce compliance with recreational carrying capacities for public lakes and forests.

Federal government

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was recognized for its work in partnership with the DEC and Trout Unlimited to clean up and restore a former power dam at Indian Rapids on the Saranac River. This project was part of an ongoing effort to reopen passage to the river’s highest-quality salmon spawning habitat. The report said that, once the project is finished, salmon should be able to reach areas that they have not been able to populate since the 1790s.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was applauded for issuing a final Good Neighbor Rule. The rule is part of the implementation plan for the Clean Air Act and “bans the kinds of interstate air pollution that have damaged the Adirondack Park’s forests, soils and waters with acid rain and smog for decades.” The report said that most of the acid rain that harms the Adirondack ecosystem is generated in states now governed by the Good Neighbor Rule. Rep. Paul Tonko’s (D-Amsterdam) efforts to increase clean energy use across the country were also praised.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was given a thumbs-up for advocating for increased funding for the EPA’s science and technology budget to modernize the Clean Air Status and Trends Network, which measures air quality. EPA Administrator Michael Regan and his team were also recognized for working with scientists to create new National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The council also voiced its support for the federal government removing the names of Confederate officers from U.S. military bases.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) was given a thumbs-down for cosponsoring a bill last year that would remove a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition. The tax, which has been in place since 1937, comprises the majority of the funding for the Pittman-Robertson Act’s wildlife conservation program. The bill is currently considered “dead” as of Jan. 3, when the new Congress was sworn in. Stefanik received an additional thumbs-down for advocating for $28 million in funding for local projects — including flood resilience on the Ausable River, a water system in Ticonderoga and funding for broadband expansion — only to vote against the bill that would authorize the funding.

The report also criticized the EPA for ending its reconsideration of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for smog. The council called the current standards “inadequate.”

2024 priorities

Like last year’s report, the 2023-24 report wrapped up by setting a series of standards and goals for the next year. The council wishes to secure more funding and action for clean water, wilderness preservation and green jobs and also to push the APA to refresh its legislation, board and funding models. In terms of conservation, the council plans to continue to push for action on clean water — including reducing road salt and tackling aquatic invasive species and wastewater infrastructures — as well as the preservation of habitats and wildlife within the Adirondack Park and the promotion of local food security and sustainable forestry.

Like last year, the council has set a goal supporting the expanse of the ADI along with efforts that promote justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.


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