NY's Adirondack Park Celebrates 100 Years
Increasing pressures to develop privately owned parcels challenge largest US state park
LAKE GEORGE, N.Y.
FOR much of a 10-mile stretch along Route 9N inside New York State's Adirondack Park, it is hard even to get a glimpse of beautiful Lake George. Motels, fast-food outlets, and condominiums line the road from one hamlet to the next.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet just past Bolton's Landing, the scenery changes abruptly. The buildings disappear, and you feel you are in the most remote of forests and lake country. The Adirondack Park, which celebrates its centennial anniversary this week, is an unusual checkerboard mix of sometimes intensively developed private property - accounting for almost two-thirds of the six-million-acre park - and pristine public forest that by state law must remain "forever wild."
The park is the largest in the United States outside of Alaska, and until now its private-public land combination has worked reasonably well.
Yet many environmentalists and park residents say the ownership mix and current tough economic conditions now make the park uniquely vulnerable. Tighter development controls are urgently needed on private land, they say, particularly along shorelines and on large open tracts, which timber companies and other owners now want to subdivide and sell.
"What happens on the private land ... in this crazy, quilt-like pattern of the park ... has a dramatic and sometimes devastating effect on the surrounding public land," says Eric Siy, director of the National Audubon Society's Adirondacks Campaign. He says the close to 80,000 homes now in the park will increase by 100,000 over the next 100 years if current trends continue.
"We're losing the park right before our eyes," Mr. Siy insists. "It's absolutely that serious."
"The recession really did the park no favors," notes John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondacks Council, a local preservation group. "It's put so much pressure on property owners to subdivide or sell off natural resources on their property."
In Westport along Lake Champlain where Mr. Sheehan lives, a developer has bought all the surrounding agricultural land and a huge condominium complex is being built.
The challenge is to strike a reasonable balance between preserving the best of nature and nurturing economic development in a region that has relied for years on timber and tourism for its livelihood.
Many Adirondackers say extremism on both sides for years has led to a deadlock. No measures have passed the legislature since former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller pushed through a density-control bill 20 years ago.
Environmentalists and state regulators say real-estate and home-rule interests virtually torpedoed the zoning controls and stepped-up public land acquisition urged in 1990 by the Governor's Commission on the Adirondack Park in the 21st Century.
"The report had a number of hot buttons in it ... and several property-rights groups were poised and waiting," recalls Robert Glennon, executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the state group charged with overseeing any development with regional implications on private park land.
"People thought there were all kinds of state plans to take their land and tell them what color to paint their houses," he says. "The report was certainly released into a hostile atmosphere."
Some landowners blame Mr. Glennon's ecological watchdog agency directly for the region's economic problems. Over the years his office in Ray Brook, N.Y., has withstood harassment that included everything from an unsuccessful arson attempt to the dumping of horse manure outside the front door.
"Developers would rather we weren't around and I'm glad they feel that way," he says. "We're doing our job."