NEW YORK — THOSE who treasure the open spaces of New York State's vast Adirondack Park are feeling particularly upbeat these days.
Environmentalists and other friends of the park are still savoring the impact of an unexpected major gift of forest and river land in the park made a few weeks ago by the International Paper Company. Park supporters hope the 20,000-acre transfer, (worth an estimated $5 million) to the Conservation Fund and the state of New York will spur the New York Legislature to take further protective steps.
"Let's hope this gift is the start of a lot of good things for the park," says Eric Siy, Adirondack campaign director for the National Audubon Society. "I don't think we've had such a significant donation of property in the park's entire history. It's fantastic!"
He and other park supporters want to see stronger development controls on private property, particularly along shorelines and on large tracts that many owners want to subdivide. Environmentalists also want the state to set aside money to buy and preserve more open space.
The 6-million-acre park, which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, is an unusual mix of public and private land. Almost two-thirds of the park is privately owned and highly developed. For the most part, the blend has worked well for the economy of the region, which is heavily dependent on tourism and timber sales.
New York voters rejected a $2 billion environmental bond act two years ago that would have set aside $800 million for the protection of prime open land in the state.
The state this year expects a budget shortfall of about $4 billion, so the prospects for more funds would appear slim.
Yet friends of the park have set their gaze on the beer and soda tax established at the time of the bond issue to finance the bond's debt service. That money has been going into a general fund. Park supporters, who would like to see an environmental trust fund established for the park, note that six other states just last year set aside funds for environmental purposes, including open-space protection.
"We just have to keep putting the heat on," says Audubon's Eric Siy.
Top choice for the next purchase among most park supporters, he says, is Follensby Pond, one of the largest pristine bodies of water in private ownership. The state has an option to buy that expires in July.