When I was a bill-drafter for then-state Assembly Environmental Committee Chairman Maurice Hinchey in the 1980s, I accompanied him to meet with a group of local government officials in the Adirondack Park. The town supervisors complained nonstop about Adirondack Park Agency, the state agency implementing the state’s Adirondack Private Land Use Plan.
They didn’t like the plan’s strict density restrictions for private development and that a majority of the APA members came from outside the Adirondack Park. Almost half of the Park land is public “forever wild” forest land and therefore outside the bounds for development.
Hinchey listened respectfully as the local officials complained about land use control by outsiders. In the case of the Park, the courts ruled that an overarching state interest justified state control rather than local control. When the local officials finished with their complaints, one supervisor conceded that if the State had not intervened in the park, there would be no local land use planning.
A couple of years later, then-Manhattan Assemblyman Pete Grannis proposed to Sen. Ron Stafford, the leading Adirondack Park legislator, legislation for a study on how to promote tourism for the whole Park. Stafford agreed, and I drafted the bill.
The Adriondack Park includes a number of county tourism promotion agencies that received state funds for tourism promotion. Language was included in the bill that nothing in the recommendations would limit the roles of the existing tourism agencies. The director of one such agency complained to Stafford about the bill, and he withdrew it.
These two anecdotes exemplify why Eleanor F. Brown wrote on the occasion of the Park’s 1992 Centennial that “the Adirondack Park is still undergoing the painful process of creation” and Adirondack writer Phil Terrie titled one of his books on the Park “Contested Landscape.”
Before the Adirondack Park was created by the State Legislature in 1891, the Forest Commission that would be responsible for its management correctly forecast that it could not “call the Adirondack Park into existence by the touch of a wand.”
It’s long past time for the creation of an Adirondack Park that is truly an inspirational, educational, recreational, ecological and economically sustainable. That potential was very visible at the seventh annual Adirondack Common Ground Alliance Forum that occurred in July in the town of Newcomb. The forum’s theme was collaboration, with less “us versus them” and less “infighting and fragmentation.”
Many individuals and entities have played a role in creating the Adirondack Park’s recent progress. Common ground started an open discourse to find what the people in the Adirondack Park agreed upon. The state provided $1 million for smart growth planning that wasn’t just for Main Street projects but included, for example, funding to bring broadband to the entire region.
Outreach engaged neighboring regional economic development entities like the Center for Economic Growth in the Capital Region and the North Country Chamber of Commerce. This helped join three of the governor’s regional economic development councils with portions of the park to work together to finance the Adirondack Park Recreation Web Portal Project to promote recreation in the whole park.
Unlike the ill-fated Grannis-Stafford bill, this time support came from all sectors of the park, including the tourism agencies. Local officials like Bill Farber, the Morehead town supervisor as well as the Hamilton County legislative chairman, are successfully advocating for holistic regional planning.
It helped when Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Adirondack Challenge that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a whitewater raft race in Indian Lake.
From what I saw at the Newcomb Forum, the Park’s former contested landscape is becoming a more collaborative landscape.
This article originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on August 12, 2013