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GUEST COMMENTARY: New Adirondack Park popularity is an opportunity for needed changes
January 11, 2019

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Leaders of Adirondack environmental and local government organizations are pleased that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has invested aggressively in the Adirondacks. The state's efforts promoting tourism and protecting natural resources has been good for the nationally significant Adirondack Park and our communities.

The governor's I Love NY tourism promotion efforts spurred a 24-percent boost in Adirondack tourism from 2019 through this year, to 12.4 million annual visitors. This has resulted in significantly more people using the Forest Preserve lands state agencies are tasked with managing.

We are now witnessing high use issues in portions of the Adirondack Park, and underuse of other areas. This threatens visitor safety, the health of our natural resources and the wilderness character that so many seek. Developing a system of managing high use at certain locations can provide a means to direct recreation tourism to beautiful underused sites in bypassed towns like North Hudson or Indian Lake. The town of Keene is a prime example of an area that experiences high use. The town gets the economic benefit of all these visitors but also feels the negative impacts of high use for residents, businesses and visitors.

High use highlights the gaps that exist between what we have in place and the systems needed to effectively manage use, protect the resource and sustain the economic benefits. Some of the most urgent need is for visitor education, management and support infrastructure, modern systems of coordinated multi-agency administration of the Park, and the number of forest rangers and other staff, volunteers and partners needed.

The governor's new Adirondack Northway visitor center and investment in North Hudson at Exit 29 can be foundational elements of a transformed administration and management of the entire Adirondack Park. These are pieces of what could be a comprehensive investment, not unlike the signature investment the administration made in the rest of the park system.

The governor is a national leader and has an opportunity to put in place world-class preservation and management of the Adirondacks by modernizing park and Forest Preserve stewardship. This would sustain the governor's success advancing complimentary conservation and economic development.

High use is a great problem to have, and an opportunity. While countless alternative destinations are underused, high use is being experienced in the High Peaks, on Lake George, near Old Forge and in select Catskill Forest Preserve sites including the "Blue Hole." Partnerships, volunteers, Environmental Protection Fund stewardship funding, forest rangers and seasonal hires such as assistant rangers have been part of the state response and, scaled up, could be an important part of the solution.

To preserve the governor's legacy of success in the Adirondacks, state staff have already begun addressing the challenges of overuse by identifying and building support for the six commonly accepted best management practices for wildland management and overuse, including more:

1. Rangers, other staff and funding

2. Comprehensive planning

3. "Leave No Trace" user education

4. Front country infrastructure (parking lots, educational kiosks, restrooms)

5. Backcountry trail infrastructure for access and a variety of recreational uses

6. Managing and at places and times limiting use.

The governor's Adirondack successes can become his Adirondack legacy with a commitment to and an investment in world-class management. Gov. Cuomo recently announced a "Green New Deal." The governor said he would invest $10 billion in a five-year plan to enhance environmental infrastructure, including parks. We urge the state to dedicate $500 million in new funding for the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

Dedicated funding to enhance visitor services, park stewardship and community infrastructure, trails, planning and access would stimulate the economy and secure the preservation of world-class waters, wilderness and communities for current and future generations.

Matthew J. Simpson, president, Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages

Neil F. Woodworth, executive director and counsel, Adirondack Mountain Club

William G. Farber, Core Team member, Adirondack Common Ground Alliance

William C. Janeway, executive director, Adirondack Council

Joe Pete Wilson, supervisor, town of Keene

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