On December 11 and 12 we held our first workshop in a new series about how the region responds to the threat of disruptive climate change. Despite a big snow storm the two days prior, 32 people made it to Paul Smith’s College to spend two days examining six alternative scenarios for how the region might respond. Although there are some tweaks to make to the starting framework, in general the group found the framework useful. We plan to hold more of these workshops starting sometime in May 2015. We would like to develop a half-day version as we did in the original ADK Futures workshop series. In the weeks to come we will be writing a few posts about issues and conclusions raised in this first climate change workshop. For now, you can read the full report on the workshop.
I like the report because it starts right out with measures of success. It also explains this is rooted in some 100 plans and reports already done and instead points action steps. The meeting last Monday was organized into working group to begin work on moving ahead. Public comment is also requested.
If this works, begins the report, we should expect the following benefits:
- wage and payroll growth
- increased business revenue
- improved health and wellness statistics
- alternative energy consumption increase
- educational attainment increase
- real estate values for year round property increase
- level of private capital investment in leverage increase
- availability of cultural and recreational assets grows
- increasing school enrollment
Wow. Now I’m interested! How to we get to this place?
It lays out these 7 business opportunities. They can be done park-wide or at least in more than one location.
- Sustainable forest and natural products
- Sustainable construction and building products
- Recreational equipment manufacturing and retail
- Ecosystem services and nature conservation
- Value added agriculture and food processing
- Non profit employment
Next it lays out four goals, each with metrics, strategies and actions. Here they are:
Goal One: Inspire a culture of entrepreneurship with a globally competitive workforce and diverse business base
Six specific strategies and their actions are described. They include a small and micro business program, a lend local idea, teaching programs, higher ed collaborations, and a leadership program.
Goal Two: Promote a sustainable and connected rural life with quality infrastructure and community amenities.
Ten strategies are described, each with a couple of actions, They begin with be happier, and cover broadband, hamlet restoration, affordable housing, health care, road/pedestrian/bike infrastructure, improve access to water, assistance for towns with larger projects, improving financing for grant funded projects, non profits, first responders and reuse of vacant sites.
Goal Three: Reinvent traditional industry across the working landscapes in forest products, naturals resources and agriculture
Fives strategies and their actions are described. They cover natural resources protection including invasives, promoting local building materials, alternative energy, wood products, and local farming, local food.
Goal Four: Advance the park as a world class destination
It describes 10 strategies and several actions for each one. They cover the trail towns initiative, lodging renovations, tourism ambassadors, more types of lodging moving people across the park, integrated web presence, world class sports, wellness/health tourism, branding, upgrades of non-lodging tourism facilities.
This is the link to the whole report.
This is the link to the web site, Advantage Adirondacks, which has a lot more material and supporting documents.
The project was organized and run by the Adirondack Partnership and AATV. Funding came from the NYS Dept of State, DEC and the ADK Futures Project of the Common Ground Alliance was used as the local match to get the State funding.
The meeting on Monday was associated with AATV and had lots of local government people there. This effort looks like it has traction.
The Common Ground Alliance Core Team has been working on a new “2015 Blueprint for the Blue Line“, an agenda that Albany can use as a guide to the ideas from CGA now that election season has passed. Early in the history of CGA, it produced a similar document and now we offer an update. It reflects a poll used to prepare for the 2014 Forum last July and subsequent work by the Core Team.
Government is best suited to serving a region with aligned aspirations. With that in mind, we hope the State’s leadership in Albany will find CGAs guidance both helpful and inspiring as our brightening future unfolds.
This is the link to the new Blueprint.
A group of private investors has incorporated Point Positive, Inc. It has already held two pitch sessions this year to listen to business plans presented by entrepreneurs in the Adirondack region. It is the outgrowth of 18 months of work funded by generous donors and organized by the Adirondack Foundation. The first company funded is ADK PackWorks, an innovative bag company using old packbaskets for design inspiration and now their product line is on Amazon as well as in local stores. Two more companies are in the due diligence process now.
The goal is 20 member (either individuals or institutions) group that would be able to raise seed money for startups to build product prototypes, for example. Or get an existing business to sufficient scale that it clearly will work and grow. The group has 15 members now and is seeking additional members and sponsors to help cover the cost of operations. It is based in Saranac Lake and coordinated by Melinda Little.
The idea is to develop business that serve markets here but also markets outside the Park. Improving fresh food distribution in the rural Adirondacks is a great problem to solve – but even better is to find a solution that can be applied to other rural regions nation-wide. Building a solar greenhouse to get winter greens here is an opportunity, but better would be selling a solar greenhouse ‘package’ to other northern farming areas, including Quebec. We are already seeing a surprising variety of ideas.
Angel investing is getting popular. There are so many groups in some regions that finding deals to present is quite competitive. But in our region, there is no other group. In a turn of the old phrase, we’re building an angel group to go where the money isn’t. And it isn’t just about money. We’re trying to create an ecosystem of people, ideas and funding. Mentoring and coaching involved is part of the work involved. Clarkson and Paul Smiths College are involved. The biggest goal is to make this a place where people can find support they need to get a real business up and running that can scale to markets well beyond the region.
The group is called Point Positive. It is a white water term. Before a white water run, a group of paddlers must agree to use paddles to point positive, the safe passage, or point negative, noting hazards to the paddlers behind you. The investor member are here to ‘point positive’ and in this sense, be more than just passive investors.
I submitted this comment with respect to the SLMP review and wanted to post it here.
My top level comment on the SLMP review is that it should set balance as it’s prime directive, balancing human use and ecological integrity in the context of climate change. I use the term ecological integrity because as climate change impacts the region, we need a mindset that goes beyond protection and preservation.
The forest in 50 years is not likely to be the same as today regardless of efforts we may make. Preserving the forest as is will be beyond our control. Climate change is a global phenomena , and you would have to assume successful global response regimes to believe ‘preservation’ is even possible. Protection will have a different meaning. So those words will not serve us well in the coming decades. Thinking we can expect the forest to be stable is not remotely realistic.
I recognize this is not the same as protection and preservation, language in place now. In the 1970s, no one used a term like ‘ecological integrity’. At times, it will mean less recreation. At times it will mean better science and active interventions for the health of the Forest Preserve. It may mean we work to become hosts to greater number of species at migrations develop.
Seek to Learn from Experience Elsewhere
We Adirondackers love to think of ourselves as a model, and deservedly so. But there is nothing like getting out of the area to see fresh, unencumbered, views of how to manage large scale tracts of public land. The SLMP review would benefit enormously from a modest effort to see how other protected places handle similar tasks. It could be done at a College in the region, by APA staff, one of the NGOs or a volunteer. But, short of that, I can tease you with some observations.
Our travels have taken us to a few other places where there are similar issues with respect to managing large areas of public land. But I was there on vacation, not to study their land classification systems. Still, I enquired when I could so here are a fee ideas to share.
In the 1970s Costa Rica set up a system of reserves that now cover about 25% of nation. Since then they built an entire eco-tourism industry, complete with hotels, community colleges and university level workforce training, all sorts of guide services, appropriate excursions and attractions.
Relative to the Adirondacks, the most striking feature of their public land management is a “no hunting” policy. It is not allowed. Even in the case of animals that are causing problems in communities (typically crocodiles) they capture them and move them to a different, safe, location.
Guided walks are common and popular. They typically use trails that are very well maintained and heavily used, but they only cover a small fraction of a tract of land, the vast majority of which is left undisturbed. In one area, a white water river, tour operators have camps where guests can stay for one night for a break from the river. Private lands have been set up similarly, as reserves with a small portion developed with trails and guides.
So, my observation is that tourism is a big industry, but usage is concentrated in small portions of protected areas and visitors are often in the company of a paid guide. The guides are highly trained and it is a respected career that young people seek out.
We visited a Park in southern Chile called Torres del Paine. It is a spectacular, vast and very remote place, several hours drive from anywhere. There are a handful of in-holdings that were originally ranches but are now a few hotels across a range of price points.
The landscape is very different from the Adirondacks. Rolling hills surrounding enormous granite towers, an ice cap, glaciers and so on. One wilderness is 600,000 acres, located right next to another one of similar size. Much of it is classified “wilderness’ and what that means is it’s off-limits. No one can go there, just like we keep people out of public drinking watersheds here. They do issue occasional permits for science expeditions and the like.
Within the wilderness areas, they establish what they call ‘human use corridors’. In these areas there are trails and a handful of locations where you can camp. Most camping is in a controlled area where tents are set up for the season by the Park or a concession operator. You reserve tent space in advance, the number of spaces is limited. You do not need to bring a tent. Options for people with their own tents exist but are limited. The general rule is that people cannot wander off-trail, so, no bushwacking in our local terms. Guides are very common, and often included in hotel packages. They post a list of trips you can join each morning from each hotel. You can go on your own, but most people don’t.
They make a big point about back country rescues: there is no rescue outside the human use corridors. There is no hospital to take people to anywhere nearby. The point is be careful, don’t do anything stupid, because there is no real rescue help to save you. There is no cell service, of course.
These rules sound severe and they are. Mostly they are the result of bad forest fires, attributed to campers burning toilet paper. There are small signs around saying ‘please don’t burn your toilet paper’. It gives a whole new meaning to leave no trace and carry it out.
We recently returned from a trip to Italy that included visiting a Park in that stretches from the Appinine Mountains to the sea in an area called Cinque Terre. The administrators of this park visited the Adirondacks last year; they have an exchange program with Paul Smith’s College. So we visited their Park and got to see their situation.
The two regions of their Park are vastly different. Cinque Terre is small, by the sea, and crowding of their postcard-perfect towns is their problem. But the mountains, only 60-90 minutes away, area largely vacant with numerous mostly abandoned old villages in the hills. We stayed in one, called Apella. We were chatting about our town (Keene) and they asked how many people live here. We said about 1200. Their population is 9. Clearly they have a different depopulation problem. So, what they are doing, is remodeling the old houses in each village, one-by-one, slowly making each little village into a modest hotel (think B&B scale). It is run by a brother and sister, with their father helping out. And it is working. We arrived and there was a big Italian wedding in progress. They have great environmental protection, but the place is dying economically. So when they use the word ‘sustainable’, they are talking about survival of these tiny towns. Agri-tourism is their response and it appears to be working, slowly.
They do have a simple land classification scheme. Zone A. Zone B. and Zone C. Zone A are especially sensitive areas. People are not allowed to visit there; if it is a water area, boats are not allowed. Zone B areas surround Zone A and are intended to be buffer zones. People can visit these areas, but only with guides that know the rules. Zone C areas are generally accessible with the typical set of rules for a protected landscape. The beauty of this for us, as visitors, is that is it easy to understand, which is important in an area with international visitors.
I wish these were more than anecdotes. When our SLMP was written, there were no models to examine. Ecology was a new science. For the most part, it has been great. But in the decades that have passed since, protected areas have been set up all over the world with various classification and management schemes. Ecological science has developed dramatically.
I am assuming this SLMP review will have 2 phases.
First, there are two issues that arise from the Finch land acquisition that need to be sorted out. I imagine this can be done fairly quickly and should not be hugely complicated. I think bikes are fine in appropriate areas, like old logging roads all over the Park. I have no issue with a metal bridge, but a wood one, if costs were equal, would look nicer. It is not a big deal.
But the second phase should be a broad, open, review of our land classification scheme. What models have been used in other parts of the world? Can we learn anything useful from their efforts?
We like to think there is no where else like our place. But other numerous protected places have established world wide since the 1970s, each with management and classification schemes. Surely a review of how other places have handled similar tasks would bring some perspective and learning to our SLMP review that simply was impossible decades ago. We should be open minded and embrace the learning opportunity. For small effort, we can leverage the work in the rest of the world.
The Adirondack Journal of Environmental Science recently published our article in their 2012 edition (which was released in May 2014). The article contains the details of the methodology behind the ADK Futures Project. You can find the article here.
Written in 2012, it recounts the approach and the data set. For some readers, this will be a dry academic snore of a read; no worries. But for others, this is where you can read about what we actually did. Our current plan is to use the same methodology to develop a set of scenarios about different responses to climate change over the next 25 years.
The ADK Futures work is the first time we have used the methodology for a public process. The innovation is that we leave behind a database evidence tracking tool for the public to view progress on the events and scenarios, or lack of it, as the case may be. It will be dynamic, accumulating actual developments over time, comparing the news to the workshop events and scenarios. This blog, and all the associated files for workshop and materials, constitute our ‘report’ of record.
Our hope is the tracking database becomes more useful over time, as the future unfolds and uncertainties are resolved. In just 18-24 months, the Sustainable Life vision developed from this work is accumulating plenty of evidence showing progress. But it is just the beginning and lots of uncertainty remains.
We didn’t actually create a new direction for the region, but we uncovered something already here, gave a voice to it, and built shared intentions around it. The long-running conflicts all still exist, but our shared intentions have become the center of attention and drawn considerable positive government attention as well.
The Park’s first diversity symposium is on Saturday August 16 at the SUNY ESF Newcomb Campus from 8am-5pm.
The web site with registration information, the agenda and details can be found here. For additional information please call John Sheehan at the Adk Council, 518-432-1770
Participating organizations include: Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Foundation, Adirondack Futures, John Brown Lives, SUNY ESF, the Common Ground Alliance and The Wild Center.
For background, see this current report analyzing diversity in enviro groups and this article about the same issue. It is a bigger issue than the Adirondacks, for sure, but go look at the Boards and staff of the enviro groups related to our Park for some insight about us. It isn’t conscious, I don’t believe, but the situation speaks for itself.
The Park’s demographics are strikingly at variance with the rest of NY State, and particularly the cities, in most every dimension from age to race, to language, to sexual orientation and on down the list. This widening gap is one possible route to failure in the Park’s future. Today we get the full attention of Albany, but there is nothing the suggest it will stay this way. A big election, with high city voter turnout, could change a lot of things pretty quickly.
A few decades back, the issue was ‘home rule’ being trumped by excessive outside attention. But now the risk suggested by demographic trends is the actually opposite. It is the possibility that the Park will become a largely neglected, abandoned, and increasingly irrelevant backwater of the State. We need to find ways to make the people who visit and live here a better reflection of the state’s population.
The Park and the Forest Preserve exist at the pleasure of NY State voters. The lofty notion that it is ‘forever’ is only actually true until an amendment on the ballot changes it. It is not nearly the bedrock certainty that the tone of the Forever Wild language implies.
Please come join us at this symposium to share, to think, and to learn about this challenge to our region. Think of this as a starting point. See you on August 16th?
Thanks to Pete Nelson for actually getting attention focused on this issue.