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.
In the past few weeks we have attended Local Government Day, Adirondack Day in the Capital, and the Adirondack Research Consortium. In each case, we were left with the feeling that the Adirondacks is moving forward on many fronts. There is a sense of optimism and progress. Most importantly, collaboration and Park-wide thinking are the rules of the day.
Local Government Day
This is an annual event co-sponsored by the APA and AATV (Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages). Usually this event happens in March when we are away but they moved it into late April this year and we were pleased to be able to attend. The senior management from both DEC and APA were there listening hard to the large number of local government reps who came. The Adirondack Partnership and its Director, Bill Farber, were front and center touting their new Economic Strategies development project that has been awarded to a group of consulting firms led by River Street Planning and Development of Troy. This project will take the work of the ADK Futures project as a starting point to develop much more detailed strategies for economic development in the region and test them against market data.
The main focus of the day we attended was the economic potential of tourism. There was a presentation by Jim McKenna on the about-to-be-released Adirondack Park Outdoor Recreation Strategy, which is the product of a 25 person volunteer team comprised of public, private and non-profit leaders. This effort has characterized the main factors that hold back better development of the Park’s resources to provide more economic opportunity to the towns and villages of the region. The group made it’s initial priority the development of a web portal to bring together all information about recreational opportunities, facilities and visitor amenities across the entire Park. This is aimed at what the team saw as a key problem: inadequate information available to prospective visitors about the diverse recreational opportunities in the Park and the poor distribution of activities and events across the entire area. This web portal was recently funded in this years Regional Economic Development grants and its development has already started.
Next we heard about the potential economic benefits of better developing the recreational opportunities of the Park. Most importantly, we learned how the five towns (Newcomb, Minerva, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Long Lake) affected most by the new NYS acquisition of Finch Pruyn lands are working together to come up with plans for developing recreational and visitor facilities to capture some local economic benefit. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has included a half million dollar grant to the towns to help in this effort. DEC is working closely with the team, too. This kind of partnership is a major step in the right direction and TNC, in particular, should be commended for their efforts to insure that all benefit from the biggest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years.
Overall we heard that there is great potential if we diversify the offerings to visitors, most of whom only want a 1 to 2 hour hike. This means diversifying access and making it possible for the less fit or elderly to enjoy a portion of the outdoors. Others want something other than hiking, such as biking, boating, etc. Visitors also consider sight seeing, relaxing, dining and shopping an important part of their vacation. Grassroots efforts to develop new activities are also key, such as the Cranberry 50 development of hiking trails. In the end though, there needs to be investment in lodging if we are to unlock the economic potential of the region. We need to think hard about the kinds of incentives and grants that can be put together to attract the necessary private investment. Our relatively short visitor seasons and increasingly iffy winter weather make these kinds of investments very risky and they won’t happen if local and State government don’t sweeten the pot.
What struck us overall about the event was the lack of griping and pointing fingers. Instead there was a refreshing sense of optimism and cooperation. The ADK Futures project was cited repeatedly as one more sign that we are in a new era in the Park, one in which we are moving forward.
April 29 was the first Adirondack Day in the “well” of the State Legislative Office building in Albany. Groups around the State use this space to promote their region or cause to legislators, their staff, and executive branch staff. With an incredible outpouring of volunteer support, our region pulled together rich displays about conservation, fighting invasives, recreation, culture, history, and our successes on the economic development front. Most prominent, though, were the displays and samples of our burgeoning local food movement. It was great to see so many of our key organizations working together to promote the entire region.
It turns out that this very day the Governor announced his White Water Canoe Challenge. The effort clearly paid off in terms of greater awareness in Albany to the many ways the Adirondacks are moving ahead these days. At one point, Mr. Cuomo did make an appearance accompanied by Senator Betty Little and visited a number of the displays. Betty spotted us and steered the Governor our way for a brief introduction.
Adirondack Research Consortium
Last week we participated in the Adirondack Research Consortium (ARC) conference in Lake Placid. The opening keynote speakers were Andrew Revkin author of “Dot Earth” blog on the New York Times, and Stephen Jackson, Director of the Southwest Climate Center. Both held balanced views on climate change that emphasized the adaptability of nature and avoidance of extreme points of view. Dr. Jackson showed fossil data that indicated fast and major swings in climate have hit the planet before and had nothing to do with humans. Although we are clearly the major factor driving climate change now, we are not the only part of the system that can do so. Mr. Revkin introduced the idea that all environmental thinking must now include humans as part of the system, part of the solution and he pointed to the Adirondacks as an example. Getting to a pre-human wild state is simply not possible. For better or worse we are like gods, but as Stewart Brand said, “we better get good at it”. He made the point that climate change is a big messy problem with humans right in the middle of it and the Adirondacks are a big messy problem with humans in the middle of it. Dr. Jackson also talked about the need for researchers to learn how to better communicate and engage with the public. Scientists need to understand the public doesn’t react to data the way they do. In general, data never changes anyone’s mind. We need more people and organizations that are boundary spanners, that can bridge gaps between researchers and stakeholders. The Adirondack Research Consortium is one of those.
Bob Stegemann, DEC Region 5 Director, next stepped in for Joe Martens, DEC Commissioner, who had to be at a meeting with the Governor that day. Bob’s message was that the Adirondack’s are doing better than they have in many decades. We are completing the largest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years and all 26 town boards affected agreed to support it. And in the past 20 years we have added nearly 800,000 acres of easement lands inside the Blue Line. But, he emphasized, the towns and villages now need to thrive as the Forest Preserve has thrived. We need to work harder to ensure that the State land benefits local communities. We need stronger communities if they are going to be able to adapt to climate change and the more severe weather it is going to throw at us.
Bob also pointed out that as the Forest Preserve has grown (it is four times as large as it was when Article XIV was enacted) the issues for towns and villages with regard to the Forest Preserve have grown. He argued for consideration of an expanded transportation land bank to cover county and town roads. The current one only covers State highways, but they are not the only ones with bad curves, utility poles that are hazards, culverts that need upgrading, etc. He also suggested that a utility land bank be considered to enable modernization of existing utilities where Forest Preserve prevents siting of power, communications, water and sewer lines. We, too believe that carefully crafted and vetted versions of these ideas could be effective win-win modifications to the existing regulatory strictures in the Park. He also encouraged passage of the Transferable Development Rights (TDR) bill before the legislature and that more towns use APA map amendments to implement community development proposals. He ended by emphasizing the threat the invasive species pose to our great Park.
Next there was a panel of energy industry executives, but I must admit to not really learning much that was new, except that the big generators are concerned about the “threat” of distributed power production. We are so reminded of the way the Internet threatened the old, stodgy telcos.
Day 2 of the conference was kicked off with a panel of Dave Mason, Steve Englehart of AARCH and Kate Fish of ANCA. In keeping with the theme of the conference, Dave presented the 25 year future vision developed by our project. Then Steve provided the historical perspective on how the vision is rooted in our traditions and out landscape. Kate then talked about all the projects and efforts that are moving us toward the vision, emphasizing the two big wins for the North Country in the Regional Economic Development Council process.
In response to some questions after the talk, the Futures Project with CGA agreed to compile suggestions for a research agenda for the region as input to the Consortium.
This was our third ARC and this one was very different in tone and substance from the first one we went to in May 2011. We were just starting our research about the Adirondacks for the Futures project. The final plenary presentation that year was about the APRAP report, all doom and gloom. That effort provided an important baseline of data, but it didn’t point to a way out of the funk we were in. When we were doing our strategic planning consulting back in the ’90s, we found over and over again that data, by itself, doesn’t usually change people’s minds or lead to action. People use data to support what they already believe. To make progress you need to get people to let go of past beliefs and assumptions, to unlearn them as we used to say. Until you can crack open the current belief system or mental models of people, they can’t look afresh at a situation and see the possibility of positive change. We may be seeing that happen now.
We spent the month of February traveling in Central America, mainly Costa Rica. When we left Keene we joked that we were doing “research on ecotourism” but, in fact, we did learn a lot about the subject. Here are a few observations.
A Mix of Public and Private Reserves plus a Wide Spread Eco Ethics
In Costa Rica, there are national parks (25% of the total area of the country) and also private reserves (8%). Overall, the country is about double the size of the Adirondack Park. So its national parks are about equal to our Forest Preserve which is about half of the total Adirondack Park. This is pretty good in terms of land set aside for conservation. Costa Rica is frequently cited for its high level of commitment to environmental sustainability. They have set a goal of being carbon-neutral by 2021. Something like 95% of its energy is derived from renewable sources, mainly hydro, wind and geothermal (they have a lot of volcanoes). More than any other country in the world they have branded themselves an ecotourism destination.
Admission Fees for Foreigners
Both Parks and private reserves charge admission with different rates for citizens vs. visitors. They all have gates with attendants and posted hours of operation and a formal sense of the area as a Park. The national parks charge $10 per person for foreigners. Fees at private parks vary from $15-$25. The all have bathrooms at the entrances. The private preserves also tend to have small shops selling things like hats, sun screen, insect repellent, bird identification cards. Some have small simple restaurants offering light food and drinks.
Excellent Guides Everywhere
In every case the guides make it clear that the funds from tourist traffic support more conservation and jobs in the region. An important point is that the private preserves are set up so only a small part (2%) of the land is accessible by visitors with the rest devoted to preservation of natural habitat and protection of wildlife. This often meant that a hotel had as small a footprint as possible. Some have highly developed trails. Most walks are short, maybe 2 hours. The funds go to research programs, typically on other parts of the property. The government provides small financial incentives for private land owners to turn their properties into preserves rather than farms, plantations or pastures.
Guides point out basic flora and fauna as well as local exotic stuff, if any. They carry scopes for birding, take photos with visitors’ cameras, and they carry laser pointers that are great for pointing to birds. The guides work as teams; each guide has only 2-5 people with them, but if they find something of special interest they use smart phones to text each other in order to share sightings. Most excursions are half-day programs. There are also early morning (dawn) and early evening (sunset + 2 hours) walks.
Guides are very well trained, certified and licensed. Schooling appears to be 2-3 years of work at a community college level or higher. They are expert bird spotters, and explain plants, tree types, canopy fungi, soils…lots of facts about how the ecosystems work. They are deeply enthusiastic in explaining things to people of all types from many countries. They are cross-trained so one day they are walking guides while the next day they are raft drivers. Most are employed by tour operators, although some are independent.
Transportation Problems Similar to the Adirondacks
The primary tourist towns are a few hours apart, and 2-3 hours from the larger airport (there are some smaller airstrips). The tour companies use small comfortable vans for airport pickups and to take people from town to town. The drivers who run these transfers make the trips interesting, stopping at good view spots or to see a random animal. In effect, the transport becomes another excursion. They talk happily with passengers about anything using either English or Spanish. Many visitors rent cars as well.
Regionally, they leverage the variability of the country….the fact that it is really different in each region is made to be of interest and a reason to travel around.
Other Tourist Activity
It’s not all about birding and species identification. There are lots of visitor-related recreation and entertainment attractions: zip lines, rappelling, balloon rides, horses, boat trips, rafting, coffee farm tours, mangrove swamp tours, chocolate plantation tours, artist coop visits, butterfly gardens, orchid farms, beach towns, etc. The main focus is wildlife and understanding the complex and varied ecosystems of this diverse country.
Hunting is illegal in all of Costa Rica. Animals with behavior issues (e.g. crocodiles) are captured and released where they are not dangerous to people
Recycling is ubiquitous in the country and they are always looking for markets for recycled materials. They explained that now they make all decks and walkways in the parks out of recycled plastic rather than wood. In the tropical climate the wood rots in as little as 5 years whereas the plastic will last essentially forever. Hotel gift shops offered a range of things made from recycled materials.
It wasn’t just professional guides and tour operators who seemed to get the idea of conservation and ecotourism. The attitudes about protecting the environment and being proud of the environmental achievements seemed universal. We heard that the private reserves are better protected than the National Parks, where budget limitations make enforcement personnel scarce. Mostly this creates problems with timber poachers coming in from bordering Nicaragua, not with local people, we were told.
There are still conflicts here between the needs of development and the goals of environmental protection. A recent project to widen and modernize a key highway going to the southeast of the country met with some resistance because long stretches of it ran through a major preserve.
Thoughts on Ecotourism in the Adirondacks
Older ADK ‘attractions’ like Ausable Chasm, High Falls Gorge, Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, could be marketed as ecotourism. There are already farms tours and farm stays. Many hotels and restaurants are tied to sustainable operations and local food. The Wild Center is an obvious center piece. We would benefit from more study the special natural ecosystems that support birds and wildlife – they are a tourist attraction. Some way of using tourism (fees) to generate a funding stream for environmental research and protection (e.g., programs against invasives) could be made attractive to tourists here as it is in Costa Rica. Eco-tourists feel good when they know that they are contributing to protecting the wild environment. Spending a few dollars as a contribution to the good work going on there feels like a good thing, not a burden.
How the 2012 REDC Projects Line Up to ADK Futures Implementation Plans
The Regional Economic Development Grants for 2012 were announced just before Christmas and they support numerous efforts well aligned to the ADK Futures implementation work. The ADK Park is part of 3 REDC regions. A summary of ADK grants in all 3 follows and at the end there is link to the 2012 grant details.
Almost $2.1 million in grants to bring broadband to Long Lake and the rest of Hamilton County were awarded. In addition, $2.2 million was awarded to interconnect public emergency and 911 centers across the region. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel on the broadband problem. A $500,000 loan fund will also support last mile connections.
The Wild Center in Tupper Lake won $1 million to develop an elevated boardwalk in the tree canopy at the site. Tupper Lake will also see $36,000 to redevelop and old hotel and restaurant. The ADK Museum exhibition upgrades were granted $50,000.
The ADK Mountain Club will see $221,000 of improvements at its Heart Lake facilities. Restorations at Great Camp Sagamore, $239,000. Warren County, in a Hudson River regional coordinated effort, will see $308,000 for a new park, a restored bandshell. and design of a new Corinth train station.
Improvements to the Indian Lake Theater got $63,000 and digital conversion of the Old Forge theater, $25,000. The new touring ADK Lakes Summer Theater Festival received $150,000. Traditional Arts in Upstate NY and ANCA received $190,000 to support collection management, artisans and retailers.
AATV received $108,000 to develop the ADK Recreation Web Portal, showcasing recreation activities and amenities across the whole Park. Lastly, the ADK Economic Development Council will manage a $2 million tourism fund for the region.
Waterfront Improvements (mostly also tourism)
Implementation of waterfront tourism projects in Essex and Clinton Counties, $700,000. Reconstruction of Bulwagga Bay recreation facilities in Port Henry, $250,000. Improvements to 3 waterfront parks in Wilmington, $251,000. Arrowhead Park in Inlet will see redesign and construction, $248,000. Tupper Lake, along with other communities hosting the 90 mile ADK canoe classic will see $445,000 in projects identified in the Raquette River Blueway Plan. Northville will see two parks on the lake front improved, $75,000.
Lake George will see new public docks ($170,000), improvements in the park ($750,000) and a whole Gateway Improvement Project aimed at improved water quality, walk-ability and safety in the Village for $545,000.
Lake Champlain non-point source pollution management planning saw a $200,000 grant. Port Henry water and sewer enhancements, $600,000. Implementation of the Ausable River watershed management plan, $218,000.
In Lake Placid, the removal of the Chubb River Dam and restoration of the river, $1 million, and this is associated with replacing an old sewer trunk line that runs under the lake.
Implementation of an wide ranging Schroon Lake Watershed Management Plan won $300,000.
Lake George will see $390,000 to work on stream corridors addressing storm water runoff and water quality,
An engineering assessment of Corinth waste water upgrades will see $30,000
Also, a $2 million infrastructure fund for water, sewer, roads and ports across the whole region.
Local Food Projects
A much needed, small, USDA slaughterhouse in Ticonderoga got a boost with $465,000. A USDA mobile chicken processing unit was funded last year and is soon to be operational.
A North Country Food Hub will be established in Canton, $350,000.
A community kitchen and cafeteria training site for storage and distribution of local ag products from Warren, Washington and Saratoga producers, $125,000
Local Energy Projects
Old Forge will build a new biomass district heating project with a grant of $1 million. Tupper Lake is awarded $300,000 for design and engineering of a new biomass fueled district heating project including Sunmount, the school and other nearby buildings. The ADK Museum pellet boiler project was granted $130,000.
A natural gas line to the IP Ticonderoga paper mill will replace fuel oil, extending the life of the mill, for $1.75 million.
Father afield, the pellet plant in Malone will see $168,000 to improve energy efficiency. A grant of $470,000 will go to planting willow plantations intended to fuel the soon-to-start-up ReEnergy project at Ft Drum. A super-efficient biomass fueled co-gen plant in Watervliet Arsenal won $1 million grant. 3 separate biomass heat boilers installed in the Albany area, $600,000.
Additional Important Projects
The former J&L mine site Clifton will finally demolish a large building and do an assessment of site redevelopment possibilities, $175,000
In Warrensburg, a new 40,000 sqft primary care center run by Hudson Headwaters received additional grant funding bringing the total to $7.5 million.
The Town of North Elba and the Village of Saranac Lake won a $463,000 grant to develop a comprehensive plan addressing parking and traffic, worker housing, marketing, diversification of economic activity and construction of multi-use recreational fields on top of closed landfills close to their downtowns.
Lake George will begin work on a revitalization strategy for the town, $38,000.
It is important to know that a wide array of projects are in the areas immediately surrounding the ADK Park like Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Potsdam/Canton, Watertown and Utica.
If we grabbed your interest, we encourage your to read the announcement booklet
The ADK Futures Project is well known to a number of the volunteer members of the Council including the co-chairs, Tony Collins@Clarkson and Gary Douglas@the Nth Country Chamber of Commerce, along with Cali Brooks @ANCA, Randy Douglas@Essex County, Bill Farber@Hamilton County, Kate Fish@ANCA, Jim McKenna@ROOST in Lake Placid, and Senator Betty Little so it is a pleasure for us to see so many projects that align so well to the ADK Futures vision and implementation efforts get funded.
Today we went to Queensbury to meet with the Adirondack Health Institute (AHI), which is a joint venture of Hudson Headwaters Health Network (HHHN), CVPH and Adirondack Health (the former Adirondack Medical Center). This is the go-to group for regional health care in our area. Their main claim to fame is the Adirondack Medical Home pilot, which is one of first underway in the nation. It provides incentives to primary care providers to strengthen their role in prevention and care coordination to improve quality and contain costs.
We had many take-aways from our discussions this morning. The direction is toward more regional planning, assessment and implementation of new programs. Our area is ahead in implementing innovative approaches to rural health care delivery. AHI is working to integrate other social and mental health services into the Medical Home approach. But the Medical Home pilot ends in 2014. What happens then? AHI invited us to attend the Adirondack Medical Home Summit in Lake Placid next week and Jim will go.
Some potential good news on the horizon is New York State’s request to the Federal Government for many billions of dollars to invest in health care innovations and make the State a model of health care reform. If even a small piece of that money can come our way, we need to have some really good new ideas to put on the table.
Another piece of good news was HHHN’s planned major expansion of their Warrensburg Health Center, which is the hub of their Adirondack Network. Work is scheduled to begin next spring.
One service that could benefit from a more regional approach is the Home Health Agencies that are currently at the county level. We also discussed the ACTION broadband network being built now across the Park. This network is just becoming operational and reimbursement policies that include payment for remote consultations are just now being ironed out. The co-leaders of the project are SUNY Plattsburgh and the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. It is being built and run by DANC.
We have been engaged in a scenario planning project about the future of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York under the auspices of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). The work has proceeded to the point where there is a vision and strategy for the region and now we are beginning to work through various implementation efforts. With so much going on we are going to use this blog as a way to keep everyone informed and up to date. We’ll be posting regularly on efforts we know of or discussions we are having with people throughout the Park.
Since the 2012 CGA Forum, we have prepared a document which summarizes the vision and strategy implied by the results of the workshop series. We have also been starting to track and coordination the various implementation efforts underway. The blog will report regularly and we will maintain the Implementation Status section of this site as well.