July 21, 2013

Editorial: Cooperating for good of the park


---- — We are encouraged by signs that some people representing environmental interests and others promoting business development are finding ways to understand and work with each other for the good of the Adirondack Park.

That has been far from the case for most of the decades since the Adirondack Park Agency was created in 1971 by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to oversee the 6 million acres of land within the Blue Line.

The Adirondack Park was actually established in 1892 and was operating without any special agency oversight until the Northway was completed in 1967. Once that thoroughfare was whisking people between Albany and the Canadian border, the pressure was on to develop housing and businesses along the way.

People became concerned that the beautiful, wild nature of the Adirondack Park could be lost forever. That’s when the APA was devised to make long-range plans and establish and enforce rules.

Ever since then, unease — often downright hostility — has existed between park residents who see the agency as a hindrance to earning a livelihood and others around the state who fear the encroachment of humans in a magnificent natural setting.

Don’t think for a minute that people within the park don’t care about environmental concerns. That is a misconception that has festered for too long. Those who live every day in these glorious environs, who swim, hike, fish and hunt here, have more reason than anyone to cherish it — and most of them are fiercely protective.

But there developed a kind of “Us vs. Them” attitude, encouraged by APA boards populated by people who didn’t live in the park and environmental groups that took strident exception to any hint of development. As one business proposal after another — and accompanying jobs — collapsed over the years, resentment and anger grew.

But, for the past couple of decades, the direction at the APA has changed, with the agency finding ways to be more accommodating of development while also protecting the environment.

And the Adirondack Council, an environmental group that has often been at odds with local residents and officials, has a new executive director, William Janeway, who seems to recognize the balance needed.

For example, other groups — including, predictably, Protect the Adirondacks — lashed out against a recent land swap that sacrifices 200 acres of Forest Preserve, to allow expansion of a nearby NYCO wollastonite mine, in exchange for 1,500 acres of land elsewhere.

However, after assessing the gains for all involved, Janeway lauded the exchange, noting the bigger tract offers “better wildlife habitat and greater recreational opportunities.”

We applaud his reasoned approach.

Last week, the Common Ground Alliance marked its seventh year with an annual gathering. A project of Adirondack North Country Association, the alliance aims to help people from opposing views find agreement to encourage investment and jobs in the region while still recognizing and caring for its natural and cultural assets.

That kind of cooperative spirit will promote the all-around health of the Adirondack Park better than the divisiveness that marked relations for decades.