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ELECTION: Hiker parking is top election issue in Keene

November 3, 2017
By PETER CROWLEY - For the News (pcrowley@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

Hiker parking is the hottest topic among Keene Town Council candidates this election.

Councilman Bob Biesemeyer called it "the number-one issue right now," and it was the first thing fellow Councilman Paul Martin and challenger Teresa Cheetam-Palen brought up in interviews this week.

Biesemeyer and Martin are longtime incumbents seeking new four-year terms. Cheetam-Palen sat on the Keene Central School board for 12 years and is now giving the town board a run. Martin is a Republican while Biesemeyer and Cheetam-Palen are Democrats. Each also has his or her own independent party line: Liberty for Biesemeyer, New Voices for Cheetam-Palen and Wisdom for Martin.

Article Photos

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Hiker parking

An increase in hiker traffic on the most popular Adirondack mountains has been well documented. It's especially noticeable along state Route 73 across the town of Keene, where vehicles lining the road have multiplied from the Cascade lakes through the busy Giant-Noonmark trailheads to Chapel Pond.

The town of Keene started taking hiker parking into its own hands almost 20 years ago - a rare effort in the Adirondacks, where the state manages both the backcountry and the major roads. The Garden in Keene Valley is among the most popular trailheads to the High Peaks Wilderness; it's a gateway to many of the 46 Adirondack mountains originally surveyed at over 4,000 feet tall. But the Garden's parking capacity has long been inadequate. Since 1998, Keene has run a shuttle bus between the Garden and a town-run parking area, now beside Marcy Field, and charged hikers a bus fee.

All three candidates said if the state would contribute some money, the town could expand its parking area by Marcy Field, build a hiker building there with restrooms instead of the current porta-johns - "It's a problem when people are doing their business in the wrong place," Cheetam-Palen said - and get a second shuttle bus to serve trailheads beyond just the Garden.

"That's something that strikes me as being very doable," Biesemeyer said.

Cheetam-Palen said working with state agencies can be "tricky." Her sense is that the Department of Environmental Conservation worries that expanding parking would attract more hikers, and that the DEC would rather direct people to lesser-used trails.

"We need to have the right infrastructure" and also "be welcoming to tourists," Cheetam-Palen said.

She said hikers opening doors and crossing Route 73 is a concern. Martin said the safety issue goes beyond hikers.

"Even if there weren't any hikers, we have a parking problem ... in both hamlets," he said.

Both Cheetam-Palen and Biesemeyer accommodate hiker parking on their own property. The trail to Little Crow Mountain begins through Biesemeyer's land, and the Keene end of the Old Mountain Road ski trail is at Rock & River Guide Service, where Cheetam-Palen lives and works with her husband. Both let recreationists use the trails free of charge.

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Bob Biesemeyer

"I'm been involved with this stuff for a while," said this Keene native who has lived in Keene hamlet for all but about 15 of his 70 years. He chaired the zoning commission that drafted Keene's first land-use plan, then chaired the planning board for seven years until 1997, when he ran for town board and won. He's been a councilman ever since, now finishing his fifth term.

He wants to stay on the board to help manage "ongoing issues, which I'm totally tuned into, totally involved in."

First of these are "not-quite-lawsuits" regarding contested property assessments. He wants to help the board "get it resolved without costly litigation."

Next is Water District 2, which serves Keene Valley. It needs a backup water supply in case the well fails, which Biesemeyer said it has come close to doing.

He also wants to "ride herd" on securing a $4.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to further stabilize and restore Gulf Brook in Keene, which was ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Finally, he said, he's concerned that a bridge over Johns Brook in Keene Valley has been rated for just 15 tons, not enough to serve some of the heavy trucks that might serve the 50 home beyond it, plus the Garden trailhead. Biesemeyer said he recently asked Tom Hyde of the Saranac Lake-based Hyde Fuel how much a propane truck weighs; the answer was 17 tons.

Biesemeyer works as a contractor and also owns Mountain House, which hosts events and a Hamilton College environmental studies program.

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Teresa Cheetam-Palen

This 50-year-old moved to the Adirondacks in early 1990s and to Keene in the late '90s. After some time off from the school board, she thought about running again but decided to try to try the town board instead.

"I'm running because I want to be part of the conversation," she said.

She said she respects her opponents' experience, but "We don't have any women on our board." Marcy Neville was the last woman to serve on the council.

"I think that enhances the overall conversation," Cheetam-Palen said of having women on the board.

Other than hiker parking, the other main priority she mentioned is to promote local business - to "maintain what we have and inspire some new growth." While Keene supports more entrepreneurs than many Adirondack towns of 1,000 people, she said each of them faces an uphill climb. She wants the town board "to create a welcoming place for new business."

Affordable housing is a third priority she mentioned. She wants to "breathe some life back into" a project the town took on several years ago.

"It's hard to buy a home in Keene," she said.

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Paul Martin

This 79-year-old Keene Valley resident has been on the town board for the last 36 years. The only election he lost was when he challenged Bob Purdy for supervisor in the 1980s and fell 17 votes short.

"This is the last time I'll ever run," Martin said. Forty years is "a nice round number."

He wasn't born here, but his family has been here 122 years. He moved here when he was 7 and graduated from Keene Central School in 1956. He returned after 16 years of college and work, in which he rose to be a major brokerage firm's vice president in charge of computer systems and programming.

He's also concerned about the East Branch of the AuSable River "and the sad state it is in." While the West Branch "has stayed in pretty good shape" for trout, the East "needs a lot of work to ever become the fishery that it was."

He mostly blames Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which washed tons of rock into the river and its tributaries. Some was cleared, but much remains. He proposes that the town start a fund to which it adds about $10,000 a year for projects such as river restoration. He'd rather the town do this with its own money rather than grants.

Another priority for him is affordable housing for "moderate income" people. He wants to revive a decade-old project in Keene.

"We had a project whereby the land had been purchased by the Adirondack Community Action Program," he said. "We had problems with access, etc., and other things, but those problems have been taken care of. We just have to breathe new life into this project. It kind of got dropped, and we're not sure what happened."

Martin said his long record of accomplishment is a reason to vote for him. For instance, he said, when he was younger as a volunteer firefighter, he noticed that the state did not compensate the town for fighting forest fires and helping search-and-rescue missions in the state Forest Preserve. He proposed a fire tax on both state and private land, and since then, he said, that tax has generated more than $2.3 million for the Keene and Keene Valley fire departments.

"I just love the community," he said. "My love of the community really is what compels me to do some of the things that I do."

 
 

 

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