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Adirondack Council ‘VISION’ sets long-term goals for park

The Adirondack Council has published a vision for the next three decades in the Adirondack Park.

In its more than 70 pages, “VISION 2050” imagines a park where natural communities and human communities coexist under unified park management.

The book, released Nov. 16, is split into three sections that address the park’s ecological systems, human communities and park management. Each section details “paths” the council believes must be followed to achieve a sustainable park by 2050. Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway says that right now, the park is threatened, but protection is still possible.

“The Adirondack Park is a national treasure and while its clean water, wilderness and small communities are threatened, they are interrelated,” he said, “and if we take action now and invest in world class management of this unique park, we can preserve clean water and wilderness, foster more vibrant diverse communities, pass this treasure to future generations, and show the world how nature and people can thrive together.”

Janeway and VISION Project Director Julia Goren said that the VISION project isn’t just for the Adirondack Council’s benefit; Janeway said that action from stakeholders and the state is a necessary counterpart to the publication.

“Four recommendations or avenues foundational to many future successes that could be acted on by the Hochul administration and the state Legislature now, with support from federal funding in 2022, are investments in 1) robust science, research and monitoring, 2) good paying jobs and infrastructure for communities, 3) a reimagined, fully staffed and funded Adirondack Park Agency, and 4) an improved focus on watershed management,” Janeway said.

Process

The Adirondack Council hired Goren as the VISION project director, and she worked for nearly three years to research, author and edit the book before rejoining the Adirondack Mountain Club as deputy executive director on Sept. 1.

Goren said that it was “odd” how little time she had to transition between the two jobs – she didn’t get a day off, and she continued to help out with the VISION project after leaving the council – but when she finally held the printed “VISION 2050” in her hand on Nov. 19, she said she took some time to celebrate.

“It’s amazing to see your words in print, on the page,” she said.

The book is the product of the years of work she did alongside other writers, researchers, scientists, community members, local and state government officials and others invested in the park’s future.

The first vision project from the council, “2020 Vision,” was a four-volume anthology released in segments, beginning in 1988 and wrapping up in 2007.

While Goren said “2020 Vision” was “frankly, visionary,” the focus of the publication — primarily land acquisition in the park — didn’t address many of the issues now facing the Adirondacks. Threats of climate change, invasive species and consideration of human communities aren’t present in “2020 Vision” because those issues weren’t on the council’s radar then, but “VISION 2050” presents the topics with a sense of urgency – and they’re part of the impetus for the project’s nearly 30-year scope.

“Natural and human systems are at risk from climate change, economic forces, and inadequate, under-funded management,” the new report reads. “Short-term thinking that is too focused on immediate issues can lose sight of larger preservation goals. Lasting protection will require a long-range vision that guides all management decisions year after year.”

To start creating the long-term vision, Goren said she worked with experts from a variety of fields – people involved in park management, scientists involved with ecological communities and climate change, community experts and government officials – and asked questions about the important issues in the park to form a focus for the book.

Goren then worked with VISION project consultant Tom Woodman, and a steering committee from the council, to perform interviews with experts, become familiar with reports and studies that are foundational to understanding state of the park, and hold “charettes,” or meetings with stakeholders involved with the project, to identify the direction and “paths” found in the book’s three sections.

Natural systems

The first section of the book focuses on preserving the ecological integrity and character of the park. Goren said that the park needs science-based management that regularly monitors park conditions and takes action based on that data. Ideally, she said that water quality, air quality, and wildlife would be monitored annually and reported back to the public – much like the monitoring systems in place in national parks across the nation.

“We are this incredible national treasure in the Adirondack park, and … if this were a park in the national park system, there would be teams of scientists whose jobs it would be to monitor those systems,” she said.

She said that’s a model that could be replicated in the Adirondacks, but it would have to be expanded to include human systems.

Human communities

The second section of “VISION 2050” focuses on regenerating human communities in the park.

“The Adirondack Park is not successful if the human communities do not succeed,” Goren said.

She said that the heart of that success would include stable and growing populations, school enrollment that is increasing and stabilizing, and a variety of different jobs that pay well so people can see a future for themselves here.

She said that each community in the park understands what it needs the most – whether that’s a grocery store, affordable housing, planning for visitors or all of the above – and there should be resources to support those needs within the park.

Living here is unlike living anywhere else in the rural U.S., she said. Park residents have the unique dynamic of living alongside natural systems that bring in visitors, and she said that good management and state resources are needed to maintain that dynamic sustainably.

Park management

Goren said that the park needs a return to “cutting-edge” management, which is the focus of the vision’s third chapter.

She said that when the Adirondack Park Agency was created in 1971, many of the regional planning efforts looked to the park as a singular entity. Now, she said those efforts often look past the Adirondacks, and when it comes to how the park is currently managed, Goren described a piecemeal effect.

Communities in the Blue Line are often split up in the eyes of the state, she said, and it’s hard to recognize the park as a branded place when adjoining communities are perceived as separate. Goren said “VISION 2050” asks for a unification in conceptualizing the park and its systems. She said it shouldn’t be so hard for the Adirondack Park Agency, the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to sit down at a table to discuss issues like road salt pollution in the park – but right now, it is. The new vision doesn’t want to see one park entity have all the power, but rather have all agencies work together on policy for the whole park.

Goren said that this unification process would make it easier to bolster educational efforts for visitors coming to the park, giving them an opportunity to find outdoor activities throughout the entire park instead of being funneled to Mount Marcy. More visitors across the entire park, in addition to more scientific monitoring of resources, would create a need for more jobs, she said.

Goren said that she hopes people read the new vision, but more importantly, she hopes people and organizations engage with it. She said she and her co-authors wrote “VISION 2050” with some flexibility so that organizations with greater expertise could step in and figure out ways to carry out the vision’s goals.

People can access “VISION 2050” by visiting the council’s website, www.adirondackcouncil.org.