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State's land purchases need vision

August 9, 2012
The Leader Herald

New York's acquisition of 69,000 acres of Adirondack land, adding to the massive "forever wild" park, has rekindled the debate over the state's efforts to buy parkland.

The land includes the 3,800-acre Benson Road Tract in Mayfield and the Thousand Acre Swamp Tract in Edinburg, which reportedly will be used for snowmobile connector trails. The state will pay $49.8 million to the Nature Conservancy over five years for the 69,000 acres, which once belonged to the Finch Pruyn paper company.

The crux of the debate is whether the state should have bought the land and how wisely it will use it as the land is added to the almost 3 million acres the state already owns in the Adirondacks.

The state and the Conservancy tout the recreational and economic boon the new acreage will provide, an area comprising 180 miles of rivers and streams, 175 lakes and ponds, and six mountains taller than 2,000 feet.

Michael Carr, executive director of the Nature Conservancy, calls this purchase "historic" because the scale of recreational opportunities it opens up. "Those two [local] tracts are interesting in an unusual way because they are closer to populations and will help those communities to bring in people for tourism and recreation," he said.

Brian Towers, president of the Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages, sees it differently. He wonders, first of all, if a cash-strapped state should buy more land when it is making cutbacks elsewhere. "They're crying that they're broke," he said. He doubts that opening up another 69,000 acres is going to draw that many more people and spur economic development when the state already owns so much wilderness land.

Towers contends some of that property could have been used to aid the state's already declining timber industry and allow development supportive of tourism.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in the announcement of the purchase that it will "increase the number of visitors to the North Country and generate additional tourism revenues."

The state's land purchase is a done deal, but the state likely will consider more Adirondack land purchases. We support the state's approach, in general, but officials should have a clear vision of how much Adirondack land should be preserved and what the state should spend on the efforts. The state should set reasonable limits and maintain a careful balance between expanding "forever wild" land and supporting economic development and the rights of private landowners.



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