Foss: Adirondacks need more staff, resources

The summit of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The summit of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks.

I love the Adirondacks. 

So do lots of other people.

In fact, there’s so much love for the Adirondacks that it’s creating problems, with overuse emerging as a top threat to one of New York’s most beautiful natural attractions. 

The state has made a point of promoting the Adirondacks as a tourist destination, and those efforts have clearly paid off. 

But they’ve also come with a downside, especially in the popular High Peaks region, where a surge in visitors has also led to a host of problems, such as increased trail erosion, the trampling of rare vegetation and dangerous parking along rural highways. 

These concerns aren’t new, but that doesn’t make them any less important, or worthy of attention. 

Environmental advocacy groups have been calling on the state to do more to safeguard the Adirondack Park’s 6.1 million acres for years. 

They’ve stressed that the Cuomo’s administration’s big investments in tourism must be matched with investments in wilderness protection and public education – a position that makes a great deal of sense, but has mostly fallen on deaf ears. 

Indeed, the proposed state budget for 2021-2022 sets aside a measly $800,000 to deal with overuse in the Adirondacks, while dumping $92.5 million into the Lake Placid venues that will be used for the 2023 World University games.

And it doesn’t include any money to hire new forest rangers to help address overuse and overcrowding, which is a shame, as this is clearly an area of great need. 

Rangers have complained that the huge uptick in visitors to the Adirondacks has led to record numbers of search and rescue operations, making it harder to focus on trail maintenance and hiker education, two other areas of great need.  

In a report released at the end of January, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli questions whether the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency tasked with protecting and maintaining the Adirondacks, has enough funding to fulfill its mission. 

He notes that the DEC’s responsibilities have expanded significantly over the past decade, even as spending to support the agency’s operations have declined by 10 percent. 

Staffing, the report observes, has remained flat during this time, with the number of full-time positions at the agency increasing by just 14, to 3,017. 

The report doesn’t specifically address underinvestment in the Adirondacks, but it still struck a chord with groups invested in the region’s long-term health. 

“We are pleased to see Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has confirmed in dollars and cents what seemed to be common sense: that the Department of Environmental Conservation is doing much more than it did decades ago, but the funding to carry out its mission hasn’t kept pace,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in a statement. 

He added, “In the Adirondack Park, the DEC needs additional planners, engineers, trail builders, land managers, lake/boat-launch stewards, summit stewards, forest rangers and conservation officers, to name just a few.” 

Whether the Comptroller’s report inspires the Cuomo administration to make a greater investment in a critical state agency remains to be seen. 

But the state can’t keep giving the DEC more responsibilities without also giving it more resources. 

It simply isn’t sustainable.

 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Sara Foss

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