GUEST COLUMN: State must now put support for Adirondacks, Catskills to good use

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Representing 6.5 million acres of land—nearly a quarter of New York State—the Adirondack and Catskill regions serve as home and recreation lands to over a million residents and over 25 million annual visitors.

They also represent a great force to combat climate change as their forests provide oxygen, sequester carbon, provide clean drinking water, and protect habitat.

Yet, despite their significance, neither park has historically seen the funding necessary to maintain trails, educate hikers, and provide other support services.

In fact, despite a considerable increase in visitors over the last decade, funding has remained stagnant in recent years, preventing Adirondack and Catskill organizations, communities, and agencies from responding to the impacts caused by high use.

We simply cannot enjoy safe and sustainable outdoor recreation without investments to better protect and manage the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

As organizations that work on the front lines of these issues, we joined forces with 24 other organizations and municipalities to speak with legislators about the importance of funding for the Adirondacks and Catskills, collectively known as the Forest Preserve.

The response was incredible.

Earlier this month, New York state legislators showed their support for the Forest Preserve by including an $8 million line in the 2023 budget for “visitor safety and wilderness protection activities to address issues relating to overuse” in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

We are thankful for the work of Adirondack and Catskill senators and Assembly members, as well as Gov. Kathy Hochul, to make this funding possible.

Now that there is an $8 million bucket for the Forest Preserve, it is important that it be directed to the right places.

First, this funding should be distributed evenly between the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, as both see about the same number of visitors—12 million in the Catskills and 13 million in the Adirondacks.

This must be kept in mind when determining what projects and initiatives to fund going forward.

Second, we urge the state to fund four main areas: trail work, visitor education, inclusivity and the implementation of the recommendations made by the Catskill and High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Groups.

The Catskills and Adirondacks—and their visitors—deserve better trails that protect the environment, and local communities need investments to build infrastructure to support increasing numbers of visitors. Furthermore, we need to find new ways to better welcome, educate, and direct visitors within these two parks, with an eye to ensuring that there is access for all, and that all visitors feel welcome.

Whether it’s by building basic amenities, like trailhead toilets, or supporting the work of the new Adirondack and Catskill Park coordinators, these investments will go a long way toward achieving this outcome.

Looking forward, it is also worth noting that a one-time investment is not enough to address the many challenges that the Forest Preserve faces today and into the future.

This $8 million investment by New York state is a meaningful step forward for both parks, but we will continue to advocate for steady funding to ensure that New York’s crown jewel, the Forest Preserve, remains protected for generations to come.

Michael Barrett is executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. Jeff Senterman is executive director of The Catskill Center.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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