A new era for two environmental groups that focus on the conservation and management of the Adirondack Park began Saturday, with the membership of both the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks voting to consolidate and become “Protect the Adirondacks!”
At the joint annual meeting, the vote of the association membership was 111 for and 2 against, while the membership of the RCPA was 83 for and none against, according to Protect the Adirondacks! Executive Director David Gibson.
“We’re going to build on the strength we have and integrate our programs,” Gibson said.
The merger between the groups has been in the works for more than six months after it was decided that they could operate more efficiently together. An effort to expand the donor base was also a part of Saturday’s discussion, to address funding difficulties made worse by the recession.
Having a combined board will help with fundraising and communicating the mission of the organization, Gibson said.
“A part of our mission is to reach more people to serve and to raise the resources we need,” Gibson said. “One of the advantages of having a larger board is each of them is a member of the community that lives in the Adirondacks and outside the park.”
The details of the consolidation include a combined board of about 40 members, a combined membership of 5,000 members, a revised mission statement and a new logo to be revealed Monday.
Protect the Adirondacks! will retain its administrative office and educational center in Niskayuna, which is home to the Adirondack Research Library and Center for the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Park office in Saranac Lake and primary programs from both organizations will remain intact as well, Gibson said. A new membership coordinator hired by the RCPA will also be retained.
The Web site for the group will be www.protectadks.org.
Gibson said the organization will spearhead efforts to use lake monitoring data in educational and policy legislation regarding the Adirondack Park through the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP).
“The monitors from the area’s lake associations that submit data in the summer and fall to be analyzed — that data is a great source of information about the health of the Adirondacks,” Gibson said, regarding the area’s more than 3,000 lakes.
“Their water quality is critical to the economy of the North Country. We will use that data to gain additional protection for the water of the park.”
Since half of the Adirondack Park is private land, reaching out to more landowners will also serve as a key aspect of the organization’s efforts to further invigorate land stewardship, Gibson said, as a part of work to showcase the park as an international model for conservation of protected wildlands adjacent to human communities.
The territory of the Adirondack Park makes up one-fifth of New York state, about 6 million acres — bigger than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks combined.
“It’s as large as the state of Vermont,” said Dan Plumlee, who became director of conservation programs, a switch from his title of director of park protection in his previous role with the APA.
“We see the future of the park is the involvement of young people,” Plumlee said.
Through the organization’s Adirondack Park Stewardship Training program, there will be more efforts to reach out to universities and communities to give young people direct experience in conservation and cultivate leaders.
Michael Washburn, who was the executive director of the RCPA, has left the area to take a position in Washington with the Wilderness Society, a national organization founded by longtime Adirondack conservationist Robert Marshall.
Johanna Sorrell, who was a conservation director with RCPA, also moved out of the area.
Gibson said Protect the Adirondacks! must receive state approval before the consolidation becomes official. The paperwork has already been submitted to the attorney general’s office.
The consolidation marks the joining of one of the earliest conservation groups — the association was founded in 1901 — with one of the more modern groups — the residents’ committee was founded in 1990.
Gibson said the ownership of the two parent organizations will be retained so the names can’t be used again. He also said it was important to continue communicating the legacies and history that both organizations represent.
John F. Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, said as an organization with a compatible mission to its own, Protect the Adirondacks! will continue to serve as a partner in the environmental conservation effort.
“We look upon them as an organization that we can turn to when we need assistance with something, and they can turn to us when they are struggling with something. We are very often standing together and expressing the same point of view,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said he sympathizes with the budget woes both organizations faced, even though the Adirondack Council has been able to flourish by taking more a national approach to its membership base.
The Adirondack Council was established in 1975.
Overall, a combined organization will result in a strong, dedicated group, Sheehan said.
“We have members in all 50 states of the United States — it helps us to have that broad base to call upon,” Sheehan said. “We don’t compete with each other for fundraising. I think that we look forward to continuing to work with these guys.”