Exit 29 in North Hudson has long been among the loneliest and least-used Northway exits, a situation worsened when Frontier Town, a western-themed park, closed in 1998.
That could change, though, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal last week to turn the former roadside tourist attraction into a $32 million "Gateway to the Adirondacks" visitors center, designed to accommodate hundreds of people. It would have exhibits, entertainment and amenities intended to encourage visits to the new state forestland just to the west, including the Boreas Ponds tract acquired last year.
The concept of a destination visitors' center just off the only interstate artery into the Adirondack Park has the support of local officials and some environmental groups, including the Adirondack Council.
"The investment would help the surrounding communities realize an economic benefit from the state's purchase of new Forest Preserve in the High Peaks region, including the Boreas Ponds tract," said William C. Janeway, executive director of the council. "It would make North Hudson and Newcomb more sustainable communities."
According to one of the State of the State proposals Cuomo released last week, the gateway would include a Department of Environmental Conservation campground and day-use area along the Schroon River; an equestrian camping and trail facility; a visitor information center; an event center; interpretive exhibits and food, lodging and other amenities. The proposal is based on the findings of a feasibility study done last year by The Chazen Companies, with funding from the Open Space Institute, a private land conservation organization.
In all, Cuomo's proposal would cost $32 million, with contributions coming from the state, local government and private partners. As an initial step, DEC would acquire a conservation easement on 300 acres, using the Environmental Protection Fund. The state contribution, estimated at $23 million, would need approval from the state Legislature.
Paradox Brewery of Schroon Lake is expected to invest $2.8 million to expand at the site with a brew house and restaurant, an investment Cuomo's office said would receive $200,000 in incentives from Empire State Development.
Cuomo's State of the State summary book said the goal is to promote and increase the economic vitality of North Hudson, which has only a few hundred year-round residents. "The gateway site will welcome, orient and connect visitors to trail networks, recreational destinations and businesses in the Adirondack Park," it states.
The gateway center would be built at the site of what was one of the Adirondack Park's original theme parks, built in 1952 and geared toward families' interest in the Wild West. Though it closed in 1998 after years of declining business, Frontier Town's A-frame entrance building remains intact and is visible from the Northway. Some of the land is still privately owned, though part is owned by Essex County due to unpaid back taxes.
Following the Blue Ridge Road, Exit 29 is just a few miles east of the entrance to the Boreas Ponds tract, which the state acquired last year as the final phase of its acquisition of some 61,000 acres of remote and wild lands that once belonged to the Finch Pruyn paper company of Glens Falls. DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency are determining how much of the 21,000-acre acquisition should be declared permanent wilderness, a topic that has generated significant public debate, with environmental groups calling for wilderness and local governments seeking a less-restrictive classification that would allow more motor vehicle access.
The exit is also an alternative for reaching another of the recent state land acquisitions, the Essex Chain of Lakes lands between Newcomb and Indian Lake.
Cuomo has said one of his overall goals is to increase the economic vitality of rural Adirondack communities like the five towns -- North Hudson, Minerva, Newcomb, Long Lake and Indian Lake -- that surround the Boreas Ponds and Essex Chain properties.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.