“If you build it, they will come,” came the words from the cornfield in the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams.”
What the voice didn’t add was that if you promote it, you’d better be prepared to pay for it.
While Mother Nature did the hard work, the state of New York created the Adirondack Park and built it into a major state tourist destination.
Promoted heavily in TV ads around the state and the country as a destination for skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, camping, hunting and other outdoor recreational activities, the 6-million-acre park is bringing in the people. Lots of them.
Since 2001, the number of annual visitors has increased by 2.4 million people 12 million. Those 12 million people bring tens of millions more dollars into state coffers through taxes on lodging, fuel, food and equipment, while also supporting hundreds of businesses that also contribute to the state budget through their taxes.
The state got what it wanted. It build the park as a destination, and they are coming.
Now it’s got to pay for it.
While the state has made investments over the years to secure land for public recreation (The Forest Preserve is now about 2.6 million acres, nearly half the size of the park), state officials need to make sure investments in park maintenance and security keep up with the crowds they drew there.
For starters, that means making sure there are enough park rangers available to assist, guide, police and, in many cases, rescue the people who come here.
Right now. There are not.
And for at least the past 30 years, the number of rangers in the park has remained stagnant. That’s despite the fact that the number of visitors has increased, the number of land that rangers must patrol has increased, and the number of search-and-rescue missions requiring the efforts of forest rangers has nearly tripled, to an average of almost one rescue per day.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t budget for any new rangers as part of his state budget presentation last month. He included only five operational employees to work at the new Frontier Town Visitors Center off Northway Exit 29.
Exactly how many rangers are needed to supplement the 106 statewide field rangers and 50 permanent rangers inside the park can be debated. But it’s clear that some kind of increase is needed.
Rangers are not only involved in rescue operations, but also in traffic control, trail management and guiding visitors through the vast array of trails. The High Peaks area is particularly popular, especially on weekends, and requires a lot of people to keep it safe and secure.
Beyond staffing, the state also needs to invest in environmental protection, to keep the park from being overrun by pollution and overuse, and to ensure it remains attractive to the visitors who come here.
That means continuing to invest in efforts to keep invasive species like zebra mussels and milfoil from overwhelming the park’s waterways. It means continuing efforts to study and fight the effects of acid rain. It means investing in maintenance, expansion and upgrades of hiking trails, snowmobile trails and campgrounds.
The Adirondack Council, a nonprofit environmental protection organization in the park, has called for the state to support a $10 billion Green Future Fund, with money set aside for parks and public lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills; money to redesign and rebuild 130 miles of poor rails in the High Peaks; at least $33.7 million (included in the governor’s budget) for land stewardship in the Environmental Protection Fund to support trail crews and stewards; and a $15.25 million increase in NY Works funding to rehabilitate campgrounds, upgrade recreational facilities and dams, restore wetlands and repair land damaged by overuse.
The council also is urging the Legislature to include money for a study of lakes and ponds to assess the impact of acid rain, more money to support local clean-water projects, an additional $2.7 million in funding to combat invasive species, and other investments in the park.
Those are just some ways the state should protect its investment in the Adirondack Park.
This all sounds like a lot of money, particularly with the state having so many other needs.
But New York has invested a lot of money and effort into attracting visitors to the Adirondack Park to boost economic development. It built it, and they came.
If the state wants to keep them coming, it needs to ensure the Adirondack Park remains a place that people will want to continue to visit.