Saturday, November 15, 2008

We strongly support designating some of Saratoga Spa State Park as "forever wild"

Publication:Schenectady Daily Gazette; Date:Nov 15, 2008; Section:Saratoga; Page:47


Parks’ status to be studied

‘Forever wild’ rule at issue


The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will study whether eight state parks near but outside the Adirondack Park — including part of Saratoga Spa State Park — should be treated as having constitutionally protected “forest preserve” status.

The parks will be studied in the next year as part of a settlement between the state and three Adirondack environmental groups, the groups announced Friday.

They had raised alarms about the Saratoga County Water Authority building a water line in Moreau Lake State Park, charging the work violated Article 14 of the state constitution.

That amendment declares state forest lands in 12 Adirondack counties “forever wild.” The Association for Protection of the Adirondacks, Adirondack Mountain Club and Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks contended the “forever wild” rule applied at Moreau Lake, even though it is outside the Adirondack Park. The state disagreed.

Under the settlement, the state will look at whether state parks in the designated counties, but outside the Adirondack Park, contain lands that should have forest preserve protection.

Article 14 applies to state lands in Hamilton, Essex, Clinton, Franklin, Fulton, Herkimer, St. Lawrence, Warren, Lewis, Oneida, Saratoga and Washington counties.

State parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said the study doesn’t guarantee the parks will be treated as forest preserve.

“We have in essence agreed to disagree,” she said. “We have agreed to do a study and consider whether they should be treated as though they were forest preserve.”

The Adirondack groups said the agreement is a victory.

“It puts down in writing that [state parks] is a major player in state land, and that some of them have great wild character, and that they are willing to study them to determine if they should be in the forest preserve,” said David H. Gibson, executive director of the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks in Niskayuna.

The eight state parks to be studied are Crab Island, Cumberland Bay, Higley Flow, Macomb Reservation, Pixley Falls, Point Au Roche, Saratoga Spa and Whetstone Gulf.

“A lot of those are state lands that are undeveloped now, and likely will remain that way,” Larrabee said.

She said that study won’t apply to the already-developed sections of Saratoga Spa State Park, where the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Hall of Springs, golf course and other facilities are.

Gibson said the undeveloped parts of Saratoga Spa State Park to the south, between the main access road and the Kayaderosseras Creek, may qualify for treatment as forest preserve, or at least some form of further protection based on their wild character.

“Having the parks agency recognize that they indeed own and have responsibilities over forest preserve land is a victory for all of us,” said Michael Washburn, executive director of the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.

In October, the county Water Authority approved making a $10,000 payment to the groups in return for their not filing a lawsuit. However, the three groups only recently signed final papers with the state parks agency, agreeing not to sue the state in return for the study and other measures.

Moreau Lake itself is not covered by the settlement. Larrabee said the state remains of the opinion the sprawling 4,100-acre park isn’t classified as forest preserve.

But the settlement calls for the state taking a number of actions at Moreau Lake.

Among those provisions are enhanced landscaping around the water authority’s water intake on the Hudson River, the state spending $300,000 on stewardship and education projects at the park, and that the state acquire three new acres — preferably at Moreau — for each acre that was disrupted by the water authority project.

The environmental groups said they’re confident the settlement means projects like the water line won’t happen in the other parks in the future, so a lawsuit wasn’t needed.

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