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Adirondack Explorer

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Investing in a shared future

By Tracy Ormsbee

In early April, twelve more businesses in the vicinity of the former Finch, Pruyn lands received a total of $500,000 in Upper Hudson Recreation Hub Microenterprise grants backed by the Nature Conservancy.

The money pays for businesses to capitalize on recreational opportunities, such as hiking, rafting, canoeing, and fishing, on the newly protected lands, including the Essex Chain Lakes, Boreas Ponds, stretches of the upper Hudson River, and the two MacIntyre Tracts near Tahawus. The state acquired the Finch, Pruyn lands—sixty-five thousand acres, in all—from the conservancy over the past several years.

There is a long history in the Adirondacks of a push and pull between environmental groups focused on protecting wilderness and local residents and businesses trying to eke out a living in the Park.

In his book Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks, Philip Terrie writes: “Profoundly different visions of what the Adirondack Park should be have led to rancorous debates in the New York legislature, a sense of beleaguered isolation among many year-round residents, and even violence. Development, property-rights, and business interests have lined up against environmentalists—in the courts, in the legislature, and in the arena of public opinion—to determine the future of the Adirondacks.”

That’s one reason the innovative Upper Hudson Recreation Hub Microenterprise grant program is so welcome: it links the future of the largest addition of lands to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in a century to that of the people who run businesses providing ecotourism in the region.

Give and take instead of push and pull.

At the time of the April announcement, Connie Prickett, director of communications and community engagement for the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack chapter, said the grants help “strengthen connections between protected lands and the people who live, work, and visit here.”

Dylan Walrath, who administers the grants for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, called the grants “totally unique from my experiences doing grants and contracts for the last ten years for DEC.” It is an example of “community conservation” in that it helps the communities benefit from the state-land acquisition.

Jim McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in Lake Placid, said he hasn’t before seen a program in which a conservation group stepped forward to fund economic growth.

“The Nature Conservancy getting behind it was a real differentiator for making the program move forward,” McKenna said.

The grants are limited to the counties and towns bordering the Finch, Pruyn lands: Essex and Hamilton counties and the towns of Minerva, Newcomb, North Hudson, Indian Lake, and Long Lake and “proximate areas.”

The Nature Conservancy contributed the $1.25 million that paid for two rounds of grants. In 2015, $400,000 was given to municipalities for various projects and $100,000 was given to seven businesses through the microenterprise grants. April 6, another round gave $250,000 to municipal projects and $500,000 in microenterprise grants to businesses.

Nate Pelton received $12,500 for North Creek Rafting Company in North Creek in the first round to buy ten inflatable two-person kayaks to take trips from Newcomb to the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers, a new access point that was part of the purchase. The boats give him the capacity to take twenty people at a time.

Lori Phoebe Benton and Linc Marsac, owners of Square Eddy Expeditions in North Creek, used the $18,300 they received in 2015 to buy a Cataraft that transports paddle rafts and equipment and to pay guides while they built their company. Benton said they purchased their property bordering the Finch, Pruyn lands before they knew it would be part of the Forest Preserve (“It feels to us like someone gave us a million bucks,” she said.). Now they lead customers on a three-mile hike to OK Slip Falls and then to the Hudson, from where they raft down the river.

“We want to be stewards to the land and the Adirondacks,” she said. “This is just our opportunity to have this different trip.”

And in the latest round, Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb, which offers guide services and lodging, received $60,000 to buy two Rhoades Car Bikes (like golf carts with pedals) to transport families, the elderly, and people with disabilities to the Essex Chain. Owners Ruth and David Olbert said they will also put up a wall tent—and eventually a yurt—on their property that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will also make general upgrades to their current housing and add some storage. They plan to, as they can, spend the money in other local businesses.

In many cases, what the grants do for local business, Ruth Olbert said, is allow them to invest in their operations while freeing up other money to make essential infrastructure improvements, such as upgrading a septic system.

As we look to protect land in the Adirondacks, we say we want communities to benefit. Backing that up with grant money adds a solid commitment to those words.

The Nature Conservancy’s Prickett said the program is a long-term investment in protected lands. It adds an economic value to their protection. And it helps inspire good stewardship of the lands in the long run.

That’s something we can all get behind.

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