Club balks at state’s easement requirements
By Gwendolyn Craig
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include ADK’s letter to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
There’s a sign on the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Cascade Welcome Center in North Elba that says the state’s Environmental Protection Fund helped the club acquire the cross-country ski area.
Except it hasn’t—at least not yet, and maybe never.
After more than a year of back-and-forth with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, ADK is no longer sure it will accept a $500,000 grant after its terms grew to more than the club had bargained for when it applied.
Ben Brosseau, director of communications at ADK, said the state is requiring a conservation easement that would include the welcome center building off Route 73. Should ADK wish to make any modifications to the building, it would have to go through the state Parks Office. The state’s authority would supersede the club’s board, Brosseau said.
Prepping for the grant has already cost the club more than $110,000 through appraisals, land surveys and remortgaging the property while awaiting grant funding.
Michael Barrett, executive director of the ADK, said the process over the last year-and-a-half has significantly reduced “the financial benefit to the organization.”
“The easement has gone beyond what was advertised,” Brosseau said. “We would like to make this work, but if they are not willing to work with us … we can’t put ourselves in this situation where basically Parks owns the building.”
Barrett wrote that the building must be removed “from the easement except for public access and reasonable prohibitions that are tied to environmental protection as was originally conveyed to us.”
The Office of Parks said ADK had until Aug. 1 to accept the terms. If it does not, the award will be returned to the Environmental Protection Fund. The office did not respond to the Explorer’s follow-up questions about whether it is typical for a building to be part of a conservation easement under this program, how long such grants take to be dispersed and if it was usual for the state to post a funding sign prior to reimbursement.
The state announced the award in December 2021 through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. At the time, ADK was looking to purchase the 200-acre property for about $2.5 million. Nearly a month later, ADK was officially notified that it had received the grant.
ADK closed on the ski center in January 2022. It has become a winter recreation hub and four-season welcome center. Brosseau said 10,000 visitors stopped by last winter. This summer is proving busy, too, he said.
Barrett shared with the Explorer a six-page timeline showing snippets of the email discussions and requests for meetings with state staff over the grant. In May 2022, the Office of Parks Grants Bureau suggested it would like to keep the welcome center in the boundary of the conservation easement, the timeline shows. ADK thought the state office was concerned about protecting public access to the building, Barrett wrote.
“Because ADK had no objection to public access—indeed, ADK has public access easements on its other park-related property for decades, there remained no specific information upon which to issue specific objections,” Barrett wrote.
In October 2022, the state office sent a template conservation easement that included the building. It limited what ADK could do at the welcome center. It even precluded the organization’s board from meeting there. The office continued to send grant information and ordered ADK to pay for an Environmental Protection Fund/Parks-funded grant sign to be “affixed to the building despite no funding being provided,” Barrett wrote.
On March 29, the state office sent the conservation easement that included further prohibitions on ADK for the building. On April 5, ADK returned the easement to the Office of Parks with objections.
After the Adirondack Explorer contacted ADK and the Office of Parks about the status of the grant in July, Barrett said, the Office of Parks gave ADK a deadline of Aug. 1 “to express a desire to continue with the grant.” The office had not responded to ADK’s edits, the timeline shows.
Adirondack policy, in plain speak.
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