By Tim Rowland
The timing of his tenure as Region 5 director for the Department of Environmental Conservation is not lost on Robert Stegemann. “I came in with Hurricane Irene and I’m going out with the coronavirus,” he said.
But in between it was quite a run, a decade that is likely to be noted as among the most significant in Adirondack history. Region 5 covers northeastern New York, including the heart of the Adirondack Park.
“This has been a seminal time in the Adirondacks, and I am so proud to have been a part of it,” said Stegemann, who retired from his position this week.
In the past decade, the state has added great tracts of lands to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, updated, and in some cases made major overhauls to state land management plans and spent millions of dollars improving public sewer plants that empty into Lakes George and Champlain.
Acid rain ameliorated to the point that high-elevation ponds once again were capable of sustaining trout, yet the decade saw the ominous rise of climate change and its potentially game-changing effects on Adirondack ecology and lifestyles.
“Bob always brought passion, civility, respect, an interest in finding common ground, and commitment to his work,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway. “As a leader Bob was available to all, did all he could to support his staff, and helped DEC Commissioners Joe Martens and Basil Seggos assist Governor Cuomo with Adirondack Park initiatives that expanded the forest preserve, supported working forest lands, moved to start addressing overuse and helped communities.”
Stegemann, a manager with International Paper before coming to the DEC, said he was particularly proud of the personal relationships he’s formed in the park, connections that have led to a meeting of the minds of groups with divergent interests.
The resulting compromises “brought great benefit to the Adirondacks, and that’s the ticket to thriving,” he said.
Stegemann, whose successor has not yet been named, said climate change will likely be the greatest continuing threat to the mountains. He noted the problem of overuse, but said “problems are opportunities” and that the issue is solvable.
The key, he said, has been listening to all sides and making them part of the process, and “I’ve prided myself on being part of that team.”
Stegemann said he and his wife plan to both retire in the Adirondacks and enjoy its recreational opportunities, and remain engaged in the park community. “I’ve always wanted to retire here, because it’s a place I’ve loved so much,” he said.