Land trust acts on farms, fields and forests
By Mike Lynch
The vista from Adirondack Loj Road is one of the easiest ways to witness the High Peaks. The MacIntyre Range and Mount Colden stand above the forests and fields, offering glimpses of their rocky summits and landslides in summer and snow-capped mountains in winter.
It’s a sought-after scene for photographers, and one that’s observed daily by people driving by on Route 73 southeast of Lake Placid. That’s one of the main reasons the Adirondack Land Trust (ALT) jumped at the opportunity this summer to purchase 187 acres key to maintaining the vista.
“In a lot of cases, people that are traveling to Lake Placid or the Tri-Lakes even, that is their entire exposure to the High Peaks,” ALT Executive Director Mike Carr said. “And that’s valuable if it gets them thinking about coming back or thinking about a trip with a family, wondering what’s possible as part of another trip.”
Connie Prickett, the trust’s communications director, said people may recall that view when asked to support conservation policies and propositions.
“That kind of view bonds people to the landscape and the place. It forms this connection that will always be there,” Prickett said.
The trust decided to retain ownership of the land. They plan to make it one of their preserves and develop a plan for public use. That’s one of the main ways they conserve land for ecological reasons and try to benefit communities, which is at the core of their mission. Other land conservation options include selling to the state for the forest preserve or purchasing an easement that would restrict development on private property.
“The opportunity to create accessible trails is what’s really interesting to us,” Carr said. “You can enjoy the High Peaks, even if you can’t handle the trail up Algonquin and Colden.”
ALT plans to continue mowing the field to keep the view open. That’s one advantage they have in retaining ownership, Carr said. Had the organization sold the land to the state, forest preserve rules would have prevented the state from maintaining the field.
The organization is considering a parking lot near the West Branch of the Ausable River and a public trail through the woods. Carr envisions it having a hardened surface accommodating baby strollers or wheelchairs.
A growing organization
Since its inception in 1984, the land trust has protected 27,606 acres through easements, land it bought and sold to the state, and by creating four preserves, three of which it took ownership of in recent years.
The total acreage includes 472 acres from a merger with the Lake Placid Land Conservancy, which occurred in January after the smaller land trust approached ALT with the opportunity. ALT added land in the towns of North Elba, Jay, Keene and Wilmington through the union.
Carr has played a significant role in Adirondack land preservation for decades. He started with the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in 1990, tasked with establishing an independent land trust that would become the Lake George Lake Conservancy.
In 2000, Carr took a pair of jobs that would change his career. He became the executive director of the conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter and of the Adirondack Land Trust when the organizations shared a board of directors and some staff.
Through the conservancy, Carr orchestrated the purchase of 161,000 acres for $110 million from Finch, Pruyn and Co. in the central Adirondacks and oversaw the $16 million purchase of the 14,600-acre Follensby Pond Park near Tupper Lake that the organization still owns. As for the Finch deal, the environmental group sold and protected 92,000 acres under conservation easements while the state bought 65,000 acres for the forest preserve. The deal was completed in 2016 when the state bought the 20,758-acre Boreas Pond tract in the towns of North Hudson and Newcomb.
The Finch deal drew praise from conservation groups and some park leaders for protecting landscapes such as OK Slip Falls. It also faced criticism from local officials concerned about more land added to the forest preserve and lost to development potential.
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This article first appeared in a recent issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
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Carr left the conservancy to focus on trust work which he said was “crying for full-time attention.” When also responsible for the conservancy, he was consumed by big projects and trust “opportunities were passing us that we would have taken otherwise had we been fully staffed and resourced.”
He started at the trust with four others and about $13 million in assets. Now he’s among 14 employees managing $25 million in assets. Carr anticipates building the staff to 25 in the decades ahead.
The organization has outgrown its Keene office and plans to relocate to the Uihlein Foundation’s building on Bear Cub Road in Lake Placid. The Uihlein site, used by Cornell University for a potato farm and laboratory, most recently served as headquarters for the World University Games.
Under a 30-year, $1-per-year lease, it will be converted to a center for nonprofits, with the trust as the anchor.
“That will save us millions of dollars,” Carr said. “It’s just so generous of the foundation.”
Small land deals
Since taking over the trust full-time, Carr has overseen the protection of about 4,000 acres.
The August acquisition of the property along Adirondack Loj Road, costing $2,365,000, may be the biggest attention getter because of its visibility. The trust has also been buying smaller properties or easements that are often measured in the hundreds of acres.
The purposes have been varied.
At the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center in Onchiota, ALT staffer Chris Jage and center director Dave Fadden are working on a 300-acre easement that would likely be the first of its kind in the Adirondack Park, striving for “Indigenous philosophy of land use.”
ALT has also continued adding to its collection of about 20 agricultural easements for about 7,300 acres, most of which is in the Champlain Valley.
In September, they secured an easement on 294 acres, protecting about two miles of Boquet River shoreline. The deal cost $576,000 for the easement on the Ben Wever Farm, owned by the family of Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gillilland.
“This will pretty much ensure that this area of our town and the county are going to remain in farmland,” Gillilland said.
The trust continues to buy land to sell to for the state, such as in June with 137 acres adjoining the High Peaks Wilderness and Adirondack Mountain Reserve in St. Huberts. That $300,000 purchase, in the town of Keene, included hiking trails to Snow, Rooster Comb, the Wolfjaws and other mountains.
“It is a key part of the trail system,” said Megan Stevenson, the trust’s land protection manager. “The fact that the community’s been hiking these trails for decades, they’re such iconic trails. It’s great to be a part of protecting them for the community.”
Carr counts about 500,000 acres of land in the Adirondack Park that should be protected, probably through easements. The trust is in touch with landowners.
“Our job is to be present and available and a resource for them as they go through that decision-making process and then be there when they make that decision,” he said.
Asked if ALT would be targeting places like the 36,000-acre Whitney property near Long Lake, he said such a deal would require private and public partners. “We’re actively working on those large-scale opportunities,” he said.
But overall, he said the focus on acquiring land solely for wilderness has changed from decades past because donors prefer purchases that benefit wild places and communities. That philosophy has driven several purchases for preserves, such as the one along Adirondack Loj Road and at the Glenview Preserve in Harrietstown.
Glenview offers views of mountains including Whiteface, but some neighbors have criticized preliminary plans to develop trails and a parking area there, concerned it could draw crowds.
“I can see a lot of people going there,” LeeAnne Baker, a neighbor of the preserve, said at a meeting last fall.
ALT also owns the Three Sisters Preserve in Wilmington with a mountain-biking connector to the town bike park and the state’s Hardy Road trails. They added that property when they merged with the Lake Placid Land Conservancy.
“The hope is … that places to recreate will be a benefit to communities,” Carr said.
Cover Photo: The preserved view from Adirondack Loj road off Route 73. Photo by Janice Prichett
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