State wants to replace moldering Frontier Town at Exit 29 with $32 million Gateway to the Adirondacks
By Rick Karlin
Since its closure in 1998, Frontier Town could be more accurately described as a ghost town, but parts of the moldering theme park would be granted new life in a $32 million plan by the state to establish a Gateway to the Adirondacks at Exit 29 on the Northway.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the plan in his State of the State Message in January and filled in some of the details later in the month. It will include an information center, day-use area, equestrian trails, and a campground along the Schroon River.
Built in 1952, Frontier Town thrived for many years, but business started to tail off in the late 1960s after the Northway diverted traffic from the Wild West park’s main entrance on Route 9 and after airline tickets became more affordable, enabling people to fly to Disneyworld and other distant vacation spots. The tax-foreclosed property is now owned by Essex County and the Town of North Hudson.
Most of the Frontier Town buildings are badly decayed and will be removed, though a few structures, such as a chapel and a covered bridge, might be restored. The old rodeo arena would be restored as part of an equestrian center, with access to a network of riding trails already maintained by the town. (An A-frame building visible from Exit 29 and next to Frontier Town is privately owned and not part of the state’s plan.)
North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore is thrilled about the project, calling it “an amazing opportunity.” He hopes the gateway will enable the towns to capitalize on the state’s purchase of sixty-five thousand acres formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn and Company.
The Boreas Ponds Tract, one of the jewels of the Finch deal, lies just seven miles west of Exit 29. The Essex Chain Tract and other former Finch lands lie somewhat farther west.
Local towns hope the Finch parcels, purchased over several years from the Nature Conservancy, will attract tourists who want to hike, paddle, cross-country ski, snowmobile, or mountain-bike.
John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the visitor center could divert people from the High Peaks to the Finch lands. As reported in the Explorer last year, environmental groups are concerned about overuse of the High Peaks.
“It would be a very attractive place for the traffic coming up the Northway to pop off and find a not-so-busy campsite and find someplace not so busy to hike,” Sheehan said of the gateway. “All of this sounds very encouraging.”
Yet details of the three-hundred-acre development, including its funding, remain fuzzy. No timeline has been established, though the work is expected to take years.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, is skeptical that the gateway will change the economic fortunes of North Hudson and nearby towns. “On a certain level, the state has gone down this route before,” he said.
Years ago, the state built Visitor Interpretive Centers in Newcomb and Paul Smiths, but Bauer said they failed to live up to their economic promise. Eventually, the Adirondack Park Agency turned over management of the centers to colleges.
Then there is what Bauer views as vague budget numbers. It’s unclear who came up with the $32 million price tag or how they arrived at it. The state is expected to put up $23 million, part of which will pay for conservation easements that ensure public access. And water and sewer lines would have to be designed and built.
Cuomo has stressed that the project would include private partners to operate restaurants, lodging (perhaps in yurts or cabins), and other amenities. Paradox Brewery intends to spend $2.8 million to establish a facility there.
The Adirondack Gateway would lie along the governor’s proposed Empire Trail, which he envisions as a hiking and biking path from Canada down to Albany and beyond, south to New York City and west to Buffalo.