Proposed constitutional amendment would swap lodge for 400 acres
By Tim Rowland
Two North Country lawmakers have introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would save the historic, state-owned Debar Lodge by swapping it to a nonprofit group in exchange for 400 acres on Meacham Lake to be added to the Forest Preserve.
The legislation was announced by Sen. Dan Stec and Assemblyman Billy Jones, the bill’s co-sponsors.
Located in the Debar Wild Forest, the 80-year-old lodge and an adjacent 1,300 acres were sold to the state in 1979, with the provision that the complex would remain under private control until 2004. After the state took full possession, the buildings were slated for demolition as required by state land-use law.
The public was strongly against demolition of the storied property, whose roots go back more than two centuries, and supporters of the lodge began to seek a workaround that would preserve the lodge.
The constitutional amendment alternative was first publicly proposed a year ago in an essay by Howard Kirschenbaum, the founder and first president of Adirondack Architectural Heritage.
“The Debar Pond Lodge Land Exchange Amendment is a win-win for the Adirondacks and our efforts to protect our natural environment,” Stec said in a prepared statement. “This amendment would enhance the size and beauty of the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks, while also protecting the historic lodge.”
The lodge is located in a remote, northern part of the park, about halfway between Paul Smith’s and Malone. Completed in 1940, the eighteen-room, two-story lodge is a wood frame structure constructed in the Adirondack “rustic style,” according to the Debar Unit Management Plan.
As state plans to demolish the buildings and convert the property into an intensive use recreational site developed, opposition grew.
In 2014, the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, according to the Debar UMP, “It was determined that the lodge is architecturally and historically significant (and) central office DEC staff elected to postpone demolition of the structures in order to receive further public comments and consider alternative uses for the structures.”
Senate bill S7868 would allow New York State to transfer the lodge to the Debar Pond Institute, a not-for-profit group of Adirondack residents with experience in historic preservation, lodging and business.
The institute would, according to Kirschenbaum,”operate a diverse program open to the public, including: (a) educational programs, including environmental and outdoor education, Adirondack history and historic preservation, veterans support, and/or personal growth and development, (b) public lodging and recreation, and (c) public tours.”
The constitutional amendment process requires approval in two legislative sessions and a vote of the public. It could be on the ballot as early as 2023, Stec said.
““This is an elegant solution for saving the historic building complex, maintaining the wild forest character of Debar Pond, and adding 406 acres adjacent to Meacham Lake to the Forest Preserve,” Kirschenbaum said.