By Gwendolyn Craig
The decision of how to handle a historic Adirondack camp in Franklin County is a state Constitutional conundrum that has seen a wave of support for preserving it.
The issue for decision makers lies with the two pieces of policy governing the Adirondack Park—the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the state Constitution’s “forever wild clause.” In a nutshell, the buildings as they stand, are not in compliance with either. However, that legislation hasn’t deterred historic preservationists and everyday visitors from making their voices heard.
The Adirondack Park Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation held a joint public comment period on the potential weakening of land protections in the Debar Mountain Complex to create a day-use area. But this plan also included tearing down a 1940s-era lodge designed by William Distin that is on the State and National Register of Historic Places.
The APA’s State Land Committee will meet around 10 a.m. on Thursday, virtually, to consider authorizing a draft environmental impact statement and to proceed to a joint DEC/APA public comment. DEC and APA plan to hold a public hearing in January.
What has captured the public’s eye is Debar Lodge. Once private property, in 1979, the state purchased the lodge and surrounding land on what is now part of Debar Wild Forest.
For over two decades, the lodge and its surrounding buildings were privately owned through an agreement, but that ended in 2004, meaning the state now owned the buildings, too, and have needed to make a decision on how to move forward with them.
The APA and DEC are working to remedy that through documents and plans called the Debar Mountain Complex and Debar Lodge Day Use Area Unit Management Plans. The solution they’ve identified is to remove Debar Lodge, and in its stead, put up a pavilion and recreation area. The state would put up signs to remind people of the historic building that was once there.
“The agencies have spent 17 years exploring alternatives with a broad spectrum of interest groups and stakeholders,” APA records said.
Public comments submitted to APA and DEC show a continental divide between historic preservationists and environmentalists on the lodge removal.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he supports the removal of the lodge. The cost of taking on the lodge is not feasible for a nonprofit or a local government, Bauer added.
“Given the realities of no outside funding coming forward to finance such a project, the lack of state financial resources, and non-compliance with Article 14, Section 1 of the Constitution and other Forest Preserve laws, policies, and regulations, Protect the Adirondacks believes that the State has selected the best option as its preferred alternatives, which is removal of the buildings,” Bauer wrote.
The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, also support removal of the lodge and its accompanying buildings for the same reasons. They did not support weakening land protections in order to make a day-use area there.
Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, said if the state decides to remove the historic buildings and then put up new structures, it would be a “slap in the face, even for historic preservationists.”
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And that brings up the dozens of comments submitted against removing the lodge.
Steven Englehart, executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, submitted a petition to DEC and APA that in just six days garnered over 300 signatures. All were against the Debar Lodge removal. Englehart also said DEC “did a very poor job” of making the public comment period known and described the comment period time as “shockingly short.”
The heritage group, Englehart said, worked on a report that covered the history of the lodge and possibilities for its future. The report, attached in the public comments to APA and DEC, shows a number of suggestions including making the lodge area into a state campground and pursuing a Constitutional amendment to keep the lodge standing, among others.
Englehart said that communication with the DEC on this report dropped off after DEC Region 5 Commissioner Robert Stegemann retired.
“Unfortunately, the Department did not respond to any of our communications,” Englehart wrote. “In short, the Department’s proposal to remove the historic buildings and convert the site to a day use area is premature.”
Erin Tobin, vice president for policy and preservation at the Preservation League of New York State, had her own policy issues with the proposal to remove the lodge.
Tobin said it would “an egregious violation of the 1980 New York State Historic Preservation Act. The demolition will clearly have an adverse effect on a historically and culturally significant property and the state has not given fair and due consideration to demolition alternatives.”
DEC and APA have mentioned the lodge could be dismantled and rebuilt somewhere else, though they did not identify where that would be, how long that would take or how much that would cost.
The Adirondack Park Agency full board is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10. The State Land Committee is slated to meet at 10 a.m. To watch and listen, go to https://tinyurl.com/AgencyMeetingDec2020Thu or call
1-518-549-0500 with Access code: 179 865 1243. General comments may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for the full board agenda.
Adirondack Hamlets to Huts is a popular trail organization connecting lodging and recreational activities throughout the park.
If the state were to weaken land protections that could “allow overnight use of existing buildings or future primitive forms of lodging, Adirondack Hamlets to Huts would welcome the opportunity to integrate the Debar Lodge into its Lodging Affiliate Network toward the implementation of trekking routes in that region,” wrote Joe Dadey, of the organization.
Others wrote in favor of removing the buildings because it would be true to the “forever wild” clause. Some wrote in favor of the newly proposed day-use area.
Mark Moeller, chairman of Homeward Bound Adirondacks, assists veterans in the area. He said recreational opportunities for veterans and places to find solace are “critical for successful readjustments.”
Gary Cring, of the Duane Town Board, said he thought a new day use area would be beneficial to the town.
More to explore
Almanack contributor Lorraine Duvall writes about her recent visit
to Debar Pond and her impressions of the lodge.