By Gwendolyn Craig
Sweeping issues around solar projects and visitor management are on the docket before Adirondack Park Agency board members this week..
The presentations come at a time when the APA has approved a handful of large-scale solar projects in the park, and on the back of news from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office that a rare industrial-zoned property in the Adirondacks will be the site of a 20-megawatt solar array. They also come as park residents are gearing up for tourist season. On May 1, a pilot hiker reservation system began at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, a gateway to about a dozen High Peaks and other popular hikes.
The monthly meeting will span over Thursday and Friday and continues to be conducted remotely. The meeting will begin at noon Thursday covering a review of zoning and ordinances for solar projects in the park, followed by a park-wide look at existing solar projects. The day will wrap up with the APA’s regulatory committee slated to approve a 5 mega-watt solar project in the Town of Moriah in Essex County. If approved by the full board, the project will be the third major solar project the APA has approved.
On Friday the APA will reconvene at 9:15 a.m. The APA’s state land committee will hear from the state Department of Environmental Conservation about amendments to the unit management plan for the Fish Creek Pond Campground. The committee will also hear a long-awaited presentation on visitor use management and wildlands monitoring from both DEC and APA staff.
Fish Creek Pond Campground
The DEC has proposed a number of projects for the campground in Franklin County. Some of those include reconstructing roads to accommodate two-way traffic, expanding parking, improving an existing bike path, replacing six comfort stations and extending an internet connection through the campground to Rollins Pond.
The amendment to the unit management plan would also include re-classifying an area between campgrounds that is in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest from wild forest to intensive use. There is a road connecting Fish Creek Pond and Rollins Pond campgrounds that is currently not allowed, and the DEC is proposing to reclassify 30 to 50 acres “to eliminate the existing non-conforming uses.” That reclassification, according to the draft unit management plan, will be brought forward in the Rollins Pond Campground unit management plan update.
If the committee and APA board vote in favor, the draft plan will go out for public comment on whether it conforms with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
Visitor use management and wildlands monitoring
The public has heard from a state-appointed committee on its recommendations for managing an influx of visitors to the High Peaks. It has also heard from the DEC and a private club and felt the effects of a new reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. It has so far not heard from the APA about its plans for visitors to the park.
That will change on Friday.
The APA and DEC will present visitor use management and wildlands monitoring plans, a document that former APA board member Chad Dawson helped to draft. Dawson has called on APA to release the document for months, but staff kept pushing back its release.
The guidelines, now released in draft form on the APA’s website, are based off of federal ones already in place. That is something that the state-appointed committee, the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, had recommended. The two basic principles, according to the draft document’s introduction, include ensuring an area’s carrying capacity for various resources are not exceeded and to rehabilitate areas that “are suffering degradation due to overuse.” It is a workbook with forms “intended to be a living document—one that should be improved through time,” the draft reads.
Carrying capacity by definition is the number of people, organisms, boats or any item that an area can support without environmental degradation. There are many plans for management areas in the Adirondack Park that suggest carrying capacity studies be done, but DEC has not done it. According to this draft document APA board members will hear about this week, the lack of clarity on carrying capacity “has left land managers struggling to indirectly assess recreational carrying capacity on the basis of professional judgement from field observations, personal memories, available planning documents, and the anecdotal input of others.”
This visitor use management guide also highlights “adaptive management” a phrase commonly used by environmental organizations and state officials, but not often described. The draft document suggests “adaptive management” involves introducing different visitor use management actions in phases and measuring the outcomes of those actions as land managers go along.
In the workbook section of the document, it has land managers (DEC and APA officials) identifying existing conditions, identifying policies and land classifications relevant to the area under consideration, providing photographs of existing conditions and outlining plans. Once there is an action to be implemented, the workbook includes identifying a strategy for monitoring how that action is going.
The workbook also identifies consistent monitoring of lands including areas like hiking trails and primitive camp sites. The Adirondack State Land Master Plan requires all management plans for units in the park to have a public use inventory, but the draft document suggests “an estimation of visitor use is more practical given available budgets and staff workload.”