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Taking a quick look back at the past year

January 3, 2009
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

Last year's winter was a throwback to the good old days, when the snow piled high and lake ice remained solid. Despite the usual thaws thrown into the mix, the ski season was one of the best and longest in recent memory. Both alpine and backcountry enthusiasts enjoyed well over 100 ski days and snowshoers were often up to their knees in the white stuff.

Despite the season's great snowfall, snowmobilers remain one of the most disgruntled groups of outdoor travelers in the mix. Despite promises from the state to revisit community connector snowmobile trails, an historic mileage cap that was established in the early 1970s has severely limited the development of new trails on state land.

Spring arrived just about on schedule, although those working on the sugarbush complained about the lack of below-freezing, evening temperatures.

With the ponds shedding their ice in early May, the fishing and paddling seasons were quickly at full throttle. Due to the winter's significant snowpack, whitewater rafters on the Hudson River enjoyed a thrilling year with consistently high water levels.

Threats to area waters remained a constant throughout the year, as acid rain reared it's ugly head repeatedly. The outgoing Bush administration proved this point when it urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to strike down a crucial component of the federal government's rules designed to curb Midwestern air pollution that damages Northeastern forests and lakes and causes lung disease.

"By striking down the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling left all of the Northeastern states vulnerable to acid rain and fine particles of smoke that damage people's lungs" according to one report.

Another hotly contested water-based issue involves a recent state Adirondack Park Agency ruling on shoreline development regulations. Numerous Adirondack counties have joined to sue the APA over the agency's efforts to regulate expansion or remodeling of lakefront properties. Local legislators believe the APA lacks such jurisdiction.

From the streams to the ponds, the damage caused by invasive species ranging from milfoil to rock snot, acid rain to mercury disposition will continue to threaten our playground.

Despite such facts, our waterways offer some of the finest paddling opportunities in the nation, with a intricate web of "blue trails" unrivaled in the East.

Unfortunately, these historic "blue trails" are not enough for some and a call to create "Quiet Waters" has been embraced by advocacy groups and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

An APA ruling to ban floatplanes from the Lows Lake/Bog River Flow Area may be just the tip of the iceberg in restricting or eliminating certain areas from "traditional use." Such efforts by environmental advocates will likely accelerate tensions between proponents of traditional use and tourism.

A proposed "Rails with Trails" Recreation Path that was to run along the railroad tracks from Lake Placid to Ray Brook was shelved by the North Elba Town Board due to economic considerations. However, a heavily subsidized tourist train that runs along the same route will continue.

Due to the same economic conditions, plans for a branch of the fabled Adirondack Museum to settle on Lake Placid's Main Street were similarly shelved, after a long and drawn-out battle with the Lake Placid Planning Board over the new building's design.

In other economic news, Camp Gabriels Correctional Facility was threatened with closure in the spring of the year. An outpouring of community support saved the facility, but it has been returned to the chopping block in the current year's budget.

In southern Essex County, an ongoing battle over the management of Fort Ticonderoga nearly moved the historic structure into bankruptcy. The issue was eventually resolved when the long-time director resigned.

On the environmental front, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy achieved two major land deals in the Park, with the completion of two land purchases: the 161,000 acre Finch-Pruyn tract in the Central Adirondacks and the historic 14,000-acre Follensby Pond Park, located in the towns of Harrietstown and Tupper Lake, from the McCormick family.

These two massive tracts of land will provide welcome environs for a burgeoning moose population that has repopulated the park. The iconic species was extirpated from the region over a century ago and although they remain a novelty, sightings have become increasing frequent.

The Wild Center is proving that it's reach extend far beyond Tupper Lake, as efforts first begun at it's Adirondack Climate Conference continue to resound. Scientists gathered for the inaugural event produced a document entitled, "Message to the Nation" which is intended to produce action rather than discussion on the issue of climate change.

New York's decision to offer a youth/mentor hunting license allowed 14- and 15-year-old hunters the opportunity to participate in the big-game hunting season. The effort brought more than 15,000 new hunters into the field this year.

Conversely, the decision to close the Reynolds Game Farm, which raises pheasants for stocking, will eliminate opportunities for programs such as youth pheasant hunts. Government can prove contrary at times.

In a perfect example of thinking globally and acting locally, Lake Placid's Golden Arrow Hotel, which is owned and operated by the Holderied family, has offered a shining example of what can be done to combat climate change. From a green roof planted with grass and native plants to an institutional recycling policy, energy efficient lighting and low-flow plumbing, the local hotel offers the community and the nation a blueprint for change.

New York state legislators should take note of such efforts, especially at a time when the upcoming state budget actually includes a proposal from Gov. David Paterson to cut $139 million from the state's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) over two years.

The EPF does more than pay for major environmental purchases in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. It covers the cost of landfill closures, wastewater treatment plants and recycling facilities. The Environmental Protection Fund lost $447 million to raids by governors and the Legislature since 2002; such efforts shouldn't be allowed to continue.

Snow forecast

Although most local residents enjoyed a truly white Christmas, the Adirondacks promptly went green as soaring temperatures, soaking rains and high winds quickly worked to erase most of the region's accumulated snow base while exposing the green underbelly of the park.

Wind gusts, some in excess of 50 mph were reported throughout the area and travelers should expect to find area trails littered with downed trees and other debris.

Rivers remain swollen with snowmelt that resulted from a thaw that produced 52 degree temperatures. The rains and high temperatures also negatively affected lake and pond ice. Ice fishermen should exercise caution until colder weather returns.

Fortunately, snow fell Monday into Tuesday is in the forecast and area ski centers have been making snow as soon as temperatures would allow.



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