PAUL SMITHS - Paul Smith's College will host a meeting next week on the future of the state Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths, which Gov. David Paterson has proposed closing along with the Newcomb VIC.
PSC spokesman Ken Aaron said college officials have asked a wide range of people, including state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward to attend Thursday's meeting. Representatives of the Adirondack Park Institute, which raises funds to support educational programs at both VICs, and any organizations interested in exploring ways to keep the Paul Smiths VIC open are also being invited.
"We're bringing the group together because we're concerned about what stands to be lost if the center closes," Aaron said. "We recognize that it's a great resource, both educationally and recreationally, not just for the community but for visitors from all over."
Paterson's plan to close the VICs was included in his Executive Budget proposal, which was released Tuesday. Shutting down the facilities by January 2011 is designed to save the state $129,000 in 2010-11 and $583,000 each following fiscal year while preserving the "core mission" of the APA. The eight full-time and two part-time employees at the VICs would lose their jobs.
Since it opened in the late 1980s, the state had leased 2,700 acres from the college for the Paul Smiths VIC and its trail network, although the amount of land it leases was recently cut in half. Under the terms of the lease, the APA reimburses the college for the taxes it paid on the property, which added up to about $30,000 last year.
Aaron said the college wants that acreage to continue to remain on the tax rolls. If it's used by PSC for an educational purpose, it could be made tax exempt like most of the college's property.
"We don't want that land to fall under nonprofit status," Aaron said. "Then it becomes a burden on the community."
Paterson, in his budget proposal, said state officials would work to identify some other "educational or not-for-profit entity" to take over the VICs.
College officials said they won't be on that list.
"We're not in a position that we can assume operation of (the Paul Smiths VIC) ourselves," Aaron said. "But to the extent we can facilitate a group of people getting together to try and figure out what can be done, we want to do that."
At this point, the Adirondack Park Institute wouldn't be able to take over the VICs alone, according to Director Martha Van der Voort.
"Today, if we were to try that, we wouldn't have the resources for it," she said. "We don't have the endowment. It would require the leveraging of a lot more funds."
Van der Voort said a partnership among several organizations and some "creative, out-of-the-box thinking" could keep the VICs running.
"I would certainly hope the facilities aren't razed," she said. "That's certainly where we don't want to go. They're beautiful facilities that I hope continue to function."
A representative of the Wild Center, the Tupper Lake-based Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, will be attending next week's meeting, but Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe said it's too early to say if her organization could play a role in the future of the VICs.
"The Wild Center will be supportive of any plan that is to try and figure out a way to keep them going," she said. "We would happily help make sure there was educational programs going there, but it's premature to say we could financially support them."
Ratcliffe said staff at the Wild Center were shocked when they heard the state wants to close the facilities, which she called "an environmental educator's dream."
"It felt like a huge hit and loss because we're all trying to do the same thing here," Ratcliffe said. "There needs to be more places like the VICs, not less."
Van der Voort called the VICs a "tremendous resource" valued by local residents and visitors to the Adirondacks. She said she's worried about the impact of closing the facilities, which saw a combined 87,000 visitors last year.
"One of the immediate impacts will be the loss of programming for area school children," she said. "Also, if the facilities close, I don't know what's going to happen with the trail systems."
Thursday's meeting is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center.
Contact Chris Knight at (518) 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.