PAUL SMITHS - The possibility of keeping the state Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Centers in Newcomb and Paul Smiths running, at least in some form, was discussed Thursday at a meeting hosted by Paul Smith's College.
A diverse group of people with an interest in the VICs - local and state elected officials, business owners, tourism officials, and representatives of nonprofit and environmental groups - showed up for the meeting, which was called after Gov. David Paterson announced plans to close the visitor centers.
The proposal, which was included in the governor's Executive Budget, is meant to save the state about $500,000 a year while preserving the "core mission" of the APA.
State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey listens as Steve Erman, economic affairs director for the state Adirondack Park Agency, talks about the closure of the APA’s Visitor Interpretive Centers during a meeting Thursday at Paul Smith’s College.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"It's a decision that's been made, and, I don't want to be negative, but I don't see a reversal of it," said state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. "I think we've got to try and find other ways, and I think that it's great the community has come together this quickly with so many people."
Steve Erman, the APA's economic affairs director, said the agency is planning to close the facilities by January 2011.
"We have a year, a decent amount of time if we're well organized collectively, to try to figure out what the next use for that facility will be," he said.
Paul Smith's College hosted the meeting because it has a stake in what happens with the Paul Smiths visitor center, which is located on land the college has leased to the state since 1987.
While the college may seem like an obvious choice to take over the facility, PSC President John Mills said it has no plans to do so.
"Paul Smith's College cannot afford to take on this project, and cannot afford to pass the costs of the maintenance and continuation and operation of the VIC to our students," he said.
Mills, who moderated the discussion, said the goal of the meeting was to come up with a plan to somehow keep the Paul Smiths VIC operating for the benefit of the community. There was no shortage of ideas.
Town of Harrietstown Supervisor Larry Miller said municipalities in the area could host their own meetings to gauge whether local taxpayers might be willing to help fund the Paul Smiths VIC.
"I know money is tight but I think it should be looked at," Miller said. "It brings in revenue. Every community benefits from it."
Miller also challenged Adirondack environmental groups to play a role in keeping the local facility going.
"All the environmental groups that so importantly cherish the Adirondacks are willing to spend their money to buy up all the land here; they should be willing to put some funds to help support the VIC," he said.
Frank Hutchins, a board member of the Adirondack Park Institute, the non-profit "friends" group that supports education programs at both facilities, asked if the visitor center trails could be kept open, even if the buildings are shut down. He said his group may be able to support that financially.
"What the public really likes are the trails, both summer and winter," Hutchins said.
A public-private partnership could be the best solution, given the time constraints and the current economic conditions, said Todd Smith, president of Saranac Lake-based Adirondack Sustainable Communities Inc.
"We could find a public institution to take over the trails and a private institution to take over the buildings," Smith said. "We could run it like a business so it does become profitable. That may include building more there than what is already there to accommodate a new need."
Others ideas included pursuing matching funds from the state, staffing the facilities with only volunteers, charging fees to use the VICs or seeking corporate sponsorship monies to keep the facilities going.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation offered to play a role in supporting both visitor centers.
"We've had a strong partnership with both VICs and we want to continue that partnership," said DEC Region 5 spokesman David Winchell. "While we can't step up and take over running the place, we can continue that kind of partnership in providing some of the resources needed to keep that a premier environmental education facility."
Ernest Hohmeyer, owner of Hohmeyer's Lake Clear Lodge, suggested a task force be created to craft a short-term plan for the VICs while long-term solutions are being developed.
"This year will go by very quickly, and before we know it we're going to be here in November and December trying to figure out what we're going to do next," he said.
The Adirondack Park Institute will play a key role in determining how the two facilities could continue to operate. While the Institute can't afford to take over the VICs today, API board members said they could try to ramp up their fundraising efforts and take on a larger role in running the facilities.
"My hope, and I think the hope of most people, is that there's a very strong interest in maintaining the VICs in some form or another," said Bob Lilly, an API board member who lives in Newcomb. "It won't be a state agency anymore from the sound of things, but we still have a desire to keep the organization going."
As the meeting drew to a close, those interested in continuing to work on ideas for the VICs signed up to be part of a steering committee.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.