LONG LAKE - The theme of this year's sixth annual Common Ground Alliance forum was "Momentum!" and many seemed to agree that the alliance is gaining momentum with a strategic planning process built up since last year's forum.
The process, developed over the last year by Dave Mason and Jim Herman of Keene, has found that there is what they call a shared vision for the Adirondacks. That aligns well with the goal of the Common Ground Alliance, which was formed so all the passionate, disparate groups of the Adirondacks could stop bickering, find issues they agree on and work toward those together.
More than 200 people attended the day-long meeting Wednesday at the scenic Mount Sabattis Pavilion in Long Lake, almost double the 120 who were in attendance at last year's meeting.
Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber, right, thanks Adirondack Council head Brian Houseal for his work on Common Ground Wednesday in Long Lake at the alliance’s sixth annual forum. Houseal plans to pull back from Common Ground when he steps down from the council in the fall.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
When Mason and Herman gave their presentation, they asked people to raise their hands if they had been involved in the planning process through participating in one of their workshops to assess people's attitudes. Most of the people in the pavilion raised their hands.
Common Ground co-chair Lani Ulrich, head of the state Adirondack Park Agency board, said she appreciated the work Herman and Mason did, and their work is helping move forward the work of the alliance.
"They've taken us to a whole other level," Ulrich said. "They are helping us to identify in a very methodical way not only what we are after but how we can possibly get there."
She said she was pleased with the crowd at Wednesday's forum.
"Today is going phenomenally," Ulrich said. "It's a very engaged participation this year. It's the largest group we've ever had. And so much of it is really due to the phenomenal work Dave and Jim have done - given - to the Adirondacks of their time over this last year."
She said it's evidence of the resources available in the Adirondacks.
"It's not just our resource base," Ulrich said. "It's also the intellectual riches that we have here."
Data drawn from Herman and Mason's ADK Futures project, an effort to get people thinking about the future of the Adirondacks, shows strong support among year-round and seasonal residents from diverse backgrounds for building a sustainable Park with both a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
They surveyed more than 500 people over the last year in two-day and half-day workshops in a number of Adirondack communities, and even held one session in New York City.
They said the best thing about what they found, besides the fact that most had a shared vision for where they want to see the Adirondacks go in the future, is that the best option is also the most attainable one.
"There's clear consensus on what we want, and we believe we can do what we want," Herman said.
They discussed things that people can work on to realize that vision, and then groups broke off to discuss those ideas. They included improving and expanding on the already-popular local food movement, localizing energy resources and creating a stronger identity and marketing for the Adirondack Park as a whole.
"The idea is we can be a lot healthier economically without being a lot bigger," Mason said.
They also noted that stronger, more open communities that incorporate seasonal residents into the social fabric would go a long way to drawing more people to spend more time in and stay in the Adirondacks. They said the communities should be just as strong a draw to visitors as the Forest Preserve.
"It's really important that we get better at welcoming these people," Mason said.
Herman and Mason plan to produce a vision paper in the coming months and put together an implementation strategy from what they heard Wednesday at the Long Lake conference.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency was pleased with the work of Common Ground and where it's taking the Park.
"Today's Common Ground was a very inspiring and informative session," McKeever said. "The agency is very happy with where we are today in the Adirondacks. We think there is an opportunity to make great strides to continue to improve upon the sustainability of the Adirondack Park and continue to make it the best place in the world to live."
Houseal's last Common Ground
It was Common Ground co-chair Brian Houseal's last Common Ground Alliance conference as head of the Adirondack Council, and the other members of the core group honored him with a group photo from the 2011 conference.
Bill Farber, head of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said Houseal has been crucial to finding common ground over the past six years.
"We need to stop blaming other people; we need to stand up and take responsibility," Farber said. "Brian has been a leader in doing that."
Houseal said he and his wife plan to stay in the Adirondack Park. He said he'll stay involved, but reduce his time as a core group member and find other ways to help out.
He told the Enterprise he's leaving the alliance in good hands.
"I am absolutely excited about where the Common Ground Alliance is," Houseal said.
He said he's excited about having Herman and Mason aboard, calling them very talented, and he's pleased with their findings.
"To find out that the vision for a sustainable park is shared by all strata and all sectors of the Park is amazing," Houseal said. "And it begs the question. Why have we ever fought over anything when we can see pathways into a successful future for the Park and the people that are here?"
He noted that while there were people from almost every sector of Adirondack life represented, he didn't hear a bit of dissonance or discord at Wednesday's session. He called it a very positive experience for the Adirondacks.