DEC Accepts Great South Woods Report For Planning Review
ESF makes recommendations for Adirondack Park’s future
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) accepted recommendations for expanding recreation opportunities within the Great South Woods (GSW) from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).
The report highlights the potential for recreational use within a large region of the Adirondack Park including all of Hamilton County and parts of Essex, Warren, Herkimer, Fulton and Saratoga counties. The GSW area covers 2 million acres, including 20 individual Forest Preserve management units.
"Promoting access and connectivity throughout the Adirondack Park communities is essential and a goal of this planning process is to ensure that DEC and partners continue to foster this as recreational facilities are developed and enhanced," said Commissioner Basil Seggos.
"We appreciate the considerable efforts that ESF, the people and community leaders within the Great South Woods region of the Park and the other members of planning team have devoted to create this terrific blueprint to create attractive destinations while connecting communities within this large part of the Park. DEC remains committed to achieving these goals and we look forward to working with the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and other members of the Great South Woods team to implement these recommendations."
The GSW process was designed and led by ESF in collaboration with representatives from DEC, APA and the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors. The GSW team conducted recreation planning at a landscape scale, beyond the boundaries of individual management units. It was designed to engage communities and stakeholders in the design of a destination-based system of trails and infrastructure that could stimulate economic activity while protecting the Adirondack Park's ecosystems and wild character. Development of the report included an 18-month participatory process involving more than 300 individuals that attended public workshops and meetings held across the GSW planning area.
ESF developed strategies and recommendations that emphasized public participation and prioritized local knowledge and community-generated ideas to inform recreation planning at multiple scales. The GSW effort represents a new model and opportunity for recreation planning that facilitates a high degree of public engagement to gather local knowledge and community ideas to inform planning, design and implementation steps.
The objectives of the GSW planning effort were to identify opportunities and feasible means to:
• Optimize the potential of the GSW to provide a wide spectrum of outdoor recreational activities available on Forest Preserve, DEC easement, municipal and private lands across the region;
• Establish a new community-based land-and-water trail and lodging system that would strengthen community linkages to each other and to nearby Forest Preserve and conservation easement lands;
• Better develop front-country areas of state lands for improved access and greater enjoyment of diverse - including motorized - recreational activities;
• Improve protection of back-country areas of state lands in their primitive, wild condition while improving trail systems for heightened enjoyment of self-powered recreation.
ESF received $250,000 over two years and included input from the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, the APA and other Park stakeholders.
Sherman Craig, APA chairman said, "The APA is excited to be a part of this innovative planning approach. We congratulate the planning team on their outstanding efforts. Connecting the Forest Preserve to Park communities will broaden economic opportunities and increase visitation."
Brian Houseal, director of ESF's Adirondack Ecological Center said, "We appreciate DEC's support of our ESF team's facilitation of a region-wide, grass-roots participatory planning effort. We learned so much from local communities: their knowledge of the special places on nearby Forest Preserve lands, and their willingness to partner with the DEC by adding volunteers and resources to create new nature-based tourism destinations throughout the Great South Woods - the real wild place in the Adirondack Park."
William Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors said, "We applaud both ESF and DEC for working with the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors on the development of the Great South Woods planning document. The goal of this report is to make sure that as planning for State lands within this region of the Park is conducted, the need to connect communities and maximize economic opportunities including increased tourism are part of the plan."
The report contains many recommendations for enhanced connectivity and access, including maps that depict new, conceptual destination-based hiking routes and other outdoor recreational facilities. DEC will now review the report and work with communities, recreation interests and other Park stakeholders to refine and implement the proposals.
The recommendations in the GSW strategy address longstanding issues such as protection of 'remote core' wilderness, as well as emerging issues, such as invasive species. Next steps will require further engagement with communities to identify priority projects and engage in further design work.
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