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Meetings Set for Input on Draft Strategy for 'Great South Woods'

The Great South Woods Project

ESF, working with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in partnership with local government and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold a series of public meetings in Adirondack communities to gather public input on a preliminary draft regional strategy to diversify and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and improve community connectivity in the "Great South Woods" – a vast area encompassing more than two million acres in the southern Adirondack Park.

The public is invited to provide their feedback at three meetings:

November 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at View arts center in Old Forge, New York

November 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek, New York

November 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Oak Mountain Ski Center, Speculator, New York

This round of public meetings is a key step in the community-based planning process initiated in September 2014, which included public workshops to gather local knowledge and recreation ideas in six Adirondack communities. In total, these workshops engaged more than 200 citizens from across New York state – with just more than half (58 percent) coming from communities within the Great South Woods planning area – who contributed their knowledge of existing and potential trails, recreation assets, and points of interest. Overall, this effort resulted in more than 300 existing (but previously unmapped) features being added to the Forest Preserve assets inventory used by DEC planners, as well as more than 150 new ideas for trails of many types, in addition to campsites, boat carries, privies and other recreation assets.

The DEC has sponsored the Great South Woods (GSW) initiative with the goal of creating a destination-based system of trails and recreation assets to stimulate economic activity while protecting the region's unparalleled natural resources and wild character. The focus is on the vast Great South Woods region, where nearly two of every three acres is state land, and where a diversity of natural settings remain an untapped resource for local communities and tourism-oriented businesses.

DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "This initiative furthers Governor Andrew Cuomo's vision of drawing more visitors to upstate New York to enjoy the tremendous recreation opportunities this state offers. The beauty of the Adirondack Park is unsurpassed, and exploring the recreational potential of the Great South Woods is exciting. This new approach to regional recreational planning – one intended to better connect communities in the park to one another and to the Forest Preserve and conservation easement lands in and around them – is already demonstrating the potential for a growth in tourism infrastructure in the communities of the park."

Dr. Colin Beier, project leader for ESF, said, "We have made great progress in the Great South Woods over the last year and will continue to work closely with communities, planners and stakeholders to develop a strategy for high-quality, destination-based recreation across the region. We've put together a preliminary framework and initial set of project ideas that we are excited to share with the people who have been instrumental in their creation. We want to be sure that we gathered their input correctly and are moving forward in a good direction, in terms of recreation enhancement, community engagement and ecosystem stewardship."

ESF and its partners have been using the data generated to develop preliminary concepts for a network of trails that build on existing infrastructure to provide better access and connectivity across the entire Great South Woods region. This network serves as a framework to innovate and develop a variety of recreation projects that draw visitors to the region as a world-class destination for recreation, as well as serve the needs and interests of local communities. In addition to generating new recreation maps and data, the Great South Woods planning process has relied on the best scientific data available on natural resources, ecosystem conditions and biodiversity of the Adirondack landscape to ensure the ecological integrity of this area is protected.

Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, who has helped build this partnership said, "The Great South Woods initiative has served an important purpose in engaging the communities of the park to integrate community planning with recreation planning for the vast areas of land which surround Adirondack communities. This dialogue will strengthen state and local partnerships to construct and maintain sustainable recreation infrastructure and draw visitors to the park. This is our chance to support sustainable tourism economy in the park."

APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich said, "The agency is excited to be part of this initiative to advance Governor Cuomo's agenda to link New York State's Adirondack Forest Preserve in a sustainable way to Adirondack communities. It is exciting to be learning about how we can improve recreation opportunities that recognize the importance of the long-term preservation of the park's outstanding natural resources. The agency applauds the process to engage the public in developing this strategy."