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Pay to play: Adirondack adventures in the 21st century

Pay to play: Adirondack adventures in the 21st century
In a span of less than 50 years, the vast, Adirondack wilderness experienced enormous changes. As adventure seeking vacationers arrived in the North Woods from the 1860s through the early 1900s, they helped to transform an extraction based economy from exploitation to recreation. Hotels flourished and guides prospered as they opened the wilderness to the traveling public. In the process, as vacationers experiences combined with a desire to protect opportunities for future generations; they set into motion a conservation movement which ultimately lead to preservation of the parks wilderness lands. This heritage is intact today due to the foresight of forebears who, as early as 1864, envisioned the Adirondacks providing a Central Park for the World. To cement this concept, they fought and won approval for an amendment to the New York state constitution. Enacted in 1894, State Article 14-Section 1, Conservation reads: The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. The legislature shall further provide for the acquisition of lands and water.....which because of their natural beauty, wilderness character,......shall be preserved and administered for the use and enjoyment of the people. It is important to note the omission of any phrase relating to the free use and enjoyment of state lands. The free use clause is not contained in the state constitution; rather it is added later and contained within the boundaries of conservation law. However, the free use clause was soon eliminated for such consumptive recreation activities as hunting, trapping or fishing. As fish and game stocks became depleted around the turn of the century; the revenues generated by license fees provided for the stocking of fish and game and the protection of the same by Game Protectors. Much later, the free use of Adirondack land was again voided when the Conservation Department began to charge the public for the use of developed State Campsites. One of the very first locations to collect fees for the use of state land was at Sharp Bridge Campsite, located in the Town of North Hudson. Vacation habits change with the times
Gradually, over the course of the 20th century, the Park was no longer a wilderness visited solely for exploitation of fish, game or fur, but rather as a place for writers, artists, explorers and vacationers to visit for rest, relaxation and recuperation. Travelers no longer sought to conquer or tame the wilderness, rather they came to enjoy it, to seek inspiration and recreation. Over time, non-consumptive groups eventually outnumbered traditional consumptive users such as hunters and anglers. Today, the non-consumptive community is, by far measure, the majority consumer in the Forest Preserve. This group, defined by activities such as paddle sports, hiking, birding, biking, skiing, rock climbing and snowshoeing, continues to grow and flourish. These participants regularly benefit from the marked trails, canoe carries, leantos, boat launches, Ranger patrols and search and rescue operations; yet they are not required to make any contribution for these amenities. Conversely, although the fees paid by anglers, hunters and trappers pay for some of these items, as a group, they tend to stay off the marked trails and avoid the popular routes. Additionally, their patterns of use are determined by the defined sporting seasons. Consumptive pursuits have experienced dramatic declines in recent years with hunting license sales down 12 to 14 percent and fishing off by 7 to 9 percent. This decline is further compounded as hunters age and fewer young people take up traditional sports. Yet, fees from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, combined with a Federal excise tax on related equipment, remain the major source of revenue for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Although sportsmen and women rarely complain about this situation; they do recognize that it cant be sustained indefinitely. Nationwide, experts in the field of fish and wildlife management agree that there is only one long term solution: Non-hunters and non-anglers, the overwhelming majority of the population, must contribute on a regular basis. With nearly 1,000,000 acres of lands added to the Forest Preserve through both fee purchase and conservation easements in just the past decade; many sportsman's clubs are being phased out of leased lands that were purchased by the state. This process eliminates opportunities to pass on the traditions of consumptive sports to their children and grandchildren. As this happens, the revenue stream provided by license purchases will slowly evaporate. As non-consumptive travelers begin to utilize the former lease lands, they will contribute no fees for access, nor license sales. With this cycle, the state will eventually purchase the DEC out of operating funds and a drought will strike the revenue stream! Unfortunately, as their ranks continue to decline, it becomes painfully obvious that sportsmen and women will no longer be able to subsidize the entire recreational community. In New York state, as on many federal lands, alternative avenues must be explored and considered. The most likely process will require the implementation of some type of user fee for non consumptive recreational consumers such as hikers, bikers, paddlers, skiers, snowshoers and climbers. If state lands are to be protected, patrolled and enjoyed by all user groups; the days of free hiking, paddling, birding, climbing and camping may be numbered. Want to voice your opinion; wed be glad to hear it. Please email Joe Hackett at brookside18@adelphia.net .

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