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The Planet

Adirondack Gem Threatened by Luxury Development

The Planet, July/August 1997, Volume 4, number 6

by Chris Ballantyne,
Northeast Regional Staff Director

This summer, when socialite Mary Lou Whitney makes her grand entrance during one of her lavish costume balls in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Sierra Club volunteers and staff, bedecked in black tie, will be outside to greet her. They'll be holding tasteful placards urging her to protect the ecological integrity of New York's Adirondack State Park.

Whitney inherited a 51,000-acre estate inside the park four years ago, and now wants to develop a 15,000-acre tract of it for exclusive, luxury homes known as "great camps." The Sierra Club, led by Board of Directors member Susan Holmes of the New York City Group and Hudson-Mohawk Group Chair Roger Gray, is working on two fronts to protect this parcel -- appealing to Whitney to abandon the development and urging New York Gov. George Pataki (R) to buy the land.

"This parcel is on the eastern edge of the proposed Bob Marshall Wilderness," said Gray, "and a prime location for timber-wolf reintroduction. It would be a crime to carve up this land for exclusive summer homes."

The Whitneys have historically been good caretakers of the land, Gray said, and the Club is hoping to convince Whitney to maintain that tradition.

Her fiancé, John Hendrickson, a developer from Alaska, claims the proposed development does demonstrate good stewardship. "This project will be so exclusive and developed with such environmental concern," he said in a press release in January, "I believe the Sierra Club would be proud to call one of these camps their own."

Founded in 1892 and containing a patchwork of public and private lands, the 6 million-acre Adirondack State Park is the largest park in the Lower 48 states. Forty percent of it is privately owned, primarily by timber companies. Although the park is heavily wooded today, almost all of the old growth was chopped down in the 1800s. A portion of intact old-growth white pine and hemlock forest remains, partly on the Whitney property.

Located within the Oswegatchie Great Forest, the Whitney estate is home to more than 40 lakes and ponds as well as the headwaters of the Beaver, Raquette and Bog rivers. The property has been identified by the Northern Forest Alliance as one of 10 wildlands needing special protection and is listed as a high priority project on New York State's Open Space Conservation Plan for its hiking, fishing, canoeing, wildlife viewing and habitat protection.

Gray said there is money available for property purchase as a result of the state's 1996 Environmental Bond Act. The Club plans to lobby the state legislature later this year.

To take action: Contact Gov. Pataki and urge him to begin serious negotiations to purchase at least 15,000 acres of the Whitney property. Write: Gov. George Pataki, Executive Chamber, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224.

For more information: Contact Chris Ballantyne in the Sierra Club's Northeast office at (518) 587-9166;

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