Preserving a gem

Debar Pond Lodge is in the town of Duane in Franklin County. It’s part of a proposed land swap between the state and the Debar Pond Institute. Justin A. Levine/Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A sensible solution has been found to the state’s problem of what to do with Debar Pond Lodge in Franklin County — and, thankfully, it doesn’t entail tearing the beloved structure down.

According to a Jan. 21 story published by the Adirondack Almanack, the state took ownership of the Debar Lodge in 1979 and possession of it in 2004. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lodge is in the town of Duane.

Sadly, the structure and associated buildings have fallen into disrepair. This put the state in a bind about what should be done with the lodge. One proposal was to tear all the buildings down.

“Located on the shore of secluded Debar Pond in the Debar Wild Forest unit of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, the lodge and associated buildings were designed by leading Adirondack architect William Distin and represent an outstanding example of rustic log construction,” the article reported. “Although Debar has great potential for public educational programs and lodging, the state has been unable or unwilling to find legal and appropriate uses for the structures. Rather it has recently proposed to tear down the buildings and reclassify the land as an Intensive Use area for camping, boating and day use. Fortunately, there is a better solution — one that preserves and uses the historic buildings in the public interest and allows public recreational access to Debar Pond and the surrounding Forest Preserve. This can be done through an amendment to Article 14 of the state constitution, which otherwise might require buildings in the Forest Preserve to be removed and the land to become forever wild. Such amendments, which allow exceptions to Article 14, have been used many times in the past to achieve a valuable public purpose.

“The proposed amendment for Debar Lodge is a ‘land exchange’ amendment in which the state would convey the Debar building complex on a few acres of land to a nonprofit organization and, in return, the nonprofit organization would convey to the state a much larger and equally valuable parcel of land to become part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The property lines would be drawn and conditions built into the exchange that would [ensure] that Debar Lodge be operated for public purposes and that the public would still have recreational use of Debar Pond and the surrounding Forest Preserve.”

This all sounds reasonable. But the sticking point has long the state’s inability to identify a nonprofit organization with the experience and financial resources to carry out such a plan.

“Enter the Debar Pond Institute,” according to the story. “Motivated by the imminent threat of losing this valuable [historic] and architectural resource, a group of Adirondack citizens with a long and distinguished record in nonprofit administration, historic preservation, public lodging and business have formed a new, New York not-for-profit educational organization to preserve Debar Lodge and operate it in the public interest. Significantly, they have also received commitments from private sources for the funds needed to accomplish the land exchange and substantially rehabilitate and equip the lodge for public use.

“More specifically, the Institute proposes that in return for receiving the Debar complex on 6 acres, it will convey at least 300 acres of land to the state for the Forest Preserve. It will agree to maintain the buildings according the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. And, consistent with its purpose ‘to preserve Debar Pond Lodge for the education, enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations,’ it will operate a diverse program open to the public, including: educational programs including environmental and outdoor education, Adirondack history and historic preservation, veterans support and/or personal growth and development; public lodging and recreation; and public tours.”

This is a wonderful idea that will maintain Debar Pond Lodge and restore its facilities. The Debar Pond Institute would take over the responsibility of maintaining the buildings and designing programs for its use; this also will result in 300 acres of land being turned over to the state to become part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The Franklin County Board of Legislators voted Feb. 18 to support the proposal.; the Duane Town Board passed a similar measure last month.

“Officials of the town of Duane, as well as county officials, believe the site to have ‘great potential as a cultural, education and recreational resource for the local area of the Adirondack north country region,’” according to a story published Saturday by the Watertown Daily Times. “Officials believe the proposed land trade would preserve the historic structures at the lodge while providing a tourist-like area that could contribute to the local economy. Saving the lodge could also enhance perseverance of the state forest, without costing the state expenses involving demolition and new construction, officials said.”

But to put this plan into motion, an amendment to the state constitution must be passed. This requires the approval of both the state Assembly and Senate in two successive legislative sessions. Then the measure would need to be voted on by residents in a referendum.

The Adirondack Almanack wrote: “We are hopeful that a broad coalition of state agencies, local government and groups interested in historic preservation, environmental conservation and economic development will support the Debar land exchange amendment.”

So are we.

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