Course:FRST370/2022/Multi-level governance and land use in the Adirondack Park, New York, USA

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The Adirondack Park, located in New York State, is the largest park in the continental United States, and unique in that it comprises diverse land ownership types besides only publicly owned land typical of most parks. With around 130,000 permanent residents [1], there are many challenges in management and governance, requiring the cooperation of many public and private individuals and representative entities from government departments to local advocacy groups[2]. Achieving conservation and ecological protection objectives while encouraging economic and social prosperity in the region is an ongoing challenge with successful examples being made within the Adirondack Park, which can help set environmental precedents for other parks in the future, and encourage fruitful cooperation in mixed managed landscapes.


Adirondack Park, Upstate New York, Land Management, Land Use, Governance Structure, Stakeholder


Adirondack Park is located in Northeastern New York, United States. It is comprised of multiple various diverse ownership governance types. 53% of Adirondack Parks land is privately owned and 47% of Adirondack Park is State land that is managed and owned. [1] Nearly 3 million acres of Adirondack Park is public land. [1] The majority of stakeholder groups consist of residents, local officials, sportsmen groups, environmental groups, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). [3] Residents of Adirondack Park can hold both use and non-use values. [4] Use values are physical commodities that can be used for business or self-use. [5] This can include; collecting herbs or plants from the environment. Additionally, hunters must be given a license that allows them to hunt certain species within the perimeter of Adirondack Park. Non-use values are things that can either directly or indirectly impact the environment, ecosystem, resources, or humans. This involves certain environmental aspects and ecosystem services that can make you feel connected to nature, increase well-being, or improve spiritual connection. Permanent residents of Adirondack Park utilize the tourism industry as an element of the local economy. [6] 20% of employment is in the retail trade and 57.2% of residents are employed in lodgings such as homes, cabins, or hotels. [7] Lastly, 35.5% are employed in recreation and amusement. [7]

Description (Timeline)

Adirondack Park Historic and Present Forest Reserve Map
Year Incident Actors
1892 Creation of the Adirondack Park, which included a large proportion of Private Land New York State Forest Preserve – New York State Government
1971 Creation of The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the State Land Master Plan New York State Council of Parks , APA
1972 General Criteria for land classification within the park established with the completion of the State Park Master Plan APA, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
1975 Adirondack Council Established

-        Non profit organization dedicated to protecting natural and human communities

Adirondack Council
1997 Increasing land acquisition by the State, 14,700 acres purchased in one year New York State Government

Tenure arrangements

Tenure arrangements within Adirondack park have remained, at its core, relatively unchanged since its creation in 1892 with portions of land belonging to private owners and other proportions to the state government[8]. The general conception of the park relied on a collaborative approach to land tenure, implying that multiple land owners would work in conjunction with one another to maintain the park's ecosystems, businesses, settlements, and tourist attractions[9]. Tenure arrangements aim to define how property is to be used, property access, transfer of property, and who is responsible for the property in any number of agreed upon terms.

To understand the full scope of land tenure within Adirondack park, it is imperative to understand how the collaborative approach functions within the park. As mentioned before, Adirondack park comprises private and state owned land, with 6 million acres of land in total[1]. Around 53% of Adirondack park is under private ownership[1], which is not common in state parks around the continental United States. This may initially seem like a difficult situation to navigate, but It was established that lands within the park were to be treated in a similar manner beyond the scope of private and state land ownership titles[8]. This means that Adirondack park is to primarily function as one entity, working together with all landowners towards common goals[8]. This is made possible through governing agencies like the DEC and APA which enforce Adirondack parks rules on landowners[8].

Land Use Models

Adirondack park agencies have derived 6 primary land use models: Hamlet areas (Human settlements), Moderate intensity use, Low intensity use, rural use, Resource management, and Industrial use.[10] Each land use model limits and dictates the type, amount, and size of buildings able to be built in a specific plot of land, if any at all[10]. The modus in which land use models are attributed to land within the park is relatively simple. It involves park agency employees to perform a simple resource tally within a plot of land which identifies best used for any given plot of land within the park, whether it be to create more industry, or remain untouched is entirely up to park agencies[8].  Resource management sites are mainly governed by the DEC as designated sites where park residents may ‘retire’ sulfur and nitrogen emissions to mitigate pollution within Hamlet areas and Adirondack park at large[8].

Land Use Development Plans

Adirondack park also makes use of LUPDs (Land Use Development Plans) which establish further guidelines for the intensity of land use within the park[8]. The LUPDs can be broken down into 2 classes: Class A, and Class B[8]. Class A comprises large projects with projected regional impacts on Adirondack park. Class B comprises projects which are primarily focused on very local impacts within the park[8].

Unit Management Plans

UMPs (Unit Management Plan) are critical for land tenure arrangements within Adirondack park[8]. UMPs were created by the DEC in conjunction with the APA to establish a standard metric for applying land use regulations on plots of land[8]. UMPs are the main way park agencies like the DEC and APA take a tally of resources within a plot of land and determine what the best possible use for said plot would be[8]. UMPs are also used to encourage park citizens to build particular industry in certain areas of the park, like designated lodgings for tourists.

State Land Master Plan of New York

While everything mentioned before pertains particularly to Adirondack park, the park must also adhere to the ‘State Land Master Plan’ of New York state as well[8]. All UMPs are in accordance with the SLMP, and this is enforced by the APA within Adirondack park[8].

Institutional/Administrative arrangements

The previous implementation of policies has seen prior success as a result of clear goals and planning.

Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) 1990

Example of the effects of acid rain on a forest ecosystem and acidification of trees.

The goal of this policy was to decrease emissions of SO2 and NOx for Adirondack Park. [4] The chemicals would have catastrophic outcomes because they would cause acid rain. This would affect the structural integrity of ecosystems and decrease air quality. Reducing these emissions created safe breathable air for humans but also trees and aquatic species. Marine species would be unable to thrive under the effects of acidification because species with calcium shells would not be able to do so. The trees in the mountainous regions of the park have also shown signs of acidification. The forests are comprised of Picea (Spruce), Acer saccarum (sugar maple), and Fraxinus americana (American Ash). [4] These trees would be particularly affected because of the location that they are in. Since they prefer to grow in colder climates they can only relocate by moving higher up the mountain. Global warming can also restrict the movement of these species further because the temperature will increase. Animal species that prefer to live in the colder mountainous region will also impede the gene flow and genetic diversity because the species cannot tolerate the warmer climate.

This is an example of which Adirondack Park was successful in implementing a policy with legislation.

Land use plans are developed to allow them to become compatible with existing patterns of development on private land. [8] Historically, land use and development plans within Adirondack Park have caused large-scale zoning and subdivision ordinance. This was the result of conflicts between land ownership agreements between public and private lands. In addition to this, there are political controls over the state and industries extract valuable resources from Adirondack Park which has caused it to reshape the landscape. [11] These are some of the complex issues that revolve around the multi-level governance structure of Adirondack Park. The Land Use and Development Plans (LUPD) are either large projects that would impact the regionality of the park or small or medium-sized projects that are centered towards local impacts and their effects. LUPD establishes and overlooks the guidelines for the amount of disruption that a development may cause in an environment. [8] To create land use plans in Adirondack Park you must first consider and present the natural resources that determined what land can be used for development. This ensures that many parts of the land in Adirondack Park are left alone and will not be redeveloped.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders are stakeholders who are directly impacted by the policies and state of Adirondack Park. These stakeholders are the park agencies, local residents, state government, and tourists.

Local Residents

The LUPDs affect local residents in a number of ways, mainly impacting their ability to build and utilize land[8]. UMPs also limit land use, which impacts residents ability to use land[8]. Land use can be impactful for residents as particular parts of Adirondack park, if industrialized or utilized for tourism purposes, may be better used to help the local economy[10]. Residents are also invested in the continued success of Adirondack park both as a place of tourism and as a place of environmental sanctity[7].

Park Agencies

Park agencies are also affected by the continued popularity of the park to ensure a healthy flow of income for residents in order to keep them happy, as well as to maintain funding for park agencies. Should tourism slow down, the local economy will suffer, leading to residents putting pressure on park agencies to enable residents to use land differently or change policies altogether[7]. Contrarily, if tourism boosts local economies, residents may become happy with park agencies and put less pressure on these agencies to act in the interest of the economy over the ecological sanctity of the park[7]. Agencies are also focused on maintaining their funding[9] to allow them to accomplish meaningful change within the park without excess financial burden, which may lead to layoffs for agency employees and decreased effectiveness in park maintenance.

State Government

The government is also impacted by LUPDs and UMPs which may encroach on their ability to expand or maintain state-run ski arenas within Adirondack park[8]. These arenas attract tourists and provide local entertainment for residents and are generally liked by all visitors and residents alike. This may impact potential profits for the ski arenas within Adirondack park.


Tourists are the final affected stakeholder group, being financially affected by the park as an attraction. Tourists expect the maintained ecological sanctity and enjoyability of the park to remain within serviceable range at all times. Since tourists pay money to spend time within Adirondack park[7], they are affected by the state of the park, whether it be enjoyable or not enjoyable. If the park were to impart negative reactions in the majority of tourists, the local economy may fail as little to no tourists return in the future which in turn impacts local agencies and residents alike[7]. Tourists have no particular power of the park directly. The only impact they have on the park is their ability to stimulate the local economy of the park, which may have a negative trickle down impact on local residents and park agencies.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders are stakeholders who are invested in Adirondack for personal measures mostly pertaining to economic prosperity and the maintenance of the park's vast ecological expanses. These interested stakeholders within Adirondack park are local residents, park agencies, and state government.

Local Residents

Local residents are interested in the continued success of Adirondack park to attract tourists. 56% of park residents work in the tourism industry, so park land use and management is integral to maintaining their livelihoods[7]. Local residents have power to pressure local government agencies like the DEC and APA, as well as the state government to better suit the park to residents immediate needs. This is a difficult task, as government agencies may avoid catering to residents to ensure Adirondack park maintains its ecological diversity. This is seen in a number of policies brought up by the DEC and APA, mainly their building and land model restrictions[8].

Park Agencies

Park agencies are also invested in the continued popularity of the park to ensure a healthy flow of income for residents to keep them happy, as well as to maintain funding for government agencies within the park. Park agencies are among the most powerful stakeholders within Adirondack park, as they decide policy and enforce it within park grounds. Although susceptible to protests and lobbying, park agencies ultimately decide the fate of the parks policy and how strictly it is enforced[8].

State Government

State government is vested in the success of the park as well to maintain state-run attractions such as the ski arena, and to continue to look after the ecology of the park properly from a conservationist point of view[12]. This relies on the park being profitable to tourists, as well as maintaining the park's ecology, which requires lots of funding and knowledgeable employees. The state government is responsible for funding park agencies that maintain Adirondack park, and also running the 'State Land Master Plan' which subjects Adirondack park to general land use rules which are common across the state of New York[8].

Algonquin to Adirondack Collaborative

The A2A (Algonquin to Adirondack Collaborative) is an Non-government organization with invested interest in Adirondack park[13]. The A2A collaborative requires Adirondack park to maintain its ecological diversity, as one of the A2As main objectives is to connect members of of the Algonquin people spanning from Ontario, Canada to the Adirondacks in New York State[13]. This goal relies on the continued existence and success of Adirondack park as the preservation of Algonquin land is paramount to this organization[13]. The A2A does not rival the political power of park agencies and state government, but are a well funded organization with the ability to enact conservation plans across Canada and the USA[13]. The A2A is a relatively powerful NGO, and is able to lobby governments and other organizations[13].

Assessment of Relative Power

Fundamentally, 2 main agencies are put in power to overlook and fix problems within Adirondack Park. [9] The agencies; the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) work in tandem together to solve different problems in their respective fields. [9] The APA was built into the DEC with APA being the main planning agency. [9] The DEC focuses on regulating the use values that the residents hold and the APA focuses on clear conservation values within the environment. [9] Both agencies can get more positive and effective public policy representation concerning each other's values. [9] For instance, the policies within Adirondack Park can be updated and expanded because one agency can focus on use values and the other can target conservation values. If more governance entities were appointed in Adirondack Park then a greater number of problems can be resolved within the park's complex governance system. Rather than specific focal views being in contention with each other with few government bodies, other agencies can focus on individual problems simultaneously. [9]

Stakeholders are encouraged to be engaged in the decision-making processes. [6] However, it is possible for personal life experiences and observations in their surroundings and environment that can influence stakeholders' decisions. The Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan (APA Act) protects all public and private lands in Adirondack Park. [6] The APA policies and regulations help to allow small indigenous communities and local governments to participate in the decision regarding development in protected areas. [6] However, the Agency Act (AC) does not allow the local communities from utilizing their planning powers for zoning. [12] Due to this, both private and local communities are restricted from construction that would cause damage to the environment, they must first consult with the APA or DEC to get approval before continuing with the project. [12] The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) has a target of protecting, restoring, and improving the environmental integrity of Adirondack Park which prohibits the destruction of the environment. [12] The federal government is the main reason for the increased air quality regulations and protection of biodiversity along with the Clean Air Act Amendments in improving the ecosystem. [11]


The aims of this case study is to examine the history and changes of land management within the Adirondack Park and influence of both local private interests and public governance bodies on the landscape. The nearly even split of public and private land ownership within Adirondack Park presents a unique opportunity for recording the success of historical and present conflicts and negotiations regarding land governance, stewardship, and sustainability. Selecting examples of positive policies and successful settlements of conflict between governing bodies can allow Adirondack Park to serve as an archive of exemplar cases for other parks comprising both public and private land around the world

Adirondack Park’s sustainability is a goal shared by both public institutions like the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), as well as private institutions such as local advocacy groups, environmentalist organizations, and other associations made up of local residents[2].

Cases from the Adirondack Park show that both sustainability and economic objectives can be met through cooperation. For example, residents have been polled on potential management options in overused park trails, pollution remediation, strictness and variety of public park land rules, and touristy income models which all impact not just the state land, but the neighboring communities[14].

Some modern issues facing the park include solving recreational externalities within the Adirondack Park. These include crowding, trail erosion, litter, water pollution, and other plant/wildlife impacts [14]. Management options must come to terms with the impacts of heavy tourism and seasonal population swells in the park when making decisions.

Critical Issues

Trail Erosion

As a result of increasing visitor numbers, trail conditions and wilderness appearance has suffered[14]. An especially concerning documented impact is soil erosion which can degrade not just the enjoyment and accessibility of trails, but also the surrounding area[14]. Major causes of soil erosion on trail include overcrowding, particularly at trailheads and summits, and illegal or otherwise unpermitted campsite establishments[14].

Litter and Pollution

Congestion of some areas of the park can lead to increased human litter, waste, and also noise pollution, all of which can harm wildlife, damage ecosystems, disrupt conservation efforts, and reduce the enjoyment of all guests and residents[14].

Wildlife Conservation

Tourism and other human usage of the park also incorporates a level of environmental risk. Specifically, ecological damage including trampling of endangered flora and spread of invasive species[14]. This can place an economic burden on the community, as authorities such as the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy must commit resources to document and monitor at risk species, as well as educate and communicate with the public to prevent further harm[14]. Luckily, there are several successful initiatives that have been conducted to educate visitors of popular trails. It has been shown that even with high volumes of hikers, alpine vegetation ground cover can be maintained or even increased on wilderness peaks through conservation work involving the DEC, Adirondack Mt. Club, and the Nature Conservancy educating over 500,000 visitors over almost 30 years between 1990 and 2018[14].

Governance Assessment

  • Residents have a large sway on the overall management of the park, including the public lands managed by the state, and are often part of decision making processes through polling, cooperative surveys and initiatives conducted by the APA and DEC[6].
  • The New York State Government has full control over the public portions of land, but acts largely through the APA and the DEC[10].
  • The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) acts on park policy issues and handles recreation permits including hunting, fishing, camping and develops long term use plans for both public and private park lands[10].
  • Department of Environmental Conservation helps develop and enact plans pertaining specifically to conservation and ecological protection objectives. This includes the creation of land classifications and designations within the park. The DEC has power in classifying land use for other public policy to follow and differentiate management techniques with[10].
  • Private conservation organizations such as the Adirondack Council, largely act as an advocacy group which the state must recognize in decision making processes as they represent the interests of many residents and other interested parties[2].


Critical analysis or restructuring of the Adirondack Park borders

  • Current borders may need to be expanded, shifted, or reduced as further development, government land acquisition or ecosystem study demands.

Update the land classification/designation criteria

  • Include more land categories with corresponding management plans beyond the current system developed in 1972 [3].
  • This may become especially necessary for ecosystem protection under pressures from increased tourism and intensive park usage in the future.

Focus on cultural/other resources

  • Game, fish, birds, other non-timber forest resources
  • Explore possibilities and limitations of commercialization of food resources such as hunting and fishing as an opportunity for regional economic growth.

Develop projection models to handle future tourism pressures

  • Recommendation plans for handling tourism seasons as population increases, demand rises, and insentive usage of the park grows.

Conduct studies of critical riparian zones

  • Detailed study of small parts of the Adirondack such as the health of rivers, streams, individual lakes and their impact on surrounding forest regions/biomes.


Policies and laws enacted by the government that affect and change Adirondack Park have been successful when they have incorporated input from the community, non-governmental organizations, and advocacy groups. By incorporating stakeholders into the decision-making processes, confidence in Adirondack Park’s Management has been upheld by almost all parties involved in the land. The park's large size and large base of committed stewards both public and private, support its role as an economic driver of New York’s tourism industry, as well as an integral haven for unique landscapes, species and environments. By learning the history and successes of the Adirondack, other parks operating within a public-private land ownership framework could improve their management by replicating the successes of New York’s largest park.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Erickson, Jon; O'Hara, Sabine (2017). "From Top-down to Participatory Planning: Conservation Lessons from the Adirondack Park, United States". Participation, Values and Resource Management. Biodiversity and Ecological Economics. pp. 146–161. ISBN 9781315096308.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Michaels, Sarah (2001). "Participatory research on collaborative environmental management: Results from the Adirondack Park". Society & Natural Resources. 14: 251–255.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sandrow, Cheryl; Feldpaush-Parker, Andrea; Vidon, Elizabeth; Parker, I.D. (September 25, 2018). "Anything but a Walk in the Park: Framing Analysis of the Adirondack State Park Land Classification Conflict". Frontiers in Communication. 3. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2018.00042 – via Semantic Scholar.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Banzhaf, Spencer H.; Burtraw, Dallas; Evans, David; Krupnick, Alan (August 2006). "Valuation of Natural Resource Improvements in the Adirondacks". Land Economics. 82: 445–464 – via JSTOR.
  5. Walsh, Richard G.; Loomis, John B.; Gillman, Richard A. (February 1984). "Valuing Option, Existence, and Bequest Demands for Wilderness". Land Economics. 60: 14–29. doi: Check |doi= value (help) – via JSTOR.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Holland, Ann H Ruzow (17 December 2014). "Citizen-led, comprehensive land use planning in New York's Adirondack Park". Rural Society. 23: 133–150. doi: Check |doi= value (help) – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Brown, Tommy L.; Connelly, Nancy A. (1986). "Tourism and employment in the Adirondack Park". Annals of Tourism Research. 13: 481–489. doi: Check |doi= value (help) – via Elsevier.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 8.16 8.17 8.18 8.19 8.20 8.21 Lapping, Mark B. (2020). "A History of Planning in the Adirondack Park: The Enduring Conflict". Big Places, big plans. Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 9781138618954.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 JunJie, Wu; Barkley, Paul; Weber, Bruce (February 13, 2008). Frontiers in Resource and Rural Economics: Human-Nature, Rural-Urban Interdependencies. Routledge. ISBN 9781933115658.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Cuomo, Andrew; Ulrich; Martino. Citizen's guide to Adirondack Park Agency Land Use Regulations. Ray Brook, New York 12977: New York State Adirondack Park Agency. p. 2.CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Vergunst, Jo; Geisler, Charles; Stedman, Richard (2012). "Nature Conservation and Environmental Management: Working Landscapes in Adirondack Park, US, and Cairngorms National Park, UK". Rural Transformations and Rural Policies in the US and UK. Routledge. pp. 253–272. ISBN 9780203144275.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Stump, Stacey (2011). ""Forever Wild"A Legislative Update On New York's Adirondack Park". GLR.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 "Algonquin to Adirondacks collaborative".
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 Schneller, A. J. (2021). "Managing Recreation in New York's Adirondack Park". Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. 39.

[1]Graham, F., & Graham, A. (1984). The Adirondack Park: A political history. Syracuse University Press.

Larkin, A. M., & Beier, C. M. (2014). Wilderness perceptions versus management reality in the Adirondack Park, USA. Landscape and Urban Planning, 130, 1-13.

This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.
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