Walt Paul stands with a basket and gun as he leaves his hunting camp potentially for the last time this past hunting season.
By MATT LINDSEY
COLTON -- A Colton man, fearing nearly 40 Adirondack camps will soon be demolished, is leading a “Hail Mary” campaign asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others to halt to the plan.
The demolitions are expected now that negotiations have broken down between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the company that owns about 20,500 acres of land in the Adirondacks.
Walt Paul, one of hundreds of people who use camps at the Long Pond easement along State Highway 56, wrote the letter to Cuomo because he believes the camps are a benefit to the area and does not want them destroyed.
The letter is also signed by Hugh Horton of Cold Spring Club, Victor Castor of Ormsby Pond Club, Steve Fallon of Brunner Hill Club and Matt Duell of Gulf Brook Club. Paul represents Birch Brook Club.
The Long Pond Easement agreement dates back to Jan. 29, 1999 and contains language pertaining to the removal of the camps. The clubs have been notified by Danzer that the camps must be vacated by Dec. 31 and will be demolished sometime after that date, Paul said. Danzer Forestland is a German-based company with an office in Pennsylvania.
St. Lawrence County and Town of Colton lawmakers passed a resolution supporting the retention of the camps in 2015.
The letter was also sent to Sen. Betty Little, Sen. Joseph Griffo, Sen. Patty Richie, Assemblymembers Marc Butler and Addie Russell, St. Lawrence County Legislators Tony Arquiette and Rick Perkins; Tom Williams, Adirondack Land Owners Association; Roger Dziengeleski, Chair Access Adirondacks; Fred Monroe, APLGRB; Bill Conners, FWMB rep to CFAB; Dave Corr, Region 6 CFAB Rep., Jason Kemper, Chair CFAB; Lance Robson, Chair State FWMB and Chuck Parker, President NYSCC.
“We’ve had support from local politicians include Ritchie, Little and Griffo,” Paul said.
DEC vs. Danzer Forestland
Danzer Forestland has negotiated unsuccessfully with the DEC in an attempt to retain the camps; the negotiations as we understand it have been ongoing for nearly eight years, Paul says.
DEC modified a similar easement in 2012 allowing 220 camps to remain on 2,8000 acres of forest land on the former Champion lands in Franklin, Herkimer, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.
Paul says the state made bad decisions years ago and is now tied up in its own legal mess.
He said, “I think DEC has been swallowing pills from environmental groups” to create a utopia that those groups feel would come to happen if the camps were eliminated.
Paul says the easement agreement is short-sighted and certainly lacked an understanding of the net conservation and economic benefits derived from the presence of sportsmen and women on these lands.
Danzer purchased the land about a decade ago with the intention of harvesting timber.
“To this point, they haven’t harvested any,” Paul said.
Based on conversations with Danzer representatives, it is understood they purchased the property knowing the investment would be long term and as such have not harvested timber on the property over the last ten years and had no plan to harvest for another ten years, clearly demonstrating sustainable forestry practices.
“They have been good stewards of the land, are in this for the long term and have been fair with the hunting clubs,” he said.
Paul says other similar businesses have bought up land in South Colton and nearby and have been “mowing down” the land.
Essentially, Danzer has generated little to no revenue from the property during the last 10 years, while expending money on taxes and land management services, he said. The lease money from the camps helped defray some of those costs.
“These camps were all built by camp owners in one way or another,” he said. “Some camps have been there 70 years.”
Paul says he has removed his belongings from the camps and has seen trucks coming out of the area full of goods from the camps.
If the camps are not saved, Paul says he believes Danzer would hire someone to come in with an excavator to knock the camps down and haul the remains out.
Effects on Economy, Land
“As we currently understand it, two appraisals were conducted that determined the value of the 37 camps to be $500,000. Knowing the land and the camps as we do, this amount definitely does not reflect the market value of similar camps on easement lands in the area,” the letter to Gov. Cuomo says.
"Further, as we understand it Danzer Forestland paid a total of $131,443.54, in taxes in 2016, with $61,272.02 being land tax and $70,171.52 being school tax.”
There are about 150-200 members, which doesn't include all their family members, who spend money in the area.
“I do not think officials realize the benefits sporting groups bring,” he said.
Six camps would be spared as part of the easement agreement.
Paul still plans to use the land as he is a member of one of the remaining six camps, but points out that there won’t be enough space for all club members.
“None are large enough to accommodate all of us,” Paul said.
Paul also says local businesses will be negatively impacted if the camps are demolished and the hunters don't return to the area or seek new hunting grounds.
Families visit camps during all four seasons and stop at local merchants and are a mainstay of their customer base.
“Boyce’s store in South Colton relies on hunting clubs and I think they will lose two-thirds to three-quarters of their business,” he said.
“These 'mom and pop' businesses hire local workers and contribute land, school and sales tax to local government helping to sustain necessary services,” he said
Paul says other benefits of the camps include keeping fire lanes and trails open during a time of increased dryness and forest fires; eyes on the ground for invasive species, illegal dumping and other conservation violations; and getting families outdoors to instill conservation ethics, game management and firearm safety.
For now, Paul and many others wait to see if the governor responds to his letter in time to save their camps.
“My gut feeling – I am not optimistic – the demolition of camps across the Adirondacks is nothing new, the DEC has a thirst to control the land,” he said.
Letter to the Governor
The letter offers the following ideas:
• Place a monetary value on the net conservation benefits provided by the hunting clubs as described earlier. We understand other entities actually receive monetary compensation for trail, stewardship and other work from the DEC.
• The Department of Environmental Conservation has a joint responsibility to maintain the roads on the property. Yet best we can determine the department did not negotiate gravel rights similar to what has been negotiated in other easement agreements. A monetary value for the gravel needed to repair and maintain the roads pertaining to the states responsibility for road repair should be established and factored into the total value equation. The roads are currently in deplorable condition making public access difficult and repair will be required for continued public to access these lands.
• The number of camps must be adjusted. In actuality we believe there are 34 camps targeted for demolition. Six camps are currently seeing no or little use and the numbers of camps being valued should be reduced to 28.
• Lastly, it seems unfathomable to us that the Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Lands and Forests will not be required to correct this situation. Left uncorrected the Danzer camp removals will in all likelihood drive a taxpaying, global company from New York State, contribute to the closing of businesses locally in an already depressed area and displace sportsmen and women from lands where they have helped manage the resources and pursued longstanding traditions for nearly 75 years.