Proposed constitutional amendment would swap one lodge for 400 acres
By Tim Rowland
Two northern lawmakers have introduced a constitutional amendment bill that would save the historic state-owned Debar Lodge by transferring it to a non-profit group in exchange for 400 acres on Lake Meacham to be added to the forest reserve.
The legislation was announced by Senator Dan Stec and Assemblyman Billy Jones, the bill’s co-sponsors.
Located in the wild forest of Debar, the 80-year-old lodge and 1,300 adjoining acres was sold to the state in 1979, on the condition that the resort remain under private control until 2004. taken possession, the buildings were to be demolished in accordance with the State Land Use Act.
The public was strongly opposed to the demolition of the historic property, whose roots go back more than two centuries, and lodge supporters began to seek a workaround that would preserve the lodge.
The alternative to the constitutional amendment was first publicly offered a year ago in an essay by Howard Kirschenbaum, founder and first president of Adirondack Architectural Heritage.
“The Debar Pond Lodge Land Exchange Amendment is a win-win for the Adirondacks and our efforts to protect our natural environment,” Stec said in a prepared statement. “This amendment would enhance the size and beauty of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, while protecting the historic lodge.”
The lodge is located in a secluded northern part of the park, halfway between Paul Smith and Malone. Completed in 1940, the eighteen-room, two-story lodge is a wood-frame structure built in the “rustic style” of the Adirondacks, in accordance with the Debar Unit Management Plan.
As the state considered demolishing the buildings and converting the property into a heavy-use recreation site, opposition grew.
In 2014, the resort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, according to the Debar UMP, “the lodge has been determined to be architecturally and historically significant (and) DEC central office staff have chosen to postpone the demolition of the structures in order to receive further public comments and consider other uses for the structures.
Senate Bill S7868 would allow New York State to transfer the lodge to the Debar Pond Institute, a nonprofit group of Adirondack residents with experience in historic preservation, lodging, and business.
The institute, according to Kirschenbaum, “would operate a diverse program open to the public, including: (a) educational programs, including environmental and outdoor education, Adirondack history and historical preservation, support for veterans and/or personal growth and development, (b) public accommodations and recreation, and (c) public tours.
The constitutional amendment process requires the approval of two legislative sessions and a public vote. He could be on the ballot as early as 2023, Stec said.
“This is an elegant solution to salvage the historic building complex, maintain the wilderness character of Debar Pond Forest, and add 406 acres adjacent to Meacham Lake to the forest reserve,” Kirschenbaum said.
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