Mario Cuomo's Adirondack Legacy

Tuesday, January 6, 2015
By: John F. Sheehan

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Cuomo_Mario_small.jpg“Actually, I should have gotten two loons,” Gov. Mario M. Cuomo told news reporters shortly after the Adirondack Council presented him with a life-size loon statue commemorating his Conservationist of the Year Award in 1986 in Westport.

Perhaps he was right. The governor – who passed away last week at the age of 82 – had just received the Adirondack Council’s top honor for his multiple achievements on behalf of the Adirondack Park. They included a revitalization of the Adirondack Park Agency with a strong slate of conservationist commissioners, reinvigoration of the state’s land acquisition program, creation of the Park’s first visitor interpretive program, the nation's first state legislation to combat acid rain, and new laws allowing expansion of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers (WS&R) program.

On the day he received the Conservationist of the Year Award, Cuomo also announced that the state had completed the purchase of the 16,228-acre Watson’s East Triangle parcel in the Oswegatchie River valley, adding it to the Forest Preserve. The parcel is rich with wetlands and provides the headwaters to the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie. Cuomo went on to protect 200,000 acres in the Adirondacks. At the same event, he announced he had just signed legislation adding 32 miles to the WS&R program. Enrollment protects the rivers from shoreline development and dam construction.

In addition, the Governor built two new Visitor Interpretive centers so that people would have a place to learn about the unique natural features, legal protections and history of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.  He appointed Adirondack Council former Executive Director Gary Randorf to design them. The centers are still open today, supported in part with private funds, and are operated in partnership with Paul Smith’s College and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

By the middle of July in 1986, Gov. Mario Cuomo had accomplished a great deal on behalf of the wilderness, wildlife and people of the Adirondack Park. But, he was just getting started.

In November 1986, he succesfully urged the state’s voters to approve the $1.45-billion Environmental Quality Bond Act, which provided $250 million for new Forest Preserve and conservation easements on private lands.

In the years to come, Cuomo would appoint a Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century that provided some 245 recommendations on how to improve management of the Adirondack Park. While this effort was blunted by the backlask from some of the more controversial recommendations, it started a dialog on the future of the Adirondack Park that still continues today.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/CuomoEPFSmall.jpg
Governor Mario Cuomo signs the
Environmental Protection Fund into
law at the Heurich Estate in 1993.

The corner stone of Governor Mario Cuomo's legacy is creation of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). He supported this new, pay-as-you-go approach to capital environmental priorities. In 1993, Cuomo signed into law the EPF that set aside money from a Real Estate Transfer Tax to pay for open space protection, clean water, parks, landfill closure, recycling facilities, and improved state land stewardship.

When George Pataki was elected Governor in 1995, Cuomo’s EPF legacy was enhanced when Pataki protected a million acres of open space statewide, using the EPF as the main source of funding. Over 700,000 acres of the land protected was inside the Adirondack Park.

Over the past 25 years, the EPF has become the state’s most important source of environmental project funding, providing over $2.7 billion in much-needed environmental spending.

In the years ahead, those who visit the Adirondack Park can thank Gov. Mario Cuomo for one of his most important gifts to the Adirondack Park: the gift of peace and solitude granted by his creation of a committee to negotiate use of the Adirondack Park’s air space with the military.

The Army, National Guard, Marines, and Air Force all use the sky above the Adirondack Park for training exercises. The Governor worked with the Strategic Air Command and appointed a committee of wilderness advocates (including the Adirondack Council), local citizens and community leaders to work with military planners to find routes and training patterns that would cause the least disruption to people, wildlife and the peace of the Forest Preserve. Thanks to the Governor’s work, Adirondack Park lands receive similar protection to federal park lands and preserves.

The committee Mario Cuomo appointed continues to meet today and works with military officials as new training regimens are developed.

In the Adirondack Council’s 40 years of advocacy, Mario M. Cuomo was only the third person to receive the Council’s Conservationist of the Year Award. The first two were renowned conservationists: Council founding director and former state forester Clarence Petty (for whom the Council’s internship program is named) and conservationist and author Paul Schaefer who helped persuade Governors Rockefeller and Carey to create the Wild, Scenic & Recreational Rivers program.

Mario Cuomo has left a lasting legacy in the Adirondack Park and in the entire State of New York. The Adirondack Council is committed to honoring and building upon his legacy to make the Adirondack Park an even better place for its lands, waters, wildlife, and communities.


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Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/john-f-sheehan.jpg

Born and raised in Troy, NY, John Sheehan is a graduate of Catholic Central High School and the State University at Albany (1985; BA). Before joining the Council's staff in 1990, John was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, just north of the Adirondack Park. Prior to that, he worked as journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday.

For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media. Sheehan has overseen the production of two films about the Council (The Adirondack Council, 1992; and, ACID RAIN: A Continuing National Tragedy, 1998), appeared in the independent film Inside the Blue Line (1993) and has produced a series of radio and television public service announcements with entertainers Bonnie Raitt (1994), Natalie Merchant (1997) and brothers/band mates Michael and Kevin Bacon (2009-10).

John is a regular guest lecturer at several New York colleges and universities, including Colgate University, Hobart & William Smith College, Hamilton College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College, Siena College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse), and SUNY Potsdam. He has also addressed dozens of local organizations including local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and chambers of commerce, scientific societies and community forums.

John and his wife Deborah live in Albany and are seasonal residents of the Adirondack Park. Their daughter Hannah attends Albany public schools.

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