Frontier Town has resurfaced as a hot topic as stakeholders discuss how the abandoned theme park may factor into the Boreas Pond Tract, the newly acquired state land located in Newcomb and North Hudson.
NORTH HUDSON — No other structure perhaps better symbolically represents the region’s past and future than Frontier Town.
The abandoned theme park was once a premier destination for both tourists and the local residents who spent years working there and continue to fondly recall its formative years.
It’s now overgrown and neglected, an eyesore heralding Exit 29 on the Adirondack Northway.
The property has been the subject of hot and cold attention by Essex County lawmakers, who alternatively whiplash between activity and ennui over the former wild west theme park.
Lawmakers spent months earlier this year discussing removing the buildings, which would require asbestos remediation, before ultimately shooting the idea down, citing unknown costs.
Last month, the Essex County Board of Supervisors authorized an appraisal of a 85-acre stretch of the property after they said they were approached about a “project.”
Details are scant, as discussion was conducted behind closed doors in an executive session.
Three state Department of Conservation officials and the northern program director with the Open Space Institute engaged in a lengthy pow-wow last June.
County officials cited “legal advice” for the secrecy.
The DEC declined to confirm or deny negotiations.
"The DEC has nothing to announce at this time," a spokesman told the Sun.
In 2014, the county floated the idea of letting the open market decide.
But they opted against the sale of the parcel to the late Keeseville businessman whose estate continues to own the A-Frame which anchors the property.
Lengthy litigation followed and the county prevailed.
North Hudson then wanted to buy the parcel, which they said would aid in the 40-mile DEC multi-use trail that would connect the five towns of North Hudson, Minerva, Newcomb, Indian Lake and Long Lake. But voters ultimately stymied plans by the town to purchase the property by voting against the sale in a permissive referendum.
The parcel, empty since 1998, has also emerged as a central factor in the discussion over the Boreas Pond and MacIntyre Tracts, the newly-acquired state lands awaiting state classification by the Adirondack Park Agency.
Public hearings across the state have resulted in heated debate over how the parcels, located in North Hudson and Newcomb, will aid in economic development.
While Frontier Town is not included in the tracts, its proximity makes it a wild card for those on both sides of the debate.
For Boreas and MacIntyre, the APA has offered four plans that offer varying divides between Wilderness and Wild Forest split, with each adding more Wilderness than the last.
More recreational opportunities are possible on Wild Forest, including snowmobiling, horseback riding and mountain biking.
A group called Adirondack Wilderness Advocates has rejected all four of those proposals, and is calling for a full Wilderness classification.
While doing so will disallow all activity except for foot traffic, the designation would not come at the expense of the local economy, the group argues.
Leveraging Frontier Town as an asset, said Pete Nelson, the group’s co-founder, is a way to inject fresh air into what he has frequently referred to as a “myopic and insular” debate governing land use and recreation in the Adirondack Park.
Nelson envisions transforming the property into a hi-tech hub for recreation, a place served by electric shuttles which would transport visitors to recreational hotspots — including Boreas — based on itineraries created on smartphones.
For instance, guests can make a pitstop in Newcomb to purchase supplies before heading into the Essex Chain Lakes for the weekend.
Those with a penchant for history can arrange for an electric vehicle — or perhaps even a self-driving car — to take them to Santanoni and Tahawus for a historical journey.
Charge-in networks and other attractions will aid in pulling motorists from the Adirondack Northway, largely anticipated to be the key point of entry to the new destination.
Nelson pitched the concept at last month’s APA hearing in Schroon Lake.
“We’re proposing a Wilderness High Peaks gateway of Frontier Town,” Nelson said. “We’re talking about a multi-million (dollar) project to do it.”
Peer-reviewed studies of communities surrounding federally-protected land in the western U.S., he said, reveal when properly leveraged, the protected assets can be used as tools for economic development.
Land protection acts as a big counterflow to rural flight, transforming remote, rural areas where people want to go get jobs, Nelson said. This movement leads to an uptick in entrepreneurial activity, a growth in the service industry and people working remotely and in other online fields.
Economic profiles in communities near the National Park Service lands are similar to urban counties, he said, and protected federal lands performed better on average than their peers with less federal lands in four key economic measures, including population, employment, personal income and per capita income growth.
That can happen in the central Adirondacks, Nelson said, and development needn’t clash with full Wilderness protection.
“Let’s make a smarter debate,” Nelson said. “Let’s go somewhere that helps out towns — they need it.”
Nelson said he was unfamiliar with ongoing discussions regarding the property — including the hush-hush sessions between the DEC and county officials.
But he plans on assembling a proposal for a feasibility study and delivering it to the Essex County supervisors and state legislators.
SHOULD BE SEPARATE
Access the Adirondacks, a coalition of sportsmen and local government officials, believes the upcoming Boreas classification is critical to the region’s economic development, and their solution is a compromise that calls for a split between Wild Forest and Wilderness.
Doing so would allow for the maximum amount of recreational offerings, including snowmobiling in limited areas.
Access said they are intrigued by the idea of a high-tech hub at Frontier Town — and that the concept has been brought up before — but noted the land classification is incidental to those concepts.
“That project could occur if it was classified as all Wilderness, all Wild Forest, or partly Wilderness, or partly Wild Forest,” said Roger Dziengeleski, a retired Finch Pruyn vice president and senior forester, referring to Nelson’s pitch.
“That should be a separate and freestanding project.”
North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore, a member of Access, has long called for the parcel to be used as a tool for economic development.
“There has been an idea brought forward,” Moore said of the ongoing discussions at the county level. “Everything else is on hold pending how (Boreas) works out.”
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava declined to discuss current negotiations between the county and state agencies, citing the executive session.
But he said he’d like to see the parcel become active again.
“It’s a key piece of property located right on the eastern border of the Adirondack Park,” Scozzafava said. “I’d like to see that property developed in some way to put people to work.”
During Frontier Town’s heyday, most of the employees came from Moriah, he said.
Over the years, discussions to resurrect the property have fizzled, including ideas to bring retail outlets to the site.
“Some of the board of supervisors have been working very hard — including (North Hudson Supervisor) Ron Moore — to find a suitable use for that piece of property,” Scozzafava said. “I think that Frontier Town has a future.”