LAKE GEORGE - Another benchmark in a 12-year effort to create an environmental park was reached this week as work began to demolish the Charley's Saloon building on the former Gaslight Village plot.
On Dec. 13, workers started dismantling the building, which was part of the former Gaslight Village amusement park, for decades a core attraction for Lake George.
In a cooperative effort between the state government, environmental groups and local municipalities, the former Gaslight Village - targeted by developers for commercial buildings or condominium developers - was procured to create a park that will help stem pollution flowing into the lake as well as providing an environmental park.
This week's initial demolition effort is the first phase of clearing the site for creating the park and constructing a natural stormwater treatment system to benefit Lake George.
Plans call for the 12.7-acre property straddling West Brook to be turned into an environmental park to include festival grounds and wetlands that filter out stormwater pollution.
The park is envisioned to include as walking and bicycling trails, wildlife-filled marshes, and scenic overlooks. An accompanying 2.5-acre festival area is envisioned to host outdoor events and provide public parking.
Jackson Demolition of Schenectady began tearing down the back wall of the saloon building after removing hazardous materials last week. Demolition will continue and is expected to be substantially complete this week.
The structure sits on West Brook Environmental Park's south parcel which will host wetlands with plants whose roots absorb and purify pollutants and waterways that are engineered to settle out sediments. The park will also include a variety of outdoor recreation, education and interpretation programs, according to Walt Lender of the Lake George Association.
"We are excited and relieved that this first tangible phase of the project is now underway," he said. " Seeing these long-abandoned buildings stand aside to make room for a project that will protect Lake George forever is a true sign of progress such that we have not seen before now."
Lender added he is hopeful the demolition will rally public support for the park project.
"This is the most important lake protection project underway in the basin," he said. "It is also one that brings with it the hope that we can truly restore an important wetland that was filled in generations ago, before we knew how critical wetlands are to the health of Lake George."
He added that future generations will be thankful for the "bold steps" that environmentalists took at this point in history to protect the lake.
Peter Bauer of the Fund for Lake George said the wetlands restoration will correct the biggest single source of pollution to the lake while creating a park that will serve future generations well.
"As the walls of Charley's Saloon come tumbling down, we see through the rubble an exciting future for Lake George and its surrounding communities," Bauer said, noting the project was a vital investment in the lake, the area's most important environmental and economic resource.
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said he was pleased to see the restoration project begin.
"After all the years of planning and deliberation, our goals are finally being realized," Blais said. "We're going to have a beautiful open space gateway to our community while we help to protect Lake George."
Fred Monroe, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, also said he was pleased to see the project underway, considering the lengthy process of negotiations over land use between various entities involved in the effort.
Lighting fixtures, drainage pipes, and other items on the south parcel are to be removed along with the Saloon building. One small structure will also be removed on the north parcel in this phase of the project. Ground-breaking on the rough-grading of the site is expected to begin in January.