International Initiatives Protect Land and Highlight New York Parks Are Natural Partners

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Eye from Albany
April 2001

International Initiatives Protect Land and Highlight New York Parks Are Natural Partners
by Paul M. Bray

According to Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director Stu Buchanan, all it took was a trip to the Abruzzo National Park in Italy for the diverse group interests representing our Adirondack Park to realize how much they had in common. It is feasible to look at the park aspect of our shrinking world, something I have experienced by working with the groups that formed a partnership or “twinning” between the Adirondack and Abruzzo Parks. Our own ESR Publisher, Stephen Acunto Sr., has been a strong supporter of such projects due to his family history in the Abruzzo region and his ultimate admiration of New York’s Adirondack Park.

Buchanan, along with the Chair Dick Lefevre and Director Dan Fitts of the Adirondack Park., Agency, President George Miller of Paul Smiths College, Director Jackie Day of the Adirondack Museum, Town Supervisor Shirley Seney of North Elba, and conservationists, planners and musicians formed a diverse delegation to represent the Adirondack region. In 1998, this delegation visited the Parco Nazionale D’Abruzzo. Dr. Franco Tassi, longtime Director of the Abruzzo Park, had visited the Adirondack the year before and recognized the common conservation challenges and opportunities in what he called two “ancient” parks. The Adirondack Park was established in 1892 and the Abruzzo Park in 1922, one of the few cases in which America has something older than Italy.

Meetings among these Park leaders, including State Environmental Commissioner John Cahill, have led to a unique alliance. This so-called “twinning’ of the parks conveys the shared vision between two environmental entities and the conservation history from Italy and America. Traditional national, state and local American parks have preserved important features of our natural and cultural legacy by creating public estates that keep most human activity out.

What about the rest of the land? Judy LaBelle, President of the Glynwood
Center, a conservation organization located near the village of Cold Spring, answers the question this way: “Until quite recently, we were confident that we had done enough. We had ‘saved’ enough of our national heritage inside parks; outside, where people live and work, ‘progress’ could hold sway. This dichotomy fostered the belief that progress or change inevitably involves the loss of community character and beauty in our everyday life.”

But times are changing and recent years has seen the establishment of parks or park like creations like the Hudson River Valley Greenway and heritage areas that encompass vast areas of urban, suburban and rural landscape for which we want to conserve their unique qualities of place (community character and beauty). It means the difficult tasks of balancing environmental and economic imperatives and engaging many interests in our local and larger communities in environmental and development issues.

It is this change in America that makes the Italian park experience so relevant to us. Italy, like other densely populated European nations, has inhabited national and regional parks. ltaly’s Abruzzo Park ( is a worldclass mountainous preserve with many similarities to the Adirondack Park. Located about two hours from Rome or Naples in the Southern Apennines, the Abruzzo Park is 110,000 acres of natural land with medieval villages, shepards and pastures and a thriving wild life population that includes Marsican brown bears, chamois and wolves. The significantly larger Adirondack Park, with its six million acres, contains the largest wilderness area cast of the Mississippi River as well as 130,000 permanent residents in its villages and hamlets. These two parks of nature and people, one in the Old World and the other in the New, are on the cutting edge of the same challenge of integrating the highest conservation objectives with social and land economic needs of their communities.

What we are learning from the Abruzzo Park is how to have communities benefit from being in the Park. When Dr. Tassi became Park Director in 1969, Park residents found that their plans to develop vacation villas threatened to damage the environment and character of the Park. Tassi was and still is uncompromising in his belief that the Park must protect biodiversity, including wildlife populations, but he also knew he needed to develop a policy of “ecodevelopment.” He had a good eye for connecting the Park’s mission with the concerns of park residents for finding jobs and earning income.

Local residents were encouraged to be “first actors” of the Park, hosting guests in their homes instead of allowing the development of second homes built for a city population. A Park Center, a museum or focal point for wildlife species or other park characteristics, has been opened in each village. These Park Centers, such as the wolf museum in the small village of Civitella Alfendena, have been a catalyst for tourism and for teaching young students.

As the Abruzzo Park grew in recognition, value was added to natural products produced using park resources. Specialty -product stores opened in the Park, and new businesses, such as an artisan confectionery making park sweets, honey makers, and other merchants, brought former residents of the Park back to make a living. Tassi has documented the positive “park effect” on the local economy.

The impetus for establishing Park Centers in Adirondack Park communities took shape after the second Adirondack delegation, in which DEC Commissioner Cahill and Town of Inlet Supervisor J.R. Risling visited the Abruzzo Park in 1999. Risling, with the help of the Adirondack Park Agency, has opened what looks like the first of many main street park centers in the Adirondack Park. Like the Inlet Center, the centers will coordinate efforts and will highlight the host community as the gateway to particular park resources like its lakes and woodlands and provide useful visitor information.

Not only are Park Centers opening up, but the relationship formed between the two parks has also opened the possibility for educational exchange. Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondacks will soon have the possibility to send students to Bisegna, one of the Abruzzo Park’s many towns, under the auspices of an ecology and national park administration study program supported by the Italian Government through the Italian Academy Foundation. Construction is already underway in Bisegna to build a school and dormitory/hotel to house students. Projects such as this one not only deepen the connection between the parks, but also foster new academic possibilities and new ways of exchanging years of learning between two entities with common goals.

While people in the Abruzzo and Adirondack parks have found common ground, environmental historians are finding a history of conservation exchanges between Italy and America. An interesting example of that idea is the conservation landmark book Man and Nature, which was written by George Perkins Marsh while serving as American Ambassador to Italy from 1860 to 1882. Marsh learned much from his experience in Italy and his ideas led to the establishment of the Adirondack Park. Conservation initiatives between Italy and America, specifically New York, continue to provide benefits in our ever-shrinking world.