When Carolyn Gerdin was 13, her father sat her down for an important talk about the family’s new lakefront home. “He said never talk about the land in public, since the state still had claim to it,” she said, describing that day in 1949.
Since the late 1800s, title disputes had troubled the Raquette Lake area of the central Adirondacks known as Township 40. More than 200 properties were claimed by both New York State and increasingly frustrated local taxpayers. Despite decades of impasse, stakeholders, including the state and local property owners, agreed to sit down in 2011 to seek, what seemed like, an elusive solution.
A land dilemma surfaces
Meanwhile, as the Township 40 talks were unfolding, just down the road an invaluable recreational and natural resource known as the Marion Carry was at risk. The Carry, a well-used connecting trail for portaging canoes, links Utowana to Raquette Lake. Open to the public by only a handshake deal, the Carry’s private owner could have revoked access at any time. By 2009, whispers of development on the 295-acre forested property prompted the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to list the land as a priority acquisition.
As the two sagas of Township 40 and the Carry dragged on, a Township 40 working group devised a complicated plan by which owners of disputed properties could gain title to them. In exchange for relinquishing any rights to those properties, the state sought replacement land to be added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The replacement land would be paid for, in part, by fees to be submitted by the private owners of the disputed land titles.
But not only would the plan require approval from the state legislature and an amendment to the state constitution, it also required an experienced party to execute the major land transaction.
Enter the Open Space Institute. Over the past 40 years, OSI has become one of the nation’s most effective land conservation organizations, with a long history in the Adirondacks. And with proven expertise in carrying out complex deals, OSI also had the capacity to make it happen.
Despite the risk that the constitutional amendment would fail, and the understanding that it would recoup only a portion of its purchase price back from the state, OSI bought the Carry in 2013, along with three acres along the Marion River and nearly 5,000 feet of Utowana Lake frontage, for $2 million.
With the replacement property secured, the legal barriers were also overcome. Later that year, state voters approved the constitutional amendment; and in 2016, the companion legislation passed.
Thanks to OSI and its $1.3 million contribution to secure Marion Carry, all roads now pointed to a successful conclusion.
“OSI really changed peoples’ lives”
“There was much at stake for the public, landowners, and area communities that are critical to the long-term vibrancy of the Adirondacks,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO.
“After decades of impasse, OSI’s agility and skillset, along with supporters who were willing to take risks, led to a long-sought resolution to forever preserve the region’s recreational legacy and distinct Adirondack character.”
“Governor Cuomo has made preserving and conserving New York’s natural resources a priority,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “One of New York’s most treasured natural areas, the addition of the Marion Carry parcel to the Adirondack Forest Preserve will bolster opportunities for canoeing,” said Seggos. “New York State will continue to work with OSI, local landowners, and local governments to protect these valuable natural areas for generations to come.”
Many had assumed Township 40 title disputes would drag on indefinitely. But thanks to creative legislation and OSI’s vital leadership, the saga would soon be part of the historic lore of the Adirondacks.
For Jim Blanchard, whose great-grandfather settled in the area after the Civil War, resolution of Township 40 has brought some long-awaited peace of mind. “When OSI purchased the Marion River property, it was so helpful knowing that someone was trying to help us,” he said.
For her part, Carolyn Gerdin looks forward to many years at her family’s lakeside home. “I still remember when my father bought the property. The state told us they expected the dispute to be solved imminently,” Gerdin recalled. “OSI really changed peoples’ lives.