Through most of the last few years, Protect the Adirondacks stood alone in its opposition to the proposed amendment to Article 14, Section 1, the famed Forever Wild clause of the New York Constitution, to privatize and remove six acres from the Forest Preserve at the north end of Debar Pond. The affected lands provide the best public access to a popular beach and canoe launching area on Debar Pond in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest area and include some decrepit buildings that should be demolished and removed around the boarded-up Debar Lodge. Protect the Adirondacks has made the case that the Debar Lodge site should be reclaimed and restored to a wild forest setting and the site should remain highly accessible and easy to reach for swimming, hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, and camping, and be a place that can grow wilder each year and one day be like another Lake Lila.

At the end of December, the Town Board of the Town of Duane, in Franklin County, where Debar Pond is located, passed a resolution that opposed the amendment to privatize the Debar Lodge site. The Town is concerned about the loss of full public access and a change to their enjoyment of a local popular amenity. The Town Board explicitly states in its resolution that it “does not want the existing buildings associated with the lodge at Debar Pond and the land around them to be sold by the State to a private entity.”

Around the same time, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates completed their review of the proposal and published a thoughtful statement of opposition to the proposed Debar Lodge amendment. AWA stated it has “decided not to support the amendment, in favor of preserving the natural beauty of Debar Pond – in our view, the one truly unique resource worthy of protection” at this site.


Debar Lodge.

Other organizations and regional leaders have also been in contact with us and expressed their concerns about the proposal and will likely make their formal opposition public in the next few weeks and months.

The proposed constitutional amendment would convey into private ownership a 6-acre area around the Debar Lodge complex of buildings. These buildings are dilapidated and in disrepair and will costs millions of dollars to restore for their proposed new use as some kind of private institute that hosts small conferences or events like weddings. If the deal goes through, public access will be sharply reduced from what we all enjoy today. This is a bad deal for public recreation, for wild places, and for the Forever Wild Forest Preserve.

Under the New York Constitution, an amendment must pass the State Assembly and State Senate in two successive Legislatures, followed by approval the voters in a statewide ballot proposition. Supporters of the Debar amendment are pushing for “First Passage” this year in the current Legislative Session, with hopes of then pursuing “Second Passage” next year after elections this fall elect a new State Assembly and State Senate. If “Second Passage” was approved in the 2025 Legislative Session, then an amendment could be placed on the ballot in November 2025.

Last year, a draft constitutional amendment to clean up problems at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Winter Sports Complex received First Passage. This amendment enjoyed broad support from across the Adirondack political spectrum. An amendment to remove from the Forest Preserve the closed Camp Gabriels state prison passed the Senate but not the Assembly. The Debar amendment passed the State Assembly but not the Senate. With growing opposition, the Debar amendment will continue to face major hurdles.


Debar Lodge.

There are many problems with the effort to privatize the Forest Preserve around the Debar Lodge complex. In brief, these are:

  • The funds to rehabilitate these buildings will run into the tens of millions of dollars. Supporters have never made public any kind of business plan or report on the conditions of the buildings. This project would require considerable state funds for years to come, an even bigger drain on state funds than what we see with Great Camp Santanoni, which depends on state monies, and is a complex of building that are only “stabilized,” and not rehabilitated for full-scale occupancy for groups of people.
  • Public access on the Debar Pond site would be changed considerably as the paying guests of the lodge would dominate the use of the site, no matter what concessions are made to allow the public to continue to use the grounds. The public, which now owns the land and has carte blanche unfettered unrestricted access all year round, will be seen as a nuisance and second-class citizens to the paying customers if the site is privatized.
  • The world needs wild places, where intact ecosystems can flourish with minimal interference from human activity, far more than we need a rehabilitated old exclusive vacation home complex.
  • Supporters propose to pay for the six acres and buildings to be removed from the Forest Preserve by providing 400 acres of logged forestlands. On its face, a 6-acre for 400-acre swap may seem like a good deal, but the 400 acres proposed contain no shoreline. This is hardly an equitable trade. This 400-acre trade tract is assessed by the local town at $223,000 at full market value. It’s enrolled in the 480a Preferential Forest Tax Taw abatement program so it’s land that has been logged. Vacant and logged forest lands run at about $1,000 per acre these days, so the 400 acres, far from just about everything with no trails, vistas, or lakefront, is probably something like $400,000 in value or more. There are many lakes in the Adirondacks where one cannot even buy a marginal building lot for $400,000. The exclusive setting of the Debar Lodge complex on what is basically its own private lake makes this trade uneven, a rip-off of the Forest Preserve and New York State taxpayers.
  • Debar Lodge was built in the 1940s, contains many modern building features, and is far different from the many preserved Adirondack Great Camps built in the Gilded Age of the 19th century in the years after the Civil War. Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Debar Lodge is younger than many current Adirondack residents, indeed is younger than my parents.
  • Many Adirondack Great Camps, constructed in the 19th century, and recognized for their architectural and social history are protected and have been restored by private owners or organizations across the Adirondack Park. Many of these provide public access for a fee. One can take a tour or attend an event at Great Camp Sagamore, take a tour or arrange to stay at the SUNY Cortland Great Camp on Raquette Lake, or rent the Lake Kora Great Camp, hike, ski, or bike to Great Camp Santanoni, rent a room at The Waldheim on Big Moose Lake, visit Eagle Island on Upper Saranac Lake, or arrange a visit or stay at White Pine Camp outside of Paul Smith’s. There’s plenty of other Great Camps beyond this list that are protected and do not require forsaking public access and the wild Forest Preserve.


The collapsed boathouse at Debar Lodge. Many of the surrounding buildings are on the verge of collapse.

Protect the Adirondacks believes that there is no greater gift to future generations than what could be passed on with wild spaces around a restored, re-wilded, and motorfree Debar Pond. The world needs more wild spaces, which each year grow fewer and smaller. We need wildness far more than we need another private lodge or retreat center. Let’s continue to oppose the Debar Lodge amendment and let’s clear the site of the buildings and make Debar Pond into another Lake Lila. For those who want to add their voices to this effort, please click here to sign our online petition opposing the proposed Debar Lodge amendment.