Laura Faulk: Forecasting Saratoga's Climate in 2056

laura faulk

laura faulk

Every 24 hours, we spew into the atmosphere another 110 tons of climate-warming pollution. 

Fossil fuels account for 80 percent of the world's energy use. 

At no point in the last 56 million years has carbon entered the atmosphere at a faster rate. 

Atmospheric C02 just passed 415 parts per million, the highest monthly average ever recorded. 

We know all of this from Laura Faulk, a Climate Reality Project Leader.  The Climate Reality Project is a global network of activists committed to spreading awareness of the climate crisis and working for solutions. We need some climate reality in Darwin's Edge, and so we're delighted she's agreed to consult with us on key aspects of the story. 

While not a climatologist, Laura has closely studied the science of climate change and she has a highly informed perspective on the climate we're likely to experience in Saratoga by the middle of the century. 

For example, we want to imagine January 3rd, 2056 as accurately as possible. Michael Carmody, Rick Jacoby and Victor Cliff are enjoying lunch at Bacon's Lot Bistrodiscussing the launch of ThinkPal, the most advanced neural auxiliary of its time. How likely are they to see snow as they gaze on that vast 100-acre field? 

Let's be hopeful and assume the world wakes up and develops a new consciousness that recognizes the full gravity of the climate crisis. Let's say we take meaningful action and achieve a breakthrough or two in carbon sequestration technology. "Direct Air Capture appears to be the most promising approach," says Laura. "It's getting a considerable amount of investment capital." 

WILL THERE BE SNOW IN EARLY JANUARY, 2056? MAYBE, SAYS LAURA FAULK.

WILL THERE BE SNOW IN EARLY JANUARY, 2056? MAYBE, SAYS LAURA FAULK.

"The most optimistic scenario right now is that the world will take action to limit warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit," says Laura. 

So what will that big Pitney Meadows field look like in early January, 2056? 

"The most recent National Climate Assessment published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts the Northeast will experience less early winter snowfall, decreased snow depth, and a shorter snow season with fewer days of snow on the ground," she says. "Winters already have warmed three times faster than summers and more of our winter precipitation is falling as rain instead of snow. That trend will continue." 
 
"So, it's possible that the Pitney Meadows field will be covered in snow in early January, 2056, but anyone viewing it would most likely appreciate the snow as a somewhat recent, and perhaps welcome, addition to the landscape." 

Good to know. Thanks. 


Imagining Mount McGregor

McGregor from the Base.jpg

Visitors to Saratoga Springs in the late 1800s could climb aboard a narrow-gauge train at North Broadway and enjoy a scenic 12-mile ride north to the forest-crowned summit of Mount MacGregor, the highest peak south of the Hudson in the Palmertown range of the Adirondacks.

There they found the 150-room Hotel Balmoral, built by Joseph W. Drexel, who also built the railroad. In building the hotel, Drexel moved to McGregor's Western Outlook the smaller Mountain House that Duncan McGregor built in 1876. Drexel would later offer the use of the lodge to General Ulysses Grant to complete his autobiography in the last six weeks of his life in 1885.

On December 1, 1897, the Hotel Balmoral was reduced to ashes in a blaze of mysterious origin, as reported by The Saratogian.

"The entire structure was destroyed by fire early this morning and the heavens for miles around bore brilliant evidence of the fiery fate of this caravansary on the mountain top, 1200 feet higher than Saratoga."

Hotel Balmoral.png

"Of course, nothing could be done to save it, for there are no firefighting facilities on the mountain."

Men had been at work on the building for several days, "painting and otherwise improving it." Lanterns had been used and a "fire had been kept to warm a portion of the lower floor."

"It is possible that spontaneous combustion was generated by some of the oily and turpentine rags used by the painters, but this theory cannot be proved and a good many people would not believe it anyhow."

A few months after the hotel burned, Drexel took apart the railroad and the city's most popular link to the Adirondacks was lost.

THE NEXT CENTURY

Over the years, other uses were found for the site. While the hotel was gone, the infrastructure remained and that, with new construction, would support over the next century a tuberculosis sanatarium, a veterans’ rest home, and a residence and school for the developmentally disabled. In 1976, the New York State Department of Corrections turned the complex into a minimum-security prison, which ultimately closed in 2014.

In 2017, the Empire State Development Corporation started seriously looking for a developer to purchase the 325 acres that remain surrounded by a 10-foot fence after 750 acres of forest around the prison were opened to the public as an extension of Moreau Lake State Park. ESD offered $8 million toward infrastructure improvements, but that was not enough to persuade serious developers who might be put off by the need to install a new water system and piping for natural gas, as well as the challenge of dealing with three municipalities -- Corinth, Wilton, and Moreau -- in obtaining the necessary permits

THIS IS THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT MCGREGOR WHERE THE HOTEL BALMORAL ONCE STOOD. How might these 325 acres be used next?

THIS IS THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT MCGREGOR WHERE THE HOTEL BALMORAL ONCE STOOD. How might these 325 acres be used next?

Some say there's no way McGregor will ever be redeveloped. The obstacles are too massive.

But others are hopeful, even determined. None more so than Melissa Trombley-Prosch, the Grant Cottage historic housekeeper and site curator who in 1985 led the fight to save the cottage when the National Park Service starting taking steps to close it.

"History has taught me that anything is doable if you just have a group of like-minded people who have decided that a particular choice of action has merit and is achievable," says Trombley. "All of this is achievable, but there's been no vision."


VISIONS OF MCGREGOR’S FUTURE


Enter the Open Space Institute and Saratoga PLAN. As part of a conservation and recreation strategy for northern Saratoga County they published last fall, these non-profits are proposing two new visions for the summit that would harmonize with McGregor's history and surrounding forest, lakes, and trails.

One is a museum or interpretive center that highlights the area's indigenous, cultural, and ecological history. As a model, OSI and PLAN point to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, with its "museum park," a trail system that leads visitors through natural areas to commissioned works of art. "Designed for hiking, walking, and jogging, the unpaved natural trails allow visitors to deeply experience art and nature," the museum's site says.

YOU CAN BIKE THE GREENWAY AT THE NORTH CAROLINA MUSEUM OF ART

YOU CAN BIKE THE GREENWAY AT THE NORTH CAROLINA MUSEUM OF ART

But an even better model for Saratoga Springs may be that provided near Portland, Oregon by craft brewers Mike and Brian McMenamin, who in 1990 imagined a new future for a 74-acre parcel that for over a century had served as a poor farm, a jail, and a nursing home. Shuttered in 1982, the building, called Historic Edgefield, went into an eight-year period of decline that the McMenamin brothers ended with their determination to bring people together with "good beer, good food and good music" and create the "Disneyland for adults" that McMenamins Edgefield is today.

The manor that once housed the impoverished and nursing home residents is now a 100-room hotel. Surrounding it is a pitch-and-putt golf course, a fine dining restaurant, a spa, a soaking pool, a concert and event venue, a winery and vineyard, brewery, a distillery, a glass-blowing studio, a pottery studio, gardens, a pool and game hall, and a "sprawling park-like campus dotted with tiny atmospheric pubs just waiting to be discovered," reports Spirited magazine.

Would something like that be possible on Mount McGregor? Absolutely, says Jeff Olson, a local architect and planner with Alta Planning + Design who consulted with OSI and PLAN on the South Palmertown study.

CALLED A “DISNEYLAND FOR ADULTS,” MCMENAMINS EDGEFIELD REPURPOSED A PRISON OUTSIDE OF PORTLAND, OREGON.

CALLED A “DISNEYLAND FOR ADULTS,” MCMENAMINS EDGEFIELD REPURPOSED A PRISON OUTSIDE OF PORTLAND, OREGON.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect Saratoga Springs to the Adirondack Park," he says. "We can connect more than 10,000 acres into a sustainable resource for conservation, recreation and economic development."

Properly executed, the redevelopment of Mount McGregor could be the main driver for the success of the conservation and recreation strategy that OSI and PLAN are proposing for northern Saratoga County, says Katie Petronis, OSI Northern Program Director.

"Imagine a space that's focused on recreation and appreciation of the region's many outdoors offerings would encourage trails development and appreciation of the fabulous Palmertown landscape, with its rivers, lakes and peaks. Imagine a network of trails that reaches all the way down to Saratoga Springs at Daniels Road State Forest, where it meets the Greenbelt. It would spawn bike shops, trailside eateries, brew pubs, and bed and breakfasts. The redevelopment of Mount McGregor is critical to this plan."

Michele Madigan: Fiber, Connected Lighting and a Saratoga Maker Space

MICHELE MADIGAN

MICHELE MADIGAN

Who will have a better perspective on the future of Saratoga Springs than Michele Madigan? 

Which civic body will have a better perspective on where this city is likely to be  in 2056 than the 
Smart City Commission Madigan established in 2016 to start brainstorming optimal solutions to carry us through the next decade and beyond?

We have to think further out if we're to give our children and grand-children a livable planet. The challenges are bewildering and terrifying, so we’re dedicating this site to imagining solutions that might ultimately save us. 

"While you think that 37 years is a long way off, it is and it isn't," says Madigan. "Not for a city. Not when you consider the magnitude of the investments that cities have to make and the planning that goes into them."

As much as the Saratoga Springs economy has going for it, Madigan points at all of the innovative things that are happening in Troy to support new enterprises and asks how we can generate more of that kind of activity here. 

One big step we could take: the establishment of a maker space like the 
Tech Valley Center of Gravity, which describes itself also as a "prototyping center, manufacturing incubator, STEAM-education center, and creative community located in the heart of downtown Troy." 

TVCOG offers its members the space, tools, technology and expertise to explore and exercise their creativity, turn ideas into objects of art and/or utility, and launch new ventures based on their own ingenuity." 

Distributed throughout its 15,000 square-feet spread over two floors in a historically renovated former department store you'll find innovation studio space, a metal shop, a welding shop, a model shop, a fiber arts area, 3D printers, a laser cutter, electronics and microprocessors, and co-working space. 

Madigan would like to see such a facility in Saratoga Springs and is working with the county's two economic development agencies to assemble the same kind of partnerships that made possible the establishment of TVCOG in Troy. Madigan thinks the perfect place for this new facility would be right beside the parking garage that will open in a year or two to serve the City Center. 

Also on Madigan’s agenda for the city: fiber and connected lighting.

"No matter what goes we do aboveground with 5G, there will always be a place for fiber in the ground," she says.. "Fiber is here to stay. It's safe. There's nothing faster than the speed of light. All of the things we're doing aboveground can be tied into fiber, including 5G wireless." 

Connected lighting systems promise cities that buy and manage their own street light systems an array of benefits, including improved quality and flexibility in LED lighting, big energy savings, and powerful integration with the Internet of Things. 

Thanks to a decision by the Public Service Commission that allows cities in New York to buy their streetlight networks from National Grid, Saratoga Springs has the option of going this route, but there are still many unknowns, as our national Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy points out:  

"Through the incorporation of distributed intelligence, network interfaces, and sensors, connected lighting systems become data collection platforms that enable a wide range of valuable new capabilities as well as greater energy savings in buildings and cities. But many questions remain about how well it will work, whether it will actually save energy, and whether it will offer enough benefits and value-added features to justify the investment." 

Imagining the Palmertown Range Trail

Trails take a long time, says Julia Stokes. She would know; she’s been building them most of her life.

JULIA STOKES AND KURT KRESS

JULIA STOKES AND KURT KRESS

After aiding in the launch of Saratoga Springs’ resurgence as the first director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, Stokes moved to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) where in the early 1990s she was named Deputy Commissioner for Regional Operations. In that position, she was responsible for all of the state’s parks east of Syracuse, south of the St. Lawrence River, and north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Headquartered at Saratoga Spa State Park, Stokes at that time lived with her husband on five acres adjacent to Skidmore's North Woods, which sits at the southern terminus of the Palmertown Range. She walked her collie every day on its trails, and so she had a personal interest in a meeting she was about to have with Kurt Kress, a young Parks engineer who'd been assigned to the team that was developing a new master plan for Moreau Lake State Park.

BLOCKS OF GREEN

This was the mid-1990s. Niagara Mohawk had just sold its dams on the Hudson due to regulatory changes that prompted the company to get out of the power-generation business and focus instead on just transmission. Having purchased 3000 acres of prime Adirondack forest around Spier Falls Dam and Sherman Island Dam, the Open Space Institute (OSI) had just transferred it to New York State and thereby quadrupled the size of Moreau Lake State Park -- from 700 to 4100 acres.

The question Parks officials were now asking: What do we do with this new land, which can offer the public spectacular new views of the Hudson and access to lakes and forest previously off-limits?

Now capital facilities regional manager for OPRHP, Kress at that time was on the team assigned to answering questions like, what do we about these huge Niagara Mohawk transmission towers? Can we build trails under them? That took the team a couple of years to work out with Niagara Mohawk's lawyers, but they did it.

Kress was specifically assigned to surveying all of the ecological communities within an extended radius of the park. He walked into Stokes' office and rolled out on her desk a long map with a twisted line running along it from the North Woods to Moreau Lake.

the existing western ridge trail in moreau lake state park will be a key section of the palmertown ridge trail.

the existing western ridge trail in moreau lake state park will be a key section of the palmertown ridge trail.

“That’s the Palmertown Range Trail,” he announced.

Thirteen miles long, the trail Kress proposed included two state forests already in the public domain -- and thus easy to incorporate in the trail  -- and other essential properties that weren’t. These included the undeveloped land around the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility and a large plot in Wilton that John Witt had bought for his Woodard Road development.

 “As we were inputting my data into my GPS locator, we could see these blocks of green in a line," Kress recalls. "That was the genesis for saying, 'someday, these blocks should be linked together with a coherent trail system.’"

Stokes loved the idea, but she knew it wasn't going to be easy. Trails take a long time.  


A STRATEGY FOR THE PALMERTOWN RANGE

Fast forward 20 years and we can see that much of that early vision is in place. Most importantly, 750 acres of undeveloped land around the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility are now attached to Moreau Lake State Park, providing access to two pristine lakes and a way ultimately to get to the popular Grant's Outlook on Mount McGregor's summit.

The result of groundwork laid by Saratoga PLAN and the Saratoga-Capital Region Parks Commission, this acquisition was essential to the vision of the Palmertown Range Trail. It provided the impetus in 2017 for OSI and PLAN to undertake a major study of the region. With extensive community input in the form of stakeholder interviews, focus groups and surveys, environmental consultants Alta Planning + Design and Bernuth & Williamson completed last November a 150-page recreation and conservation strategy. This will serve as the main reference to which everyone can now refer in making virtually any kind of decision involving land.

For example, if you're a private landowner, you'll want to know if your property is particularly prized for conservation. If you’re interested in selling your land, you may have an interested conservation buyer. If you're not looking to sell, there may be other conservation or public access options, many of which may afford a financial incentive.

If you work in town government in Saratoga Springs, Greenfield, Corinth, Moreau, or Wilton, you'll want to know the study's recommendations on zoning.

THE HUDSON RIVER, SEEN FROM THE WEST RIDGE TRAIL IN MOREAU LAKE STATE PARK. ON THE HORIZON IS THE KAYADROSSERA RANGE.

THE HUDSON RIVER, SEEN FROM THE WEST RIDGE TRAIL IN MOREAU LAKE STATE PARK. ON THE HORIZON IS THE KAYADROSSERA RANGE.

If you're an outdoors-oriented entrepreneur, you'll want to know the high-traffic areas that offer greatest potential in recreation-based tourism businesses, such as lodging, restaurants and cafes, rental shops, environmental education and guide services, camping, geocaching, and related businesses at appropriate locations along the trail system.


COMPLETING THE SPINE

With its forested granite peaks and steep valleys, the ruggedness of the Palmertown Range has served as a shield against developers, despite being directly adjacent to the highly developed Northway corridor. That’s why it still has a forest economy that includes Christmas tree farms, the harvesting of lumber and maple syrup, the manufacture of woodcrafts, and outdoor recreation centers.

The strategy concludes: "The myriad charismatic ecosystems, flora, and fauna found in the Palmertown Range can serve as an economic and quality of life asset for the community by providing place-based recreation unique to the location relative to the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, and the Hudson River."

In 2016, the Open Space Institute acquired for $1 million the 282-acre Greentree Lake parcel. Adjacent to Lincoln Mountain State Forest's southern boundary, this will be a key piece of the Palmertown Range Trail's "spine," which is now about 70 percent completed, says Katie Petronis, OSI's northern program director.

 "There remains only a handful of parcels on which public access is needed to complete the spine trail. We are in touch and working with the majority of those landowners and are hoping to have the access phase of spine trail development completed in the next five years."