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File photo - Adirondack Park Agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich.


APA leader takes a look at first year

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 - Updated: 10:48 AM


Express News Staff

A year has gone by since Leilani (Lani) Ulrich was appointed by Governor Cuomo to serve as the first woman chair of the board at the Adirondack Park Agency. The appointment followed her role as an APA commissioner, which began in 2004. With a year as chairwoman under her belt, Ulrich looks back to the past year and reflects on the challenges and satisfaction that the job brings.

Her past experience in the APA has been an important part of her success. “My experience as a commissioner was invaluable preparation. I was able to learn the workings of the board and the complexities of our laws and regulations. I had time to learn from my predecessors as they balanced ways of responding to public input and of working with local governments and those interest groups who comment most frequently on the Agency’s work,” said Ulrich.

Although she is still working with the same agency, her new role is a little more complex. There are some significant differences between serving as chairwoman as opposed to commissioner. “The greatest change is that the chair works very closely with the executive director and management staff, and is the liaison to Albany, to other state agencies, and to the Governor,” she said.

Living in Old Forge and working for an agency based in Ray Brook poses a little bit of a challenge, but there are ways to work around this obstacle. She uses electronic communication to help limit the amount of travel, and has been using SKYPE more and more, to help to shrink the distances both within the Park and to Albany. This way she can “cover the ground” that she need to without physically being there. “I am in touch with the office daily and, depending on meeting schedules and other travel commitments around the Park and in Albany, try to be in the office at least once a week,” says Ulrich.

She first became chairwoman at a time when the APA had a rather large project to deliberate, so she had to jump right in with both feet. “My tenure began with no honeymoon. My first meeting as Chair was the beginning of our three-month deliberations for the Adirondack Club and Resort project proposed for Tupper Lake. Completing that process in a timely manner with a 10-1 vote of approval was the first accomplishment of the year,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich found a few things that surprised her while settling into her new role. “Despite the importance of the Park, its history, its unique structure and stature nationwide and around the world, I was surprised by how many in our own state know so very little about the Adirondack Park,” she said. “We must do much more outreach within our own state, especially to our urban populations to understand this great place in which we live.”

She says that she is now more aware of the challenges the Agency faces in the protection of private and public land. “The duties of the Agency are laid out in law, some of which is rather complicated. In appreciation of the importance of our work, and its impact on people, communities and local government, I hope we can streamline wherever greater efficiencies can be achieved and provide increased understanding of the laws and regulations to all,” said Ulrich.

Another surprise to Ulrich was the knowledge that the increasingly destructive storms from climate change could reach the Adirondacks. “Many have thought for years that the impacts of climate change are one of the top three greatest threats to the Park, along with acid rain and invasive species. The composition of our forests, the quality of our waters and our dependency on winter recreation are all in jeopardy. The damage from Irene to the Towns of Keene and Jay was stunning. Never did I think the size of stream culverts would take on such importance in my thinking,” she said.

Serving as commissioner has allowed Ulrich to draw from past experience that has been very helpful. In particular, helping to get CAP-21 started and co-founding the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance has given her many valuable tools that she can use. “My CAP-21 experience first exposed me to APA, via the Ed McMahon presentations at the annual Local Government Day. We later brought Ed to Old Forge for a public presentation and workshop training with town officials and planners. I truly believe those actions helped the towns of Old Forge, Inlet and Forestport eventually write and adopt Comprehensive Master Plans,” she said.

“My CAP-21 experience taught me that public/private partnership is key to future planning and sustainable development.”

The Adirondack Common Ground Alliance broadened Ulrich’s understanding of Adirondack issues to a park-wide perspective. “Through both of those groups, I learned that the whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts – we can accomplish much more working together. Much can be done when reaching out in partnership. The success of Common Ground has reinforced my belief in the value of that work,” she says. “Entities around the country restate over and over that we are one of the few regions of this size, with this variety of challenges that “have it together” – where environmental groups, non-profits and governing entities literally meet and work together toward common goals. We have much to do, but we’re harnessing our mutual strengths to speed up the process and work together.”

Even back then, Ulrich was building relationships with the APA. “Through both experiences, I had the good fortune to meet and work with Terry Martino, first as ANCA taught CAP-21 how to do a grant application (which resulted in the $500,000 for the TOBIE Bikepath) and later as a colleague on the Common Ground Alliance Core Team. Those early years provided a foundation for the strong working relationship we now enjoy as she continues to lead the Agency Staff as the first woman Executive Director,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich believes strongly in the power of teamwork. “We have seen from the ADK Futures’ work the ‘power of two’ – two young retirees from Keene who are sharing their professional experience with the entire Park.”

This is just one example of the many ways that change can be enacted by working together. “We need ways for young retirees to get involved in our communities and in on a park-wide level. Local organizations exist that can assist town governments in outreach throughout the Park, but they are often dependent on very small staffs to do so much. Young retirees have much to offer and need ways to channel their expertise to fill gaps,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich enjoys the continuous learning that comes with the chairwoman position. “Even after 8 years as a commissioner, there is so much more to learn, so much more to understand first about how the Agency can better support the towns and villages of the Park, then next about how to better communicate effectively with interest groups and with Albany to build support for needed changes,” she says.

She enjoys the educational presentations that are commonly made to help the board with future policy decisions.  The presentations are broadcast live on the APA website and can be accesses by anyone, anytime, anywhere, which Ulrich feels is a great resource. “I am struck by how helpful some of the information can be to towns, organizations, private businesses and individuals around the Park,” she said.

Another thing she likes about the position getting to know the staff in a new way. “We have a staff of 56 serving a 6 million acre Park.  I have great respect for the expertise and dedication of each and every member of the team and the management that keeps the Agency functioning in a timely manner,” she said.


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