Plans are currently underway to bring a new distinction to the 1000 Islands region that is long overdue, providing more exposure as well as protection for this treasured one-of-a-kind incredible resource which will hopefully translate to a welcome boost in tourist trade and tourism dollars.
Three years ago, a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance (SASS) was a term only a handful of area residents were aware of. Today there is a $75,000 grant in place that will be combined with an equal amount of in-kind funding to allow professional consultants to be hired to complete the comprehensive assessment required by the NY Department of State for a region to qualify for such a designation that has been awarded to only two other areas, the Hudson River Valley and East Hampton in Long Island.
Where it all began…
Hammond Supervisor Ron Bertram was responsible for making the initial inquiries about the designation that identifies a community’s scenic resources and looks at how they can be improved or protected. After discussion with his town board, they agreed to spearhead the process that brought together towns and villages along the river to pursue the grant application and now to complete the required assessment. In addition to the Hammond/Chippewa Bay area, those municipalities benefitting from this distinction include: the town and village of Morristown, the town of Alexandria and the village of Alexandria Bay, the town of Orleans, the town and village of Clayton, and the town and village of Cape Vincent.
A representative of each of these municipalities along with representation from the Jefferson and St. Lawrence County Chambers of Commerce and Planning Offices, the Thousand Islands Land Trust, Save the River, Seaway Trail, St. Lawrence and Jefferson County Legislatures who represent the towns seeking the award, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the North Country Regional Economic Development Office, the Antique Boat Museum, and others have formed an advisory board overseeing the hiring of a consulting firm as well as the data collection necessary to complete the grant which is expected to be done sometime in 2014.
Singer Castle, a Hammond landmark that attracted over 25,000 visitors this year, provided the perfect setting for the July 23rd, 2013 meeting of these representatives and Barbara Kendall, the Albany official responsible for walking the board through the process. This initial event showcased Dark Island, a prominent member of the 1000 Islands, and featured antique boat transportation to and from the island that included the “Zipper”, part of the working boat collection at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton.
Why SASS is Significant…
The following paragraph is posted on the New York State Department of State’s Coastal Management website and provides a brief explanation of SASS:
NY State Legislature included scenic character as a key coastal resource protected by law. The Coastal Management Division believes, of the waterfront's many attributes, its scenery is perhaps the most universally appreciated. A major component of community character is a community's scenic resources, with special landscape features and views contributing to visual quality. It feels that in order to protect community character, the scenic characteristics of the waterfront and community should be considered when making planning and development decisions. As a result Department of State has developed a scenic assessment program that identifies the scenic qualities of coastal landscapes, evaluates them against criteria for determining aesthetic significance, and recommends areas for designation as Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance (SASS).
The SASS designation protects scenic landscapes through a review of projects requiring State or federal actions, including direct actions, permits, or funding. Guidance for assessing the overall visual characteristics of a waterfront is included in the Making the Most of Your Waterfront guidebook.
One of the interesting facts discovered during the initial research done to better understand this designation was that the 1000 Islands region was included in the NY guidelines and regulations as an example of an area containing the qualifying elements for an award.
According to Policy 24 of 19 NYCRR Part 602, the following general criteria will determine significance:
Quality. The basic elements of design (i.e., two-dimensional line, three-dimensional form, texture and color) combine to create all high quality landscapes. The water, landforms, and man-made components of scenic coastal landscapes exhibit variety of line, form, texture and color. This variety is not, however, so great as to be chaotic. Scenic coastal landscapes also exhibit unity of components. This unity is not, however, so complete as to be monotonous.
Example: the Thousand Islands where the mix of water, land, vegetative and man-made components creates interesting variety, while the organization of these same components creates satisfying unity.
After discovering this entry, the immediate thought was why is it the Thousand Islands Region is not a SASS designation? Supervisor Bertram and the Town of Hammond hope to change that and give the Thousand Islands an award they have deserved for a long time. With this distinction and increased attention also come potential opportunities for increases in tourism dollars that can spawn economic growth in the region. At the same time, this designation puts in place the protections and safeguards that will continue to provide reasons for authors to write their incredible articles and stories about this “Paradise on the Water”… this “Garden of the Great Spirit”.
By Mary Hamilton
Mary Hamilton lives on the St. Lawrence in Blind Bay near Hammond, NY. She and her husband, Del, and golden lab, Prince, enjoy the year-round peace and serenity of the amazingly beautiful natural resource that is the 1000 Islands. Mary is a retired school psychologist and educational consultant who is also a North Country native, born and raised down river in Waddington, NY. She has been active in several organizations in both communities over the years. The St. Lawrence has always been an important part of her life and she feels protection of this "Garden of the Great Spirit" is a worthwhile commitment.