Women take the helm in the Adirondacks

Governor Rockefeller meets with the Temporary Study Commission. But is the boy's club over in the Adirondacks?

The Adirondack Park has always had its strong women, from 46er Grace Hudowalski to author Anne Labastille to historian Barbara McMartin.

But for much of the region’s history, the big political leaders — the figures shaping decisions large and small about the Park’s fate — have been men.

In his book “The Great Experiment in Conservation,” former APA chair Ross Whaley described creation of the Park as the product of a circle great men who wielded a lot of power.

“You had the Hochschilds, the Rockefellers and Louis Marshall,” Whaley told me, a few months after the book came out.  “Just really interesting visionaries that knew how to pull something off.”

The Temporary Study Commission appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s to shape the Adirondack Park Agency was made up entirely of men.

And later, the Park’s fate was largely shaped by influential figures like state Senator Ron Stafford and Governor George Pataki.

Which is why it’s so interesting to see the Park now being led primarily by a group of powerful women.

The Adirondack Park Agency is now led by Chairwoman Lani Ulrich and executive director Terry Martino.  The two  are the first women to hold those posts.

But it’s also noteworthy that both Adirondack regions of the Department of Environmental Conservation are now led by women, Betsy Lowe in Region 5 and Judy Drabicki in Region 6.

The three leaders in the state legislature who shape the Park’s fate are also now all women: state Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this list of less visible but still hugely influential women, who shape much of the Park’s behind-the-scenes conversation.

Kate Fish leads the influential Adirondack North Country Association.   Cali Brooks runs the Adirondack Community Trust.  Catherine Moore is publisher at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, long an opinion maker for the Park.

Betsy Folwell now leads Adirondack Life magazine, which shapes much of the public’s perception of the Park beyond the blue line.

Chandler Ralph is president and CEO of the Adirondack Medical Center, the Park’s biggest single employer.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ellen Rocco, general manager of North Country Public Radio, who shaped the vision that extended NCPR’s broadcast signal into most of the Park — I would argue, an important development for the region.

Obviously, there are still a lot of influential men in the Park, but the trend seems fairly dramatic.  So dramatic that it begs a question:  What will it mean?

Will it matter that women are leading the discussion, shaping the compromises, and looking for new solutions to the Park’s thorny problems?  Do women have different styles, different approaches, that might produce different results?

Ross Whaley used to say that leaders in the Adirondacks would often rather fight than win.  But maybe that’s a guy thing.  Maybe we’re about to get a fresh look at the Park and its future.

Your thoughts about these questions, as always, are welcome below.

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8 Comments on “Women take the helm in the Adirondacks”

  1. Bill O says:

    And in Hamilton County, Beth Hunt is County Treasurer, Jane Zarecki is County Clerk and Marsha Purdue was just elected District Attorney.

    In the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, the history of the Adirondacks is filled with the accomplishments and leadership of strong and determined women.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    Bill, let’s not forget Kim Byrne heads up Personnel, Amy Kristiansen heads up Probation, Beth Ryan heads up Public Health and Ann Melious heads up Economic Development and Tourism to name but a few more in Hamilton County government.
    The list of women in key positions in local government would add many more, plus all those in the private sector and in the schools.
    Three cheers to all the women in Hamilton County who are doing a great job at home and in the workforce.

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  3. Ellen Rocco says:

    I have a theory about why women have played a fairly prominent role in the development of the public radio system: low pay. While that has changed somewhat over the years, thirty years ago, public radio salaries were too low for most men to accept, particularly back when men were more likely to be the primary “bread-winners” in their families. (I started at NCPR in 1980 for $9,000/annually, full-time, development director.) However, of all the public radio jobs, men have managed to be represented disproportionately in the top manager’s position. (NCPR is still recognized by the federal government as a woman-managed broadcast organization–because women occupy so many of our top positions.)

    Is this a factor here in the Adirondack North Country? Is this a region where leadership positions are lower-paid than comparable positions elsewhere in the country? I don’t know this for a fact, just wondering…

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  4. Jim Bullard says:

    FWIW Ellen, I wasn’t making much more than that working for NYS DOL in 1980, a very slim hair over $10K, and that was the statewide salary for a UI claims examiner at the time, except for those in NYC who received a few hundred more a year. It is true though that North Country pay is generally lower than in major cities.

    It is my observation that women have been slowly but surely moving up through the ranks of the employed. When my wife began working it was a blow to my ego. I was brought up in a culture where it was up to men to be bread winners and when a wife needed to work it was a sign that the man wasn’t living up to his end of the deal. It’s changed and I’m glad it’s changed but some men have had a hard time accepting it. As evidenced by some recent right wing politicians’ statements there are still some who haven’t accepted it.

    I don’t know that women are all that different in management style but it was silly to exclude half the brains in the country from contributing because other parts of their anatomy were different.

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  5. wj says:

    I think it’s about merit.

    Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.

    And I think it’s about time, dammit.

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  6. Pete Klein says:

    Speaking of women in the workforce, it brings to mind one of the great rip offs I saw coming years ago.
    While I totally support a woman’s right to work and her right to equal pay for equal work, there is a problem not foreseen when woman started entering in numbers.
    Back in the good old days when men were the sole support of their families, budgets were constructed around this fact and if the man was laid off or got sick, the wife could and often did find a job to cover part of the loss in wages. Now we have a situation where budgets are based upon both husband and wife working. This is okay while both continue to work. But if one or god forbid both find themselves out of work, economic disaster hits.

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  7. PictADK says:

    It’s not about gender – it’s about competence. Remember, Indira Ghandi, Geraldine Ferrero, Maggie Thatcher, etc.? Reagan, Bush or Perry? We’ve had our share of incompetent leadership, regardless of gender. I’m more focused on competence, qualifications & education, rather than ideological debates? Much like Reps and Dems – we are far beyond bi-partisan positions. Or are we? Independent thinker.

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  8. Mark Wilson says:

    Having raised a small flock of backyard chickens over the past few years, I feel somewhat qualified to comment on this thread.

    From everything I have observed, guys possess a narrow range of expertise: they are excellent at striking poses, great at shooting their mouths off at every opportunity (and at every hour) and remarkably skilled at sexually harassing the females. Really. It’s as if they’re capable of thinking of nothing else sometimes. When they feel their job is on the line, they show a certain skill at raising the alarm of unspecified dangers, and pretending like they are the only hope to protect the community.

    The females on the other hand, seem more generalized in their survival skills. Their foraging aptitude is impressive from the earliest stages, and includes a thorough appreciation of keeping a balanced diet. They also seem to understand and respect corporate hierarchy. Needless to say, when it comes to egg production, the hens are consummate pros. Of course, when push comes to shove, they are also capable of murder and even cannibalism—not necessarily a bad thing in any given workplace.

    That’s about all I have to say on this topic. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wife says it’s time for me to go slaughter a couple roosters.

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