Willie Janeway details his decision to leave the Adirondack Council
The executive director of the Adirondack Council plans to leave the post. Willie Janeway took the helm of the largest Adirondack Park advocacy organization in 2013. He says it’s the right time for a transition. Janeway spoke with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley.
The Adirondack Council and I have had a great 10 years. We've accomplished a lot working with a lot of partners. We did a plan and set some objectives 10 years ago. We have grown the constituency and the diversity of the constituency of folks, engaged you WAMC with your broad listenership has helped us engage more people. And as we look forward and set new goals it's a good time. The council is strong, a good time for me to step back and for others to step up.
Did you have a vision in mind when you started at the Adirondack Council 10 years ago?
The board and I definitely had a vision and we have realized a lot of that. And fundamental to that was expanding and diversifying the constituency of people who can connect to and participate in advocating for the preservation of this threatened global treasure, the largest intact temperate deciduous forest in the world. The largest park in the contiguous United States. It's a crown jewel of New York's park system. And we worked with a lot of others to enhance its protections. And I also had a vision, as did others, of elevating awareness of shortcomings in existing protections. And we've made a lot of progress there helping everyone understand how much more work still does need to be done.
Along those lines, you pushed for what's called Vision 2050, a 30-year plan for the Park and I believe the Council has adopted the first three to five year part of that plan. How much of that do you believe will be successful?
I think we will be successful ultimately in all of that. The question is whether or not we can do that fast enough given the growing threats of climate change and overcutting and over-tourism. We have these opportunities in front of us right now. Vision 2050 identified the needs to better manage the Park protect the environment and also enhance the human communities. There's opportunity to do all of that. The Council is well positioned to lead in some areas and other partner organizations are well positioned to lead and other areas. And together that Adirondack common ground that we found in the past can be found again, going forward. So, Vision 2050 really is a lens into the future that we can all look through and use as a guide and the Adirondack Council intends to use it as a guide looking forward.
Well, how flexible is it? You mentioned things like climate change that in itself changes things. So how flexible is the Vision 2050 that you helped craft?
One of the great strengths of Vision 2050, and it was a team effort. Shout out to Julia Goren we hired as the director of the Vision 2050 project. And it is incredibly flexible and incredibly visionary and the Council is very strong with others at being both visionary and pragmatic, aspire to change systems and change what is possible, while also working in the capitol in Albany and Washington to achieve what is possible.
The Council adopted the first three to five years of this. Is that part of the reason to maintain that flexibility in the vision as you move forward?
One of the reasons this is a good time for a transition, Pat, for me to step back, not retire but to step back, and let others step forward is the Council is in a great position. We have Vision 2050. We have a strategic plan. We've got an incredible staff. We have strong partners. It's a really good time to move forward on the next phase. And that next phase, like a relay race, is a good time for me to pass the baton to others.
The Council board in the announcement that you would step back lists a number of changes and accomplishments that occurred during your ten-year tenure including things like growth as an organization in both staff and finances; new partnerships that you've managed to bring to the Council; legislation like new boat inspection laws. You helped with the creation of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. What are some of the key accomplishments that you look at during your 10 years at the Council?
Oh Pat, I appreciate the praise from the board and others to me. But this is not about me. This is a team. I have done nothing by myself. I've had the good fortune of working with an incredible group of people. We've accomplished a lot of different things. A couple of the things, two of the things that really stand out to me that the incredible team have done is number one, expanding and diversifying the constituency of people who are engaged in working to preserve the Adirondacks, to clean water in the wilderness and help the communities thrive. And the significant time and awareness of the opportunity to create a 21st century new Adirondack Park Agency looking forward that does a better job of addressing current threats and helping humans and nature thrive together. This is an example for the world. And those are two of the things that I have incredible pride for what the team and I have accomplished expanding this constituency and setting a foundation for further growth and change going forward.
You mentioned that you're stepping back. Are there things that you will still continue to do with the Adirondack Council?
My focus the next six months is to do everything I can to help the Council transition be smooth and continue the growth and forward trajectory of the Council. Then I am prioritizing some time for my family. And then since I'm not retiring, I will be back on the playing field. My family has been plugged into the Adirondacks since the 1800's and I don't imagine that the family or I will ever unplug but I'm going to take a break. And we'll see what comes next.
Do you plan to work with organizations in the Park after all of that occurs?
I plan to continue to support the Adirondack Council and other organizations working to preserve the East's greatest wilderness, this incredible legacy landscape that is a benefit for all. And I will not stop doing that.
So as you step out of a leadership position, you've had to deal with the politics, the economics and all of that, as you now move out of a position where you have to deal with all of that, what's your idealistic vision for the Park?
The vision that the Adirondack Council, the staff, and many others and I have is of stronger protections and stronger communities, clean water, wilderness. That means sort of reimagining and recreating a system put in place 50 years ago, or 130 years ago, to address current threats that weren't imagined then. And the governor and the legislature have a great opportunity right now to make investments in science that will then guide growth, and agencies and update to incentives. There's a new climate action plan that is being finalized and incorporating the Adirondacks into that is a key element. The forests of the Adirondacks are the lungs of America and the biggest lungs in the Northeast are sequestering and storing carbon. So managing this landscape with an eye towards 21st century threats is a big part of the vision that many of us share for the future.
The Deputy Executive Director will step in as Acting Executive Director. Do you have any idea if there's any folks that the board has in mind for your replacement?
I made my resignation effective September 15 to provide for and support a smooth transition. Rocci Aguirre has been in the deputy executive director position for more than a year, has a lifetime of experience on conservation and equity and years in the Adirondacks. So he will transition into doing more and acting executive director capacity as I transition myself out. And I expect the board will do a national search and Rocci may well be a candidate for that. And I'm sure the organization will emerge stronger than ever moving forward.
Willie Janeway previously worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Nature Conservancy of New York, the Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy and the Adirondack Mountain Club.