The public and private lands surrounding Thirteenth Lake represent a pragmatic solution to the negative environmental effects of sprawl. Here, members of the Thirteenth Lake Property Owners Association voluntarily give up some of the rights commonly enjoyed by property owners in the U.S. to enhance the public goods of nature protection and aesthetic quality through deed covenants. These covenants require that homes be set well back from the lake and well apart from each other, and to conform to design standards governing screening vegetation, utilities, paint color and building materials, etc. Recreational use of the lake is controlled by limiting access to a common beach area where amenities such as parking, a sandy beach, a floating dock for deep water swimming and diving, chairs and picnic tables, chemical toilets, canoe and kayak storage racks, and an emergency phone are provided, and use of the beach area is governed by a set of rules designed to protect the natural ecosystem and the aesthetic quality of the development. The overall impact is reduced fragmentation of habitat, increased protection of wildlife, and noticeably enhanced aesthetic quality compared to similar lake-shore developments in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.
The rest of the land surrounding the lake is in public ownership as part of the New York State Forest Preserve where it is governed by Adirondack Park regulations for land designated as "Wilderness" under the park's Land Use Master Plan. As such, permanent structures and the use of motorized vehicles are prohibited on the lakes public shoreline. All camping on the public land bordering the lake must take place 150 feet from trails or lake shore except at a handful of designated spots where shoreline camping is allowed. At the northern end of the lake there is a public parking area close by chemical toilets, four handicapped access campsites, and a boat launch. Although the lake itself is not designated as "Wilderness," the design of the boat launch effectively limits the size of boats that can use the lake to small craft such as kayaks, canoes, and rowboats, and there is a 5 hp limit for motorized boats (and signs suggest that only electric motors may be allowed on the lake at some point in the future).
One of the key factors in the successful marriage of public and private land at Thirteenth Lake is the use of science and technology to monitor the health of its ecosystem. An example of this is the loon monitoring program that was conducted at the lake this summer. Loons are often used as indicator species for environmental quality in Adirondack lakes, and the information gleaned from this study can be used to guide future policies pertaining to the public and private lands at Thirteenth Lake.
The threats to nature in wealthy nations are often very different from the threats to nature in the developing world, so it is interesting to find some similarities between Thirteenth Lake and an environmental success story taking place in the Amazon rainforest. In their 2007 book The Last Forest Mark London and Brian Kelly describe the town of Sinop in the Brazilian Amazon as "a failed experiment that somehow managed to succeed (p. 109)." Sinop was founded in 1972 as a "private colonization project owned by a single individual...(who used) a manioc-to-ethanol factory...as the catalyst for real estate development (p.104)." The manioc-to-ethanol scheme was an abject failure, but the town prospered nonetheless. "Sinop now has 120,000 citizens living along paved streets in neat sub-divisions, waiting patiently for the completion of the new airport terminal and the forty-six store shopping mall (p. 105)." London and Kelley find one key to Sinop's success in the fact that it started with a "private governing authority, selling off clearly demarcated plots of land. (This gave) ...settlers who then had a vested interest in the enhanced value of the land (the)...incentive to stay and prosper rather than slash and burn the land and move on (p.104)."
They find a second key to Sinop's success in the story of Jaime Demarchi, a farmer and machine shop owner, about whom they write: "It took years for Jaime and his neighbors to understand the soil: what crops worked, what rotation they needed, what fertilizer worked best. 'We now have rotations that go through soy, corn, wheat, and rice,' he said. 'And each of those plantings may need a different seed, depending on where they are, what the soil is like, what the rotation is going to be. We can figure those things out because we have the most modern technology in the world. Right here in Amazonia.' In his machine shop, Demarchi has a computer with broadband access, which allows him to share information about see varieties with research organizations, to download weather information, to buy and sell equipment, and to keep up with commodities markets. He has a cell phone. The advantage that American and European farmers once had over Demarchi--access to information and technology--is gone. The competitive matrix now tilts in his favor because he also has a year-round warm climate, abundant rainfall, and plenty of land (pp. 110-111)."
The common threads that run through the Thirteenth Lake and Sinop examples provide practical guidelines for new development programs that make effective use of the increasingly scarce resources available for environmental protection. One such thread is that both examples rely on sub-divisions of clearly-titled private property to tap into landowners' self-interest as a means of creating and sustaining development that will simultaneously protect the environment and their investment. The implication of this finding for conservation organizations seeking to make maximum use of scare resources is this; where self-interest leads to successful developments, recovered investments and profits can be channeled into new developments. This creates self-expanding funding sources for nature protection at a time when new resources are likely to be increasingly difficult to come by, and adds an interesting new dimension to the idea of "sustainable" development.
Another common thread running through both examples is that they take a pragmatic approach to protecting nature through their emphasis on creativity and adaptability. This is important because, as Louis Menand writes in his 2001 history of pragmatism The Metaphysical Club, "ideas are tools...(that) are provisional responses to particular and unreproducible circumstances (whose) survival depends not on their immutability but on their adaptability (pp. xi and xii)." They also illustrate the importance of employing science and technology to guide and enhance creativity and adaptability when dealing with the natural world.
Thirteenth Lake provides a specific example of how public and private land can be combined to protect nature, an idea that mirrors the basic concept embodied in the Adirondack Park on a smaller scale. While London and Kelly do not specifically discuss what role, if any, publicly-owned nature reserves played in Sinop's success, they note with apparent approval the efforts of Brazil's Minster of the Environment, Marina Silva, to set aside forest reserves along newly-created road (BR-163) that joins Sinop to the world's markets (p.114). Employing the expanded definition of sustainable development described above within the framework of regional land use planning promises to yield an effective foundation for future efforts to protect nature in the modern world.