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February 2006 - Article 2
Photo Copyright © 2006
by Jessica Kuzmier

     The valley stood before us, awaiting its judgement. Its fate would be decided soon enough. Either the view before us would remain the same, or change radically. Development is not just some political issue on TV that affects places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That point seems evident enough, but seeing the issue sprawling like a green carpet in front of you reminds you how real it is.

     The debate over Butternut Valley centered upon a proposed campground development. A couple of private citizens wanted to create this on land they owned, a nearly 52-acre parcel of farmland. This area wasn't developed all that much; understandably, other residents were upset about this whole idea. As far as they were concerned, this whole campground thing would be nothing more than an eyesore and a pollutant, noise, light or otherwise. Fears of crime were mentioned; the residents' quiet homes could possibly turn into a hangout for drug activity. These residents signed a petition of protest, circulating it amongst various governmental organizations. They wanted a six month moratorium on construction, which would by no means be a permanent victory. It probably wouldn't be enough time to stop construction anyway.

     There was a small advertisement in the local newspaper by a private group. They offered the advice to go visit the area before it was destroyed forever. It was a historic place, they informed. Another piece of beauty that would be eradicated in the name of commerce. Wetlands would be destroyed forever, and a creek would be now contaminated by sewage: don't you want to see the innocent one before it is executed for a crime it didn't commit?

     We drove though the area, not really sure what we were looking for. Allegedly, a cemetery was part of the condemned land. There were Native American artifacts, at least, so I heard. But I didn't know where they'd been found. There were no signs of protest anywhere, nor any indication where the plot was. It seemed like a bucolic row of rural houses, some surrounded by cleared land, some bordered with trees that would seem to go on forever if it was in a postcard. As we drove over a bridge, Butternut Creek wove its way under us, splitting the valley in half. One day, we followed the east half, one time, the west one. Only a crane in open land betrayed any evidence of what beneath the picture. The sense of controversy was subtle, but it was there.

     If the campground proposal had its way, over the next five years the scene would gradually change. There was a market for seasonal camping here, claimed the potential builders. With Cooperstown only miles away, there was a need for seasonal housing, especially in the summer. Families came with their kids to baseball camps, and it would be great to target them. Of course, that was the last thing that the other residents wanted. There were debates in the local paper, for and against. It wasn't long before the debate became an upstate/downstate debate, as those who'd use the campground would most likely be from the metropolis of New York City. Some were sick of downstaters taking wrecking balls to their lives, said some of the letters. Except the ones who wanted the campground in the first place weren't from downstate. They lived next door.

     I think I could understand their feelings. The area I live in is pretty undeveloped as well. If all of the sudden, the place turned into a bunch of condominiums, I don't think I would be thrilled. Rural New York, like a lot of relatively undeveloped areas, gets its visionaries to build up the place all of the time. It's supposed to buoy the economy, create jobs, keep the young people from moving out, all that sort of thing. Housing tracks and hotels pop up all the time, and ostensibly, it's all good. I don't see any evidence of this grand plan working, but people still have their ideas. I don't know how well a campground would fare in the middle of nowhere, either. Maybe it would be a great idea. But it wasn't in my back yard. The old NIMBY effect, it would seem.

     Like the poor, development will always be with us. I can't say I'm completely against the concept. After all, I do have a car and running water. Harvest time for me isn't in the fall. It's every week at the grocery store. And I'm writing on a computer, not with a stick in the dirt. I don't necessarily know how much development is too much, and I can't say I'm terribly bothered by the idea of a campground where people can enjoy a vacation in nature. But it's always an issue when development arrives on your doorstep. It's a reminder that you can't stop the world, no matter how still it seems at the moment.


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