MINEVILLE, N.Y. – Leaders of Adirondack environmental organizations joined with local elected officials here today to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul not to mothball the former Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility as is planned by Dec. 31, but instead to reuse it to bolster conservation and boost employment. The leaders said there were several possible options that would bring new life to the structure. Reuse would help a small Adirondack community recover from the job losses and lost business opportunities associated with the closure of a state institution, they said. They also pointed to several recent state initiatives that would benefit from an additional state building in the Adirondacks, from which to offer training and housing.
“Moriah Shock campus is a diamond that lies within the eastern portion of the Adirondack Park,” said Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava. “The facility is in great condition and has the infrastructure to support this proposal. Moriah lost over 100 jobs when they closed it, which has had a severe economic impact on our community. To let this facility sit vacant is a travesty when a number of reuses are possible.”
“New York needs more personnel in the Adirondacks to manage the forests it already owns as well as forests it hopes to protect in the future. This park is the nation’s largest carbon sink outside of Alaska and it will be essential to solving the global climate crisis,” said Adirondack Council Forever Adirondacks Campaign Director Aaron Mair. “Managing our forests and visitors will take people from all over New York, from all kinds of backgrounds and with many different talents. They will need a place to learn about the Adirondacks and experience the wilderness for themselves. They need to earn the skills and credentials they will need to be a part of the climate solution. For some, the new Timbuctoo Summer Climate Careers Institute in Newcomb will be step one to the new career. Step two can be right here.”
The Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility was a minimum-security corrections facility reserved for non-violent offenders who chose to participate in a highly-structured regimen of physical exercise and community service. It operated similar to a military training camp. It was closed in 2021 due to lack of inmates, but remains in excellent condition. A similar state “shock” corrections facility near Buffalo remains open.
“We must find a reuse for Moriah Shock that improves the quality of life for our communities,” said Senator Dan Stec, R-Queensbury. “Whether it’s affordable housing, training facilities or some sort of economic development, the time to act is now. The facility is still in great shape and should be put to use before it falls into disrepair, like so many other closed correctional facilities have. By putting forward a constructive plan, we can ensure the site remains an important hub for social and economic activity for generations to come.”
“Reusing former correctional facilities will help address the issue of closed prisons in our region,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake. “We have an opportunity here at Mineville to repurpose the building for conservation purposes which will create jobs, prevent the building from deteriorating, and help the environment. Prison closures have negatively impacted the North Country community and we must continue to work together to revitalize closed correctional facilities and help the local communities that were directly impacted by these closures.”
“The Moriah Shock facility is a remarkable asset belonging to the State of New York and its taxpayers,” said Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Brant Lake. “The programming here benefitted countless individuals by helping turn their lives around and become contributing members of their families and society. It also provided a means for stable middle-class careers that helped build families and anchor nearby communities, and even provided crucial assistance to our State DEC. Moriah Shock was in no uncertain terms an ecosystem predicated on providing a public benefit and being a force of good both locally and to the State of New York at large. It is absolutely pivotal that the Governor and the Prison Redevelopment Task Force find a stable long-term use that provides an equitable benefit previously provided to New Yorkers for decades. We have an opportunity with Moriah Shock to ensure we don’t have another Mount McGregor, whose lasting legacy is mere blight. We have an opportunity to write a new chapter that proves New York can create something lasting and be a force of good.”
“The closing of Moriah Shock was a devastating blow to this community and to Essex County, a county fully within the Adirondack Park and a county that continuously goes above and beyond to support New York State and all its citizens,” said County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gilliland, R-Willsboro. “This facility is a true gem, ready to be reused for another mission in the support of the state. The opportunity to develop this facility as a training venue for the Adirondacks, within the Adirondack Park, should absolutely not be allowed to go by. You will find an entire community here ready and able to work toward its success. The legacies of Camp Gabriels and Lyon Mountain must be ended and new era of real State property redevelopment begun here at Moriah Shock.”
“There can be a strong and redeeming social equity element to reusing this building for conservation education purposes too,” said Adirondack Council Deputy Director Raul “Rocci” Aguirre. “Transforming a prison to a place of learning, and using it to train a Civilian Climate Corps – like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the Great Depression – would offer new career paths and new lifestyle options to Black and Latino students who might not find their way into the Adirondacks otherwise. Can you imagine living your whole life and never coming here? In turn, the Adirondacks would benefit from a fresh shot of youthful enthusiasm.”
Aguirre noted that New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will require new efforts to curb greenhouse gases and to conserve the forests that remove carbon dioxide from the air. That will spur new jobs in private sector contractors and public employment (forest rangers, engineers, planners), he said. Meanwhile, Mair explained that follow-up job training will be needed for graduates of the newly created Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, a two-week introductory program which will be hosted at the State University of NY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in nearby Newcomb. The institute was named in honor of the Essex County “suffrage settlement” (both are named after the city in Mali: Timbuktu, often a synonym for a remote place).
The local Timbuctoo was one of nearly a dozen Essex County farming communities established by Abolitionists who helped 3,000 Black men secure the right to vote in New York, long before the start of the Civil War. Suffrage for Black men in the 1840s required ownership of $250-worth of property. The summer climate careers institute will bring students to the Adirondacks from the City University of NY Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, named for a 20th Century Black civil rights activist.
A majority of its students are Black and Latino. Medgar Evers Professor Wallace Ford (along with SUNY’s Prof. Paul Hai, Rocci Aguirre, Mair and many other park leaders and residents) volunteered his time to the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Group that helped to establish the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, which now has a full-time director in Saranac Lake. Those interactions led to discussions about establishing the careers institute. That led to legislation and a $2.1-million state grant in April, championed in the state budget by members of the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.
Photo at top: Adirondack environmental and community leaders gathered in Mineville, NY at the entrance to the Moriah Shock Correctional Facility on Tuesday, December 13 to to urge the state of New York not to mothball the facility, but to reuse it for other NY state programs to bolster conservation and boost employment. The facility is slated for closure on December 31, 2022. All photos by Nancie Battaglia.