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"Lighthouse Rock Island" Rock Island Lighthouse, Thousand Islands, New York. Photo: Ted Van Pelt
"Lighthouse Rock Island" Rock Island Lighthouse, Thousand Islands, New York. Photo: Ted Van Pelt

Are the Thousand Islands scenic...enough?

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The ice is out along much of the St. Lawrence River and the colors, sounds, and movement of Spring in the Thousand Islands region are on their way.

But here's a question: is the Thousand Islands--the fifty mile archipelago with its constellation of villages, castles, cottages, and parks--scenic enough? And what's more: is it significant? That's what around 60 people from the community gathered late last month to figure out.

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

More than a year ago, the state gave $75,000 to the Thousand Islands for a very specific purpose: to help this area make the case for becoming a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance—or a SASS, as everyone in here's calling it.

Representatives from ten towns and villages have come together for a morning in Clayton, with a view of the river out the window, to start gathering the evidence.

Barbara Kendall is a Coastal Resource Specialist with the Department of State.

"Everyone's talking about this SASS, the SASS, the SASS, the SASS. Where did it come from and how does it relate to you and your communities?"

Basically what getting to be a SASS means, is that a region is so beautiful, so aesthetically pleasing, that it deserves to be protected just for that reason. Ron Bertram is Town Supervisor of Hammond, and is heading up the effort.

"I continually am amazed that people don't know where the Thousand Islands is."

Bertram says what he cares most about is getting name recognition for the area—from the rest of the state, and the rest of the world.

"I think tourism is the biggest thing we can capitalize on to bring things back to the North Country, employment and things like that, economic development will all follow that."

But building the argument that the Thousand Islands region has what it takes to be a SASS is a long, rigorous process. That's where Harry Dodson comes in.

"At first glance it seems pretty easy, but it gets really complicated quickly."

Dodson is a landscape architect and planner, with a private firm in Massachusetts. He actually lived in Morristown as a kid. It's his job to help identify exactly what makes this area beautiful and important.

"Some things are universal all over the state, and all over the world. People love water, as long as its clean water. Water always scores high."

In the next six months, Dodson and his team will spread out over the area, using GIS mapping, online surveys, photographs collected by the community.

But during the meeting, lots of people raised their hands, saying they were worried he might miss something.

"Like some of these spots that you really wouldn't run across unless you knew they were there," Dodson says. "Or the things that happen occasionally that are very scenic like the sugar bush that has a fantastic spot in the fall, we're going to want to pinpoint that."

Dodson says it's always possible at the end of all this, the state won't grant the distinction, or they could choose to only recognize certain areas of the Thousand Islands. But if it does become a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance, it will be one of only three in New York—the others being East Hampton in Long Island and parts of the Hudson River Valley.

Hammond Town Supervisor Rob Bertram says he's travelled those areas, and he's not worried.

"They definitely have some very scenic significant areas there, but I don't think we have any difficulty comparing to anywhere in the nation as far as what we have here."

Harry Dodson says the first thing he plans to do is go back out on a little boat, just like when he was a kid, and start exploring.

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