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Adirondack Explorer

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Protection and access

The state must decide how to manage new Forest Preserve lands including the Essex Chain Lakes. Photo by Carl Heilman ll

The state must decide how to manage new Forest Preserve lands including the Essex Chain Lakes.
Photo by Carl Heilman ll

When New York State last year began its historic purchase of sixty-five thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Adirondack Forest Preserve it posed a challenge to itself. How should it classify and manage the land, balancing protection of the natural environment with providing people access to this incomparable resource?

The Adirondack Park Agency has begun the process of classifying the new Preserve lands and may reach a decision by early fall on the 21,200 acres purchased so far. The classifications will determine how the public may use the land, most notably, how much motorized use will be allowed.

The agency’s staff has presented seven alternatives, one of which is essentially the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s preferred plan. One of these, which the APA is calling by the less-than-poetic name 1A, does the best job of preserving the wild character and environmental riches of the lands while providing reasonable public access. The agency should adopt this plan.

The APA options range from two versions that emphasize protective Wilderness designations to those that rely on the least restrictive Wild Forest classification, including one similar to DEC’s own proposal. That option is called 4B. (One option creating a Canoe Area is essentially the same as 1A, though it gives the state more authority to use motor vehicles to manage fisheries.)

The options cover all the former Finch, Pruyn lands the state purchased in the first phase of a multi-year acquisition plan. They include the region around the Essex Chain Lakes; a corridor on either side of the Hudson River as it flows south from Newcomb to the Hudson Gorge; an area surrounding the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers; and a tract near the Hudson Gorge that encompasses OK Slip Falls and Blue Ledge.

The key differences among the plans involve treatment of the Essex Chain Lakes and the Hudson corridor. In all options, the OK Slip tract will be combined with the existing Hudson Gorge Primitive Area to form a new Wilderness Area. This will be an exceptional wild tract, protecting rare vegetation and offering visitors spectacular scenery, including one of the highest waterfalls in the Park.

The strongest environmental protections in the Essex Chain and Hudson tracts are found in the two wilderness proposals. The better option, 1A, creates a Wilderness Area of more than thirty-five thousand acres. No motorboats or floatplanes would be permitted within the Wilderness Area, including on the Essex Chain, and former roads would be closed to motor vehicles and bicycles.

This option creates a smaller Wilderness Area than the other Wilderness choice because it would establish a Wild Forest area just to the north of the Essex Chain. This is an important advantage since it would allow motor vehicles to drive on roads through the Wild Forest close enough to the Wilderness to allow reasonable public access. Hikers and paddlers going to the Essex Chain would walk three quarters of a mile from a parking area in Wild Forest. Paddlers could finish trips on the Hudson at two takeouts and face carries of 0.8 miles and 1.0 mile to parking areas.

These distances are substantial enough to ensure that the waters will be protected from more intensive motorized visits, and the chances of invasive species entering them would be smaller. But at one mile or less, these hikes and carries are within many people’s capabilities and so they don’t present an unreasonable barrier.

The other Wilderness proposal would include virtually all the new state lands in the Wilderness classification. This would push motor-vehicle access farther from the Essex Chain and the Hudson. Hikers, including paddlers carrying canoes, would have to cover significantly longer distances, up to three miles from one takeout. Though this option provides admirable protection of wild lands, it lacks the balance of giving the public reasonable access to the key features within the region.

The DEC plan would classify most of the new purchase (excluding the OK Slip Falls Tract) as Wild Forest. This would keep roads to the interior open to motor vehicles. The plan would allow seasonal floatplane use of Third Lake, something that the Wilderness designations would not allow. The Wild Forest classification would keep open the possibility of motorboat use on the Essex Chain and snowmobile trails in Forest Preserve, though DEC could prohibit both even in Wild Forest. DEC proposes to create a Special Management Area around the Essex Chain Lakes, which could signal an intention to ban motorboats on those waters.

The Wild Forest option sacrifices protection of a special wild area in the name of increased access. By allowing the possibility of motorized traffic through the areas surrounding the Essex Chain and the Hudson River, the option could degrade the natural beauty and endanger the ecological health of sensitive areas, and at the same time ultimately diminish the experience for human visitors.

The 1A Wilderness option protects the natural environment but recognizes the importance of public recreation. Park protection depends on people’s understanding the value of the natural wild, and they can best learn this by experiencing the wonders firsthand. Public use also brings benefits to neighboring communities as tourism centered on outdoor recreation grows.

For these reasons, the APA should adopt the Wilderness option labeled 1A.

—Tom Woodman, Publisher

One Response

  1. Robert C Lilly says:

    Your editorial comes down strongly in support of the most restrictive options presented by the Adirondack Park Agency and is opposed to the less restrictive option favored by the DEC. I have some serious concerns with this approach.

    As Chairman of the Town of Newcomb Planning Board I work diligently on a regular basis to protect the environment of our community. The Park Agency knows and respects our actions regarding land use management with in the Town. Additionally, the Town is actively pursuing implementation of its forward looking Route 28N Corridor Enhancement Plan , increasing the economic development options within the Town.

    We have many needs but are working diligently to improve conditions and change the economic characteristics confronting us. We are planning for the future and see the acquisition as a ray of hope.

    I want to articulate the need to open the acquired lands in the Forest Preserve to the maximum extent possible and reasonable. My reasoning is based on the following:

    • First, Taxpayers paid for this purchase. All taxpayers should be able to receive its benefits. To classify the land too restrictively will make it impossible for the majority of residents to ever gain access to this property, surely discriminating against the impaired, the elderly, young children, and any who have physical disabilities.

    • Second, we need to enhance the economic health of the Town of Newcomb and surrounding communities. This acquisition has been touted by Governor Cuomo as the economic engine that will revitalize these local communities. I agree. If access is limited to a small percentage of the population, the enhanced economic potential will be severely restricted, and probably won’t occur.

    • Third, Newcomb and the surrounding communities will be required to provide essential services, such as ambulance and fire departments, health centers, grocery stores, gas stations, and hotels or motels to serve the visitors who will come to enjoy the acquired lands. Without economic development, the towns will continue to age and the younger citizens needed to provide these services will not be available. Newcomb is the oldest community in the Adirondacks, indeed in the State, and without strong support for economic development, will continue to age.

    • Fourth, The less restrictive land classifications will not change the character of the land from what it has been for the last century or longer. This land has been used for logging and motorized recreation prior to its acquisition by the State, and comes with an established network of roads, bridges and logging trails. It surely is not Wilderness.

    • Fifth, In order for the acquisition to be a catalyst for development and future enterprises in the Town of Newcomb, it needs to be open to a large target population. The Town of Newcomb has been actively working to enhance its hamlet corridor through a specific planning and marketing process, and has invested time and money to make this a reality. The recent Corridor Enhancement Plan and our current Comprehensive Plan are evidence that the Town’s actions are specific, realistic, visionary, well thought out, and reflect the views of the population. Restrictive access will nullify the long hard work of numerous residents.

    • Finally, I see the on-going and planned highway re-construction project for state route 28N to be strong evidence of the Governor’s stated economic enhancement goals, goals that can only be realized by realistic approaches to use of and access to the lands that have been acquired.

    The lands have been used for logging, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, and canoeing for the past many decades. Because the land was in private holdings, access was restricted to just a few individuals who selectively kept others away. Now is time for all residents of the state, who have individually invested in this purchase, to have the opportunity to garner the benefits of their investment. Classification of the majority of the land in this acquisition should be designated Wild Forest, and the Wilderness designation should be used only for the most back country remote areas.

    The five communities of Newcomb, North Hudson, Indian Lake, Minerva and Long Lake, as well as the Counties of Essex and Hamilton, support less restrictive actions. Wild Forest would not sacrifice protection, as stated in your editorial. The Wilderness Option does not appreciably increase protection of the natural environment and does not recognize the importance of public recreation except for elite hikers and campers. It excludes all others.

    The most common sense approach is to adopt the least restrictive option. the land is Wild Forest and should remain so designated.

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