By David Gibson
The question of how to prevent residential development at Follensby Pond, the remote, 1000-acre Adirondack lake made famous by The Philosopher’s Camp of 1858 and by the 1976 reintroduction of the bald eagle, was settled in 2008. Another question remains, though: What to do with this gem and its surrounding land if the state is successful in current negotiations to control its future.
In 2008, the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter acquired the lake and its land from the conservation-minded McCormick family. The lake and its forest were to be conserved, not developed. Pressures to acquire Follensby as public forest preserve were temporarily set aside. General public access to the lake was still not permitted. But the most pressing priority, conserving the lake, shores and surroundings from development, was achieved thanks to the Conservancy.
Now we learn that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration is negotiating to acquire public rights. What rights? Full forest preserve? Can the state be a better steward of the lake than the Adirondack Conservancy?
Expectations of public ownership of Follensby Pond have existed for years. Since 1992 the tract has been listed in the statewide Open Space Conservation Plan as a priority because of its history and because the tract borders 10 miles of the Raquette River, designated Scenic, and the High Peaks Wilderness. I was one among many pressing the state to buy it for the Forest Preserve.
Since 2008 some of its special features have come to light – its ecology and lake trout. The Conservancy sponsored a study of this northern fish around the Adirondacks and at Follensby. Slow growing, late to mature, requiring cold, deep, oxygenated waters, lake trout are vulnerable to overfishing and warming water due to climate change. The study showed that half of the Adirondack lakes that once supported self-sustaining populations have now lost them. Follensby Pond’s long period of private ownership, light fishing and 100-foot, cold water depths have conserved a robust population. To open the lake to unregulated access risks this majestic fishery and the lake’s quality.
How well can the state manage and monitor public parking, access and camping? DEC resources are already stretched. What is the lake’s recreational carrying capacity, beyond which qualities of the lake and its degree of solitude and wildness will suffer? No studies have been done. Opening up Follensby to unregulated public access bodes ill for its wildness and ecology.
Adirondack Wild applauds the governor’s interest in this asset. However, due to Follensby’s vulnerabilities I recommend that the state acquire as forest preserve about 12,000 acres beyond the lake while acquiring a limited access easement starting at the road near the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
By maintaining private ownership of the access road and lake, the Conservancy, in partnership with the Wild Center and DEC, could employ a parking reservation system similar to that successfully being deployed in High Peaks from the private Ausable Club in Keene Valley.
With appropriate gating along the three miles of dirt road leading to the pond, public access, by car and then by foot, could be controlled by advance reservation for a limited number of visitors. First, we need to study the lake’s carrying capacity.
Lake trout fishing could be permitted by the Conservancy, or tightly regulated as catch and release only. Initially, this should be day use access only.
In these ways taxable forest preserve would be achieved on most of the tract, both shores of the Raquette River would become “forever wild,” and Follensby Pond could be enjoyed by the paddling public on a limited, by-reservation basis in hopes that its wild character and rare ecology might be sustained for those who come after us.
David Gibson is managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve