By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency gave the go-ahead to the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday for a new campground at the Hinckley Reservoir Day Use Area in the southwestern corner of the park.
The project will include building 150 campsites, new multi-use trails, nearly 3 miles of road, a new pavilion at Prices Point, a hand-carry boat launch and other campground infrastructure. The current day-use area, the DEC has said, is very accessible to the central New York region, especially the City of Utica.
The area has been a problem spot for parties, littering and illegal ATV activity, something that the DEC hopes this new campground with its additional staffing and road access capabilities will fix.
Matt McNamara, a staff member of the APA, presented the draft unit management plan for approval before the APA board on Friday. McNamara said public comments were generally split in favor and against the proposal.
One thing the DEC scaled back on following a number of public comments was not building out a trailered boat launch. The APA and DEC staff, McNamara said, both agree that the reservoir needs a boat carrying capacity study before adding more motorized boat traffic to the lake.
“I think that’s the right decision,” said John Ernst, an APA board member. “I think we need a basic template for doing water body carrying capacity. Wildlands (monitoring) is on the way, and I hope the work on that will be presented soon. But water body is another issue and maybe a more difficult issue.”
The APA is drafting wildlands monitoring and visitor use management guidelines for lands in the park, but has held off on releasing it. Executive Director Terry Martino said later in the meeting that DEC and APA were still working on those documents and hoped to present them soon.
Another concern from commenters that board members asked about was the water levels of Hinckley Reservoir, which is the drinking water source for Utica. The reservoir is owned by the New York State Canal Corporation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing the relicensing of the reservoir’s dam, and DEC has submitted its comments and concerns about the water levels.
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Zoë Smith, an APA board member, asked about the size and scale of the proposed campground compared to others in existence. McNamara said the Hinckley proposal would be similar to Nicks Lake Campground and Day Use Area in Old Forge.
Josh Houghton, of DEC, added that campground layouts have improved over the years and Hinckley’s will have more vegetative screening, campsites on curves so visitors are not looking directly across at another campsite and will have more protection of the waterfront.
Ernst asked whether the campground plans could be impacted by litigation currently getting decided with the New York State Court of Appeals on tree cutting. Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental organization, sued DEC over what constitutes “timber” in the state Constitution’s protections of forest preserve. Last month, the state’s highest court heard oral arguments from both sides and has yet to make a ruling.
McNamara said the APA’s focus was how the campground plan fit with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Chris Cooper, an APA attorney, said constitutional questions are for the DEC and state Attorney General’s Office.
“I would also caution us against discussion any constitutionality issues in ongoing litigations,” Cooper added.
Board member Art Lussi asked how staff came to the size of the campground considering the area receives little use currently.
“It seems like this is a pretty aggressive addition,” Lussi said. “It is a ‘build it and they will come mentality?’”
McNamara reiterated that with city population centers close by, the DEC expects it will be a more popular site. It is also a jumping-off point, McNamara said, to wild forest lands adjacent to the campground. Just outside the Adirondack Park there are more bike trails getting built, too, so McNamara said he believes the area could be destination.
Ken Lynch, an APA board member outside of the park from Onondaga County in central New York, said he was glad to see the project move forward.
“It is an area that is probably underutilized and might help, as Art (Lussi) and other stated, balance the spread of use in the park,” Lynch said. “It’s a great section of the park that I love to spend a lot of time in.”