By Gwendolyn Craig
Shoreline campfires and upgraded equestrian parking could be coming to the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area and Blue Mountain Wild Forest in the towns of Indian Lake, Minerva and Newcomb.
The Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are collecting public comments on both proposals through Aug. 14 before making a decision.
Corrie Magee, a DEC forester, briefed APA board members on the two proposed amendments during the agency’s meeting on Thursday. Magee said the approximately 19,600 acres used to be forestland owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co., but it was added to the state’s forest preserve in 2013.
By 2016, the state developed a unit management plan.
“This is the first major, large chunk of former Finch land open to the public,” Magee said. “There was a lot of anticipation. Out of an abundance of caution, the department (DEC) and APA decided to be as cautious as was reasonable in the beginning with camping at designated sites only on the shoreline, with campsite reservation systems and fire prohibitions.
“We really held the reins pretty tightly in the beginning.”
But trailhead records show the camping area is declining in popularity. In 2014, the Deer Pond Parking Area Trailhead recorded 1,126 users. By 2018, that number was 265.
DEC will take a dual approach to try and increase the campsites’ popularity. Should the amendments pass, it will build stone ring fire pits at 11 waterfront campsites. At the same time, the agency will promote the use of portable camp stoves and others means to cook food.
There is some concern, APA members and Magee discussed, about the natural resource impacts of campfires. That was one of the reasons campfires were banned to begin with. Magee said DEC has very little observational data of the impact of campfires in the Adirondacks, and this is an opportunity to study them.
Zoe Smith, a new APA board member and deputy director of Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute, asked Magee about how the spread of invasive species might be monitored. Firewood has historically been a way invasive bugs have hitchhiked around and spread to new areas.
Magee said the same firewood regulations are in place. Those include a ban on transporting firewood more than 50 miles as the crow flies unless it is kiln-dried and certified.
John Ernst, an APA board member, also asked DEC representatives about impacts to an area when campers are collecting firewood around a campsite.
Robert Daley, a forester with DEC, said “the simple answer from across the forest preserve is we’ve seen heavily impacted areas. A great example would be the eastern High Peaks, where we went to a prohibition of fires. We’ve seen other areas … that don’t get as heavy use, and we’ve seen minimal impact.”
Should campfires in the Essex Chain Lakes area be allowed, DEC and APA staff would keep a close eye on how the new provision is going. Daley said if the state is seeing negative impacts, it could revert to prohibiting campfires.
APA members also heard about DEC plans to demolish a dilapidated building at the Outer Gooley parking area, in order to make it more accessible for horseback riders.
Currently the parking lot fits six vehicles, but the goal is to tear down the existing building to allow room for six vehicles and their horse trailers. DEC would also like to put up informational kiosks showing recreational opportunities, site history and best practices outlined in the Leave No Trace principles. Those are a set of guidelines for outdoor ethics.
DEC representatives did not have any specific numbers to share for how many horseback riders currently use the area, but Magee said anecdotally she hears from riders. DEC would also like to expand the parking in anticipation of its building a bridge over the Cedar River.
The Outer Gooley access and a proposed Cedar River bridge would allow for travel up the river and through the Essex Chain corridor and on a trail to Pine Lake, Magee said. “So, we anticipate that we would get use from both ends of the unit that would draw (riders) for potentially multiple days of use.”
Magee said she did not know the timeline for the bridge construction or for demolishing the Outer Gooley parking area building. There is still pending litigation between the DEC and Protect the Adirondacks over tree cutting, something that could affect trail connections around the proposed Cedar River bridge.
The APA board unanimously approved putting both unit amendments out for public comment.
Comments to DEC may be submitted to Corrie Magee, Region 5 Warrensburg Sub Office, Division of Lands and Forests, 232 Golf Course Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885; (518) 623-1200 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments related to the proposed amendment’s conformance to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan may be submitted to Richard Weber, Deputy Director for Planning, NYS Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977; or SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov; or faxed to (518) 891-3938.
North Elba amendment OK’d
In other news, in an unanimous vote, the APA reclassified 32 acres of land in the town of North Elba from moderate intensity use to a hamlet. The downgrade in land protections will allow for more development on the parcel.
It’s no secret that a developer is eyeing the land for a housing project for when athletes descend on Lake Placid for the World University Games in 2023. According to APA regulations, however, specific projects may not be considered when changing a land classification. APA staff still recommended the reclassification because the site has access to public sewer, is close to the existing hamlet, has existing road access, is made up of predominately low to moderate slopes and has no wetlands.
“It would be my comment as representing local government, that this application in front of you had a lot of forethought in it, and the local government really believes this is an important thing moving forward for whatever use they have planned for that,” said Gerald Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.
Cell tower OK’d, but policy will be revisited
The APA also unanimously approved a 150-foot Cingular Wireless cell tower in Newcomb. The tower will go up next to an existing water tower. The project did bring up questions among board members about whether to disguise it as a pine tree.
It also led to discussion about whether the towers the APA board has been approving are “substantially invisible,” one of the requirements in the agency’s towers policy.
“We’re approved a number of towers in hamlets where they’re very visible, and we’re kidding ourselves if we’re not saying that,” said Art Lussi, a member of the APA board.
Board members agreed to revisit the APA’s tower policy in the near future after giving everyone time to review the existing document, which was created in 2002.
“Eighteen years has been a very long time not to look at this policy,” Delaney said.