By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency is slated to decide whether campfires and an expanded parking area will jive with current policy for the Essex Chain Lakes during its Thursday meeting.
Both proposed actions garnered public comments over the summer, with most in support of expanded parking and most against the campfires proposal.
Overall, the APA board must decide on Thursday whether the proposals are allowed under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, a document focused on the preservation and protection of natural resources.
The Essex Chain Lakes has a management planning document called a Unit Management Plan, which was adopted in 2016. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the APA are proposing to change that document, which initially called for a regulation banning campfires at primitive tent sites.
The regulation was never adopted, but signs were put up to discourage campfires.
Now, the state agencies want to allow campfires, but public comments from some environmental advocates question whether that’s a logical move.
The unit management plan states that campfires can have a negative impact on the environment, but the proposed amendment allowing campfires suggests there is “little observational data regarding the impacts of campfires on natural resources.” This contradiction was noted in two environmental groups’ written comments.
The DEC and APA also suggest allowing campfires could increase visitation to the Essex Chain Lakes.
DEC proposed building rock fire rings to keep the campfires contained and monitoring how the new allowance goes. If the campfires become a problem, APA and DEC could reinstate the ban.
A couple of visitors wrote the APA and DEC to say they would be more apt to visit the area if campfires were allowed. The Town of Newcomb passed a resolution supporting the campfires addition to the Essex Chain Lakes.
“I would like you to know that our family recently opted against visiting Essex Chain Lakes specifically because of this restriction,” wrote Daniel Karns, of the Bronx, about the campfire prohibition.
A few residents of Newcomb wrote in against the change, however. One was Barbara Frank, who said she worried if visitors were bringing firewood for campfires, they’d also bring invasive species. She also worried about forest fires.
Two other Newcomb residents were concerned about invasive species getting transported in firewood, particularly after the invasive emerald ash borer was found in Warren County at a canoe launch on the Schroon River. The bug frequently hitches a ride through firewood.
Dave Gibson, of the environmental group Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, said DEC’s and APA’s reason for allowing campfires was weak. Increasing visitor use is not the priority of the park’s master plan, he wrote.
Gibson also was skeptical of DEC’s claims that it would monitor how the new campfire sites were doing.
“What is not believable is DEC’s insistence that it can now alter that understanding, allow campfires, devote staff time to monitor each campsite and then clamp down again and prohibit campfires once environmental damage is found,” Gibson wrote.
Jackie Bowen, conservation associate for the Adirondack Council, said she, too, did not feel DEC had enough data to support why campfires should be allowed in the Essex Chain Lakes. The Council wouldn’t oppose the change, she added, if it could provide more science and data.
Bowen added that the fire ban also keeps people from transporting firewood and potential invasive species.
The DEC and APA are also proposing to develop a larger parking area, mostly for horseback riders, at the site of the old Outer Gooley Club near the Hudson River.
One member of the public wrote in to say she would like better equestrian parking.
Bowen said the Adirondack Council did not oppose the expansion of parking.
Gibson was against it.
“The absence of carrying capacity information for the Outer Gooley Farmhouse area alone should be sufficient to reject the proposed amendment’s recommendation and return it to DEC for additional work,” Gibson wrote.
The APA State Land Committee is set to review both proposals under the Essex Chain Lakes Unit Management Plan Amendment. Then the full board is expected to vote on it. The APA will also be hearing about proposals for the Debar Mountain Complex on Thursday.
The full agency starts its meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. The State Land Committee is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. The full board is set to reconvene at 12:30 p.m. The meetings will be held virtually. To listen in call 1-518-549-0500, access code: 179 865 1243 or watch online at https://tinyurl.com/AgencyMeetingDec2020Thu.