By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to revamp a day-use area in the southwestern portion of the Adirondack Park, one that public comments show has been a problem spot for illegal ATV activity and littering.
The DEC hopes new facilities will help solve those problems while providing additional recreation opportunities in the Hinckley Day Use Area.
The site is about 500 acres in the Town of Russia in Herkimer County. The DEC is proposing new facilities through the area’s unit management plan. The Adirondack Park Agency approved the DEC’s proposal and supplemental generic environmental impact statement to go out for public comment through March 19.
The APA is involved because the plan must conform to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, a system of classifications and guidelines for “the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park” with “human use and enjoyment” part of the considerations “so long as the resources in their physical and biological context as well as their social or psychological aspects are not degraded.”
Josh Houghton, a staff member of the DEC, presented the plan at the APA’s Thursday meeting. Some of the proposed actions include building up to 150 campsites; building a playground; building a waste and recycling facility; building a multi-use trail network; and building a pavilion at Price’s Point.
For the campground, day-use area, new roads and parking, the DEC estimates removing about 40 to 50 acres of existing trees, though the plan did not say how many trees that would be.
Campsites are slated to accommodate camping equipment ranging from tents to 40-foot RVs. They will also have a picnic table, a fireplace or fire ring and a parking space. There will not be any utility hookups, according to the draft plan.
The area already has 2.6 miles of road, some of which the DEC plans to improve for a campsite loop, boat launch entryway and access to Price’s Point. The DEC is also proposing to renovate a 4.2-mile trail system for walking, hiking and mountain biking.
Houghton said in the DEC’s public comment period on the unit management plan collected a lot of feedback from residents in the area and 77 survey responses overall. Some of the public’s concerns included litter and human waste problems, illegal ATV use on the undeveloped side of the unit area and parties on Price’s Point and the sand bars. There is a DEC caretaker on site, but Houghton said it can be difficult to get to portions of the undeveloped area in time to address any complaints.
Houghton said it might seem ironic, but the DEC believes building a facility with more access, bathrooms and sanitation services could “help alleviate a lot of the issues the public was concerned about. Right now, it’s kind of the Wild West on that side of the unit.”
Residents also wrote to the DEC concerned about the fluctuating water levels of Hinckley Reservoir. There is a dam on the man-made reservoir that DEC does not control, and Houghton said DEC echoes the public’s concerns. The agency does not have the power to do anything about the water levels, however. The reservoir is owned by the new York State Canal Corporation and serves drinking water for about 130,000 people in Utica.
The DEC plans to install a hand-carry boat launch, which Houghton said will allow it to function at lower water levels.
John Ernst, an APA board member, asked Houghton if there was any prospect for mitigating the water levels of the reservoir.
Houghton said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission looks at relicensing dam operators, and that would be the process for any changes.
“It’s an artificially created and managed water body, which is a hard sell when you’re not the user it’s regulated for,” Houghton said.
Public comments for conformance of this plan to the Adirondack State Land Master Plan should be submitted to Richard Weber, Deputy Director of Planning for the APA, P.O. Box 99, 1133 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977. Comments may also be emailed to SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov. Comments will be accepted until March 19.