There are not many privately owned estates like Brandon Park left in the Adirondacks: twenty-eight thousand acres with seven miles of pristine river, eleven brook-trout ponds, and a 2,200-foot mountain. It sounds like a recreational paradise, and it’s for sale.
Ordinarily, you’d think environmentalists would be goading the state to buy Brandon Park for the forever-wild Forest Preserve, but so far that’s not been the case.
For one thing, the state doesn’t have as much money for land acquisition as it had in the years before the current recession. For another, the state already is committed to spend $50 million over the next several years to acquire lands once owned by the Finch, Pruyn & Company.
Furthermore, the state plans to buy Follensby Pond and the surrounding woods—about fourteen thousand acres, in all—after the Finch deal. And then there’s always the chance that the thirty-five thousand acres owned by the Whitney family will come up for sale.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, thinks it unlikely that state officials can be persuaded to spend $27 million (the asking price) on Brandon Park—especially since the land is largely protected by a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy.
“While it’s a great piece of property, I see three major projects in front of it,” Bauer said, alluding to the Finch, Follensby, and Whitney properties.
Located west of Paul Smiths, Brandon Park had been owned by the heiress Wilhelmina du Pont Ross until her death in 2000. It is now owned by Brandon Park LLC, with headquarters in Delaware. In 1978, Ross donated an easement on the property to the Nature Conservancy, allowing her to claim a huge property-tax break, which led to a court battle with the town of Santa Clara.
The estate has eight homes and more than a dozen other structures, including guest cabins and a fish hatchery, and some forty miles of roads. The terms of the easement will allow the construction of nine additional residences, according to a prospectus prepared by Merrill L. Thomas Inc., a Lake Placid real-estate broker. The easement forbids commercial development but allows timber harvesting.
Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the department has no plans to bid on the property. If Brandon Park were acquired by the state, though, it probably would attract a substantial number of paddlers, anglers, and hikers. The attractions include the mile-and-a-half-long Follensby Junior Pond, a seven-mile stretch of the Middle Branch of the St. Regis River, and Buck Mountain overlooking the river valley.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, is especially keen on the Middle Branch. The Brandon stretch of the river and an adjoining state-owned segment encompass a beautiful flatwater meander known as the Sixteen-Mile Level. “It would be an ideal place for a wilderness canoe trip,” he said.
Woodworth understands that the state doesn’t have the money to buy Brandon Park now, but he hopes the Open Space Institute or another land trust will purchase the property and hold it until the state can afford to acquire it. Since it will be years before the Finch and Follensby deals are finished, the trust would need to hold the property for a long time at considerable expense.
OSI President Kim Elliman doesn’t see that happening. Essentially, he said, the organization would be spending $27 million to extinguish a mere nine building rights on twenty-eight thousand acres. “That is not a good bargain,” he remarked.
Nevertheless, Elliman said OSI would be willing to get involved in another way. For example, it might help rewrite the existing easement to bolster environmental protections or design a conservation-friendly development plan.
Potential buyers for Brandon Park include timber companies. Lyme Timber, the Park’s biggest private landowner, has a long history of working with conservation organizations and harvesting timber in accord with environmental principles. Asked if the company were interested in Brandon Park, Lyme Managing Director Peter Stein replied, “We have taken a look.”
Photo of Brandon Park from prospectus prepared by Merrill L. Thomas Inc.