This month, Protect the Adirondacks urged the state to create an Upper Hudson Wilderness Area, combining twenty thousand acres of existing Forest Preserve and nineteen thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company—a total of thirty-nine thousand acres.
The Adirondack Council beat Protect to the punch by two decades. In 1990, the council recommended establishing a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness if the land became available. Spokesman John Sheehan says the council still stands behind that proposal.
Once the state acquires the former Finch lands, the state will own only three-quarters or so of the region targeted by the council. One large in-holding that will remain in private hands is the North Woods Club. Nevertheless, Sheehan said, “the state will have sufficient lands to create the Wilderness Area and complete it sometime in the future.”
Either proposal likely would run into opposition: motorized use is prohibited in Wilderness Areas, and many local politicians and sportsmen argue that this deters public use.
One major difference between the two proposals—apart from the acreage—is that Protect’s is more accommodating of motorized use.
Protect has drawn its Wilderness boundaries to exclude First Lake (one of the waters in the Essex Chain) and nearby Pine Lake. This would allow floatplanes to continue landing on these water bodies. The boundaries also exclude the area just north of the Essex Chain. Although most of the chain would be within the Wilderness Area, people would be able to drive there for canoe-camping. Finally, Protect advocates keeping a few dirt roads open to the interior of the Wilderness Area to provide access to takeouts on the Hudson River and to OK Slip Pond. These roads also could be used by hunters in deer season.
Under the council’s proposal, paddlers and backpackers would face long hikes—up to several miles—to reach the Essex Chain, the Hudson takeouts, or OK Slip Pond. Sheehan argues that since vehicular traffic creates pollution and disturbs wildlife, it should be kept out of the area. “From our perspective, the state’s number one priority should be protection of the natural resource,” he said.
Bauer, however, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated that it wants to allow floatplane access on First and Pine lakes and vehicular access to the Hudson. “We’re being realistic,” he said.
Another major difference is that the council’s proposal incorporates far more land east of the Hudson, including the Boreas River. All told, the Wild Rivers Wilderness would encompass segments of five rivers: the Hudson, Boreas, Cedar, Indian, and Rock.
Both proposals call for classifying a long stretch of the Hudson River as Wilderness, from just below the hamlet of Newcomb to just above the hamlet of North River. It includes the Hudson Gorge, a popular whitewater-rafting destination. Bauer said the cachet of a Wilderness designation would benefit the rafting industry. “The opportunity to protect twenty-two miles of the upper Hudson in a Wilderness Area would be a great accomplishment for the state,” Bauer remarked.
The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007 for $110 million. The state plans to buy sixty-five thousand acres of the former Finch lands over the next five years, starting with the 18,318-acre Essex Chain Tract and the nearby 944-acre Outer Gooley Tract (located the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers), which are expected to be acquired this year or early next. DEC has made no decisions about classification of the land, but spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the department expects remote interior areas will be classified as Wilderness and other areas will be classified as Wild Forest to allow “greater levels of public use.” The Adirondack Park Agency would have to approve the classifications.
Illustrations: Above, the Adirondack Council’s proposed Wild Rivers Wilderness; below, Protect’s proposed Upper Hudson Wilderness.