The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to classify the Essex Chain of Lakes and the surrounding landscape Wild Forest, a designation that environmental activists contend will allow too much motorized access.
Under DEC’s proposal, 13,000 of the Essex Chain Tract’s 18,000 acres would be classified Wild Forest. It would be called the Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area. The other 5,000 acres, in the vicinity of the Hudson River, would become part of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. The Wilderness Area would incorporate other lands that the state owns or intends to buy.
The Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) all want to see the bulk of the Essex Chain Tract classified Wilderness. (Click here to read about the council’s and Protect’s rival visions for the tract.) The major difference between Wilderness and Wild Forest is that motorized use is forbidden in Wilderness Areas.
“While we’re happy to see some Wilderness, we’d certainly like to see quite a bit more than DEC is proposing,” said Scott Lorey, the council’s legislative director.
Neil Woodworth, the executive director of ADK, said he will fight to have the Essex Chain designated a Wilderness Area or a Canoe Area, which is similar.
The state bought the Essex Chain Tract last month from the Nature Conservancy. Battles over motorized access are common when the state acquires lands for the Forest Preserve. Typically, sportsmen and local officials favor as much access as possible, while environmentalists want to limit motorized use.
In this case, the fight is likely to center on the Essex Chain, a string of connected lakes that environmentalists want kept wild and serene. DEC did not purchase the floatplane rights to First Lake, one of the lakes in the chain (ditto for Pine Lake, which is not part of the chain). Thus, planes will continue to be allowed to land on First (and Pine). DEC proposes to allow planes to land on Third Lake as well, but only in early spring—mud season, before interior roads are open.
DEC would keep open several interior roads. Disabled people with a permit would be allowed to drive all the way to the Essex Chain. Others would have to stop well short of the lakes. For paddlers, the most convenient access would be via Deer Pond, north of the chain. They would drive to a parking lot, carry a quarter-mile to Deer, paddle across the pond, then carry another half-mile to Third Lake. Vehicular access would be expanded for hunters in the fall.
DEC also plans to keep roads open to provide access to two takeouts on the Hudson, one near the mouth of the Goodnow River, the other near the mouth of the Indian River. The takeouts will enable paddlers to travel south on the Hudson from Newcomb and exit the river before entering the treacherous Hudson Gorge. The Goodnow takeout will be open to the public this spring.
DEC’s recommendations are set forth in a document sent in late December to Lani Ulrich, chairwoman of the Adirondack Park Agency, which votes on state-land classifications. The Adirondack Explorer obtained a copy of the document on Wednesday.
In a cover letter to Ulrich, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the department is trying to balance the needs of various user groups in the classification of all the lands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company, including the Essex Chain Tract. The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007. The state purchased conservation easements (which prohibit development but allow logging) on 89,000 acres and agreed to acquire outright another 65,000 acres, for inclusion in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. So far, only the Essex Chain Tract has been acquired. The state plans to buy the remaining 47,000 acres over the next several years.
DEC’s proposal—labeled “confidential internal draft document”—also contains classification recommendations for the other Finch lands. One that may be controversial is the proposed division of the 22,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract into Wild Forest and Wilderness.
The Boreas Ponds sit on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness, a seven-mile drive along a dirt road from the nearest highway. DEC wants to keep most of the dirt road open so people can more easily access the ponds. Essentially, the dirt road would serve as the boundary between Wilderness and Wild Forest. The ponds themselves and the lands surrounding them would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness.
The Adirondack Council had wanted to see the road closed and more of the Boreas Ponds Tract classified as Wilderness. (Click here to see its proposal.) Woodworth, however, said he would like it if paddlers could drive most of the way to the ponds. Under the plan, paddlers will put in at LaBier Flow, a still water on the ponds’ outlet, and travel up the flow and the outlet to the ponds.
UPDATE: This morning, Protect the Adirondacks posted a detailed response to DEC’s proposals. Click here to read it.
DEC has a number of other ideas for the Finch lands, such as improving paddling opportunities on the Opalescent River and Upper Hudson (above Newcomb) and building new hiking trails. We will discuss more of these in the future.
Meanwhile, you might want to read Chris Knight’s story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on the timetable for acquiring the Finch lands. He raises the possibility that the second Hudson takeout, at the Indian confluence, may be purchased soon.
NOTE ON MAPS: The Essex Chain Tract, outlined in yellow, is in the top part of the first map. The blue represents Wilderness; the green, Wild Forest. The colored lands outside the yellow lines are already in the Forest Preserve. The Boreas Ponds Tract is in the center of the middle map. The top part of this tract is blue, for Wilderness; the lower part is green, for Wild Forest.