New Yorkers have recently come into ownership of nine more miles of the Upper Hudson River and adjoining lakes and tributaries to the west amounting to about 20,000 acres. In addition to the incredible ecological variety and richness, the public has also gained new, strategic points from which canoeists and rafters can exit the river before the truly big rapids begin at Cedar Ledges below the confluence with the Indian River.
In early July I went to see one of those exit points and the new canoe carry at the former outer Gooley Club north of Indian Lake, once leased by Finch, Pruyn. I then walked further down the Chain Lakes Road to see what the Gooley Club structure looks like. It is apparently eligible for listing on the State or National Register. Then, I walked further north on the former logging road to see what I could see.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this new state land was to appreciate that this is the second time the state has owned it. It had previously been Forest Preserve in the 1890s, but was lost in the 20th century due to a competing land claim. I’ll come back to this subject.
Under a temporary management plan, new Forest Preserve signs and trail registers are up as of late June, and about 50 people have signed in as of July 7. Any permanent management plan , or UMP, must await a decision by the APA and Governor Cuomo about the land’s classification under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
I reached the trail register and new canoe carry after driving the Chain Lakes Road almost three miles from Rt. 28, past the Town of Indian Lake swimming beach on Abanakee Lake (the dammed section of the Indian River), the town water treatment plant and former sand and gravel quarries, and then eventually the Abanakee Dam where, the as the Danger sign warns, water is released twice daily, four days each week to send a bubble of water on which rafts and kayaks descend this tricky stretch of Indian River to its confluence with the Upper Hudson.
The new parking area off the road has room for about ten cars, carefully parked. Three cars with roof racks awaited on this Sunday in early July. Seven-tenths of a mile further down the road is the newly marked canoe carry from the Hudson. I walk it. It’s narrow, about 1/8 mile long from river to road, not too steep. The Hudson’s western shore is carpeted with royal and interrupted fern. The river is big and running strongly today. A large, tall sign in red letters tells paddlers to pull out here, or risk going into the big rapids below the Indian River confluence.
Back at the road, I sign in at the trail register. A short walk north leads one to the former outer Gooley clubhouse, part of the former Finch, Pruyn lease. From the clubhouse, the lessees have long maintained a cleared meadow with views of the Upper Hudson. This is all Forest Preserve now, and these structures are supposed to be removed by the lessees in mid-July. AARCH, or Adirondack Architectural Heritage, feels that the main house is eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places, and should remain. So does Senator Betty Little. The Constitution and Environmental Conservation Law (ECL 9-0105) says otherwise.
That law, Environmental Conservation Law 9-0109, was approved in 1983 expressly to avoid another “Santanoni” whereby the state in 1972 bought the land in Newcomb and the numerous historic structures, and then debated with park stakeholders for the next decade what to do about the presence of so many historic structures on Forest Preserve, a debate which led very directly to the 1983 law.
The initial sections of the law basically say that the state should avoid purchasing Forest Preserve with any state listed or eligible historic structure on it, and that the state shall make efforts before purchasing the land to secure a private purchaser of the structure, or a donee “who would preserve such structure or improvements if the present owner thereof consents,” perhaps through a conservation easement for the express purpose of maintaining the historic structure.
Were these efforts made in the case of the outer Gooley clubhouse? I think they were. The lease club had foreknowledge of the state’s pending acquisition, and after 2007 had many discussions with the owner of the land, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, and the state. I imagine the future of the clubhouse came up, although I do not know this for a fact. The lessee also had options to move and preserve the structure elsewhere, including somewhere on the 93,000 acres of Finch conservation easement land. They chose not to do so despite knowing that their lease would expire. Instead, the Gooley lessees actively and very publicly opposed the transaction between the landowner and the state in ways that must have made friendly negotiations over the future of the clubhouse very difficult.
All this aside, the final sections of law, ECL 9-0109, state that only historic structures and improvements which are located in the Park and owned by the state prior to the effective date of the statute (June 21, 1983) may be maintained, provided that the state commissioners of parks and environmental conservation make certain findings. Clearly, this structure on land just acquired for the public in 2013 fails to meet this test of the law designed to avoid another Santanoni situation post 1983. If sufficiently valued by the Town of Indian Lake and residents for its historic significance and if feasible, the structure should be lifted from its foundation and moved into a visible location near Route 28 as soon as possible to signify the importance of hunting camps in the Adirondacks. According to my reading of the law, it cannot stay where it is.
I walked on down the former industrial road for another mile and a half. It appears very well built and maintained. I observed three culverts of good size passing streams underneath it, and former sand and gravel borrow pits and log landings, one of which will one day make a good public parking area. About half-way to the Cedar River, I find a marked hiking trail to yet another Clear Pond and take it, appreciating the contrast of the narrow forest trail with the wide, dusty roadbed I’d been on. At Clear Pond, I relax under a cedar tree, and gaze out across the pond to Little Pisgah Mountain.
Back at the road, given the horse, deer and black flies hovering about my head, I thought better of continuing on to the Cedar River and return, appreciating why a Wild Forest classification allowing motor vehicles into this area for the first mile or two makes sense. It would afford easy public access to the Upper Hudson, Clear and Mud Ponds, and Little Pisgah Mountain. A Wilderness classification beyond would appropriately protect the Wild Upper Hudson River and the Scenic Cedar River, and is called for by the State Land Master Plan.
As I walked out to my car, I also recalled a conversation I had with Paul Schaefer at a time when he was actively discussing the future of some of the Finch, Pruyn lands with its management in the 1980s or early 1990s. Paul had been urging the company to sell or gift some of its most scenic rivers and lakes to the state beginning in the 1950s. One day Paul told me that the 1100 acres of land on which the Gooley Club has had a lease from Finch, Pruyn had been previously owned by the state, but that the state had lost the land due to a “faulty title.”
I was incredulous, and asked Paul how the state could have lost state land which the Constitution states “shall be forever kept.” He told me to read The Forest Preserve: 1945-1955 and I would get the answer. The State acquired a lot of Forest Preserve at tax sale in the late 19th century, and many people and institutions subsequently contested the state’s ownership. Between 1938 and 1949, for example, Paul lists over 5700 acres of Forest Preserve lost due to these contests over title. Paul wrote: “A good example of such a loss is the Indian River-Hudson River region where more than 1100 acres of land were lost in 1944, although the State had claimed ownership and paid taxes on the land since prior to 1896. The area in question contains perhaps the best brown and rainbow trout fishing waters of its kind in the entire Adirondack Park.” Apparently, Finch, Pruyn ended up with the land now known as the Indian River Tract after 1944. Paul’s activism led to enactment of a new state law in the mid- 1950s which thereafter made the state immune to challenges of valid land title. The law was championed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources.
Developing the outer Gooley Club land after 1944, as opposed to leasing it, also proved impossible due to the matter of questionable title. Paul Schaefer also showed me a circa 1972 letter he received from then DEC Commissioner Henry Diamond which states that should Finch, Pruyn and Co. ever attempt to subdivide and develop the Gooley Club tract, the state would challenge their title to the land.
Photos: From the top, down: Upper Hudson at the new take-out; the outer Gooley clubhouse; Little Pisgah Mountain from Clear Pond; and the new trail register at the Canoe Carry from the Upper Hudson.