A historic carry trail between Utowana Lake and the Marion River likely will be added to the Forest Preserve if the public approves an amendment to the state constitution to resolve a longstanding dispute over the ownership of more than two hundred parcels on Raquette Lake.
Under this scenario, the state would give up title to the disputed lands in exchange for the 295-acre Marion River parcel, which the Open Space Institute purchased this year for $2 million from Dean Pohl, who operates a cruise boat on Raquette Lake.
The deal is not set in stone. If the amendment passes in November, the state legislature will have to determine that the swap would provide a net benefit to the Forest Preserve.
Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, believes the Forest Preserve and the public would come out ahead. He noted that the Raquette Lake parcels—totaling about a thousand acres—are now off limits to recreationists.
“They are of virtually no benefit to the public,” said Martens, who was the president of OSI before taking his current job in 2011.
The Marion River parcel, in contrast, includes a 1,500-foot trail used by paddlers on a popular canoe route that connects the hamlets of Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake. If starting in Blue Mountain Lake, paddlers travel down the Eckford Chain (Blue Mountain, Eagle, and Utowana lakes), carry to the Marion, and then go downriver to Raquette Lake.
Katharine Petronis, OSI’s northern programs director, said the parcel includes nearly a mile and a half of the Marion and more than 4,800 feet of Utowana shoreline. It also links the Blue Mountain and Sargent Ponds Wild Forest Areas.
If the amendment passes, the Raquette Lake landowners will be able to obtain undisputed titles by paying into a fund that will be used to purchase “replacement land” for the Forest Preserve. Depending on the value of their property, landowners will be required to contribute between $2,000 and $7,900. They can reduce the payment by donating all or some of their land to the state or by protecting all or some of their land by a conservation easement. Landowners can opt out of the settlement, but if they do, their titles would have to be resolved by litigation.
The state expects to raise $627,000 from the landowners—far less than OSI paid for the Marion River carry. Petronis said OSI may try to raise funds from private donors to make up the difference.
Carolyn Gerdin, a Raquette Lake property owner, said the amendment would clarify the titles to 216 parcels. She said the ownership dispute has led to occasional legal battles with the state. In some cases, she added, landowners found it difficult to get mortgages.
All of the parcels once were in Township 40, which was not surveyed into lots. The state claims to have acquired various parcels in tax sales in the 1800s, but because of incomplete records and errors by assessors and tax collectors, chains of title are often difficult or impossible to reconstruct.
“It’s a strange kind of no-man’s land. No one knew who owned contested property,” said Gerdin, who belongs to the Township 40 Committee, which supports the amendment.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, regards the amendment as a good deal. Whereas the public has no access to the Raquette Lake parcels, he said, the Marion River carry has been used by paddlers for more than a century. “It’s property we can use. It’s an important part of a canoe route,” he said.
One reason OSI bought the property was to spare it from development. A few years ago, Pohl received a permit to subdivide and develop land near the end of Utowana Lake. At the time, there was concern that the carry would be closed to the public. Now there is a chance that it will be owned by the public.
Photo of Marion River courtesy of Open Space Institute.