Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Era of Private Sportmen’s Clubs Ends

gooley-club-600x357As I write this, the debate is continuing to rage over how much motorized access should be allowed on former Finch, Pruyn lands sold to the state, but regardless of the decision, the age of private hunting and fishing clubs on those lands is quietly drawing to a close.

We’re in the middle of a ten-year slide to oblivion for the iconic Gooley Club, the Polaris Mountain Club, and others, but this is a significant year in that slide. As of a year ago, there were thirty-three clubs leasing land from the Nature Conservancy, which bought the Finch, Pruyn properties in 2007 in the most significant land acquisition since the creation of the Adirondack Park. Of those, twenty-three have or had camps, as in permanent structures, on their lease-holdings. A few of those have already folded operation. More will follow year by year as doomsday approaches, until, by September 30, 2018, every vestige of those camps will be gone at owner expense, all leases will end, and an Adirondack way of life will slip into history. Regardless of how the lands are classified and managed, they will become wholly public lands.

Removing all the physical structures is no small thing. In the case of the Gooley Club, it means dismantling a small hamlet on the shores of Third Lake. The dozen camps of the Polaris Mountain Club are strung along the Hudson like a settlement, and some are substantial all-season dwellings. Undoing these camps is going to be expensive and a lot of work. For Fred Monroe, longtime supervisor of Chester, whose father was co-founder of the Polaris Mountain Club in the early 1950s, the inevitable is a tender matter, steeped in sadness. No doubt similar feelings run strong in many of the clubs.

No matter how you feel about public versus private, respect is due to those who took such good care of these lands out of, admittedly, enlightened self interest. Now begins the age of public use of lands in private hands since before the Civil War, with all the pluses and minuses that go with it.

Now, with the deer and bear seasons in full swing, the clubs are experiencing a significant jolt in terms of privacy. As of October 1, the clubs have exclusive use of only one-acre envelopes around their camps (as well as dirt access roads). But dropping from 16,000 leased acres for the exclusive recreational use of Gooley Club members and families to one acre is quite a thud. So is the loss of all-terrain vehicles for bringing in hunters with aging legs and creaky joints to interior posts or for deer drives along the sixty miles of interior roads. According to the rules newly in effect, ATVs can be used only to drag out a deer—not to drag in a hunter.

For my dear old friend George Canon, longtime supervisor of Newcomb, Gooley Club membership was about fishing, especially the spectacular trout fishing on stunning Third Lake of the legendary Essex Chain Lakes. I counted eight camps close together inside Gooley “village,” plus a large and well-made clubhouse and a modern-looking his-and-hers bathhouse.

George explained that the club owns the camps and other buildings as well as the aluminum rowboats with small gas and electric engines tied up to two docks. Club members can rent one of the camps for indeterminate periods, and families often have stayed all summer. Because the club stocked several lakes with brook and rainbow trout as well as land-locked salmon, many members were in it for the fishing, although there was always a hard-core, men-only hunting group for the deer season. And winter access for the hardy by snowmobile. In its heyday, there were two caretakers, one serving as an excellent cook. Now they’re down to one, said George, and the future is what it is.

“There’s an online auction going on for club members to sell off club memorabilia,” he remarked as we passed by an Old Town Canadienne canoe along the shore. ‘‘It’s up to $300 on that canoe.”

George, who has belonged to the club for six or seven years, doesn’t plan to renew his membership. He suspects he is not alone. The club is down to between seventy and ninety members.

Gooley Club member Bruce Mitchell of Indian Lake gave me a thumbnail history of the club, named after early settlers Mike and Olive Gooley. Their farmhouse along the Hudson served meals to log drivers, and the farmstead became the site of the original Outer Gooley Club, which predated the sister Inner Gooley Club on Third Lake by many years. Many sportsmen belonged to both clubs. Now the Outer Gooley Club is disbanded, though the clubhouse remains—at least until the state decides what to do with it.

Photo of the Gooley Club camps on Third Lake by Susan Bibeau.
More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of Adirondack Explorer, the non-profit news magazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.
Fred LeBrun

Fred LeBrun


Fred LeBrun is a regular contributor to Adirondack Explorer, and has been one of the defining voices of the Albany Times Union for more than forty years, serving the newspaper as suburban beat reporter, city editor, arts editor, restaurant critic and columnist on state politics.

LeBrun's “Hudson River Chronicles,” recounted an 18-day adventure downriver from Mount Marcy to New York Harbor in September 1998; he repeated most of the journey in 2009.

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17 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:

    Fred, your article offered good perspective, enlightening and nonjudgmental. Respect is most definitely due to all involved here who demonstrate a deep love and knowledge of this Adirondack land. Loss of privacy is a ‘jolt’ as you describe it. So was the Finch, Pruyn decision to sell it all in ’07.

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  2. Paul says:

    In many leases leasehold improvements become the property of the owners. The camps are the responsibility of the Gooley Club? I would have thought they were the responsibility of The Nature Conservancy or the State? Must have been in the lease? These are the only assets the club has anyway. They could just walk away if they want. I give them credit for sticking around and destroying all the stuff they worked hard to build up.

    With 70-90 guys I would hope that they can re-group and set up somewhere else. Perhaps private land where this cannot happen? Just set up the club near the easement and state land. Let the taxpayers pay their lease!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  3. Alan Senbaugh says:

    The club was a good steward of the land. It is an end of an era. I am sorry for your loss but it is a great gain to the rest of us. Atleast you will still be able to have a club, although I know it won’t be on the shore of Third Lake. Good Luck.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  4. Big Burly says:

    Fred, thanks for the stroll down memory lane. Our family has lots of great memories from the 60s thru the late 80s. My father in law was a member, for the fishing, the hunting (outer camp too). Wonderful people who cared about the resource. Many memories of floating along on a sunny day, hoping no fish jumped on the line, lost in the reverie of nature’s splendor. Sure hope this treasure is appreciated and taken care of by our fellow residents.

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  5. Alan Senbaugh says:

    I am surprised Mr Canons membership in a discriminatory organization (Gooley clubs practice of banning woman during hunting season) was never used against him during an election.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 19

  6. william Deuel,Jr says:

    Fred, Please remember that 92,000 acres were sold to ATP from the conservancy. The clubs on those properties will remain intact. The state does have the easements to protect it.

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    • Paul says:

      That land will eventually end up in the hands of the state once the Dutch Pension fund needs to cash out and no buyers want the land with all the development rights gone and the timber depleted. I would say 10 maybe 15 years. Wouldn’t build any new camps.

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  7. william Deuel,Jr says:

    Paul,There is a 20 year agreement to supply timber to the Finch plant . I can only go with the present and as it stands right now the neither the state or the conservancy have any say regarding the clubs on these properties. All of this is speculation and let us see what kind of shape the state is in 20 years from now, if it continues on it present course i would not hold my breath.

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    • Paul says:

      The 20 year contract is a good point. But they can break the contract if they have to sell the land. Does it stipulate that “if they continue to own the land” they have to supply the mill. I can’t see how it could be much more binding than that? In the worst case scenario the state would be required to allow contractors to fulfill a few remaining years of the contract. Just like you see these windows they allow to let the clubs clean up and move out.

      The bottom line is that the timber industry has moved away from a business model that has them managing land over long term periods. This 20 year contract is a good example. Heck it takes 10 years to grow a big Christmas tree!

      But, yes this is all speculation. But it would fit with the business model for most REIT’s which is really what all these landowners are. No private entity in the right mind would buy up land that basically only has recreational value, and anyone can do that for free since the state has those rights as well.

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  8. Bruce says:

    Thank you, Fred for shedding light on the other side of this matter. I had the opportunity to paddle the Essex chain of lakes two weeks ago. It’s a magnificent place that needs to be managed well for anyone interested in visiting the area. It’s too bad the club loses all that it has built up. Thier settlement looked very organized as we paddled past the cove on third lake where the club is situated.

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  9. Paul says:

    If we could get used to a new model “private sportsmen clubs” should perhaps see a new era. All this easement land is like having a huge lease without the lease payment. Just position your clubhouse buildings on adjoining private land where you have the only access and bam you are surrounded by a huge club paid for by the taxpayers. It isn’t technically private but you are not going to see folks humping it in for miles to get onto this land. The Champion easements have far fewer users in the fall now than they did during the era of private clubs. Even the public access sites are deserted in the fall. I don’t see anyone, with the exception of a few club members that have hung around, using that land. The promise that those lands would draw in large numbers of public users hasn’t materialized. I am curious have the towns around there reported the big influx that was forecast. Towns like St. Regis Falls seem deader than ever?

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  10. Lauri says:

    We do not rent boats, they are used by club members free of charge. Members suppy their own motors. We are now down to 9 acres of land, one for each building. As for the buildings most of them are being deemed historical, so they may not be removed. As the person cooking for the Gooley Club I have to say it’s a shame what TNC & NY State did. They don’t see the gentrations of family enjoying this club. They don’t see the smile of a son that takes his first buck or a daughter catching her first fish. As for the public I have spoken to so far they did not seem to excited about carry their gear to get to the water & only going a short distance once on the water. I think that Newcomb, Long Lake & North Creek are going to hurt in the long run. I know we do alot of business in these communties. I’m sure the other clubs do too.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      There will be generations of the public enjoying what until now was only open to those few who could afford membership in these private clubs.

      Allowing access to everyone can only have a positive impact on local economies.

      And by the way, the State and TNC didn’t do anything to these clubs. They held leases from Finch and Finch decided to sell the land, as is the right of every private landholder.

      Not only that, but Finch, TNC, and the State provided opportunities to these clubs that others do not enjoy, including the continuance of their leases even after the land was sold.

      Arguing otherwise is outrageous. If you rent an apartment and the owner decides to sell the land and tear down the building, you don’t blame the owner. You are free to buy your own land, and these clubs could have taken care of their own land needs anytime over the last 100 years.

      Had they wanted to secure their special access to these amazing places (which excluded the rest of us who wanted to hunt and fish on these lands), they should have bought the land from Finch.

      I look forward to enjoying these lands with my family.

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  11. Are any Gooly Club members interested in transfering into Ragged Mt. Fish and Game Club? They have a club camp with 22 beds that members can use any time. call Carl Bornhorst, Vice President, (518)794-9504

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  12. Lauri says:

    John, I hope you & your family do enjoy the property. So far since they have open to the public, I have seen beer cans thrown in the woods, bullet holes put in the new signs that DEC put up & someone jammed a stick in our lock so our members could not get in. Is it that hard for people to just enjoy the land without defacing it!!!

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  13. Rennie says:

    Did anyone ever stop to think that when they stop growing evergreens in temperate zones like NY to make it forever wild, it only encourages the slaughter of rainforests in the tropics which WERE much greater in species diversity, where there are few if any regulations on harvesting, labor, or milling operations? This is a win for NIMBYs but not for the earth. Further evergreens filter air and produce oxygen all year long, where the decidous forests more likely to be climax vegetation without intervention of regular forestry practice, produce less oxygen, and more methane.

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    • John Warren John Warren says:

      They stopped growing evergreens? You mean when it becomes part of the Forest Preserve the evergreens stop growing?

      What a world we live in. You gotta love the internet.

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