Three college students have studied the various issues pertaining to classification and come up with their own recommendation: designate the tract Wild Forest with special restrictions.
The students—Azaria Bower, Kayla Bartheleme, and Erin Ulcickas—collaborated on the project this fall during their semester at the Newcomb campus of the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
They delivered their conclusions Wednesday to a packed room at ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb.
The students had debated whether to designate the tract Wilderness, which is the most restrictive of the APA’s classifications for state land, or Wild Forest. The major distinction is that motorized recreation and bicycling are banned in Wilderness but allowed in Wild Forest.
In the end, they settled on a hybrid: a Wild Forest Area where motorboats and floatplanes would be banned. They made no recommendation about snowmobiling, which is high on the agenda of local officials pushing for a Wild Forest classification.
Bower said the decision was driven in part by a desire to allow mountain biking on the many dirt roads that crisscross the tract. She added that horses, which are allowed on some trails in Wilderness Areas, do more environmental damage than bikes.
The students said the land—which had been logged for decades—can withstand a variety of recreational uses. “It can be used and protected,” Bartheleme remarked.
To guard against overuse, the students propose establishing only two public parking lots, each capable of holding just six cars. One would be a bit north of Deer Pond, where the state has built an interim lot (that holds about twenty cars), and the other would be just north of Fifth Lake in the Essex Chain, a string of seven linked ponds. Other visitors could park on the outskirts of the tract and hike or bike to the interior.
In perhaps their most novel suggestion, they recommend opening up two other parking lots only to licensed guides. These would be near two takeouts on the Hudson River. The idea is that guides could take clients downriver from Newcomb and exit at the Blackwell Stillwater or just before the confluence with the Indian River.
Both takeouts are now available to the public. Under the students’ proposal, the public would no longer be allowed to drive to the parking lots that serve the takeouts.
The tract’s extensive road network could be used for biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Only those roads leading to parking lots would be open to automobiles.
In many respects, the students’ proposal resembles that set forth last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC proposed designating most of the tract, including the Essex Chain itself, as a Special Management Area within a Wild Forest classification. The idea is that the tract would be managed more strictly than Wild Forest but not as strictly as Wilderness. For example, DEC could ban motorboats but allow snowmobiles and bicycles.
The presentation was attended by about twenty people, including Ross Whaley, retired ESF president, who was one of their professors; Connie Prickett of the Nature Conservancy, which sold the Essex Chain Tract to the state; Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild; Tom Martin, DEC’s regional natural resource supervisor; Jim Herman and Dave Mason of Adirondack Futures; Marianne Patinelli-Dubay, a professor of environmental philosophy; and Paul Hai, program coordinator of ESF’s Northern Forest Institute.
Photo by Phil Brown. Left to right: Erin Ulcickas, Kayla Bartheleme, and Azaria Bower.