The Adirondack Park Agency began deliberations Wednesday on the classification of 21,200 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands, with staff members explaining why the agency’s staff settled on a Primitive classification for the Essex Chain Lakes. However, some questions were left unanswered.
The staff had considered proposals to classify the Essex Chain as Wilderness, Canoe, and Wild Forest. As reported earlier on the Almanack, the staff rejected the Wilderness and Canoe designations largely because local towns own the floatplane rights to First Lake, which is part of the Essex Chain, as well as Pine Lake, which is located a mile and a half south of the chain.
“The presence of floatplanes landing and taking off would detract from the sense of wilderness,” Kathy Regan, a senior natural resource planner, told the APA board.
The Wild Forest classification was rejected because it allows motorboat use. The APA staff felt motorboats would put the Essex Chain and its wetlands at risk by, among other things, churning up sediment, damaging aquatic vegetation, and polluting the water.
“The ecological significance of the Essex Chain Lakes requires a Wilderness-type management,” Regan said.
And that means no motorboats, a requirement that led to the Primitive option. Under this designation, the Essex Chain region will remain off limits to motorboats and, despite the floatplanes, will be managed as Wilderness.
Matt Kendall, another natural resource planner, said the staff’s recommendation (called Alternative 2A) is a modification of an earlier proposal (Alternative 2) for classifying the Essex Chain as Primitive.
The Essex Chain Primitive Area recommended by the staff would encompass 9,940 acres. The original proposal called for an 11,743-acre Primitive Area. The difference is that the land north of the Essex Chain would be classified Wild Forest, not Primitive, under the staff’s preferred option.
In his presentation to the board, Kendall did not explain the reason for scaling back the Primitive Area. It seems obvious, however, that the rationale is to provide easier access to the Essex Chain. Under the original proposal, roads leading to the chain would have been closed. In addition, mountain biking and snowmobiling could be allowed in the Wild Forest section (both activities are are generally prohibited in Primitive Areas).
The two proposals also differ in the classification of a newly acquired stretch of the Hudson River. The original called for the creation of a 32,234-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. Under the modified proposal, the Wilderness Area shrinks to 23,494 acres. That’s because the river corridor north of an iron bridge would be classified Wild Forest instead of Wilderness.
Again, the change was not explained. However, the modified proposal will provide easier access to the Hudson by allowing the public to drive fairly close to the river. It also may allow the state to keep the iron bridge, making it possible to create a snowmobile trail that would cross the river and continue to Minerva. The snowmobile trail is a high priority of local towns.
The modified proposal also calls for a Wild Forest corridor for snowmobile travel between Indian Lake and Newcomb–something not contained in the original.
When asked to explain why the staff modified Alternative 2, APA spokesman Keith McKeever said he could not elaborate but that the answer may come out in today’s meeting. Let’s hope so. This is one of the most important land-classification decisions in the agency’s history, and it’d be nice to hear the justification for the changes in Alternative 2. In short, why is 2A better than 2?
The APA commissioners will reconvene at 9 a.m. today and resume discussion of the Finch, Pruyn lands at 10:45 a.m. They are expected to vote on the staff’s recommendation on Friday.
APA Commissioner Dick Booth, one of the board’s staunchest supporters of the Forest Preserve, remarked at Wednesday’s meeting that he thought Primitive was the appropriate classification for the Essex Chain. He had earlier written a legal memo–which the APA has refused to release–arguing that a Wild Forest classification would violate the State Land Master Plan, which governs management of the Forest Preserve.
You can see the differences in the two Primitive proposals by examining the two maps. The top map shows the various classifications under the staff’s recommendation. The second map shows the original proposal.