Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nature Conservancy Purchases Follensby Pond

Some of the biggest news this summer has come out of the Nature Conservancy. First there was the announcement at the end of August that it will list for sale — under conservation easement — about 90,000 acres of the 161,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands it acquired in June 2007.

Now comes the news that the Conservancy has purchased Follensby Pond for $16 million. The pond was the location of the Philosopher’s Camp where Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James Stillman, Louis Agassiz, and others helped birth the Transcendentalist movement, often cited as a important precedent for the modern environmental movement.

Both announcements have been heavily covered in the media. According to the Conservancy press release on the sales:

The plan for the future of the entire 161,000-acre holding is being developed in cooperation with partners like the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Open Space Institute, community officials, and other stakeholders. It was projected to take 12 – 18 months from the time of the Conservancy’s purchase, and aims to balance ecological protections with sustainable timber harvesting, while preserving the tradition of hunt club/recreational leases and providing new recreational opportunities for the public.

The approximately 90,500 acres currently listed for sale are being offered subject to a conservation easement and a fiber supply agreement. The former ensures that ecological systems, such as river corridors and high elevation spruce-fir habitats, are protected. The latter helps to keep much of the land available as a pulp wood source for the Finch Paper mill in Glens Falls, New York.

FYI: Here is a report from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about the August 2007 auction held at the Follensby property and another about the taxes that have been paid on the property.

What follows is the full press release from the Conservancy on the Follensby Pond purchase:

Keene Valley, New York – The Nature Conservancy today announces its purchase of Follensby Pond in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. This 14,600-acre property of mixed northern hardwood forests borders the state’s largest wilderness area, the High Peaks, and includes more than 10 miles of meandering frontage on the Raquette River, one of New York’s longest rivers. Its centerpiece, 1,000-acre Follensby Pond, is considered the largest lake owned by a private individual in the northeastern United States.

The property has been lovingly cared for and enjoyed by the McCormick family, of Manchester, Vermont, for more than five decades. After looking at several parcels in the area, John S. and Bertha “Bird” McCormick purchased Follensby Pond in 1952. Today’s sale to The Nature Conservancy reflects their deep-rooted connection to the lakes and forests and fulfills the family’s wishes to keep them intact and largely wild.

“It is a beautiful piece of property, and the solitude it offers is absolute. We’ve had so many wonderful experiences there. Bird taught our children and grandchildren how to fish and led them on nature hikes,” said Mr. McCormick.

“The significance of Follensby Pond is well-documented and today’s announcement is one for the history books,” said Pete Grannis, Commissioner of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “We applaud the McCormicks and The Nature Conservancy for taking measures to protect this special place.”

“The sheer size of Follensby Pond, the undisturbed quality of the wetlands, and the vastness of the surrounding forest landscape make this tract of land extremely memorable and important for conservation,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “This striking area will now be protected for future generations, thanks to the McCormick family’s many years of stewardship.”

“John and Bird McCormick first gave me a tour of the property many years ago. Along the way, they identified wildflowers and trees and shared tales of fishing. They also showed me the guestbook, which included an entry from President Calvin Coolidge,” said Michael Carr, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, based in Keene Valley. “It’s been an honor to work together to protect such a wonderful place.”

Follensby Pond drains into the Raquette River where a 20-mile stretch of silver maple floodplain forest is considered to be the best example of that natural community type in the Adirondacks and among the best in the state. The quiet, slow-moving backwater pools associated with that largely undisturbed stretch of river also earned high ranks in a three-year Nature Conservancy study which assigned local, state, and global rankings to approximately 102 natural community types found in the Adirondacks.

Philosophers’ Camp

Visited 150 years ago by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other 19th century scholars, Follensby Pond stands today as a symbol of Transcendentalism, the American-born philosophy that emphasizes the intuitive and spiritual over the empirical and holds nature in high regard. Such thinking, expressed in art and literature by Emerson, William James Stillman, Louis Agassiz, and other intellectuals, helped to transform America’s relationship with nature.

“The philosophers’ camp at Follensby may have been as much intellectual firepower—in the humanities and sciences—as ever gathered together in the U.S., at least under the open air. What one would give to have been privy to those conversations. In due time, we’ll all be able to see the scene that inspired them so,” said Bill McKibben, author and Middlebury College scholar-in-residence.

Emerson wrote about the excursion in his poem “The Adirondacs” and Stillman captured the scene on canvas. The latter hangs today in the Concord Free Public Library in Massachusetts. According to Leslie Wilson, curator of special collections, many people from around the country make special trips to the library just to see it.

Bald eagle re-introduction

In the 1950s Follensby Pond was one of the last places in the Adirondack Park with nesting bald eagles. At that time, bald eagle populations were plummeting, leaving just one unproductive pair in the entire state by the mid-1960s, and landing the species on the endangered species list. The decline was linked to habitat destruction and DDT, a pesticide put into use nationwide in the 1940s. After studies confirmed the pesticide’s effects on calcium levels and egg viability in raptors, its use was outlawed by the federal government in 1972.

That ban gave wildlife biologists hope that populations could recover. Follensby Pond was selected as the only site in the Adirondack Park where bald eagles were reintroduced, a process known as “hacking.” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation endangered species unit leader Peter Nye led the effort in the 1980s. “Follensby was an ideal location because it had suitable habitat for current and future use by the eagles, was free from human disturbance, and good for nesting,” he said, adding that it was “a place where eagles could be eagles.”

In 1981 Nye traveled to Alaska, one of the few places in the nation where eagles were abundant, to collect eaglets unable to fly, but old enough to regulate their temperature and tear and eat fish without parental assistance. As many as 60 eaglets were released at Follensby Pond over several years, including one the McCormick grandchildren named “Emerson.” Today, the 12 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Adirondacks are a testament to the success of those efforts.

“It was wonderful and fitting to see a bald eagle soaring above Follensby Pond this summer. It reminded me of nature’s resilience and filled me with hope for the future,” said Meredith Prime, chair of the Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter board of trustees.

The plan for the future

Follensby Pond, in Tupper Lake and Harrietstown and bounded by “forever wild” state land to the east, north and south, is listed in the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan. That plan, updated every few years with public input, provides a “blue print” for the state’s land protection efforts. The Follensby listing, added in 1992, is consistent with the McCormicks’ vision for their property.

“My wife was a true conservationist, and together, we’ve long envisioned Follensby one day becoming a part of the publicly-owned Forest Preserve,” he said. “I have every confidence that The Nature Conservancy and New York State will work together over the next few years to make that happen.”

Hunting clubs currently lease the property. Out of respect for hunting as a traditional recreational activity, Mr. McCormick and The Nature Conservancy agreed to continue the five leases for the next several years.

The property is not open to the public. “We know that many people are eager to visit Follensby Pond, but ask that the public be patient as we work through the transactional and transitional details,” said Mr. Carr.

“With more and more water resources being protected and made available to the public in recent years, Tupper Lake is booming with paddlers. They come from all over and are helping to fuel the economy. I can understand why TNC is not opening the property right away. As soon as the public can go there, however, it will be a boon to Tupper Lake,” said Robbie Frenette, owner of Raquette River Outfitters, named Tupper Lake Business of the Year in 2005.

The 200,000-acre High Peaks Wilderness links the Follensby tract with some of the former Finch, Pruyn lands purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 2007. Both land conservation efforts contribute to the Adirondack Park’s dynamic history as a place where people and nature can co-exist.

“The Adirondack Park is not your typical park with a gate and an entrance fee. It is a much more interesting place because of its combination of vibrant communities and protected lands—all within a day’s drive of major metropolitan centers like New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia,” said Mr. Carr.

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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com.

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