Monday, January 10, 2011

Phil Brown: The Gooley Club’s Last Stand

I was skiing in the Whitney Wilderness on the day the Nature Conservancy announced that the state had purchased conservation easements on eighty-nine thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co.

My ski trip to Bum Pond, with my daughter Martha, was made possible by the state’s purchase of nearly fifteen thousand acres from the Whitney family in 1997.

Thanks to this latest land deal, the public will have the opportunity to enjoy new ski trails in coming winters.

The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007. Last year, it sold eighty-nine thousand acres to ATP Timberland Invest. On December 30, the state announced that it would pay $30 million for easements on the ATP lands.

The easement deal prohibits development but will allow logging to continue. In addition, some of the land will be open to the public for skiing, hiking, paddling, fishing, and snowmobiling.

The agreement also allows sixty hunting clubs, with a thousand or so members, to continue to enjoy exclusive hunting rights on lands they lease from ATP.

Hunting clubs on other lands sold by Finch, Pruyn are not so lucky. The conservancy plans to sell sixty-five thousand acres to the state for inclusion in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. If this happens, about twenty hunting clubs will be forced to close.

In the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer, George Earl reports that one prominent hunting club is fighting a last-ditch battle for survival. For decades, the Gooley Club has leased sixteen thousand acres in the central Adirondacks, including the Essex Chain of Lakes and stretches of the Hudson and Cedar rivers. Most of the land is slated to become Forest Preserve. The club argues that an easement deal, similar to the one just reached, would be better for the local economy and save the state money.

The Adirondack Nature Conservancy, however, put a lot of thought into which Finch lands should be protected by easements and which should become part of the Forest Preserve, and it has no intention of changing its plans to suit the Gooley Club. Earl quotes Michael Carr, the conservancy’s executive director, as saying the Gooley tracts “stand out because of their exceptional public recreational features and biological importance.”

Local government officials are questioning whether the state should purchase the remaining Finch lands, but they seem to be fighting a rear-guard battle.

If the state does purchase the land, the next battle will be over its classification: should it be designated Wilderness, where all motorized use is banned, or the less-restrictive Wild Forest?

The Adirondack Council has proposed establishing a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness Area in the region that would encompass the Gooley tracts. In a 1990 report, the council says such a Wilderness Area would offer “the finest in riparian ecosystems and … the best of wild-river recreation.”

The purchase of just the Gooley tracts would provide tantalizing opportunities for recreation. You could spend days camping and canoeing on the Essex Chain, for example, or you could paddle twelve miles down the Hudson from Newcomb to a takeout near the Cedar River. The Gooley Club says it would allow public access to river corridors and perhaps the Essex Chain. But is this offer enough?

Read Earl’s story and let us know what you think.

Photo by Carl Heilman II: the Gooley Club.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

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