Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dave Gibson: Partnering For The Moose River Plains

Congratulations to the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT), the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Towns of Inlet and Indian Lake, and the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, among others, for their work together to maintain facilities in the Moose River Plains.

The 85,000-acre wild forest area is, as DEC has long maintained, pretty unique within the Adirondack Forest Preserve because it is permeated by hardened dirt roads and resulting roadside camping that result from the area’s logging history under Gould Paper Company’s former ownership.

The roads were acquired by the state in the early 1960s under an unconstitutional gift statute which declared them not to be part of the Forest Preserve. Motorized uses of the roads were, in this questionable way, grandfathered. Shortly thereafter, the state paid Gould Paper Company for the logged lands on either side of the roads, which became Forest Preserve. Fifty years later, the forest has grown back and, except for the roads, signs of logging history are evident to only to the observant eye.

Dick Payne was Inlet’s police chief and, after his retirement, a probation officer for Hamilton County. During a visit with Dick and Joan at their home some years ago, Dick took the time to tell me stories of his hard, heavy work on the roads in the Plains, pulling heavy trucks out of ditches in all seasons, keeping the roads well graveled, iced in the winter, and passable for the loggers. His stories about this working forest certainly put a different perspective on the area for me. Up to that time all I had heard about the Plains were the successful, decade-long efforts by Paul Schaefer and the Moose River Committee (1945-1955) to save the valley from the state-sponsored dam builders. Joan had invited me to speak about this part of the Plains history for an Adirondack Discovery audience at Inlet Town Hall around 1992.

Since 2010, it was hard not to know about DEC’s efforts with the towns of Inlet and Indian Lake to maintain the Plains’ road system after well publicized DEC budget cuts threatened that year’s spring opening of the Limekiln to Cedar River Road, the main haul road into the area. The towns provided needed funds, equipment and work crews.

That local-state cooperative happened simultaneously to the 2010 announcement of the draft Moose River Plains Wild Forest Unit Management Plan, which caused dozens of people who use the Plains for recreation to speak out at public meetings. One could not help but be impressed by the level of passionate interest and documented commitment to the Moose River Plains shown by so many during the public hearings. People with long family traditions of sharing the wild outdoors together in the Moose River Plains wanted to keep the area’s accessible, wild beauty. Don’t fix what is not broken, they said, except please do clean up the neglected, broken camping sites, tables, outhouses. Maintain the road system. These folks have strong local allegiances, and made the connection between this Wild Forest and the economies of this part of the Adirondacks.

Late last summer, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve learned a lot more about the history of the road system, and the Moose River Plains from retired DEC Forest Ranger Gary Lee, who provided us a personal tour.

I did not know until receiving ACT’s recent newsletter how much generous donors to ACT’s Sustain the Moose River Plains Fund are doing to “support youth staff, maintenance and interpretation of the Moose River Plains” on an ongoing basis. First, ACT is providing a $15,000 grant spread out over three years to support these efforts. Second, ACT donors have created a start-up $25,000 endowed fund to provide, as the ACT newsletter states, a crucial component to the partnership, “the role of the community.” “The hope is that people who enjoy fishing, camping, hunting, snowmobiling and other recreational opportunities in the Plains will want to add their support to this fund.” Amen. For more information, go to www. generousact.org.

Like the many firetower and hiking trail friends groups, sustaining the Moose River Plains Fund at ACT, and the local energy and initiative it supports will be challenging. The folks in Inlet know that more than anyone. For now, it is a tremendous achievement and one well worth supporting.

Photos: Limekiln Lake-Cedar River Road, Moose River Plains Wild Forest.


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

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