Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brandon Park: 28,000 Acres For Sale

There are not many privately owned estates like Brandon Park left in the Adirondacks: twenty-eight thousand acres with seven miles of pristine river, eleven brook-trout ponds, and a 2,200-foot mountain. It sounds like a recreational paradise, and it’s for sale.

Ordinarily, you’d think environmentalists would be goading the state to buy Brandon Park for the forever-wild Forest Preserve, but so far that’s not been the case.

For one thing, the state doesn’t have as much money for land acquisition as it had in the years before the current recession. For another, the state already is committed to spend $50 million over the next several years to acquire lands once owned by the Finch, Pruyn & Company.

Furthermore, the state plans to buy Follensby Pond and the surrounding woods—about fourteen thousand acres, in all—after the Finch deal. And then there’s always the chance that the thirty-five thousand acres owned by the Whitney family will come up for sale.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, thinks it unlikely that state officials can be persuaded to spend $27 million (the asking price) on Brandon Park—especially since the land is largely protected by a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy.

“While it’s a great piece of property, I see three major projects in front of it,” Bauer said, alluding to the Finch, Follensby, and Whitney properties.

Located west of Paul Smiths, Brandon Park had been owned by the heiress Wilhelmina du Pont Ross until her death in 2000. It is now owned by Brandon Park LLC, with headquarters in Delaware. In 1978, Ross donated an easement on the property to the Nature Conservancy, allowing her to claim a huge property-tax break, which led to a court battle with the town of Santa Clara.

The estate has eight homes and more than a dozen other structures, including guest cabins and a fish hatchery, and some forty miles of roads. The terms of the easement will allow the construction of nine additional residences, according to a prospectus prepared by Merrill L. Thomas Inc., a Lake Placid real-estate broker. The easement forbids commercial development but allows timber harvesting.

Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the department has no plans to bid on the property. If Brandon Park were acquired by the state, though, it probably would attract a substantial number of paddlers, anglers, and hikers. The attractions include the mile-and-a-half-long Follensby Junior Pond, a seven-mile stretch of the Middle Branch of the St. Regis River, and Buck Mountain overlooking the river valley.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, is especially keen on the Middle Branch. The Brandon stretch of the river and an adjoining state-owned segment encompass a beautiful flatwater meander known as the Sixteen-Mile Level. “It would be an ideal place for a wilderness canoe trip,” he said.

Woodworth understands that the state doesn’t have the money to buy Brandon Park now, but he hopes the Open Space Institute or another land trust will purchase the property and hold it until the state can afford to acquire it.  Since it will be years before the Finch and Follensby deals are finished, the trust would need to hold the property for a long time at considerable expense.

OSI President Kim Elliman doesn’t see that happening. Essentially, he said, the organization would be spending $27 million to extinguish a mere nine building rights on twenty-eight thousand acres. “That is not a good bargain,” he remarked.

Nevertheless, Elliman said OSI would be willing to get involved in another way. For example, it might help rewrite the existing easement to bolster environmental protections or design a conservation-friendly development plan.

Potential buyers for Brandon Park include timber companies. Lyme Timber, the Park’s biggest private landowner, has a long history of working with conservation organizations and harvesting timber in accord with environmental principles. Asked if the company were interested in Brandon Park, Lyme Managing Director Peter Stein replied, “We have taken a look.”

Photo of Brandon Park from prospectus prepared by Merrill L. Thomas Inc.

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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.

8 Responses

  1. Peter Heckman says:

    Well, there’s the thing: Had the state not committed $50 million for the fee purchase of 65,000 acres of working forests, it could have used that amount to purchase recreational access easements on over 140,000 acres of land, and I’d bet that some of the larger landowners would be willing to share some or all of their land for public access. I’d bet that most landowners would welcome an infusion of cash.

    Right now there’s enough money to in the Environmental Protection Fund to purchase access and usage easements on 40,000 acres of land.

    For the record, I want to reiterate my position on the land acquisition matter: The state should do what is best for the economy and for the resource. There is no reason in the world why FSC certified forestland should be purchased in fee title, and there is absolutely no reason why private recreational clubs should be forced out of business. A fee title purchase prohibits forest protection practices, and we just can’t do that now with imminent threats of invasive species.

    We need to think ten and twenty years out and work towards restorative economic policies, and not practice policies that could seriously damage small towns’ economies, at the behest of special interest groups.

  2. Penn Hoyt says:

    The state should stop listening to the Adirondak Council and other flatlanders and starting listening to the actual residents of the park and create JOBS and save the JOBS that are there. Aspenization only benefits the wealthy, not the actual residents who live there.

  3. adkcamp says:

    One of these days the DEC, APA, State fiscal representatives, environmental organizations, local government representatives, and other Adirondack interests need to sit down and define how much land within the Park needs to be in the hands of the state. I always thought that a 50/50 split between private and public land was a healthy balance; protecting the unique wilderness character of the Park with the very real economic survival of the communities and residents. Added to this mix, we must face the economic reality of costs of not just acquiring land but the other associated expense of annual taxes, protection and maintainance of the lands.

  4. Paul says:

    The theory of the Adirondack Park has always been “draw a blue line around it and buy everything inside that line”. It may take some time but we are getting there.

  5. Peter Heckman says:

    adkcamp, here are some figures: The State has analyzed that every acre of private forest contributes $475.00 per year to NYS’ GDP. This equates to the working forest being worth nearly $30 million per year. So if the state does buy the 65,000 acres, there will be a negative economic impact of that amount to the economy EVERY YEAR. Then add the tax payments that the state must make to the municipalities of around $26.00 per acre, or $1.7 million per year in tax payer burden. Regarding protection of Forest Preserve Land, there is no budget for that. As for maintenance expense, your guess is as good as mine.

    • Paul says:

      “Regarding protection of Forest Preserve Land, there is no budget for that.”

      Peter, there is a budget in many UMP’s for management. Do they have the money? That is a different question. Also, if you look at the budget for the work that was supposed to be done on the Champion easements almost none of it has been done to date.

  6. wolvercat says:

    If I get my ADK Animation production company actually funded & opened for business, in Saranac Lake; I will be able to purchase the land in question here – with some of the profits generated from the release of my 1st animated movie, by my company. After purchase; I would keep the land in its pristine form. And upon my death; my will would state that the land would then be donated to Forever Wild status – with the continued provision that my company would supply the tax payments. The land would be allowed to be used publicly, for recreation; but could not be industrialized, and or sold off to the public for its private or business use.

    I will be able to do this within 4 years time of my company’s operations being engaged. So I’ll save this Almanack article till then.

    *As far as my improving the economic situation in the ADK’s – my animation company will be hiring 198 people to start off its operations with; and expanding its employees at a rate of 10 – 16 more people per year. After the 1st four years of operation, the animation company would be also expanding into another facility that would be creating live-action movies as well – creating more jobs, between 1200 – 2200 people at its conception.

    I am seeking funding for my animation company at the present time…and will be making a public announcement to the whole ADK community, after the funding is secured.

    Better times are coming to the Adirondacks – hopefully I’ll be one of the people spearheading those better times.


  7. Pat says:

    Stop worrying about this. The guys that are doing the ACR development in Tupper Lake are going to scoop this up. After all it’s only 27 Mil then they can sell tons of those ” great Camp” lots and make a killing.

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