Monday, November 26, 2012

Competing Wilderness Proposals

Adirondack Council proposal for Wild Rivers WildernessThe state has yet to purchase the Essex Chain of Lakes, but two environmental organizations already have proposals to establish Wilderness Areas in the region.

This month, Protect the Adirondacks urged the state to create an Upper Hudson Wilderness Area, combining twenty thousand acres of existing Forest Preserve and nineteen thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company—a total of thirty-nine thousand acres.

The Adirondack Council beat Protect to the punch by two decades. In 1990, the council recommended establishing a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness if the land became available. Spokesman John Sheehan says the council still stands behind that proposal.

Once the state acquires the former Finch lands, the state will own only three-quarters or so of the region targeted by the council. One large in-holding that will remain in private hands is the North Woods Club. Nevertheless, Sheehan said, “the state will have sufficient lands to create the Wilderness Area and complete it sometime in the future.”

Either proposal likely would run into opposition: motorized use is prohibited in Wilderness Areas, and many local politicians and sportsmen argue that this deters public use.

One major difference between the two proposals—apart from the acreage—is that Protect’s is more accommodating of motorized use.

Protect has drawn its Wilderness boundaries to exclude First Lake (one of the waters in the Essex Chain) and nearby Pine Lake. This would allow floatplanes to continue landing on these water bodies. The boundaries also exclude the area just north of the Essex Chain. Although most of the chain would be within the Wilderness Area, people would be able to drive there for canoe-camping. Finally, Protect advocates keeping a few dirt roads open to the interior of the Wilderness Area to provide access to takeouts on the Hudson River and to OK Slip Pond. These roads also could be used by hunters in deer season.

Under the council’s proposal, paddlers and backpackers would face long hikes—up to several miles—to reach the Essex Chain, the Hudson takeouts, or OK Slip Pond. Sheehan argues that since vehicular traffic creates pollution and disturbs wildlife, it should be kept out of the area. “From our perspective, the state’s number one priority should be protection of the natural resource,” he said.

Bauer, however, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated that it wants to allow floatplane access on First and Pine lakes and vehicular access to the Hudson. “We’re being realistic,” he said.

Another major difference is that the council’s proposal incorporates far more land east of the Hudson, including the Boreas River. All told, the Wild Rivers Wilderness would encompass segments of five rivers: the Hudson, Boreas, Cedar, Indian, and Rock.

Both proposals call for classifying a long stretch of the Hudson River as Wilderness, from just below the hamlet of Newcomb to just above the hamlet of North River. It includes the Hudson Gorge, a popular whitewater-rafting destination. Bauer said the cachet of a Wilderness designation would benefit the rafting industry. “The opportunity to protect twenty-two miles of the upper Hudson in a Wilderness Area would be a great accomplishment for the state,” Bauer remarked.

The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007 for $110 million. The state plans to buy sixty-five thousand acres of the former Finch lands over the next five years, starting with the 18,318-acre Essex Chain Tract and the nearby 944-acre Outer Gooley Tract (located the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers), which are expected to be acquired this year or early next. DEC has made no decisions about classification of the land, but spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the department expects remote interior areas will be classified as Wilderness and other areas will be classified as Wild Forest to allow “greater levels of public use.” The Adirondack Park Agency would have to approve the classifications.

Illustrations: Above, the Adirondack Council’s proposed Wild Rivers Wilderness; below, Protect’s proposed Upper Hudson Wilderness. 

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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.

14 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:

    Wilderness lines get drawn, literally on a map, and fixedly in the mind, before a good assessment of the wilderness (small w) and other resources is completed and before much dialogue has occurred. Adirondack Wild reminds all parties that good, principled wilderness management of recreation, etc. can occur on any Forest Preserve classification – Wild Forest, Canoe, Primitive or Wilderness. All are covered by Art 14 of the NYS Constitution. The Essex Chain of Lakes is part of a larger Forest Preserve acquisition that Gov Cuomo has commited public resources to over the next five years. There are wilderness and rare ecological, and excellent recreational resources in all of them. Let’s understand these resources in whole and in part, discuss them, and arrive at creative ways to manage these that maintains their biotic integrity and recreational and economic opportunities for Newcomb, North Hudson, Long Lake, Indian Lake – and beyond. Classification is an important part of that, but fixing lines on a map and in our minds too early can short circuit the larger process.

    • Paul says:

      Dave, Hasn’t the TNC done extensive research and inventories on these parcels? Yes, very little dialogue so far but there has been some assessment at this point. Do they have a site where we can look at the data and see what kind of “rare” ecological resources are on this land? The discussion should cover facts and figures and not ethereal stuff.

  2. Penn Hoyt says:

    Once again the Adirondack Council is showing its true colors in that it wants to put a fence around the Adirondacks and charge an entry fee. It has no desire to help the economy nor the people who live in it. The Adirondack Council needs to remember that it does not own the Park, the people do, especially the people who live and work in it.

  3. Jay says:

    If the purchase has not been made yet by NY State-Is it too late to back out and forget it? We do not have the money to waste on a purchase like this.
    Maybe we could pay off some debt.
    I know paying off debt does not give tree huggers the fuzzy feeling like adding more land to the park.

  4. Phil says:

    How can the State of New York (taxpayers) spend 70 million when the taxpayers just took a 33 billion dollar hit from Sandy and thousands of New Yorkers have been wiped out.

    • guest says:

      Phil, the deal is for only $50 million. It’s the long term cost that will hurt the most, probably around $20 million per year.

      It’s a small enough sum that it could be done in a back room deal. Don’t worry.

  5. JR says:

    If only we all could be as fiscally irresponsible as
    NYS is.

  6. Bob says:

    I have had the pleasure of canoeing on and fishing in each of the eight Essex Chain lakes (ponds)for many years, including Pine and some of the smaller ponds in the area as well. The memories of those experiences I hold are priceless. It is time for others to share similar experiences. With continued limited vehicular access, and without motorized watercraft, this not only seems very possible, but with proper management should also serve to maintain the wild feel of the area.

    • guest says:

      Bob, which of the other ponds did you fish, and is the paddle from 8th to 7th pretty decent, or is there a portage?

      • Bob says:

        Getting from 7th to 8th over water is either very difficult or impossible with a boat. It’s an easy walk in the winter or you can launch on 8th from the shore fairly easily with a light weight canoe. I have a Hornbeck and a Raddison. 7th is really an extension of 6th and easily accessible by canoe or small boat. Grassy is assessible from 1st with a reasonable walk or it is a short bushwalk from one of the logging roads in the area. I have also fished Mud, Deer, Pine, Jackson, Clear, Squirrel and Little Round Top.

        • guest says:

          Bob, is it fairly easy to get from one lake to another on the Essex Chain? How long would it take to get from one end of the chain to the other?

          • Bob says:

            Getting from 2nd to 7th is easily navigable with a canoe, with the exception of needing to pass through or over a short culvert that separates 4th and 5th. From 1st to 2nd is possible also, but I have not found getting from 7th to 8th navigable. If speed is your priority, the quickest I could imagine would be 2 hours, but you could easily take a day or even two if you really want to enjoy the trip, particularly if you are fishing. I took well over an hour one day going just from 5th to 6th (a few hundred yards) because of what I saw.

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