Thursday, January 24, 2013

DEC Plan for Former Finch Lands Unveiled

essex classification map - hi resThe state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to classify the Essex Chain of Lakes and the surrounding landscape Wild Forest, a designation that environmental activists contend will allow too much motorized access.

Under DEC’s proposal, 13,000 of the Essex Chain Tract’s 18,000 acres would be classified Wild Forest. It would be called the Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area. The other 5,000 acres, in the vicinity of the Hudson River, would become part of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. The Wilderness Area would incorporate other lands that the state owns or intends to buy.

The Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) all want to see the bulk of the Essex Chain Tract classified Wilderness. (Click here to read about the council’s and Protect’s rival visions for the tract.) The major difference between Wilderness and Wild Forest is that motorized use is forbidden in Wilderness Areas.

“While we’re happy to see some Wilderness, we’d certainly like to see quite a bit more than DEC is proposing,” said Scott Lorey, the council’s legislative director.

Neil Woodworth, the executive director of ADK, said he will fight to have the Essex Chain designated a Wilderness Area or a Canoe Area, which is similar.

The state bought the Essex Chain Tract last month from the Nature Conservancy. Battles over motorized access are common when the state acquires lands for the Forest Preserve. Typically, sportsmen and local officials favor as much access as possible, while environmentalists want to limit motorized use.

Boreas-classification-map - hi resIn this case, the fight is likely to center on the Essex Chain, a string of connected lakes that environmentalists want kept wild and serene. DEC did not purchase the floatplane rights to First Lake, one of the lakes in the chain (ditto for Pine Lake, which is not part of the chain). Thus, planes will continue to be allowed to land on First (and Pine). DEC proposes to allow planes to land on Third Lake as well, but only in early spring—mud season, before interior roads are open.

DEC would keep open several interior roads. Disabled people with a permit would be allowed to drive all the way to the Essex Chain. Others would have to stop well short of the lakes. For paddlers, the most convenient access would be via Deer Pond, north of the chain. They would drive to a parking lot, carry a quarter-mile to Deer, paddle across the pond, then carry another half-mile to Third Lake. Vehicular access would be expanded for hunters in the fall.

DEC also plans to keep roads open to provide access to two takeouts on the Hudson, one near the mouth of the Goodnow River, the other near the mouth of the Indian River. The takeouts will enable paddlers to travel south on the Hudson from Newcomb and exit the river before entering the treacherous Hudson Gorge. The Goodnow takeout will be open to the public this spring.

DEC’s recommendations are set forth in a document sent in late December to Lani Ulrich, chairwoman of the Adirondack Park Agency, which votes on state-land classifications. The Adirondack Explorer obtained a copy of the document on Wednesday.

In a cover letter to Ulrich, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the department is trying to balance the needs of various user groups in the classification of all the lands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company, including the Essex Chain Tract. The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007. The state purchased conservation easements (which prohibit development but allow logging) on 89,000 acres and agreed to acquire outright another 65,000 acres, for inclusion in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. So far, only the Essex Chain Tract has been acquired. The state plans to buy the remaining 47,000 acres over the next several years.

DEC’s proposal—labeled “confidential internal draft document”—also contains classification recommendations for the other Finch lands.  One that may be controversial is the proposed division of the 22,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract into Wild Forest and Wilderness.

macintyre works - hi resThe Boreas Ponds sit on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness, a seven-mile drive along a dirt road from the nearest highway. DEC wants to keep most of the dirt road open so people can more easily access the ponds. Essentially, the dirt road would serve as the boundary between Wilderness and Wild Forest. The ponds themselves and the lands surrounding them would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness.

The Adirondack Council had wanted to see the road closed and more of the Boreas Ponds Tract classified as Wilderness. (Click here to see its proposal.) Woodworth, however, said he would like it if paddlers could drive most of the way to the ponds. Under the plan, paddlers will put in at LaBier Flow, a still water on the ponds’ outlet, and travel up the flow and the outlet to the ponds.

UPDATE: This morning, Protect the Adirondacks posted a detailed response to DEC’s proposals. Click here to read it.

DEC has a number of other ideas for the Finch lands, such as improving paddling opportunities on the Opalescent River and Upper Hudson (above Newcomb) and building new hiking trails. We will discuss more of these in the future.

Meanwhile, you might want to read Chris Knight’s story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on the timetable for acquiring the Finch lands. He raises the possibility that the second Hudson takeout, at the Indian confluence, may be purchased soon.

NOTE ON MAPS: The Essex Chain Tract, outlined in yellow, is in the top part of the first map. The blue represents Wilderness; the green, Wild Forest. The colored lands outside the yellow lines are already in the Forest Preserve. The Boreas Ponds Tract is in the center of the middle map. The top part of this tract is blue, for Wilderness; the lower part is green, for Wild Forest.


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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.

20 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Wild Forest means that it’s possible to ride my mountain bike on the old logging roads. Wilderness means bikes are forbidden. I like the plan as is, and it seems like a good compromise solution.

  2. Phil says:

    That’s right. Mountain bikes are mentioned in the plan.

  3. Dave says:

    It is too bad that there is not a designation that allows non-motorized wheeled travel. I have no problem with mountain bikes and wheeled canoe/kayak carriers. It is the motorized ones that tear up trails, disturb the sounds of wilderness, and foster a tendency to bring along the kitchen sink…. and then leave it behind…. A tough balancing act for the APA, but in this instance it appears that the wilderness designation took a hit….

  4. Penn says:

    The Adirondack “Council” – Destroying economic opportunity one acre at a time.

  5. Dan says:

    There will be a day in which people will be able to use lighter than air craft or even some sort of anti-gravity device. Bikes and cars/trucks are simple in comparison but maybe we should think about it. Would it be wrong to be able to float into the wilderness? No tracks, maybe a few footprints.

  6. […] recently posted on Adirondack Almanack an account of the state’s plans for managing and classifying the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands. Because of the Almanack’s format, the maps I posted with the article are hard to decipher. […]

  7. Nate says:

    Can you post a copy of the map that can be read? The type is too small and blurry to read.

  8. Tony Goodwin says:

    I am glad that the DEC seems ready to classify the Essex Chain as wild forest since it already has an established road network. This doesn’t mean it will become “Moose River Plains North”, but that isn’t such a bad model.

    As for wheeled canoe carriers (and baby joggers), they are legal in designated wilderness because there is no mechanical advantage.

  9. Bob says:

    This is a great compromise, and from what I’m told, it was expected. As someone who has enjoyed for years canoeing and fishing on all of the lakes/ponds in the chain, as well as most of the surrounding ponds, I am delighted that many others will have the same opportunity. Few people if any will haul boats with motors that far, except maybe those with legitimate handicaps who get some assistance and can use the road. The short treks to Deer and then on to Third should allow easy access for the rest of us with lighter canoes. The opportunities to view wildlife in there is outstanding.

  10. William Deuel,Jr says:

    This does seem to be a decent compromise from what I can see on the maps, but the devil is in the details. I have had a camp in Newcomb for 20 years now and have been a licensed guide for hunting and fishing for many years as well.
    With the clubs being displaced and the revenue with it, we were told that snowmobilers would make up the difference with a new trail starting in Newcomb. Can you have a snowmobile trail on wilderness ground ? I do not know that answer, maybe someone can help me with that ? Right now there is a clash of cultures as I call it in the adirondacks with the traditional folks on one side and the conservationists on the other. There is room for both, it will be paid for by both and from what I can see the from this DEC plan that is what they would like to see happen.

  11. Nature says:

    I think the DEC has done well with this classification. This will allow more user groups to enjoy the land and explore new terrain. The Adirondack Mtn Club, Adirondack Council, Protect, etc, did not buy one acre of this land, the people of New York did. I respect these groups’ opinions. But they are just one opinion among many (as is mine).

    If these groups really want to preserve wilderness they should put their money where their mouth is and start buying their own. Are there any more large land parcels left to buy in the Adirondacks? The Nature Conservancy might consider selling Follensby Pond (the birthplace of the modern Wilderness Movement) to a preservation minded buyer?

    I was hesitantly in support of the Finch land purchase when first proposed. With this classification I am on board. It appears there will be a mix of wilderness and wild forest when all is said and done, and that is a good thing in my opinion.

  12. Doug says:

    Looks good. Glad to see the parking on the Indian River tract. I have wanted to paddle the Hudson from Newcomb for years.

  13. stripperguy says:


    Thanks for publishing those maps…I’m just too excited, had an eye on those chain lakes for over 40 years!!
    I know that float planes will be allowed on third Lake, but will the waters be designated otherwise motorless?
    And after studying all the maps of DEC plans, i see there might be a trail from Harris Lake to Lower Duck Holes closely following the Newcomb River…it sure would make a paddle up the Newcomb easier…but maybe nor better!!

    Here’s to a better New York! I am so lucky to have the Adirondacks in my backyard.

  14. Pete says:

    This area should be classified as Wild Forest. The land was purchased with taxpayer money and should be accessible to all. I fully support reasonable conservation and environmental protection efforts, but I do not support locking up more public land as “Wilderness” especially when it already has an established road network. It is reasonable to place some restrictions on motor vehicle use particularly to prevent overuse in the summer, but ALL the roads should be open to snowmobiling in the winter. 50% of Adirondack Forest Preserve is already totally off limits to snowmobilers, that is enough.

  15. David says:

    I know that I come from a small and relatively silent minority but I would like to voice my opinion on the subject. I am an avid backpacker and having spent a lot of time backpacking Wilderness Areas and Wild Forests in the Adirondacks I can say confidently that Wilderness Areas are nicer looking from the trail. Nothing ruins nature like the sound of a motor vehicle, not to mention the damage they can do to trails. I am firmly in support of larger Wilderness area designations. In many ways opening it to motor vehicles ruins it for me.

  16. Henry says:

    The potential opportunities for wilderness areas in the Eastern United States are severely limited and should be seized where possible. Both tracts here can be classified wilderness and allowed to revert to the same, eliminating road networks.

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