Thursday, March 21, 2013

Debate Continues Over Motors On New State Lands

Essex Chain and nearby ponds (Photo by Carl Heilman)

  Essex Chain (Carl Heilman Photo). 

More than five years after the Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres of Finch, Pruyn & Company’s timberlands, the state has acquired eighteen thousand acres for the Forest Preserve and intends to open up some of the land to the public this spring.

As a result of the state acquisition in December, canoeists and kayakers will be able to paddle south on the Hudson River from Newcomb to a takeout just south of the confluence with the Goodnow River.

Wayne Failing, a longtime fishing and rafting guide, describes the six-mile stretch as a mix of flatwater and mild rapids in a wild setting. “It’s a fabulous section,” he said. “I’ve done the trip many times.”

Failing, however, usually continues through the treacherous Hudson Gorge. With the acquisition of the Finch land, less-skilled paddlers will be able to exit before the gorge. A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the takeout would be available for public use this spring.

DEC’s Plan for the Essex Chain, Indian River, and OK Slip Falls tracts. The region shaded in blue north of Route 28 would become the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area.

DEC’s Plan for the Essex Chain, Indian River, and OK Slip Falls tracts. The blue area north of Rt 28 would become the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area.

But that’s just the beginning: sometime this fall, after a hunting club’s annual lease runs out, paddlers and hikers for the first time will be able to explore the Essex Chain of Lakes, which lies at the heart of the eighteen-thousand-acre tract. And as the state acquires more of the Finch lands in the years ahead, the number of new recreational opportunities will proliferate. Among other things, the public someday will be able to walk to OK Slip Falls, admire the views of the High Peaks from Boreas Ponds, hike to the summit of Boreas Mountain, and scale the cliffs on Sugarloaf Mountain.

State officials say the purchase of the Finch lands will spur tourism and boost the economy of local towns. Yet these goals must be balanced with the protection of natural resources, which can be a complicated and often controversial business.

“This is a jewel in the Adirondack crown,” said Marc Gerstman, DEC’s executive deputy commissioner. “We want to ensure we’re protecting the natural resources, but we also want to make these areas open to the public for uses consistent with protecting the resource.”

DEC believes it has struck the right balance in its plan for classifying and managing sixty-five thousand acres of former Finch lands—the eighteen thousand already purchased and another forty-seven thousand to be acquired over the next three or four years. The plan also covers four thousand acres of non-Finch lands that the state intends to buy from the Nature Conservancy.

Yet all four of the Park-wide environmental groups oppose the department’s proposals for the eighteen thousand acres acquired in December—known as the Essex Chain Tract—and intend to submit counterproposals to the Adirondack Park Agency. The APA will vote on the plan after holding public hearings, perhaps this spring. The agency could modify the plan.

Adirodnack Council Finch Plan

The Adirondack Council plan consolidates existing Forest Preserve with new state lands into a Wild Rivers Wilderness, outlined in pink.

DEC recommends classifying five thousand acres in the Essex Chain Tract as Wilderness, the most protective classification in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. This land would become part of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, which would include existing state land along the Hudson, such as the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area, and former Finch lands that the state has yet to acquire.

The other thirteen thousand acres would be designated Wild Forest—a classification that, unlike Wilderness, allows some motorized use. The Wild Forest area includes the Essex Chain of Lakes, one of the gems of Finch lands. The chain includes several interconnected ponds that can be visited in a half-day canoe trip. In addition, paddlers could portage to a half-dozen other ponds. The environmental groups want the region to be a Wilderness Area or Canoe Area (another motor-free classification).

DEC is not proposing to allow motorboats on the Essex Chain. However, the plan does not say they should be banned either. Rather, it recommends creating an Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area within the Blue Mountain Wild Forest that would be subject to special management restrictions. Although DEC has not tipped its hand, these restrictions could include a ban on motorboats.


Protect the Adirondacks seeks a smaller Upper Hudson Wilderness, outlined in black. Its plan would provide easier access to the Essex Chain of Lakes.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), said he is concerned that DEC will end up allowing motorboats on the ponds. “If they’re not up front in assuring everyone that motorboats will be barred from the Essex Chain, we have to assume that it is their intention to allow them,” he said. “Just the potential for DEC allowing motorboats on those small lakes and ponds is a very strong argument for classifying them Wilderness or a Canoe Area.”

DEC is proposing several uses of the land that would not be permitted under a Wilderness classification:

■ Keeping some dirt roads open to provide access to the interior of the tract.

■ Permitting floatplanes to land on Third Lake in the Essex Chain in early spring, for the benefit of anglers, and in late fall, for hunters. Planes also will be allowed to land on First Lake and Pine Lake in any season. On those waterways, the conservancy donated the floatplane rights to the towns of Minerva and Newcomb.

■ Allowing mountain bikers to ride on the extensive network of dirt roads in the vicinity of the Essex Chain.

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, contends that automobiles and floatplanes will disturb wildlife and create pollution. He also fears that motorized use will increase the risk that invasive plants and non-native fish will be introduced. Anglers, for example, might inadvertently release suckers, perch, and other baitfish in the Essex Chain. “The easier it is to get a bait bucket in there, the more likely it is to happen,” he said.


The council has called for establishing a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness that would encompass not only the Essex Chain, but also a long stretch of the Hudson, including the gorge, and several major tributaries, such as the Rock, Cedar, Boreas, and Indian rivers. Most of the land is in the Forest Preserve already or soon will be as a result of the Finch deal. Sheehan says the state could create the Wilderness Area now and acquire the rest of the land if it comes on the market.

MacIntyre Tracts (DEC Map)

Most of the two MacIntyre Tracts near Tahawus would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The acquisition will give paddlers greater access to the Hudson and Opalescent rivers.

If the state were to adopt the council’s proposal, paddlers and hikers probably would have to walk three or four miles to reach the Essex Chain. Likewise, paddlers taking out on the Hudson before the gorge also would face a long carry.

“We believe it’s more important to accommodate the best interest of the natural resource than the best interest of the automobile,” Sheehan said.

Protect the Adirondacks agrees that the Essex Chain should be Wilderness, but it has come up with a plan that offers greater access. The organization proposes creating an Upper Hudson Wilderness

Area encompassing thirty-nine thousand acres. Protect would draw the Wilderness boundary just north of the Essex Chain so people could drive to the ponds, though the ponds themselves would lie within the Wilderness Area. Also, Protect would keep open three roads to provide access to the interior and allow paddlers to drive to takeouts on the Hudson. The roads would be classified as Wild Forest corridors.

The council’s and Protect’s plans would ensure that the Essex Chain and nearby ponds are kept motor-free. Both also would preclude the landing of planes on Third Lake and the riding of bikes on most of the roads in the vicinity of the chain. Protect, however, would allow easier access to the Essex Chain than DEC itself is proposing.

Under DEC’s plan, paddlers could drive nearly all the way to Deer Pond, a bit north of the chain. From there, they would have to carry a half-mile or so to Third Lake. Only disabled people with a permit would be allowed to drive all the way to the chain. DEC also would keep roads open to provide access to the Hudson takeouts. In fall, vehicular access would be expanded slightly to benefit hunters.


DEC proposes to split the Boreas Ponds Tract between Wild Forest and motor-free Wilderness. Visitors would be able to drive most of the way to Boreas Ponds.

Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, supports the Wild Forest classification for the Essex Chain as well as the continued floatplane use. “The governor has said this acquisition will be good for the economy. I believe that’s not really true unless it’s accessible,” Monroe said.

Bob Brown, executive project director of the New York State Conservation Council, also supports the Wild Forest classification, but he criticized DEC for not making the Essex Chain even more accessible. He contends that people should be able to drive to the ponds and launch small motorboats. He also believes more of the roads should be kept open to provide easier access for hunters.

“I’m seventy years old, and I still hunt and fish,” said Brown, a Saranac Lake resident. “Let’s say I shoot a four-point deer. How am I going to get it out? How am I going to drag it through the woods?”

Brown said the Conservation Council represents twelve thousand hunting clubs, many of whose members are getting up in age. He feels DEC officials fail to take older folks into consideration. “They cater to people between eighteen and thirty-five all the time, and it’s frustrating,” he said.

But Dave Gibson, one of the founders of Adirondack Wild, accuses DEC of catering to the motorized-use crowd. Most of the Essex Chain area should be classified Wilderness or Canoe, he said, but for political reasons DEC wants to balance the amount of Wild Forest and Wilderness in the Finch, Pruyn deal as a whole.

“It isn’t DEC’s job or mission to balance classifications to achieve motorized-recreational and political goals,” Gibson said. “DEC and APA are legally charged with observing and following through on the State Land Master Plan guidelines.”


The numbered parcels will be open to the public this spring.
The pinstriped land will open this fall.

DEC doesn’t have a breakdown for how much of the Finch land would be Wild Forest and how much Wilderness. Judging by the maps in the proposed management plan, however, it’s clear that a substantial proportion would be Wilderness.

Following are DEC’s recommendations for other parcels that the state will acquire from the Nature Conservancy:

Indian River Tract. This 914-acre parcel includes a takeout on the Hudson just north of the confluence with the Indian River. DEC would classify about two-thirds of it Wild Forest, thus allowing the department to keep open a road to the takeout. The state is expected to purchase the tract this year. After it does, paddlers will be able to travel down the Hudson from Newcomb for twelve miles and still exit before the Hudson Gorge. As in the shorter trip to the Goodnow River, they would encounter only mild or moderate rapids. (See map)

Boreas Ponds Tract. Encompassing twenty-two thousand acres, this is the largest and one of the most coveted of the Finch parcels. DEC would split the parcel more or less evenly between Wild Forest and Wilderness. The ponds themselves, with their spectacular views, would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness. DEC wants to keep open about five miles of a dirt road, as far as LeBiere Flow. From there, Canoeists could paddle and portage to Boreas Ponds, while hikers could walk on the closed stretch of road to reach the ponds. The road would be used by snowmobilers in the winter. The Adirondack Council has called for closing the entire road and classifying more of the parcel Wilderness. It says a utility corridor south of the road could serve as the snowmobile trail and as the Wilderness boundary. Although DEC says the wooden lodge at Boreas Ponds should be destroyed, an old cabin in the Wild Forest section would be allowed to stay. (See map)

MacIntyre Tracts. Roughly two-thirds of these two large tracts near Tahawus would be classified Wilderness and added to the High Peaks The purchase will provide paddlers easy access to the Hudson River and Sanford Lake from a county road that leads to the Upper Works trailhead. DEC is proposing to keep open a dirt road in the Wild Forest section to give access to the Opalescent River as well. (See map)

Miscellaneous tracts. DEC also will acquire a number of smaller parcels scattered around the central and southern Adirondacks. Individually, they are too small to be classified Wilderness, so most probably will become Wild Forest. DEC’s draft plan offers few details about these lands.

Regardless of how the Finch lands are classified, there will still be more Wild Forest than Wilderness in the Park overall. The Park now has 1.29 million acres of Wild Forest and 1.14 million acres of Wilderness. Together, these two classifications make up 96 percent of the public Forest Preserve.

More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of Adirondack Explorer, the non-profit news magazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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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.

13 Responses

  1. The existence value of wilderness has been debated to death. Here in New York, more wilderness will contribute to the perception that the Adirondack Park is an under-performing asset. I think the Governor already believes that without understanding that advertising and events alone won’t turn the park’s economy around. Spending money on land acquisition (and classifying it wilderness) without spending money on tourism infrastructure (ah, to receive the kind of state support Lake Placid has received!)means there can be little return on the investment. Where can visitors to wilderness spend money? In the ageing northeast, folks want hotels and restaurants after a walk on the wild side.

    • Peter says:

      Return on investment? The park as a “performing asset?” I fully disagree with this very concept. That said, let me use an illustrative scenario to explore the idea of wilderness as a “performing asset.” Want to improve the economy of Newcomb? Close Adirondack Loj Road. The most likely outcome is that Newcomb’s economy would expand exponentially. Hotels, restaurants, outdoor stores, etc. The parking lot at the Loj is packed all the time. Those people spend money. The Town of North Elba would be outraged at the economic loss.

      While this scenario is in theory unrealistic, it should demonstrate that wilderness can be a “performing asset.”

      Of all the groups, it seems to me that the Council has it right. They have been envisioning this for 20 years, and unlike the DEC, which seems to have somehow placed economic development ahead of conservation, they have retained the idea of conservation in their modeling.

      With the DEC proposal, I’m increasingly thankful for black flies, long winters, frozen lakes, mud seasons, and “bad” weather. These appear to be the number one defense against exploiting nature.

  2. Penn Hoyt says:

    If the “council” and the other environmental groups had their way, the entire park would be classified as wilderness and all the towns emptied. Once again, their actions of “Destroying Economic Opportunity One Acre at a Time” truly shows their ultimate intent. One needs to look through the viel of their statements. The state needs to do everything it can to elevate the economies of the towns within the Blue Line.

  3. An Adirondack Native says:

    If Penn Hoyt has his way we’ll all live in a suburban hell, which is probably where he lives now.

    What we need is a wall to keep people who enjoy strip malls and eight lane highways and other “economic development” from coming up here to our homes and destroying our way of life.

  4. Dave says:

    ““I’m seventy years old, and I still hunt and fish,” said Brown, a Saranac Lake resident. “Let’s say I shoot a four-point deer. How am I going to get it out? How am I going to drag it through the woods?””

    This is such an absurd statement and really highlights the difference between the two user groups. You would never ever hear a 70 year old hiker say something like, ‘I am a 70 year old peak bagger, how am I going to get to the top of Mt Marcy without helicopter or 4×4 Truck access?’

    • Peter says:


    • William Deuel,Jr says:

      Absurd ? Really ? The guy hiking Marcy is not dragging a 180 lb deer behind him. Why is the hunter less entitled than the hiker or the easy access for the canoe enthusiast ? There are many user groups in the adirondacks, no one is any more important than the next and is paid for with all our money, the taxpayer.

    • Ti Sentinel65 says:

      Would you feel the same if we made anybody that wants to canoe and kyak in the Dacks drag and hike them in from the blue line. Using the purity of your arguement we should also destroy all roads and trails that lead to peaks, rip the trail markers down, reseed the trails, burn the leantos, fire the forest rangers and ban all rscue in the park for lost or injured hikers, ban GPS and the like. The man stated that he felt his age group was under represented in discussions and would like to keep some motorized access open. After all do not roads already exist on this land? It is a legitimate concern. His advocacy of keeping some dirt roads is no more absurd than your view of how it should be. DEC’s proposal in my view is trying to adress All stakeholders. Get used to the fact that not everyone is going to like every aspect of DEC’s proposal. The only absurdity here is the position that people like you take and feel that your position should be the only one.

  5. Andy says:

    The reality is whatever the DEC does with the land, the public use of the land will be far more restrictive then any private use — and many, if not most of the road will be closed.

    I support the DEC plan as I think it’s balanced. I think it gives quite a bit to every one, including some significant new wilderness areas for those people who like wilderness. It doesn’t lock up all lands as wilderness, but includes many wilderness areas, especially around the Adironacks.

    I believe the Adirondack Council originally supported the DEC plan. The fact they are changing their position is in bad faith.

  6. Charlie says:

    Ann Melious says: “Where can visitors to wilderness spend money?”

    >> The mentality of the above author is so mainstream it gives me the shivers.When she says, “In the ageing northeast, folks want hotels and restaurants after a walk on the wild side.” What she really means is, “… folks want to be convenienced after their brief little stints into the Adirondack woods.”

    • Paul says:

      True, and they are willing to pay for it that was her point. Another word for “mainstream” is popular. Popular uses will generate the most economic benefit for the area. Maybe not what you are interested in but it is for some. The DEC plan is the most balanced of the ones out there.

    • Cindy Deane says:

      So what exactly is the problem with this?just because some don’t prefer to spend days with no electricity, no phones, no toilet facilities like I do, why is their enjoyment of the park “scary”? There’s no suggestion of bull dozing and building dozens of high rise concrete monsters, just an opinion that enjoyment of a beautiful piece of land does not preclude visiting one of the hundreds of Mom and Pop hotels and restaurants that populate the A dirondacks. You know, taxpaying citizens of the state that helped purchase the land?

  7. Cindy Deane says:

    As I read through the comments one thing is startlingly clear…there is a group of physically fit wilderness advocates who don’t feel any other groups use of the land is “right”. I love being in the woods. I love no electricity, no phone, using wood to heat and leaving before dawn to spend an entire day in heaven. I am also a 50 year old female who is in the Army Reserves so I’m in decent shape. I am appalled at the comment that the 70 year old hunter is ridiculous because he wants motorized transport for his game. Seriously? I’ve got 20 years on the guy and I can’t hump a 180 lb deer without my ATV. I dare any of you elititist sounding “purists” to try! If I could put it on my back like a ruck, I’d run with it but the two are not comparable. And really, you walk back to the trail, load it onto the ATV and then go back to your truck. The amount of pollution from every hunter is so negligible it truly scary that there is even a question about this type of access. What I am seeing is a group of people who want the State (read EVERY taxpayer) to fund their chosen hobby but to exclude everyone who doesn’t fit their description of “the right use”. How very sad that those who supposedly love the land don’t want to share it and make it accessible to all the others that would like to enjoy it. And you know what? If someone wants to spend time in the woods and then go to a hotel in the area….where is the crime in that? At least they want to get into the woods and enjoy it. I give kudos to them to keep the love of the land alive no matter where they east to spend the night. Sheesh!!!!

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