Tuesday, May 7, 2013

APA Lays Out Options For New State Lands

Wilderness mapThe staff of the Adirondack Park Agency has proposed seven options for the classification of 22,538 acres of former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands recently acquired by the state, all calling for the creation of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness.

The size of the new Wilderness Area—which would require the reclassification of lands already in the Forest Preserve—would range from 18,829 acres to 45,347 acres, depending on the option.

Under six of the proposals, the Wilderness Area would extend from just south of Newcomb through the Hudson Gorge to just north of the hamlet of North River. Under the other proposal, part of the river corridor would instead be classified a Canoe Area.

Because motorized use is forbidden in Wilderness Areas, local governments often oppose such a classification in favor of Wild Forest, which is less restrictive.  However, Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, thinks local officials can accept the creation of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness. The battle, he said, is likely to be waged over the classification of the nearby Essex Chain of Lakes and the degree of motorized access to both the Essex Chain and the Hudson.

The largest of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness proposals would include the Essex Chain of Lakes and virtually all of the former Finch, Pruyn land so far acquired by the state (only 270 acres would fall under other classifications). In addition, it would encompass large tracts of existing Forest Preserve, among them the 16,900-acre Hudson Gorge Primitive Area.

This 45,347-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness comes closest to the 72,500-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness first proposed by the Adirondack Council in 1990. Another environmental group, Adirondack Wild, endorses the council’s idea but suggests naming it the Paul Schaefer Wild Rivers Wilderness in honor of a late environmental activist who fought against the construction of dams on the Hudson.

If this APA option is adopted, dirt roads that cross the former Finch lands would be closed to motor vehicles. As a result, paddlers and hikers would have to walk long distances, perhaps several miles, to reach the Essex Chain and the Hudson.

In a scaled-back option, the Essex Chain would be classified as Wilderness, but the lands just north of the lakes would be Wild Forest. This would allow some roads to remain open so visitors could drive most of the way to the lakes and the river.

This Wilderness Area would encompass 38,563 acres. It’s similar to the proposal by Protect the Adirondacks for a 39,000-acre Upper Hudson River Wilderness, which has been endorsed by the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Under either Wilderness scenario—indeed, under all seven scenarios—floatplanes would be allowed to continue to land on First and Pine lakes, which straddle the proposed Wilderness boundary.

In the other APA options, the Essex Chain would be classified as Primitive, Canoe, or Wild Forest. Generally, motorized use is also prohibited in Primitive and Canoe Areas. However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowed to drive on roads for administrative purposes, such as managing fish populations.

Under the Primitive option, all of the roads to the Essex Chain would be closed to the public. The road to a takeout on the Hudson would lie within a piece of Wild Forest, meaning it could be open to the public. Also, mountain bikes would be allowed on state administrative roads in the Primitive Area.

There are two options for a Canoe classification. In the first, the Essex Chain and nearby ponds would lie within a 6,624-acre Canoe Area. The land just north of the Essex Chain would be classified Wild Forest. Again, this could allow the public to drive most of the way to the lakes. Also, the roads leading to takeouts on the Hudson also would lie within Wild Forest.

In a variation of this option, much of the Hudson stretch would be classified as Canoe instead of Wilderness. This Canoe Area would encompass 15,067 acres—making it 2,500 acres smaller than the Park’s only existent Canoe Area: the St. Regis Canoe Area.

Under either Canoe scenario, mountain bikers would be allowed to ride on state administrative roads.DEC map

In the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Christopher Amato, a former DEC assistant commissioner for natural resources, argues for a Canoe classification for the Essex Chain. In an op-ed piece, Amato contends that DEC’s proposal for a Wild Forest classification would put the chain’s fishery, including heritage brook trout, and fragile natural resources at risk.

If the Essex Chain is classified Wild Forest—as the last two options envision—a wider variety of recreation will be legally permissible, including snowmobiling, motorboating, floatplane use, and biking. In addition, roads could be kept open to allow easy access to the lakes and river.

The APA’s two options for a Wild Forest classification are identical except under one scenario, the Essex Chain lies within a Special Management Area. Presumably, this would allow DEC to prohibit motorboats on the waterways and restrict vehicular access. DEC has called for putting the Essex Chain in a Special Management Area. DEC also proposes creating a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. Click here to read more about DEC’s proposals for the Finch lands.

All seven options are contained in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Adirondack Park Agency will discuss the document at this week’s meeting. The agency plans to hold hearings on the options at several locales around the state, probably in June and July. It may choose one of the options in late summer or early fall.

NOTE: The upper map shows the option with the greatest amount of land classified as Wilderness (the dark green). The lower map shows the DEC option of splitting the land between Wilderness and Wild Forest (light green), including a Special Management Area (the area with the red cross-hatches). The former Finch, Pruyn lands are the four parcels (three large and one small) outlined in dark purple, orange, violet, and green. There is a small inholding within the parcel outlined in violet.

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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.

23 Responses

  1. John Henry says:

    I am pretty amazed that the APA is not taking into account the needs of the disabled. This could be a landmark area for limited vehicle use and place for many who cannot access other area’s deemed Wilderness Areas. The Wild Forest classification will allow this. Most of these lands have allowed limited vehicle use for year, just not to the public. Now is the time to let the public especially the disable have a place in the ADK’s they can go and enjoy. If this not this time and area it will never happen.

    If I am town or disabled person I would be bring out the The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and using to keep this open. http://www.access-board.gov/about/laws/ada.htm

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      Please do what you quite obviously have not done, and actually **READ** the text of the Americans with Disablities Act. You will learn that it was NOT the intent of Congress to modify wilderness areas.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      The point being, that disabled access does not need to be a consideration for a Wilderness designation. There are disabled individuals who would value a challenging and rugged environment just as much as anyone. Personal mobility devices are NOT banned in wilderness, even if they are mechanized.

      So again, READ the law that you are advocating for.

      • Paul says:

        Sure, but if the roads are shut down and go totally unmaintained there is no way to really use the “mobility device”? Can’t speak for John but it seems that he is not necessarily saying that it HAS to be considered just that maybe that it should?

        Personally, I thing this is a minor issue. I think that seven proposals with no economic impact data (which was supposedly a big selling point for this transaction) makes no sense, no matter which proposal you like.

  2. dave says:

    “as a result, paddlers and hikers would have to walk long distances, perhaps several miles, to reach the Essex Chain and the Hudson.”

    Perhaps several miles!!!

    Oh the humanity.

  3. News and Reviews May 8, 2013 | Leo's Log says:

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  4. Dave says:

    The ADA does not suggest or guarantee that disabled individuals should have motorized access to wilderness.

    In fact, what it does is explicitly affirm that Congress did NOT bar mobility impaired individuals when motorized use is prohibited, since the right of mobility impaired individuals to visit wilderness under their own power is still intact.

  5. Paul says:

    It is not really an ADA question. We live in an aging population. One that enjoys places like this. Making it a little easier to get to so everyone can enjoy doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Several miles is a long way to carry a boat or drag a deer if you are 70 or 75 years old even if you are not technically disabled. You can’t get a TRP that allows you to use something like an ATV just because you are old. So it does really shut it off to a lot of people but maybe we are okay with that?

    • dave says:

      “So it does really shut it off to a lot of people but maybe we are okay with that?”

      I would think this is implied whenever we are discussing wilderness.

      There are opportunities aplenty for the elderly, the disabled, or just the plain old out of shape (I’m looking at you dad!) to enjoy the outdoors in the Adirondacks.. including via motorized access, if that is their preference.

      • Paul says:

        Dave, I have no problems carrying a boat or dragging deer. I was not speaking about myself. The designation will not change anything for me personally. There are also plenty of opportunities for the young, the able-bodied, and the just plain in shape. There are about 1.2 million acres of Wilderness land in the Adirondacks and there are about 1.2 million acres of Wild forest so that isn’t really an issue. Since one reason, we as a state, decided to purchase this land was for the potential economic benefit of the local communities (one that I personally disagreed with) that should be one of the more important factors to look at. Perhaps a wilderness designation will have the most positive impact? If that is the case then show us the data (Dad).

        • Paul says:

          With the exception of roads, motorized use on all 2.4 million acres of land described above (Wilderness and Wild Forest) is absolutely prohibited with the exception of boats on some waterways and snowmobiles on designated (but limited) trails. I would assume that these would be DEC roads if given that WF designation so only seasonal use of automobiles will be allowed on the tiny fraction of land there that is comprised of roads.

          • John Warren says:

            Every inch of the Adirondacks is within 5.3 miles of a road.

            So what Paul and other motorized access advocates are arguing for is essentially that they be able to drive to every spot in Adirondacks.

            • Paul says:

              Not advocating for motorized access. Just pointing out that this land is off limits to motorized use with the exception of the roads.

        • dave says:

          Where did anyone suggest you couldn’t carry a boat or drag a deer?

          I sometimes wonder if we are reading the same comments on this site. If not, that would certainly help explain a lot.

        • dave says:

          Wait, did you think I was referring to you when I said “I’m looking at you dad!”

  6. Paul says:

    What are the economic dimensions of each proposal? What will each cost to manage and maintain? What will be the impacts on the number of users? What are the predicted revenues based on those uses? There are many open questions that should be part of any comprehensive proposal. You do not need to choose a particular plan because it has a certain economic impact but at least you know what you are doing. Once a classification is made going to a lesser classification is somewhat rare. Further restrictions being put in place are fairly common.

  7. Matt Burns says:

    This seems like a remarkable wild area that many will want to experience. I can understand why it may be desirable to limit access – but doing so by limiting motor vehicle access is not a fair way of doing this. Another mechanism that comes to mind is a camping reservation system.

    To be fair to all (while minimizing motor vehicle intrusion) I propose a road directly to the Essex Lake Chain – but gated about 1000 ft before lakeshore. Individuals with a higher level of handicap would be allowed access through the gate to park, camp, fish and launch at the shore. A public parking lot should be built at the gate – the 1000 ft walk would allow those of us with lesser handicaps (including older folks with less stamina) to still be able to enjoy the waters.

  8. Patricia Childs says:

    I just read the Tues. May 7th article “APA lays out Options for New State Lands”

    I am a petit 60 yr. ole woman who has vacationed in the Adirondacks all my life. I have canoed, hiked, camped.

    I am not capable of hiking and hauling a canoe into lakes or rivers over much distance. ( 5 yrs. ago I canoe camped on Lake Lila with our Boy Scout troop and would never have made it hauling everything over that terrible access trail to the lake without the boys help) By removing the road access you are eliminating access to these wonderful areas for those with disabilities and senior citizens!

    Wilderness areas are great but unless people can see them and interact with them you are not going to get supporters to buy more land that is removed from public use. I live on the edge of Wellsville, Allegany County, NY. Bears, deer, wild turkey, bobcats, etc. flourish in our area along side snowmobile trails, roads, houses and people.

    I am all for preventing the sale and development of land for vacation housing and resorts. Limiting where motorized boating can occur. Yes I understand that large mammals need territory to spread out breed and not injure humans but even they like the open area of roads in the winter. We see deer using the snowmobile trails in our area. If you want to take the pressure of the High Peaks area trails you need to offer other great options to people. ( I won’t hike the busy high peak trails anymore as they have become eroded and not fun.)

    Leave the dirt roads for access and make it a Canoe Area like St. Regis. Put in a few campgrounds for tents and small campers. Get people in there and they become supporters for the next purchase you will need.


  9. Patricia Childs says:

    I read the article about the mine company land swap proposal for the edge of the Jay Mts. I see nothing wrong with it. You can’t keep taking jobs away from the people who have lived here all their lives and want to stay and raise their children there. When the existing mine runs out and has to close a few employees may be able to move to the other mine at Oak Hill but only if someone retires and makes room for them. Most of the small towns have a hard time surviving now.

    Our county is dying because our children can’t find jobs and have to move away so I know how the locals feel.
    Many of our small town main streets are falling into disrepair with closed businesses and weedy lots where buildings used to be.

  10. Matt says:

    I own a home in Newcomb and a fair amount of property, not far from the Essex Chain of lakes. I’ve read with great interest many of the articles regarding this new land purchase and how to classify it. I see the solid arguments stated between preservationists, conservationists, environmentalists and all those that encourage smart development or commerce or at minimum, reasonable access. To be clear, I sit squarely in the middle of the argument and I understand at some point you have to move in one direction. If you had to classify me I guess you’d say I’m a “reasonabilist”.

    I am an avid outdoorsman. I hike, canoe, kayak, fish, cross country ski, snowshoe, hunt and even snowmobile. I am quite familiar with the rustic outdoor experience. I’ve carried canoes over long stretches and hiked miles into pristine ponds. Although these experiences will remain with me for a lifetime I am qualified to state that these experiences are out of reach to many people. A broad classification of Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe will shut out this beautiful land for the vast majority of them. Think of it. The very people whose taxes were used to buy this land will never see it. I find it interesting that in all of these exchanges I see very little reference to the livelihood of the people that live in nearby communities. I’m not trying to turn a discussion about land classification into a long diatribe on the future of people in the Adirondacks but this subject must be included in the conversation. We are all concerned about the protection of the AKD’s, the pristine nature and wildlife but we seem to forget about another species facing challenges, perhaps extinction there. Human beings. Classifying this land Wilderness, Primitive or canoe ensures its pristine nature forever and at the same time drives another nail into the coffin of the local towns commercial opportunity. I know this is not anyone’s concern outside of those communities but it is as real as the loon’s and moose you seek to defend. A Wild forest designation gives communities like Newcomb an opportunity to benefit from removing this large piece of land from the tax rolls and kicking out long standing hunting clubs. There are nice business there that would flourish under a Wild Forest classification. As an example, Cloudsplitter Outfitters, a terrific small business that rents canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes would have the ability to run shuttles at the end of a nice class 1, 2 rapids on the Hudson. They could offer mountain biking on the roads at the Essex chain or provide other types of services as many local companies could. This additional revenue could be used to add local lodging, something sorely missing in that area. Perhaps an increase of visitors would lead to the opening of several local restaurants. What would happen if it is classified Wilderness? Those with the fortitude and strength to make that journey on foot will have the time of their life in arguably one of the most spots in the adirondacks. Pitch a tent under the stars, listen to the loons, catch some nice fish and then hike out and head home or perhaps to some place in the Adirondacks not classified as Wilderness where they can spend their money.

    As a “reasonablist” I truly believe that with minimal controls (permit system, strong regulations on activity like no motor boats and car access only to a certain point) and properly designed infrastructure (tent site locations, limited road access, etc) you can meet the objectives of all parties and continue to act collectively as stewards of these great lands.

    • Paul says:

      This is one of the most reasonable comments I have seen at this blog. Like I said above someone needs to do the numbers. Perhaps a Wilderness designation would generate the most revenue for the towns? If that is the case then fine. Whether we like it or not one of the largest arguments for these transactions was economic. This was one of the main arguments of even many of the environmental organizations involved. The towns know what revenue was generated by the private uses of the land in the past. Whatever is done now has to exceed those numbers, and considerably, since that was what they were promised.

  11. Matt Burns says:

    I just looked at the topographic maps and satellite photos of the area. What an exciting opportunity for new paddling! Let’s assume that there is a road to Sixth Lake of the Essex Chain and a road to the Cedar River from the north (I see an existing road along its bank in satellite photos). This would allow the following trips:

    1) Paddle Only Trip: Launch on Sixth Lake and paddle the first seven lakes of the Essex Chain. The outlet of Eighth Lake does not appear to be navigable and that lake is likely only reachable by a 1500 ft carry. Elsewhere in the chain, there may be a short carry or two necessary around obstacles.

    2) Loop Trip: Sixth Lake, Fifth Lake, Forth Lake, Third Lake, Second Lake, First Lake, First Lake Outlet, 500 ft carry around a scratchy stream, Rock River (downriver), Cedar River (downriver) to take out (walk/bike back to retrieve your vehicle).

    3) Same trip as #2, but carry over to (and possibly camp on) Jackson Pond, Mud Pond, Deer Pond, Grassy Pond, or Pine Lake

    4) Launch on Cedar River (this is flatwater section of the river and should be paddleable in both directions). Paddle up Cedar River and Rock River, carry over to Pine Lake. Pine Lake seems like it would be a nice place to camp.

    It does not seem that any of the presented plans would allow for all of the options I propose. It would be a pity if the state passed up the opportunity for creating such a marvelous network of canoe trails. I agree that we probably don’t want too many access points, but if the access points are chosen wisely, even if there is a bit more up front development cost, the better the long-term opportunities.

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