The 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.
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.