The Adirondack Park Agency board voted Friday to schedule public hearings on seven options for classifying about 22,500 acres formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company as well as up to 25,300 acres of adjacent Forest Preserve.
The APA has yet to determine the dates and locales, but the hearings likely will take place in June and July in several communities around the state, including hamlets inside the Park.
The agency could vote on a preferred option as early as its August meeting.
The pending classification of the former Finch lands already has sparked disagreement among the Park’s various factions. At stake is the degree of access to the Essex Chain Lakes, a string of connect pond in the interior, and to takeouts on the Hudson River.
Fred Monroe, the executive director of the Local Government Review Board, who has a non-voting seat on the APA, said he favors a Wild Forest classification for much of the former Finch land. This would enable visitors to drive most of the way to the Essex Chain and the Hudson. It also would allow a wide variety of recreation, including mountain biking.
Environmental activists differ among themselves in the details, but in general they would like to see more land classified as Wilderness. Motorized use and biking are prohibited in Wilderness Areas.
One of the APA options calls for classifying virtually all of the Finch lands Wilderness. They would be combined with existing Forest Preserve to create a 45,347-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. All roads in the region would be closed to the public. Hikers and paddlers would have to walk long distances—in some cases, several miles—to reach the Hudson, the Essex Chain, and other waterways.
Another option, on other end of the spectrum, calls for classifying most of the Finch lands Wild Forest. DEC could then keep roads open to the interior, including the Essex Chain. Paddlers also could drive most of the way to takeouts on the Hudson. DEC would have the option of allowing motorboats, floatplanes, and snowmobiles in the Wild Forest tract. Mountain biking would be allowed. Under this scenario, the Hudson Gorge Wilderness would encompass only 33,942 acres.
Protect the Adirondacks has proposed a classification scheme that combines elements of both and is closely mirrored by one of the APA options. The Essex Chain would be classified Wilderness, but the land just to the north would be Wild Forest, allowing people to drive most of the way to the lakes. Protect also advocates leaving roads open to allow the public to drive most of the way to the Hudson takeouts. It also calls for creating a 39,000-acre Upper Hudson River Wilderness Area. The Adirondack Mountain Club supports Protect’s proposal.
Another of the APA options mirrors a proposal by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It is identical to the Wild Forest option except that it would create a Special Management Area for the Essex Chain. Presumably, DEC would impose stricter rules in this area, such as a motorboat ban, to protect the natural resources and fishery.
Other options would classify the Essex Chain region Primitive or Canoe. These classifications are similar to Wilderness in most respects. There are actually two Canoe options. One would create a Canoe Area that encompasses a long stretch of the Hudson as well as the Essex Chain.
Click here to read a more detailed account of the various options.
After the hearings, the APA will review the public comments and make a recommendation to the agency’s board. The board could vote on the recommendation as is or modify it. Any recommendation OK’d by the board would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his approval.
Photo of the Essex Chain Lakes by Carl Heilman II.