Friday, May 10, 2013

Finch Lands Public Hearings Planned

Essex Chain and nearby ponds (Photo by Carl Heilman)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.

 

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Phil Brown

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.




15 Responses

  1. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    The final classification of the many different parcels of former Finch land is surely the most significant classification decision since 1972 when the original State Land Master Plan was drawn up. The overriding question this time will be whether public access is most important or whether wilderness expansion is most important. As of the moment, we have heard from most if not all interested environmental groups and now the Adirondack Park Agency.

    Here’s my probably less than popular opinion on the classification issue.

    Ten years ago, few if any environmentalists could have imagined the Finch deal. Tens of thousands acres protected by easement and 69,000 acres added to the Forest Preserve. Given that this deal basically “fell in your lap”, don’t be greedy. All of the land now becoming Forest Preserve will be forever protected from development or lumbering – regardless of its classification. At the same time, there are many reasons to try and heal the rift between the “forever wilders” and local population.

    I see the Essex Chain in particular as an opportunity to demonstrate that preserving land as Forest Preserve can benefit local economies without doing any environmental damage. I am therefore going out on the proverbial limb and suggesting that the Essex Chain should be managed as “Moose River Plains – North”. Use the existing lumber roads to create both lake access and road-accessible campsites. Mountain bikers will love those roads as well. Just because it’s Wild Forest doesn’t mean there will be water skiing on those lakes. I would suggest motor-less except for electric motors, which would allow a full range of users to appreciate this new acquisition.

    Invasives will continue be an issue, but the current heightened awareness of the issue should help with this control. Otherwise, with my ideas the towns of Newcomb and Indian Lake should see an steady influx of new visitors, and that will help boost local appreciation for the Forest Preserve. Some might say that the Forest Preserve is enshrined in the constitution, so who cares about public acceptance. The reality is that we need to keep funds flowing for both stewardship and management; and funding comes from elected officials who need votes to get and stay elected.

    • Nature says:

      Tony,

      I believe your advice to the environmentalists is sound. “Don’t be greedy”. I would also add, “don’t be petty”. There should be something for everyone in this deal.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Thanks, Tony, and I’ll take one step further out on the limb.
    I have no problem with the state buying more land within the Adirondack Park just so long as all future classifications are Wild Forest. No more Wilderness.
    If you are in the woods on a hike, you cannot tell the difference between Wild Forest and Wilderness. In fact, I will dare to say, there are many areas classified as Wild Forest where you get a better wilderness experience than in some Wilderness areas such as the High Peaks which are overcrowded.

  3. Lorraine Duvall Lorraine says:

    Tony,
    Private enterprise can provide camping facilities in nearby Newcomb. This ties into the suggestions from Local Government Days last week calling upon the need for amenities for visitors in the local area.

  4. Charlie says:

    “I have no problem with the state buying more land within the Adirondack Park just so long as all future classifications are Wild Forest. No more Wilderness.”

    That’s fine and dandy Pete but bear in mind human nature is not going to change overnight.As the population increases and the burbs and metro areas become increasingly polluted and built up and congested and noisy,we can expect more people with a desire to ‘get away’ from that.Surely more people will be flocking to the Adirondacks as the years increase.From what I’ve seen way back in Moose River,no matter how far away one is from a major road or civilization,if there’s a dirt road leading thirty miles into the woods there will always be some fool with wheels who will make his way back there and pollute,or do some other kind of senseless damage.On a whim I might add. Did I tell you about the time I found two empty six pack bottles of beer at Squaw Lake…minus two bottles? Hopefully those two missing bottles went with the fools who left the rest there. Or about the loaded diaper I found in an outlet to Moose River(and was unable to retrieve)? These are just two mere instances.
    I like the idea of more people having access so that the Adirondacks can be appreciated more,but we’d be sliding on a slippery slope if we started allowing more motorized access just so money can fill some local township’s coffer.Fifty years from now it’s going to be the same two priorities…jobs and money.What then?

    • Paul says:

      Fine, but people should stop using the tactic that these purchase are about filling the towns coffers. That is a colossal bait and switch.

    • Realistically says:

      There is not going to be an upsurge of people coming to the Adirondacks. If anything, the number of people coming the backcountry of the Adirondack Park has dropped dramatically since the 1960s and 1970s. People don’t go camping any more, in the numbers that they did in earlier decades. The number of hunters and fishermen are down too.

      Most kids nowadays want to play on their GameBoy2000s all day, and post memes on Facebook. They have no interest in going into the woods. The few people that go to Adirondacks anymore, typically go to campgrounds with full amenities including high speed internet and cable television, inside their RVs with large-flat screen televisions.

      People just don’t go to the Adirondacks in the numbers like they did back when the Boy Scouts were popular, people watched westerns, and grew up on farms.

      Yes, a few spots with “extreme” recreation like the High Peaks have grown in popularity. But those are the exception — and even if you include the increased use of the Adirondack High Peaks, on a whole, you will see use of the Adirondack Park has declined significantly.

      • John Warren says:

        Nonsense. You have any evidence for any of this? It’s obvious you don’t live here.

        • Realistically says:

          I have not seen a major traffic jam or any delays getting around the Adirondacks during the holidays. You use to hear about NY 28 and US 9 getting all backed up on holiday weekends. Now traffic is smooth flowing.

          2/3rd or more of the campsites at Moose River Plains never fill up during holiday weekends. Likewise, many of campsites remain open on Piseco-Powley Road. Cedar River Flow area parking is never filled up.

          This is unlike in 1960s and 1970s, from the old timers that I know, when you’d hear about traffic jams. Where the DEC would build new campsites every year, but the public demand would grow and demand even more. There was no satisfying public demand in the 1960s and 1970s.

          Why has the DEC abandoned and closed so many campsites in Moose River Plains in recent years? It’s due to lack of demand. The same is true in most other parts of Adirondacks. Even many DEC fee Campgrounds have closed in recent years, because they never filled up, due to a lack of demand for the facilities.

          • John Warren says:

            Spurious anecdotes are proof of nothing. You have provided not one shred of actual evidence for your claims.

            Anyone who lives here and/or was here in the 1970s can tell you that there are many more visitors to the back-country today than there have ever been. I was here, you were apparently not. Stories of traffic jams are nonsense that doesn’t account for wider roads, turning lanes, numerous bypasses, the Northway, etc.

            Just because there was a demand for new campsites in 1960s and 1970s that spurred the building of campsites (of which you’ve provided no proof that’s actually the case, many of those campsites existed since the 1950s at least and were simply bolstered with infrastructure improvements), it’s much more likely to be the result of the Northway, the advent of travel trailers, and other factors which you are not accounting for.

            DEC has relocated many campsites in the Moose River Plains (and elsewhere) that were inappropriately located, almost always with the addition of new campsites. It has nothing to do with demand, except in that there was so much demand at roadside camping areas that they threatened the local ecology.

            Which DEC campgrounds in the Adirondacks have closed? Not only is that not the case, they have in fact expanded (Sacroon Manor for example was only recently OPENED).

            To argue that as a general trend more people will not be arriving here in the future is to completely ignore the history of the Adirondacks, and the current pressures the region faces.

            I notice you are not using your own name in making these claims. I don’t blame you, they’re embarrassingly ill-informed.

            • Paul says:

              “Anyone who lives here and/or was here in the 1970s can tell you that there are many more visitors to the back-country today than there have ever been. I was here, you were apparently not. Stories of traffic jams are nonsense that doesn’t account for wider roads, turning lanes, numerous bypasses, the Northway, etc. ”

              You are both giving competing anecdotal evidence. But John I agree with you. Look at the Saranac Islands camping. They are booked way in advance (unfortunately sometimes for people who don’t show up!) in the past you could often just run up there in your boat and find a site. Look at the boat launch near the “state bridge” in Saranac Lake. Totally Jammed. Same for the launch in Saranac Lake and the trail-head to Ampersand, Cascade, the list could go on and on…

              With all that said I don’t think any of the proposals listed here will address any of those problems.

  5. Dan Ladd says:

    I tend to agree with Tony and I think DEC’s mixed proposals for classifications and access were more than fair. Like Lake Lila, is being able to drive within a quarter-mile of Deer Pond too much to ask? The same for allowing seasonal roadside camping on another access road. I feel Tony is also right about mountain biking on the roads in there. They will love it.

    On another note I’ve seen a call to protect the fisheries. Is it suggested that they are protected as they exist now or as they potentially will be in the future? The Essex Chain sees liberal stocking and much stricter creel limits under the Gooley Club management than will likely ever be administered by the state. My guess is that some of the lakes will be targeted for heritage strain brook trout while some others will be managed for other species such as salmon and lake trout, which will likely require regular stocking and funding to do so. If this turns out to be the case then what would make them any different from other Adirondack lakes in Canoe, Wilderness and Wild Forest areas from a fisheries management or fisheries protection standpoint in the long run?

    Whatever the classification(s), the better the access the better the chance for multi-use, which will likely better serve the towns and help make up for lost revenue currently being provided through those who lease these lands. Is this all justification for Wild Forest vs. Wilderness? I guess that depends on who you ask.

    • Realistically says:

      It should be noted that any new roadside campsites proposed will be 1/4 mile apart, so the density of use will be quite low. There is no intensive use area proposed — and I actually think this is a good thing. The 1/4 mile separation does limit use, but it also keeps people out of earshot and eyeshot, and helps preserve the wild character of the area. Campsites will just be a stone fire ring and possibly a pit privy in certain places — that’s all that allowed in Adirondack State Land Master Plan.

  6. Lily says:

    As stated so very well by Bill Kissel at an earlier APA meeting when the process of classifying these lands was first discussed: “Follow the State Land Master Plan”. To do anything else is, frankly, against the law and serves nobody’s long term interests in properly managing this spectacular Park. The public process would be best served by people reading the SLMP before opining on their favorite outcome. In other words, get your expectations aligned with reality!

  7. Charlie says:

    I’m all for people experiencing the Adirondack wilderness.I believe the more people get to know the nature of the Adirondacks the more they will come to appreciate it.I think it’s a wonderful thing that these thousands of acres of Adirondack land are available to the public for the first time and that all can benefit from it. I just hope that however they classify the Finch lands they do it in a way where there is no over use of it,no poisons seeping into it,no iridescent hues on the shores of the waters due to motorized use,no invasive species take it over (which might eventually occur anyway unless we change our evil ways soon),and i’m certainly not a float plane fan,and on and on futuristic me has concerns about my favorite place in the world the Adirondacks.

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