Monday, May 20, 2013

Options For New State Lands: Wilderness

Essex ChainThe state’s acquisition of 22,500 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy raises important questions about how these lands will be used and managed. The Adirondack Park Agency has submitted seven management proposals that will be discussed at public hearings this summer. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) board could vote on a final proposal as early as August.

Adirondack Almanack has prepared a series of four articles to explain these proposals. In each article, we look at one proposal or two related proposals. The text will be accompanied by the APA map or maps showing the classification of the lands under the proposal in question. The maps will be the starting point for the discussion.

In the first article, we look at two proposals for classifying most of the former Finch lands as Wilderness.

Wilderness map2Under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, the most restrictive classification of Forest Preserve is Wilderness. No motorized use is allowed in Wilderness Areas: no vehicles, no powerboats, no snowmobiles, no floatplanes. Mountain bikes also are banned. Because roads are closed at the boundary, visitors usually face a long hike or canoe carry to get to the interior of a Wilderness Area. Local officials contend that a Wilderness designation discourages tourism, both by limiting the things people can do and by making the area less accessible. Advocates say a Wilderness designation protects wildlife habitat and ecosystems and provides visitors a chance to find solitude and serenity in a natural setting. They point out that motor-free wild lands are scarce in the East.

In the maps accompanying this article, the dark green represents Wilderness and the light green represents Wild Forest, a classification that allows some motorized use. The four parcels outlined in purple, orange, violet, and green are the lands recently purchased by the state. Much of the debate is likely to be over access to the Essex Chain Lakes and a Hudson River takeout in the purple area and access to another Hudson River takeout in the orange area.

As you can see in the top map, one APA option calls for classifying virtually all of the former Finch lands as Wilderness. It also calls for reclassifying a substantial amount of pre-existing Forest Preserve (including the 17,100-acre Hudson Gorge Primitive Area) to create a 45,347-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. All of the other APA options contain smaller versions of this Wilderness Area. In all cases, the Wilderness Area would include (in addition to a long stretch of the Hudson) OK Slip Falls, the highest waterfall in the Adirondacks, and Blue Ledges, marble cliffs overlooking the river. Both of these natural gems are located in the violet area.

Since all roads in the Wilderness Area would be closed to vehicles, hikers and paddlers would have to walk long distances—up to three miles–to reach the Hudson and Essex Chain. The two Hudson takeouts on the river will be just south of the Goodnow River confluence and just north of the Indian River confluence (the X’s on the map show the approximate locations). DEC would have the option of opening the old roads to equestrian use.Copy of Wilderness map1

The proposal reflected in the second map attempts to strike more of a balance between wilderness protection and public access. In this case, the new Wilderness would encompass 38,563 acres.

The most obvious difference is that this Wilderness would exclude the land just north of the Essex Chain Lakes. This land would be classified Wild Forest. Although the Essex Chain itself would lie in Wilderness, visitors would be able to drive on dirt roads most of the way to the lakes. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has suggested creating a parking area near Deer Pond, located on the Wilderness boundary. From there, visitors would face a hike of a half-mile or so reach the Essex Chain. Paddlers might be able to cut down on the carry by paddling across Deer and Mud ponds to reach Third Lake in the chain.

The Wild Forest classification also would make it easier to access the two takeouts on the Hudson. Presumably, paddlers shuttling to the takeouts would be allowed to drive close to the Wilderness boundary. In both cases, paddlers probably would face a carry of eight-tenths of a mile–a substantial distance but not nearly as long as the carries would be under the other proposal.

The Park’s four environmental groups are split over these two options. The proposal for a mix of Wilderness and Wild Forest is similar to a plan set forth by Protect the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Mountain Club has endorsed Protect’s plan. The other APA option comes closest to an Adirondack Council proposal, first made in 1990, for a 72,500-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness. Adirondack Wild has endorsed the council’s plan but suggests naming the area after the late conservationist Paul Schaefer.

Note that the Wilderness boundary on both maps is drawn to exclude First Lake and Pine Lake. This is because the Nature Conservancy donated floatplane rights to local towns. Since planes will be allowed to land on them, First and Pine cannot be classified Wilderness.

The small white area inside the violet area is a private boys camp. The road to the in-holding cannot be designated Wilderness, so it would become a Primitive corridor. The general public will not be allowed to drive on the road. Likewise, a tiny piece of a logging road that intrudes into the proposed Wilderness Area in the purple area also would be a Primitive corridor. The three small “administrative areas,” marked by the small red dots, are gravel pits used by local towns.

Next week: The Primitive Area option.

Photo of the Essex Chain Lakes by Carl Heilman II.

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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.

24 Responses

  1. Alan Senbaugh says:

    “Since all roads in the Wilderness Area would be closed to vehicles, hikers and paddlers would have to walk long distances—up to three miles–to reach the Hudson and Essex Chain”….Seriously? 3 miles is a long distance?

    “The Park’s four environmental groups are split over these two options””’.I know I beat this to death in the previous post but I strenuously object to the ADK being classified as an environmental group. If they are defined as such so should the snowmobile and Mtn bike advocacy groups in the Park. Why aren’t they? They want lands conserved for their recreational pursuit the same as the ADK. An environmental organization is one that puts the environment before other activities like development, snowmobiling and hiking.

    • Matt says:

      Dear Alan,
      Why do you assume they only want protected lands for their respective recreational pursuits? What if the folks in those groups understand there is more to it than just that? Perhaps they understand that the land has an intrinsic value all it’s own, and they believe that when humans get to experience the special character of the Adirondacks in a low-impact way, they will become all the more thoughtful and passionate about protecting it for future generations? Your contention that it’s always recreation before preservation is completely inaccurate. Learn your history of ADK. What do you expect to prove by making it your goal to cut down organizations with recreational pursuits in their mission? It appears to be a personal matter for you. Friendly suggestion: Don’t become a member. Furthermore, don’t use any trails ever to avoid any feelings of hypocrisy that might occur. I promise I’ll give you a friendly smile in the parking lot, no matter what, even though you’ll likely judge me in all kinds of ways for my desire to experience public Wild lands.
      Good luck, Alan. You’re a dying breed.

      • Alan Senbaugh says:


        I have been a member of the ADK for 20 years and a 46er for 16! I am dying that is true, and the cancer will consume me soon enough but I am entitled to my opinion while I am still breathing! (Thanks for making this a personal attack) I like the ADK, I fully understand the history. I am not trying to disparage the organization just point out their frame of reference. They should be lumped in with snowmobile clubs, ski clubs, mtn bike clubs and not with the Council, Wild and Protect. If you compare their views on issues over the past 25 years you will see this bears fruit.

        Please Matt do not think I dislike the ADK and am disparaging an organization you obviously feel great connectivity to but they are not an environmental organization that is all.

  2. People and organizations that advocate for wild places need to start referring to themselves as “conservationists,” not “environmentalists.”
    Conservation: Working and advocating for wildness and fish/wildlife habitat.
    Environmentalism: Working to right a wrong caused by a polluter; advocating for clean air and water and livability in the human world.

  3. John Henry says:

    APA needs also to take into account the needs of the disabled and elderly. This could be a landmark area for limited vehicle use and a place for many, who cannot access other area’s deemed Wilderness Areas. The least restrictive Wild Forest classification will allow this. Most of these lands have allowed limited vehicle use for years, just not to the public. Now is the time to let the public, especially those of us who paid taxes all their life and now have limited mobility have a place in the ADK’s they can go and enjoy. If not done this time and in this area it will never happen!

    If I am a town or disabled person I would use this line of reasoning to keep this open. I believe this needs to keep roads as they are now usable and this way the elderly and people of limited mobility can have a area they can get to and use. I hope that the least restrictive use is the one chosen.

    • John Warren says:

      Interesting comment.

      There ARE several large areas where motor vehicle access is allowed. The Moose River Plains for example, is what most would consider a “landmark area for limited vehicle use”.

      Every inch of the Adirondack Park is withing 5.3 miles of a road providing motorized access. Would you like a road within 1 mile of every spot? A 1/2 mile? Would you prefer to drive right-up to every location in the Adirondacks? How much road access would you consider enough?

      The vast majority of lakes with boat access are already motorized including several nearby. What portion of lakes should be motorized? Half? 90%? All?

      Local people are the biggest users of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, they have almost no difficulty with access to lands where they live – how does that compare to lands where you live?


      • Ruth Olbert says:

        You may want to re-read Mr. Henrys post.Especially the first two sentences.
        My guess is that you are in fairly good shape and can handle a jaunt of 5.3 miles to get to any Adirondack location you choose.Great! But for our elderly and disabled even one mile may keep them from activity’s they once enjoyed as you do now.
        I personally feel it would be a selfish act to classify this area as Wilderness,doing so would effectivly eliminate any and all with physical limitations.
        Wild Forest Classification = Get as many people out there as we can.
        Wilderness Classification = Keep as many people out of there as we can.

        • John Warren says:


          I read Mr. Henry’s comment. Perhaps you can answer some of the questions I put to him.

          Which places should there not be roads directly to? Should we be able to drive to every location in the Adirondacks? Which places would it be OK to not be able to drive directly to?

          Your generalizations about age and disability are pretty disheartening. Neither of those things keep people from enjoying wilderness.

          Even if they did, which they don’t, you can drive to nearly everywhere in the Adirondacks. Claiming there is any substantial amount of limited access is simply factually wrong.


        • Dave says:

          It seems like your hearts are in the right place here, but I find it just a bit condescending and misguided to assume that the elderly and disabled are not also looking for a true wilderness experience.

          I assure you, driving up a road to an area in the woods that anyone else can drive to is NOT a wilderness experience. This is something that can be done in hundreds, thousands, of places in the park already.

          If you are really concerned about those with mobility disabilities, instead of ruining the wilderness experience for everyone – including them – why not promote ways to help them truly experience it? How about proposing that we create and maintain properly graded trails that can be accessed by those who utilize non-motorized mobility assistance?

  4. jay says:

    How about ATV use?We pay taxes too and are partners in this.
    I dare them to consider before saying no.

    • Paul says:

      The answer here is going to be NO. Even on Wild Forest land they are illegal. The only option would be if the roads are town designated roads and they allow ATV use, would any be?

  5. Phil Brown says:

    Alan S., I agree three miles is not a long hike–unless you’re carrying a canoe.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      …but even that depends on what kind of canoe you are carrying, or how you are carrying it. A 16-lb graphite canoe? A 70-lb Grumman on a cart? People can (and have done) much longer carries over much more rugged terrain.

      But the phrase “hikers and paddlers would have to walk long distances—up to three miles–to reach the Hudson and Essex Chain” should be qualified with the observation that if the public is allowed to drive into the adjacent easement lands near the West Branch Goodnow River, then the walk is a mere 1.5 miles to Deer Pond.

      • Paul says:

        1.5 miles is still a pretty long carry by Adirondack standards, no matter what kind of boat you are carrying. Like I said below kayaks are a large group of paddlers these days and they are not going to use these waters much if they have to carry that far. Maybe some of them could chime in? Do you guys usually drive to where you launch?

    • Paul says:

      Very few people are going to carry a canoe three miles. Many paddlers these days are using kayaks. They don’t seem to be very easy to carry. I was in the St. Regis Canoe area this past week. I rowed across Little Clear and then carried into St. Regis (just that 10 minute carry is long enough when you have a boat full of fishing equipment and other stuff). I have to agree with John Henry (I assume it isn’t the steel driving man?). They should take into account the older folks that might want to use these lands. My friend who I fished with in there could not have been fishing in those ponds if he didn’t have me to carry the boat. We live in an aging population. Lots of tourist dollars could come from this demographic. That is why I have said earlier that there should be economic impact estimates for each proposal. That was a big consideration for these transactions. You don’t have to choose a particular one for economic reasons alone but it should be on the table so a good decision can be made.

  6. Matt says:

    I will continue to post this comment below as I have in the past. Do we truly feel that the vast majority of New York state tax payers who bought this land will be able to hike 3.0 miles (or 1.5 miles for that matter) with a canoe (or without a canoe for that matter). Are we really having discussions about the weight of different water crafts? The fact that people can and have carried canoes over longer distances is circular logic.How does the physical ability of a handful of hearty canoeists fit in an argument of what to do with land, that if classified as wilderness, become, for the vast majority of people, inaccessible? Do we really feel that allowing mountain bike access on these hard pan roads is a bad thing?

    Here is my original post:
    “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 beautiful 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.”

    • John Warren says:

      “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 think it’s fair to say that nearly every single post about land classification over the past 8 years has included local economics. We’ve also had many, many posts devoted directly to that issue. It is perhaps the single most discussed issue here at the Adirondack Almanack.

      John Warren

      • Paul says:

        Agreed. That is why any proposal should include economic impact data (including costs for maintenance and enforcement which will be higher under the Wild Forest scenarios). Someone with the right qualifications should be able to tell us what kind of use will be generated by each proposal. These transactions are supposedly going to lead to considerable more economic activity in the surrounding towns how the land is classified and eventually used must have some kind of impact on that?

  7. jay says:

    Just how much more tax are you people willing to pay for a few outsiders to have a hike?I feel taxed to the limit and beyond in NYS.Wake up folks we are broke.What part of broke don’t you understand.Lets have a fee for a hike in the woods.
    Only fair.

  8. Deb Evans says:

    This is a good read about econ assessment on open space in the Adirondacks, including taxes from NYS to the towns.

    Also, this purchase designation seems to be on a fast track, remember the Moose River Plains took over 10 years.
    This could be a very long discussion between conservation and tourism issues.

    And 2 comments:
    1) w/ any of these properties-once again the folks who want to ban motor vehicles are the 1st ones in the area w/ their trucks and boats. He who has gate keys has access.
    2)with DEC 10% annual cuts in the last 3 years and so many rangers taking early retirement, DEC does not have the manpower or budget to maintain current state lands much less any new properties classified anything less than wilderness.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      I could not agree more Deb. When is the last time anyone has seen a ranger in the woods? Not one of the college kids they throw a patch on and pretend they are a ranger but the ones that are actually police and enforce the regs?

  9. Peter says:

    Given the resources of the state, a Wilderness classification is the least costly to manage. This should be a consideration in the discussion.

  10. Wren Hawk says:

    Wilderness classification is essential in this core area. I live and struggle to earn a living in the park, but these decisions should not be first and foremost about human convenience and our perceived need for more access. What is special about this place (the park and the lands under discussion in particular) is its conservation value, the habitat it provides for countless other species, the waters it and adjacent areas protect. We are in danger of rushing to “dumb down” the park. By that I mean, making it too convenient in all places. We should be celebrating the ruggedness of the Park, the need to take special care when you come here and hike in the wilderness (e.g. I’m always amazed by the cost we take on to over salt and sand our local roads so people who don’t live here can drive up without winter tires).

    And why not fees for those coming here for a vacation? There must be some sensible way to set up a suggested fee for park use for a trial period of two years? If this isn’t your primary residence, you are asked to pay a fee for entry, or use of trails. Or use a sticker system, residents get park stickers and full access.

    It’s a special place, let’s not lose the wilderness qualities because we perceive a need to profit from the park in ways that are likely unsustainable for the ecosystems hanging in the balance…the ecosystems that make it special.

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