The 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.
Under 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.
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.