Monday, June 10, 2013

Options For New State Lands: Wild Forest

Essex ChainSo far, we have looked at proposals to designate most of the former Finch, Pruyn lands Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe. In the last article in our series, we examine two proposals to classify most of the lands Wild Forest—the least restrictive of the four classifications.

Altogether, the Adirondack Park Agency has put together seven options for the management and use of 21,200 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands that the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy. The options will be discussed at a series of public hearings. The first will be this Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the APA office in Ray Brook. The last hearing will be July 2. The APA board could vote on a final proposal as early as August.

In each article in the Adirondack Almanack series, we examine one proposal or two related proposals. We include the APA map or maps showing the classification of the lands under the proposal in question.

Wild Forest1

Under all seven options, most of the former Finch lands would be classified Wilderness and combined with adjacent Forest Preserve to establish a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. In the two Wild Forest options, the Wilderness Area would encompass 33,942 acres. It is shown in dark green on the above map.

The big change is that the Essex Chain Lakes and nearby ponds (lying in the area outlined in purple) would be classified as Wild Forest (represented by light green). This would give the state Department of Environmental Conservation the authority to keep the network of dirt roads open for motor vehicles, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes and allow floatplanes to land on the Essex Chain. Such uses would be entirely or largely banned in the other classification schemes.

Local leaders support the Wild Forest classification, saying it would maximize tourism by facilitating access to the interior and allowing a wide range of recreation. Critics warn that it could lead to overuse and environmental degradation.

Even with a Wild Forest classification, visitors may not be able to drive all the way to the Essex Chain (exceptions may be made for the disabled). DEC has talked about establishing a parking area a quarter-mile or so from Deer Pond. Paddlers would then carry to Deer, paddle across the pond, carry to Mud Pond, paddle across Mud, and then carry to Third Lake in the chain—a total distance of about 0.75 miles. Hikers would have to walk over a mile to reach the lake.

The access to two takeouts on the Hudson River (shown by X’s on the map) would be the same under the Wild Forest classification as under most of the other proposals. From the northern takeout, paddlers would have carry about 0.8 miles to a parking area. From the southern takeout, they’d have a carry of about one mile.

In a variation of the Wild Forest scheme, a large swath of land, including the Essex Chain, would lie within a 12,800-acre Special Management Area, indicated on the map below by the dashes. This option is nearly identical to a proposal set forth weeks ago by DEC.

Wild Forest2

Although the Special Management Area would still be Wild Forest, it would be subject to stricter rules. One possibility is that motorboats would be banned from the ponds. State officials have the authority to ban motors anyway, but in this case the prohibition would be written into the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and thus harder to undo.

The Master Plan lists a number of Special Management Areas, but most are substantially smaller than the Essex Chain area. Examples include Ampersand Mountain’s summit, Hanging Spear Falls, the Ausable River delta, the Trap Dike on Mount Colden, Valcour Island, Bloomingdale Bog, and Noah Rondeau’s hermitage.

Christopher Amato, a former DEC assistant commissioner, contends DEC is misapplying the Special Management Area designation. “Special Management Areas were never intended to apply to thousands of acres,” he said. The department’s attempt to apply the designation to the entire Essex Chain, he added, “is an implicit acknowledgment that the Wild Forest classification is inappropriate for this tract.”

Amato has argued in the Adirondack Explorer that a Canoe classification would better protect the Essex Chain’s fishery and natural resources and promote the ponds as a paddling and fishing destination.

One advantage—or disadvantage, depending on your point of view—of DEC’s proposal is that it could largely exclude motorized use while allowing mountain biking on the tract’s extensive network of dirt roads. Mountain biking is prohibited in Wilderness Areas and severely restricted in Primitive and Canoe Areas.

In a controversial proposal, DEC suggests that floatplanes be allowed to land on Third Lake in the Essex Chain in spring and fall. Environmentalists object, in part because planes already can land on nearby First and Pine lakes. The department also wants to allow hunters to drive on some roads during the big-game season.

NOTE: As with the maps in earlier articles, the areas outlined in purple, orange, violet, and green are the lands recently acquired by the state.

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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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy says:

    Good proposal. We bought the land, with our taxpayer dollars, and now we should be able to use it.

  2. Paul says:

    This says it all right here if you are looking for a balanced approach (even if still skewed toward Wilderness):

    “Under all seven options, most of the former Finch lands would be classified Wilderness and combined with adjacent Forest Preserve to establish a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. In the two Wild Forest options, the Wilderness Area would encompass 33,942 acres. It is shown in dark green on the above map.”

  3. Paul says:

    Phil, how many miles of river frontage are protected as Wilderness under these Wild Forest option?

  4. DavidPisaneschi says:

    Recall before buying the 69,000 acres, there were 89,000 acres of conservation easements which were part of the FP land deal. Overall the state owns 750,000 of conservation easements in the park. Motorized access is allowed on conservation easements lands. Also there’s 1,138,423 acres of wilderness vs. 1,293,721 acres of Wild Forest. So there’s plenty of motorized access. In fact, if you the state classified all the FP fee lands as wilderness, there’s still more Wild Forest than Wilderness

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