Monday, July 15, 2013

The Indian River Tract: Lost and Found

DSC_1451New Yorkers have recently come into ownership of nine more miles of the Upper Hudson River and adjoining lakes and tributaries to the west amounting to about 20,000 acres. In addition to the incredible ecological variety and richness, the public has also gained new, strategic points from which canoeists and rafters can exit the river before the truly big rapids begin at Cedar Ledges below the confluence with the Indian River.

In early July I went to see one of those exit points and the new canoe carry at the former outer Gooley Club north of Indian Lake, once leased by Finch, Pruyn. I then walked further down the Chain Lakes Road to see what the Gooley Club structure looks like. It is apparently eligible for listing on the State or National Register. Then, I walked further north on the former logging road to see what I could see.

One of the reasons I wanted to see this new state land was to appreciate that this is the second time the state has owned it. It had previously been Forest Preserve in the 1890s, but was lost in the 20th century due to a competing land claim. I’ll come back to this subject.

DSC_1459Under a temporary management plan, new Forest Preserve signs and trail registers are up as of late June, and about 50 people have signed in as of July 7. Any permanent management plan , or UMP, must await a decision by the APA and Governor Cuomo about the land’s classification under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

I reached the trail register and new canoe carry after driving the Chain Lakes Road almost three miles from Rt. 28, past the Town of Indian Lake swimming beach on Abanakee Lake (the dammed section of the Indian River), the town water treatment plant and former sand and gravel quarries, and then eventually the Abanakee Dam where, the as the Danger sign warns, water is released twice daily, four days each week to send a bubble of water on which rafts and kayaks descend this tricky stretch of Indian River to its confluence with the Upper Hudson.

The new parking area off the road has room for about ten cars, carefully parked. Three cars with roof racks awaited on this Sunday in early July. Seven-tenths of a mile further down the road is the newly marked canoe carry from the Hudson. I walk it. It’s narrow, about 1/8 mile long from river to road, not too steep. The Hudson’s western shore is carpeted with royal and interrupted fern. The river is big and running strongly today. A large, tall sign in red letters tells paddlers to pull out here, or risk going into the big rapids below the Indian River confluence.

Back at the road, I sign in at the trail register. A short walk north leads one to the former outer Gooley clubhouse, part of the former Finch, Pruyn lease. From the clubhouse, the lessees have long maintained a cleared meadow with views of the Upper Hudson. This is all Forest Preserve now, and these structures are supposed to be removed by the lessees in mid-July. AARCH, or Adirondack Architectural Heritage, feels that the main house is eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places, and should remain. So does Senator Betty Little. The Constitution and Environmental Conservation Law (ECL 9-0105) says otherwise.

DSC_1461That law, Environmental Conservation Law 9-0109, was approved in 1983 expressly to avoid another “Santanoni” whereby the state in 1972 bought the land in Newcomb and the numerous historic structures, and then debated with park stakeholders for the next decade what to do about the presence of so many historic structures on Forest Preserve, a debate which led very directly to the 1983 law.

The initial sections of the law basically say that the state should avoid purchasing Forest Preserve with any state listed or eligible historic structure on it, and that the state shall make efforts before purchasing the land to secure a private purchaser of the structure, or a donee “who would preserve such structure or improvements if the present owner thereof consents,” perhaps through a conservation easement for the express purpose of maintaining the historic structure.

Were these efforts made in the case of the outer Gooley clubhouse? I think they were. The lease club had foreknowledge of the state’s pending acquisition, and after 2007 had many discussions with the owner of the land, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, and the state. I imagine the future of the clubhouse came up, although I do not know this for a fact. The lessee also had options to move and preserve the structure elsewhere, including somewhere on the 93,000 acres of Finch conservation easement land. They chose not to do so despite knowing that their lease would expire. Instead, the Gooley lessees actively and very publicly opposed the transaction between the landowner and the state in ways that must have made friendly negotiations over the future of the clubhouse very difficult.

All this aside, the final sections of law, ECL 9-0109, state that only historic structures and improvements which are located in the Park and owned by the state prior to the effective date of the statute (June 21, 1983) may be maintained, provided that the state commissioners of parks and environmental conservation make certain findings. Clearly, this structure on land just acquired for the public in 2013 fails to meet this test of the law designed to avoid another Santanoni situation post 1983. If sufficiently valued by the Town of Indian Lake and residents for its historic significance and if feasible, the structure should be lifted from its foundation and moved into a visible location near Route 28 as soon as possible to signify the importance of hunting camps in the Adirondacks. According to my reading of the law, it cannot stay where it is.

DSC_1476I walked on down the former industrial road for another mile and a half. It appears very well built and maintained. I observed three culverts of good size passing streams underneath it, and former sand and gravel borrow pits and log landings, one of which will one day make a good public parking area. About half-way to the Cedar River, I find a marked hiking trail to yet another Clear Pond and take it, appreciating the contrast of the narrow forest trail with the wide, dusty roadbed I’d been on. At Clear Pond, I relax under a cedar tree, and gaze out across the pond to Little Pisgah Mountain.

Back at the road, given the horse, deer and black flies hovering about my head, I thought better of continuing on to the Cedar River and return, appreciating why a Wild Forest classification allowing motor vehicles into this area for the first mile or two makes sense. It would afford easy public access to the Upper Hudson, Clear and Mud Ponds, and Little Pisgah Mountain. A Wilderness classification beyond would appropriately protect the Wild Upper Hudson River and the Scenic Cedar River, and is called for by the State Land Master Plan.

As I walked out to my car, I also recalled a conversation I had with Paul Schaefer at a time when he was actively discussing the future of some of the Finch, Pruyn lands with its management in the 1980s or early 1990s. Paul had been urging the company to sell or gift some of its most scenic rivers and lakes to the state beginning in the 1950s. One day Paul told me that the 1100 acres of land on which the Gooley Club has had a lease from Finch, Pruyn had been previously owned by the state, but that the state had lost the land due to a “faulty title.”

I was incredulous, and asked Paul how the state could have lost state land which the Constitution states “shall be forever kept.” He told me to read The Forest Preserve: 1945-1955 and I would get the answer. The State acquired a lot of Forest Preserve at tax sale in the late 19th century, and many people and institutions subsequently contested the state’s ownership. Between 1938 and 1949, for example, Paul lists over 5700 acres of Forest Preserve lost due to these contests over title. Paul wrote: “A good example of such a loss is the Indian River-Hudson River region where more than 1100 acres of land were lost in 1944, although the State had claimed ownership and paid taxes on the land since prior to 1896. The area in question contains perhaps the best brown and rainbow trout fishing waters of its kind in the entire Adirondack Park.” Apparently, Finch, Pruyn ended up with the land now known as the Indian River Tract after 1944. Paul’s activism led to enactment of a new state law in the mid- 1950s which thereafter made the state immune to challenges of valid land title. The law was championed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources.

Developing the outer Gooley Club land after 1944, as opposed to leasing it, also proved impossible due to the matter of questionable title. Paul Schaefer also showed me a circa 1972 letter he received from then DEC Commissioner Henry Diamond which states that should Finch, Pruyn and Co. ever attempt to subdivide and develop the Gooley Club tract, the state would challenge their title to the land.

Photos: From the top, down:  Upper Hudson at the new take-out; the outer Gooley clubhouse; Little Pisgah Mountain from Clear Pond; and the new trail register at the Canoe Carry from the Upper Hudson.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

16 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Sounds like it may take some legal maneuvering but we should be able to smash and remove this last part of this cultural legacy. Don’t worry Dave they will eventually get rid of that stuff. As for the former lessees removing any structures. Good luck with that. The state will have to pay for that. Going after them legally would be far more expensive and time consuming then sending in an excavator and some dump trucks. I assume the state assumed that it would be stuck with these expenses. If they didn’t anticipate this they are clueless.

    “Paul Schaefer also showed me a circa 1972 letter he received from then DEC Commissioner Henry Diamond which states that should Finch, Pruyn and Co. ever attempt to subdivide and develop the Gooley Club tract, the state would challenge their title to the land.”

    So even back then the state was opposed to development in those areas. Sounds almost like black-mail. Why not challenge the title without the threat of something happening on the land. Strange way to operate, but not surprising.

  2. Darrin Harr says:

    Mr Gibson:

    If you would have stuck out that walk to Cedar River through the deer flies (like I did), you would have seen why the whole thing should be classified as Wild Forest.

    • David says:

      I would like to comment that “roads,” culverts, and evidence of previous logging activity can be found all over the state owned wilderness. In the High Peaks, the 5 Ponds and elsewhere trails are maintained in the UMP to allow for motorized access in the case of emergencies. Just because these seem incongruous to you does not make them legally incongruous.

    • smallwood says:

      Darrin, have you ever taken a hike in William C. Whitney Wilderness, or any other “Wilderness” area in the park?

      Your comment makes it sound like this was a first hike for you – there’s not a single wilderness classified unit in the park that does not bear the signs (however fresh or faint) of past (ab)use resulting form logging, mining or “timber reclamation”

      There’s nothing on this tract (aside from the clubhouse, which the leaseholders promised to remove by mid July?) which would fall under “non conforming” structure (no fire towers, no dams, no municipal/state telecom equipment)

      Anyway, more to your point of making this a “tremendous snowmobile trail network” – which existing trails do you propose DEC should close? (Certainly, you must know about the mileage cap)

      Or is this just another attempt at free promotion of your blog site?

      • Darrin W. Harr says:

        OK, no shameful self-promotion of my website this time. 😉

        This isn’t my first hike. I live here and do several hikes a year, but I hadn’t been into Gooley Club in 25 years. I have hiked into “Wilderness.” I couldn’t tell the difference once I crossed the line and neither could the trees or animals.

        The mileage cap was set over 40 years ago. The State has bought a lot of land in the Adirondacks since then. In fairness, an adjustment upward in the cap should be made. DEC isn’t even sure how many miles of EXISTING snowmobile trail fit under the cap.

        I’m most interested in how Mr. Gibson conceded how the first mile or two of ROAD could be considered Wild Forest. But then the rest of the ROAD should be zoned as Wilderness. By what standard? I found the logging well into the interior, less than a quarter-mile from the Cedar River. A member of the Gooley Club told me there’s even more logging north of the Cedar River. Let’s be honest here: That standard used was Mr. Gibson’s preferred recreation as opposed to the actual character of the land.

        Back in the good ole days before Internet and social media, APA’s meetings would have been attended by a few suits from the Sierra Club. Then the land would have been classified Wilderness in the “dead of night.”

        Now, everybody can get into the discussion and that’s going to work against your cause to keep people out. Now, we can see what this land was like before the State purchased it. At most of the APA public meetings, the overwhelming majority of the people where in favor of Wild Forest Classification.

        Snowmobiling isn’t going to bother the paddlers one bit. Few people cross-country ski or snow-shoe very deep into the woods. I sleep perfectly well at night advocating snowmobile use on the new State land.

        • smallwood says:

          Mileage cap discussion aside (that’s another beast), seems I read that DEC/APA hold the position of “no material increase” in snowmobile and vehicular roads/trails so at this point in time for something new to open something old needs to be shut..

          “By what standard?” Not to put words in mouths of others, but Dave gives a reason for his view of land classification. Protection of natural resource is one of (if not the most) important tasks of APA. I’m not so sure that “actual character of the land” is in the APA charter..

          BTW, there was a time when few people rode snowmobiles or paddled canoes for fun. Cross country skiing is a beneficial physical activity that involves minimal if any noise with no exhaust fumes and does not require tracked groomers to prep the trail.

  3. Big Burly says:

    Lots of great memories stirred reading this piece.

  4. Darrin says:

    Well, well, well! Now my comments are being “held for moderation.” Hmmmm…..that’s interesting. 😉

    I’ll try again….

    Mr Gibson:

    If you would have stuck out that walk to Cedar River through the deer flies like I did, you would have seen why the whole thing should be classified as Wild Forest:

    • John Warren says:


      Your comment was held for moderation because you keep posting links to your own website. In other words, spamming. When you do that comments are automatically held for moderation.

      You would do well to tone down your narcissism and conspiracy theories. If you have a point to make, as always you have a place here to make it, but stop posting links to your own website or I will start removing them.

      John Warren

      • Paul says:

        The pictures he has showing the area are useful for this discussion so I am glad you allowed the link to come through.

        • John Warren says:

          It was never a question of allowing the link, the automated moderation system is in place to weed out the hundreds of spam comments (which usually include links) we receive every day. However, spamming the comments of multiple posts with links to your own website (or any website when it’s done on multiple posts) is inappropriate, hence the warning.

          John Warren

      • Gregor says:

        Darrin – don’t you know that narcissism (and sarcasm)are only allowed when you agree with John W? Conspiracy theories? Guess I missed those. %-)

      • Darrin W. Harr says:


        Well heard and understood. But how was I supposed to post pictures of my Gooley Club walk on the comments? At least one person here has found the pictures useful in the discussion. Thank you for allowing that link to get posted.

        Narcissism? Please, I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror, much less fall in love with myself.


  5. Punch Ali says:

    Boo Hoo, no snowmobiles are going to be allowed to ruin the peace and quiet for everyone else. Option 1B FTW.

  6. John Heney says:

    In 1973 I first started camping in the adk mnts at 13. I was one of the first kayakers to paddle the Hudson gorge from Newcomb to North river and the Boreas river a number of times. One of many runs I made throughout the region. I have winter camped in the area, boated, hunted and skied.

    In the early 80’s I had a cabin on Ip land in Speculator. IP traded with the state and it became restricted. We took and moved our cabin to Indian Lake and rebuilt becoming Adirondack land owners on Beach trail, rt 30 to this day. The area the state restricted in Speculator now see’s almost no human use and gave the area no positive impact.

    What I find now is as I get older is I cannot do a long carry with my kayak, or hike in as easy. This new area if designated as open as possible will allow me to enjoy these activities as my wife and I age. Choice 4a I believe will allow me and others access and to stay in the area. Access that is sorely lacking inside the blue line.

    I will also put forth that this area could be a boon for handicap access via car, snowmobile and very limited atv usage. The Handicap population has long been ignored when final votes about access in the park have been made. You have a once in a lifetime chance with this track to help elderly and people with less mobility access this unique area.

    The area will have not increase access more than it currently has (no new roads, no new camps and so on) but it will allow the public the chance to use it if proposal 4a is picked the public will have this opportunity. This area is not now or for a hundred or more years been virgin forest or forever wild. roads, trails and campsites have been in place and used. Please keep it this way for everyone not just a few elitists.

    The only real chance for a positive local economic impact is to pick the most open access proposals. Look around the area, this is not the high peaks, this is not a high use area other than rafting or some waterfront that is out of the reach of all but the wealthy of us. The area this purchase includes is not a draw for the elite hikers and is and has been primarily a destination choice for camp owners, canoeists, snowmobilers, hunters and fisherman. Ask yourself a question; this area now has thousands of Acres of state land, what is the density usage now? It will not go up, you will only open more acres to the same number of people using the current areas. In fact that will decrease it’s usage as the percentage of people will not increase.

    The area due to a lack of jobs and local economic opportunities has lost 1/2 its population, the only grocery store and many other businesses. Making things more restrictive will only hurt them more. Proposals one- three will negatively affect the local community. Never has a plan that is more restrictive, outside the high peaks had any positive local economic impact.

    Last I leave you with this. This weekend the Governor and many others will be using this new area for the first Adk challenge. How many of them will ever again use this area if it becomes proposal 1a or any other of the more restrictive choices? Will they come back to carry their canoes miles to put it in the water?

    John Henry

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