Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pete Nelson: An Open Letter to Governor Cuomo

Third Lake, Essex ChainDear Governor Cuomo:

I write today to urge you to support a Wilderness Classification for the former Finch Pruyn lands surrounding the Hudson River and the Essex Chain of Lakes.  After a comment period and series of public hearings that has given the citizens of New York an opportunity to voice their opinion, the decision lies in the hands of the Adirondack Park Agency.  But the final approval is yours alone.  More important, the chance to lead on an issue of national importance that lies at the heart of our journey into the future as New Yorkers and Americans is yours alone as well.

I challenge you to consider that the effort to protect wild places in a world of ever-expanding civilization and the pressures of altered climate and degraded ecosystems is a moral imperative, essential to our long term future.  On issues like the fight for the equality of women or the safety of our children and communities from gun violence you have demonstrated that you have the courage and charisma to lead on principle, not merely politics.  The Adirondacks, a region you have shown you love and value personally, needs your passion and commitment just as much.  And as with these other seminal issues, what you do here will have significance far beyond the borders of the state you govern.

Those who see these issues drawn on a smaller canvas may think my claim of significance to be grandiose.  But there is a larger canvas to work with.

The smaller canvas paints two sides in opposition.  On the one side are those who will say that the highest and most historically valid priority for these lands is to insure their environmental protection.  They will cite Article XIV of the State Constitution as clear evidence of this priority.  Those on the other side will say that the economy of the Adirondack region must be the priority given the unique mixture of public and private land and the dozens of communities inside the blue line.  They will advocate for recreational access that ensures the widest possible use and thus bolsters tourism revenue.

These two positions frame an enduring and divisive argument over the Adirondacks that has gone on for more than a century. Every time there is a policy initiative affects the region you can be sure these voices will be heard from.  We paint on this small canvas over and over again.

I ask you to consider a larger canvas that offers a hopeful vision for the future relationship between people and wilderness.  Suppose that those who say we must choose one side or the other are wrong.  Suppose we can evolve to a point where these two perspectives are no longer in opposition.  Consider the Hamlet of Newcomb which sits as the gateway to these lands.   What if the very best protection we can offer to the precious resources of the Essex Chain and the Upper Hudson River is in fact at the same time the very best economic boost we can give to Newcomb?

“Prove it,” the environmentalists will say.  “Prove it,” the residents of Newcomb will say.  Governor, with your leadership let’s do just that.  State purchase of these lands represents the most significant addition to the Forest Preserve in more than a century.  It is the perfect opportunity to change the old, tired arguments forever.

I call upon you to publicly announce your support for a Wilderness classification for the Essex Chain and Upper Hudson.  At the same time I call upon you to appoint an Economic Czar to develop a strategy to leverage this Wilderness and implement a specific plan to maximize the economic impact on the region, specifically Newcomb.  This Czar can put good minds to the task of promoting ecotourism, low impact recreation, wilderness education and numerous other possibilities that need a vibrant community as much as they need the land itself.  Surely if Costa Rica and Norway can do it, New York can do it.  And if we can do it in Newcomb, deep in the heart of the Adirondacks and currently lacking the tourist infrastructure of other regional destinations, we can do it anywhere.  That’s the kind of proof that could be worth gold to generations of New Yorkers.

Such an initiative would be important to more than just the Adirondacks.  Many have referred to the Adirondack Park as a world-leading experiment in how human beings and wilderness can coexist.   A specific, measurable plan to tie the welfare of the Essex Chain to the welfare of the people who live and work near it would further that experiment to the benefit of all who would seek to find permanent solutions to our daunting ecological and economic challenges.

Naysayers will dismiss this kind of thinking as wishful nonsense or irrelevant tinkering.  By your actions and your leadership you can repudiate that thinking.  I urge you to take this unprecedented opportunity to do so.

Photo by Dave Gibson

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

47 Responses

  1. AdkBuddy says:

    Dear Governor Cuomo,
    I urge you to ignore Pete Nelson’s letter and support a classification of Wild Forest. First of all, the land in question does not currently fit the Wilderness definition. In this case the imprint of man’s work IS substantially noticeable. As for the economy, we need to be open to as many recreational opportunities as is allowed by the Wild Forest classification. Many of us who live and work here do so because we want to, not because we are stuck here. We need the economy to grow from every way possible. Narrow uses as Mr. Nelson suggest don’t accomplish that. We don’t need any more Czars, we need jobs and economic growth. Thank you for listening.

  2. Marco says:

    Governor Cuomo,
    Everyone has a right to express their opinion. I will not say to ignore anyone. I, as one of the millions of people in this state, hope you will support the wilderness classification as Pete outlined.
    Thank you.

  3. Big Burly says:

    Whatever the Guv and the APA decide, my hope is that the stewardship of these lands will preserve them to the same degree as did Finch Pruyn and the various members of the Gooley Club over the years of their lease/license. Leave as small a footstep as possible. Having walked and paddled most of these lands and waters over the years when my family was a member, it is a cherished memory of renewals of my spirit — not sure if that can be preserved for the much larger general public, whatever the classification. Dave Gibson’s photo brings back lots of memories in early morn.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    The problem with the wilderness argument is that it is blind to the reality on the ground.
    Except for the trails, be they in wilderness or wild forest, all of the state owned land is effectively wilderness. Hardly anyone goes “off trail.” If you want to “experience real wilderness,” step off trail and see what happens.
    Question. Does a currently classified wilderness cease to be a wilderness because you can access a trail head by parking your car at the trail-head? If you think it does, would you be inclined to agree the Blue Ridge Wilderness should be reclassified as Wild Forest because the trails in it to Stephens, Wilson and Cascade ponds can be accessed from parking areas on paved state highways? Just across the highway from the trail-head for Cascade and Stephens ponds is the trail-head parking area for the trail to Tirrell Pond in the Blue Mnt. Wild Forest. All these hikes are nice hikes of similar distances. None are made better or worse because of the different classifications.
    The whole argument is one created by human imagination. I propose we classify all state owned land as the Adirondack Wilderness and treat all state owned land as Wild Forest.
    I am sick of the arguments.

    • Dan says:

      The problem with looking merely at what is today on the ground is that it is too narrow a vision. I say this citing two pieces of evidence:

      1.) Many areas which are now wilderness did not, at the time of their classification, fit the idea of wilderness on the ground. Nature has reclaimed these areas to the point that such arguments are moot. It is a good thing that such shortsightedness was not a major factor at the time, otherwise places which were full of roads would today now be wild forest in place of wilderness. Consider examples of the roads that used to exist through Indian Pass or along Puffer Brook. Try to locate evidence of these former roads. I dare you.

      2.) The classification of a given parcel of land is legally not allowed to be considered on the basis of economic promotion (of which that is NOT the job of the APA) or the current land status, but rather on the use of land and the ability of said land to withstand such use. Taken from the APSLMP: “THIS ACT REQUIRES the Agency to classify the state lands in the Park according to ‘their characteristics and capacity to withstand use.'”

      While the APSLMP does indicate that existing facilities must be taken into account during the classification process, they are not done so with the intent of the use in consideration, but rather with the idea that they can be considered ‘non-conforming structures’ for a higher level classification. In other words, when there is a debate between two possible classifications, protection of the land is more important (the mandate of Article XIV), with the removal of said structures and facilities, as opposed to simply leaving everything and choosing the lower level of protection.

    • dave says:

      Pete K.,

      You have made this argument a few times now, and I can’t figure out where you are coming from. You must have very different experiences in the woods than I do. How much time exactly do you spend out there? Doing what? And do you travel very far from the trailhead?

      The differences between land managed as Wilderness, and land managed as Wild Forest, is very noticeable to me. This is especially true on and along bodies of water or when camping out… but I find the differences to be fairly stark even while just strolling along trails.

      I am not sure what you mean when you say that if you jump off trail it is all the same. Simply not true. If a snowmobile or motor boat go tearing through the general area where you are, being on or off a trail does not significantly alter that experience.

      • Paul says:

        Dave, did you have a chance to make the trip into the Debar Mountain Wild Forest along the East Branch of the Saint Regis I described? You gotta do more that just “stroll” along the trails to see where he is coming from.

  5. James Racquet says:

    Hey pete i hate to be the one to give you the bad news, this governor has no principles. yes its ALL about politics with him. If it will pave the way to Washington he’s all for it.He shows up three times in his life in the adirondacks nows hes an expert on land issues.Besides he does his best work “for the safety of our children” behind closed doors in the middle of the nite!

  6. Tim says:

    I like your argument, Pete, and you practice what you preach. In the past, you’ve written we should try to find consensus (correct me if I’m wrong). Arguing that a wilderness classification is also a strong economic boost to the community exemplifies this thinking.
    I would argue for an exception. It appears the roads on the recent acquisition would make for ideal mountain biking. I’m not a mountain biker but I know a lot of people who enjoy it.

    • Dick Millet says:


      I am a mountain biker and I would dearly love to ride my bike all over those back roads. That said, I believe my desire to do that should take a backseat to the preservation of the Essex Chain to the greatest degree possible.

      Selfishly, I’d like to be able to ride my bike on trails that 4wd vehicles and other non-human powered machines aren’t allowed. The law is currently written that I cannot do that on state land. I may not agree with the law, but forced to make a choice, I choose to preserve for the sake of those that come after me. They aren’t making any more wilderness.

      • Paul says:

        “They aren’t making any more wilderness.” Really? Have you looked at how the classifications have gone lately?

        • Dick Millet says:

          Yea, I have. I went for an 8 1/2 mile bushwhack last Sunday and found a beer can on the shore of a lake that had no marked trail to it. Classifying land as wilderness doesn’t make it wilderness, but it’s a damn sight better than the alternative.

          • Bill Ott says:

            The occasional can I find off the trail is usually the steel one (like the rusty ones I drank from in Nam)that seem to last forever. They will finally go back to nature, just like Dan Crane’s campsites (a future article), and all of civilization (from a future intervention). I hope I am in the woods when I am finally recycled. Who did I vote for anyway?

  7. Pete Nelson says:

    As they say, timing is everything:

    Now is the time for the final push.


    • Paul says:

      Even if the land is designated as Wild Forest the rafting competition that was described in the Times article will still be illegal next year (I guess the Governor might be able to get DEC authorization?):

      “cc. On State lands, no person shall sponsor, conduct or participate in any organized event of more than twenty people unless otherwise authorized by the department. Examples of organized events include, but are not limited to: sponsored hikes; archery and fishing tournaments; snowmobile, bicycle, horse and orienteering races, runs, rides or competitions (including biathlons and triathlons); encampments; and re-enactments.”

    • Matt says:


      The article is wrong. Where in the adirondacks are 4 wheelers allowed? Typical

      • Bill Ott says:

        Four-wheelers (ATVs) are used in the Buck Pond Primitive Corridor, which runs from Star Lake to a private in-holding at Buck Pond. The trail is destroyed for hiking purposes. There are 63 forest preserve roads open to ATVs, and many more illegal ATV trails. ATVs destroy the woods. Read about them here:

        • Paul says:

          Bill, are you talking about a private easement for access near buck pond? Otherwise the use would be illegal. I think that most of the roads that were open in that report are now closed.

          This is interesting from the report where RCPA describes where ATVs should be used:

          “Other public lands suitable for ATVs are commercial
          timber lands where NYS has purchased a conservation easement These lands contain extensive road systems and generally receive limited public, non-motorized recreational use.”

          Pretty similar to what is being classified here?

          • Bill Ott says:

            Paul, I am talking about the 8.5 mile corridor from Young’s Road in Star Lake to Buck Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Buck Pond is privately owned, or at least surrounded by private land. The corridor was open this April, and I would like to know if it has been closed to ATVs.

            • Paul says:

              Not familiar with that “road”. If it is the access for the private in-holding there is probably an easement there. In that case it would be legal for the owners (and their lessee or guests) to use any kind of motorized vehicles that are legal since the easement is treated just like private property. The easement should be posted with DEC signs that say “unauthorized motor vehicle use prohibited” You could probably figure it out by looking at the UMP for the Five Ponds. It does not seem to be listed at the DEC site. They would probably email you a PDF if you ask.

  8. brian m says:

    Open this up so we can use it on foot, bikes, or snowmobiles.

  9. Jorge Porta says:

    Dear, Cuomo,

    You should start hydro fracking on the fitch-pruyn lands as early as next spring.

    Love, Amurrica

  10. Paul says:

    I don’t think either classification will change the outcome to any huge extent. Either way the land is going to be protected from any substantial development for ever. So either classification moves in the direction that Pete and others want to go. Also, it is not like Wild Forest areas are devoid of environmental protection and it is not like Wilderness areas are immune to overuse and problems that come from it. Also land that is classified as Wild Forest is re-classified as Wilderness all the time so this is not as time critical as some claim.

    No matter how it goes I hope they do do a good job measuring the economic impact on a place like Newcomb. If they do that it will help settle that part of these debates.

  11. Paul says:

    I wonder if the “czar” thinks that mountain biking might be a good thing for the local economy? These 250 miles of roads (I think that was one estimate I saw here) could turn the place into the Mt. Biking mecca of the east.

  12. Hope says:

    Wild Forest is a classification that still allows closing roads, designating roads for motor vehicle traffic, designating trails for mountain biking, keeping motors off of waterways among other protective measures. Wilderness pretty much closes everything off to everybody but the physically fit. You know it is quite a hike to get to your vehicle with all your equipment after paddling down the Hudson when you are exhausted from the paddle. And why not encourage camping at designated spots off the road, like in the Moose River Plains area, and day use only picnic spots on the lakes. Wild Forest with restrictions can satisfy a lot of different people. The only people that won’t be satisfied will be the snowmobile haters and there is nothing except a total ban on them that will make those people happy.

    • Paul says:

      A Wild Forest classification can also always be re-classified as Wilderness if it doesn’t work out. If the classify most of this as Wilderness and it doesn’t work out like Pete describes (or the “czar” can’t work it out) would the plan be to then re-classify the land as Wild Forest and re-build the roads and other necessary infrastructure and give that a try?

      Once the other easement lands are logged off and sold to NYS is the plan there to classify those as Wild Forest. I would assume at that point, with it right within their grasp, that environmental groups would give up on the idea of a Grand Wilderness since they feel bad that some folks were short-changed by not getting Wild Forest here?

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    The comment that struck me the most was Dick Millet’s when he said “I choose to preserve for the sake of those that come after me. They aren’t making any more wilderness.”

    No they’re not Dick,and these people who cannot get past their selfish,economic,all-about-convenience,way of thinking…well,they’re the norm in this society and is why there’s so many problems.

    Jorge Porta’s sarcastic response (Dear Cuomo,You should start hydro fracking on the fitch-pruyn lands as early as next spring.) is your typical Tory response. Some people don’t realize how obtuse they are.

    Some people will see to it (unconsciously or not) that there’s nothing left for our progeny Dick. In order to appreciate Pete’s view of things you have to have a sort of cosmic consciousness about you….that is, a consciousness with spiritual or metaphysical ideas. This society could use a heckuva lot of that nowadays as we are sorely lacking in that arena.

    Thank you for your altruistic input Dick.

  14. Charlie says:

    Paul says: I don’t think either classification will change the outcome to any huge extent.

    I think you’re wrong Paul! With the Wilderness classification it is a sure bet your grandchildren will have a place to go to enjoy a serene,pristine wilderness,a place to get away from the spoils of this society….if they so choose. With a Wild Forest classification there is no guarantee they will have such a haven,especially considering how lethargic each new generation is becoming.

    • Paul says:

      People have been enjoying Adirondack Wild Forest areas for generations (my family has). The idea that Wilderness is the only way to protect the land is simply not based on the history of the park or the facts on the ground.

      • dave says:

        Charlie did not imply that people were not “enjoying” wild forest.

        He specifically mentioned “serene, pristine wilderness” and a “place to get away from the spoils of this society”

        A Wild Forest classification does not protect the things Charlie is talking about. In this sense, there is a pretty big difference between the two classifications.

        • Paul says:

          But it does protect those things. This argument is just relative. You take someone from any urban area and drop them into a Wild Forest in the Adirondacks and they will find both those things. Part of Charlies point (as I understood it) was that a Wilderness Classification would ensure that the grandchildren would have it. The Wild Forest does basically the same thing. Just a little easier to get away to.

  15. Matt says:


    I agree with you that in a perfect world we should seek compromise. That two opposing views are not that different and sharing in these great lands with a smart approach is both logical and long term, satisfies all parties. The fact is, proposing the establishment of an “Economic Czar” is downright silly. Just another example of kicking the can down the road. You are clearly a bright man and someone who is passionate about the Adirondacks. As you stare at your computer or stare out your window allow your mind to wander for several minutes, perhaps even an hour. Now tell me. How does Newcomb capitalize economically on land that 95% of the people would be unable to see if its classified as Wilderness. Please share some idea. Anything. Mountain bike rentals-No. Snowmobiling-No. Kayak/Canoe Rentals-No (who is able to carry or roll these those distances). Food, dining, golf? -No. I’m thinking…are you? I got nothing. I’m a resident of Newcomb. I pay taxes in Newcomb. i’m certain some of my taxes just like yours went to buy this property. My 83 year old Dad also paid taxes to buy this property. I’m still thinking, are you? I still got nothing? Will the 3-25 year old very fit athletes that hike the long distance in camp out, fish and then walk back out for dinner or a round of golf? I’m still thinking, are you? Will they rent a kayak from Ruth and Dave Olbert at Cloudsplitter Outfitters and then carry that in? Maybe take a guided rafting trip from them down the hudson and then carry it 3 miles out? Probably not? In your quest to protect the very land you love have you thought about Dave and Ruth? Have you thought of Mike at the Newcomb House who could see his business boom if Snowmobilers and Mountain bikers can stop by for lunch? I’m still thinking…are you?

    • dave says:

      The public feedback on these lands has been overwhelmingly in favor of wilderness. This is a clear indication that there is a market to be tapped, whether you or the businesses you mention have the ability to “think” it or not.

      • Ruth says:

        Well Davey old boy I “Think” you or perhaps some of your cronies should come up and show us just how to tap away at this wilderness “Market”. If nothing else it would be entertaining. Truthfully I am very ,very tired of the rediculous banter spewed freely on this site. I have work to do to get ready for our back up plan should the classification go wilderness. Looks like I am going to need a few more stalls.

        • Paul says:

          Dan Crane has a newer post here where he describes the difficulty in finding decent campsites in some Wilderness areas where he travels. There is this comment from a reader:

          “Some of the nicest have been closed. Good, in the sense that fewer sites means fewer people,”

          Dave, I think there is an excellent argument to make for protection in designating land as wilderness but the economic argument isn’t very strong when you see information like this.

          • Dan Crane says:

            Hey, don’t pull me into this conversation; my article has little to do with this topic.

            Jeez, I can’t even mind my own business without being pulled into another one of Pete’s articles.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Dear Matt:

      I remember you challenging me before. This is a good comment and while I am no expert it is provoking me to start working on a column addressing exactly what you ask about.



      • Matt says:

        Thanks Pete. I look forward to it. Your response to me illustrates that although some may have opposing positions we share a common concern and often the best outcome is a result of considering all positions. Although I have not hidden my support for a Wild Forest classification I recognize and respect the concerns of those that seek greater protection. If it ends up classified as Wilderness the world will not end. We move on and enjoy it as much as we can and respect the process. If it goes Wild Forest I would welcome a chance to work with you on ideas to ensure we maintain the pristine nature of the tract while at the same time looking for smart methods to exploit opportunities that benefit the local communities.

  16. Paul says:

    It is interesting to note that Hamilton county is the Adirondack county most dependent on tourism labor at 50%. The Adirondack average is about 14%. Hamilton county is also the one Adirondack county that is losing its population. If there is an economic argument to be made for one classification or the other it seems like it will have the most impact (positive or negative)in that area.

  17. Charlie says:

    Paul says: People have been enjoying Adirondack Wild Forest areas for generations (my family has). The idea that Wilderness is the only way to protect the land is simply not based on the history of the park or the facts on the ground.

    Society is changing Paul! Things are not what they used to be.Surely you know.Nothing is guaranteed anymore,and the way the pattern has been one can only surmise things will get worse before they get better.We’re talking social issues,preservation issues,over-population, pollution,invasive species,etc.. Places like the Adirondacks are going to be more sought-after in the future for sure… a society more complicated than the society that ‘was’ thirty,or fifty,years ago.

    • Paul says:

      I have no argument with that. My point was that a Wild Forest has the same constitutional protection that a Wilderness has and it will be there for my grandchildren just like a Wilderness would. In this particular case it will just be a little easier to access. And that access may make it so more people can experience the beauty of the area and all it has to offer. That may send them back to “their part of the world” with an attitude that they need to work to make sure that society changes for the better.

      Like I have said before I personally support a Canoe Area (basically a wilderness with a special name)that will allow no motorized use of the waters but that has some dirt roads so people can get their boats in there without too much trouble. That clearly seems like a compromise where everyone gets some of what they want and the land remains well protect for future generations. Matt would get some of the low impact uses he wants that would help many of those businesses and Charlie gets the environmental protection that he and I want.

  18. Phil says:

    Another college professor from another state telling us what we should do. If we only lived in the world of a college professor where they get 8 per cent raises every year because they get 8 per cent smarter every year. Or I am assuming because the tuition gets raised three times higher than the rate of inflation every year. One thing I do believe is that the more people have contact with nature the more people will fight for it.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Gee Phil, do you have some sort of personal difficulties with wild herds of out-of-state college professors buffaloing their way through your forest telling you what to do? If so you have my sympathy.

      Meanwhile, your knowledge of higher education leaves me speechless. I especially like how relevant it is to the discussion. But I do lament that your total fantasy over my pay raises is so tragically wrong. If you’d like to help me hit that 8% mark I’ll send you my address. Thanks, Pete

  19. Charlie says:

    Phil says “One thing I do believe is that the more people have contact with nature the more people will fight for it.”

    Tis so true Phil.But at what extent should their experience in coming in contact with nature be? Some of us are full of romance and adventure and just love the idea of footing it into the Adirondack woods,while others wont budge unless they have a noisy,smelly conveyance to convenience their experience. We’re getting lazier with each new convenienced generation. I’ll never forget the girl who worked across the street from where she lived and,instead of walking a hundred paces over two lanes,a median,and another two lanes to get to her employment she drove around the median. I know this is extreme but it just goes to show how low we’ve sunk.

  20. Phil says:

    I have a problem with book smart and street stupid people. I have a problem with kids spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and ending up as waiters or waitresses. I have a problem with a person who does not spend one dime of tax money in a state he does not live in but has the wisdom of telling us how we should use our land. Maybe you should switch places with those people who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and see how it is for the state you live in is unable to help you but can manage to spend millions of dollars so the Gov can go kayaking with his buddies.

  21. Phil's Neighbor says:

    You obviously have difficultly getting along with others and are apparently not that bright. That’s MY street smart observation.

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