State officials are considering a variety of possible recreational uses, both motorized and non-motorized, for the former Finch, Pruyn lands, according to Joe Martens, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Martens said officials from DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency have been in discussions with various stakeholders, including environmental groups and local officials, on what types of recreation would be appropriate on the 21,200 acres acquired in the past year from the Nature Conservancy.
Martens told Adirondack Almanack that he believes the lands, which are split among three tracts, can accommodate a wide variety of recreation, including snowmobiling, without putting natural resources at risk. He declined to say where he thought snowmobiling might be allowed.
With input from DEC, the APA must decide how to classify the land, a decision that will influence how the former Finch lands are used. The APA’s most common land classifications are Wilderness and Wild Forest. Under a Wilderness classification, motorized use and bicycling would be prohibited. A Wild Forest classification would give the state the option of allowing snowmobiles, motorboats, and floatplanes (as well as bicycles). Two other options—Canoe and Primitive—generally prohibit motorized use, with limited exceptions. Most likely, the lands in question will see a combination of classifications.
At the moment, Martens said, “our focus is not on classifications; our focus is on acceptable uses.”
Perhaps the most controversial decision will be the classification of the Essex Chain Lakes, a string of seven ponds which lie at the heart of the largest tract (17,320 acres) acquired by the state.
Environmental groups want the APA to classify the Essex Chain and most of the rest of the tract as Wilderness. Local officials want the tract classified as Wild Forest. Among other things, the latter designation would allow DEC to establish a snowmobile route to connect the hamlet of Indian Lake with communities to the north.
Earlier this week, Adirondack Almanack reported that APA Commissioner Dick Booth has written a twenty-one-page legal analysis concluding that the State Land Master Plan precludes a Wild Forest classification for the Essex Chain.
Martens said he has read parts of Booth’s analysis. “It’s all food for thought,” he said. “Dick is a smart guy. His point of view is valuable. His opinion matters, and I think everybody is going to reflect on it.”
So far, the APA has declined to release Booth’s memo.
Last year, DEC issued a conceptual plan for the former Finch, Pruyn lands that called for placing the Essex Chain in a Special Management Area within a Wild Forest classification. The idea is that the Essex Chain region would be managed more strictly than is typical for Wild Forest but not as strictly as Wilderness.
Martens was interviewed Wednesday in Lake Placid, where he attended a news conference where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced economic initiatives for the North Country.
Photo of the Essex Chain Tract by Carl Heilman II.