Thursday, December 5, 2013

ESF Students Have Their Own Ideas For Essex Chain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Adirondack Park Agency is weighing seven options for the classification of the 17,320-acre Essex Chain Tract. Perhaps they should consider an eighth.

Three college students have studied the various issues pertaining to classification and come up with their own recommendation: designate the tract Wild Forest with special restrictions.

The students—Azaria Bower, Kayla Bartheleme, and Erin Ulcickas—collaborated on the project this fall during their semester at the Newcomb campus of the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

They delivered their conclusions Wednesday to a packed room at ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb.

The students had debated whether to designate the tract Wilderness, which is the most restrictive of the APA’s classifications for state land, or Wild Forest. The major distinction is that motorized recreation and bicycling are banned in Wilderness but allowed in Wild Forest.

In the end, they settled on a hybrid: a Wild Forest Area where motorboats and floatplanes would be banned. They made no recommendation about snowmobiling, which is high on the agenda of local officials pushing for a Wild Forest classification.

Bower said the decision was driven in part by a desire to allow mountain biking on the many dirt roads that crisscross the tract. She added that horses, which are allowed on some trails in Wilderness Areas, do more environmental damage than bikes.

The students said the land—which had been logged for decades—can withstand a variety of recreational uses. “It can be used and protected,” Bartheleme remarked.

To guard against overuse, the students propose establishing only two public parking lots, each capable of holding just six cars. One would be a bit north of Deer Pond, where the state has built an interim lot (that holds about twenty cars), and the other would be just north of Fifth Lake in the Essex Chain, a string of seven linked ponds. Other visitors could park on the outskirts of the tract and hike or bike to the interior.

In perhaps their most novel suggestion, they recommend opening up two other parking lots only to licensed guides. These would be near two takeouts on the Hudson River. The idea is that guides could take clients downriver from Newcomb and exit at the Blackwell Stillwater or just before the confluence with the Indian River.

Both takeouts are now available to the public. Under the students’ proposal, the public would no longer be allowed to drive to the parking lots that serve the takeouts.

The tract’s extensive road network could be used for biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Only those roads leading to parking lots would be open to automobiles.

In many respects, the students’ proposal resembles that set forth last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC proposed designating most of the tract, including the Essex Chain itself, as a Special Management Area within a Wild Forest classification. The idea is that the tract would be managed more strictly than Wild Forest but not as strictly as Wilderness. For example, DEC could ban motorboats but allow snowmobiles and bicycles.

The presentation was attended by about twenty people, including Ross Whaley, retired ESF president, who was one of their professors; Connie Prickett of the Nature Conservancy, which sold the Essex Chain Tract to the state; Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild; Tom Martin, DEC’s regional natural resource supervisor; Jim Herman and Dave Mason of Adirondack Futures; Marianne Patinelli-Dubay, a professor of environmental philosophy; and Paul Hai, program coordinator of ESF’s Northern Forest Institute.

Photo by Phil Brown. Left to right: Erin Ulcickas, Kayla Bartheleme, and Azaria Bower.

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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.

25 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    So none of the classifications fit?

  2. I can see the general idea of Wild Forest with special restrictions but restricting parking at takeouts to licensed guides is a bad one. It would basically require users of these public waterways to hire a guide in order to paddle there or face a long walk at the end of the day when they are tired.

    • Harold says:

      While I appreciate the efforts of these young ladies I believe the idea of limiting parking to “guides” is an exceptionally bad idea. I often hear the word “elitist” tossed around in these debates but here I’m referring to the practice of leaving limited parking spaces to professional guides and their patrons who have the means and feel it necessary to pay for their guidance. I have absolutely nothing against veteran ADKers who sell their knowledge as guides but to provide prime parking to paying customers sounds like a Walmart gimmick. What will end up happening is that, once again, my pickup and many others will end up parking in ditches, damaging the pristine surrounding off-road areas while the “elite” tenderfoots won’t even need to get their feet muddy.

      • dave says:

        Not sure if it was intentional or not, but complaining about elitism while disparaging those who hire guides as “tenderfoots” sure seems contradictory.

        • Harold says:

          Perhaps you’re right Dave, I suppose I may have sounded a bit arrogant, but as an average guy who has dragged myself through some awful terrain and portages in search of some solitude and a bit of adventure kayaking throughout the entire ADK’s, I found the idea of restricting parking for a select few in this newly opened area to be completely unfair. We made over 50 trips in the ADK’s this year coming from the Capital Region and when we’re not camping we’re staying in motels, renting a small place, eating out and buying groceries and such. We gladly contribute all we can to the economy of the area. I’ll take back the attitude but I stand by the sentiment.

  3. JR says:

    12 whole cars!
    Equipped with NJ licence plates to boot?

    • Frank says:

      If people are coming from NJ they’re spending money to boost the economy. Is there a problem with that?

      • troutstalker says:

        I don’t think there will be a major boost.Cars today are more efficient and they will not need to buy fuel. When camping, I bring my own provisions. At most I’ll maybe buy a coffee and a doughnut! Motels will not get business due to I use a tent when camping.I fill my tank before my trip and will not need gas until I hit the Thruway!

        • Frank says:

          I don’t know about you but the first thing I do when I get out of the woods after a couple of days is find the closest place with cold beer and hot food.

  4. Paul says:

    Restricting the parking to 12 spots would be kind of tough. If people really want to use this area they will come and that would mean they would have to illegally park or something? Is the idea that bikers would park back in town and ride all the way out there?

    Except the parking thing (and maybe the “guide” thing) they have come up with a pretty good plan.

    I suspect the APA will come to a similar conclusion that these lads have and can continue to withstand more use than under a Wilderness designation.

  5. Paul says:

    Sorry “lands” not “lads”.

  6. As an avid all-season cyclist,(and canoeist in season) who plans to return to the region for the first time since 2005, this proposal makes sense. But then again, I supported the DEC proposal for the same reasons. Selfishly, I want to ride my bike there. Less self-indulgent, I have disabled friends who want to enjoy the backcountry too. This land, “which had been logged for decades” is not “untrammeled by man” and would therefore never be true “wilderness”. It would become a “man-made wilderness”, and I’m sorry, but I just don’t see any common sense in that.

    • John Warren says:

      That same thing could be said for every wilderness area in the Adirondacks. Classifications are the set to achieve a goal, not reflect the current state.

      • Paul says:

        It would have been very interesting to see what is in Mr. Booth’s memo regarding the necessity to classify the area as Wilderness.

        This from the relevant law:

        “Finally, the classification system takes into account the established facilities on the land, the uses now being made by the public and the policies followed by the various administering agencies. Many of these factors are self- evident: the presence of a highway determines the classification of a travel corridor; the presence of an existing campground or ski area requires the classification of intensive use. The extent of existing facilities and uses which might make it impractical to attempt to recreate a wilderness or wild forest atmosphere is also a consideration. This is not to imply that when present uses or facilities are degrading the resource they should be continued, but their presence cannot be ignored.”

        Is there any indication that these “facilities” are degrading the resource. Most of what I have seen indicates that the land is in an almost pristine state?

    • Frank says:

      That’s like saying ” why clean up rivers that are already polluted” now that doesn’t make sense.

  7. Azaria says:

    Steve: The reason we felt it difficult to stick to one of the 7 classification options was due to the preconceived notions that Wilderness and Wild Forest classifications have.

    Jim: The recommendation for licensed-guide parking was to create a form of carrying capacity for these waters. We may consider allowing only a certain number of spots to be reserved for guides which would still allow for non-guided users who receive some sort of permit to use the parking lot as well.

    Paul: We also recommend a shuttle service from the town parking lots to avoid illegal parking and excessive transportation on the users part.

    • Paul says:

      Shuttle service is a good idea. Is there a concern that the roads cannot handle the traffic? Given the size of the clubs there must have been quite a bit of travel in and out of there over time.

    • Paul says:

      This sounds like a cool project. Did you guys look into budget issues? Things like management and maintenance considerations? These should be considered (at least if you keep working on this next semester!). Given the economic benefit of allowing something like Mt. Biking in there maybe the towns would consider the idea of doing things like grading the roads etc? Would the guides be required to pay for a permit to get the somewhat exclusive use of some areas? Also, is there adjacent private land or some type of in-holding where a John’s Brook Lodge type of facility could be? That would really be a boost and would make worth while the trouble of being shuttled in. Imagine a JBL for mt. bikers (and maybe even hunters in the fall, or other users as well)? I think in trying to attract some outside interest if you can do something unique like that it could make a big difference.

  8. Paul says:

    I am curious what level of use is required to achieve a larger economic impact than the surrounding areas saw from the older uses of the property (private clubs)? I know that economic impacts are only part of the equation but for these particular acquisitions they seem to have been an important consideration in making the purchase.

    Limiting the number of users does not sit well even with many folks that support a Wilderness designation. But it is one way to protect the resource. The private club arrangement limited the use and the land appears to have been well protected.

  9. adkDreamer says:

    I applaud these fine young folks even attempting to do what the DEC, APA and Environmental Groups are paid to do. On top of that they gave it thought and perspective and weighed in, standing on rare ground – daring to form an idea. Mostly, a fresh perspective from the future stewards of conservation is much needed as us old farts are dying off and leaving quite a mess for them to deal with in the future.

    Good Show!

  10. Tim says:

    I’m all for classifying it wilderness but must admit it would be a great place to mountain bike. I don’t even own a mountain bike but imagine the graded roads would be perfect, with little erosion. Maybe I’m wrong but it doesn’t appear there is a lot of back country mountain biking in the ADK.
    I think the APA is allowed to make such provisions within a more restrictive classification.

  11. Charlie S says:

    Bikes do a ton of damage! I have seen firsthand the damage they do.Bad idea!

    • Matt says:

      Hikers and bikers create very close to the same degree of impact on trails, all other factors being equal.

  12. Harold says:

    Shuttles, permits, limits on number of people, guide parking lots, monitoring river carrying capacity. This doesn’t doesn’t sound very “wild” to me.

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