Thursday, December 12, 2013

Unanswered Questions About Essex Chain Proposal

FULL SIZE - APA Essex Chain Lakes Recommendation MapThe Adirondack Park Agency began deliberations Wednesday on the classification of 21,200 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands, with staff members explaining why the agency’s staff settled on a Primitive classification for the Essex Chain Lakes. However, some questions were left unanswered.

The staff had considered proposals to classify the Essex Chain as Wilderness, Canoe, and Wild Forest. As reported earlier on the Almanack, the staff rejected the Wilderness and Canoe designations largely because local towns own the floatplane rights to First Lake, which is part of the Essex Chain, as well as Pine Lake, which is located a mile and a half south of the chain.

“The presence of floatplanes landing and taking off would detract from the sense of wilderness,” Kathy Regan, a senior natural resource planner, told the APA board.

The Wild Forest classification was rejected because it allows motorboat use. The APA staff felt motorboats would put the Essex Chain and its wetlands at risk by, among other things, churning up sediment, damaging aquatic vegetation, and polluting the water.

“The ecological significance of the Essex Chain Lakes requires a Wilderness-type management,” Regan said.

And that means no motorboats, a requirement that led to the Primitive option. Under this designation, the Essex Chain region will remain off limits to motorboats and, despite the floatplanes, will be managed as Wilderness.

Matt Kendall, another natural resource planner, said the staff’s recommendation (called Alternative 2A) is a modification of an earlier proposal (Alternative 2) for classifying the Essex Chain as Primitive.

The Essex Chain Primitive Area recommended by the staff would encompass 9,940 acres. The original proposal called for an 11,743-acre Primitive Area. The difference is that the land north of the Essex Chain would be classified Wild Forest, not Primitive, under the staff’s preferred option.

In his presentation to the board, Kendall did not explain the reason for scaling back the Primitive Area. It seems obvious, however, that the rationale is to provide easier access to the Essex Chain. Under the original proposal, roads leading to the chain would have been closed. In addition, mountain biking and snowmobiling could be allowed in the Wild Forest section (both activities are are generally prohibited in Primitive Areas).



The two proposals also differ in the classification of a newly acquired stretch of the Hudson River. The original called for the creation of a 32,234-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. Under the modified proposal, the Wilderness Area shrinks to 23,494 acres. That’s because the river corridor north of an iron bridge would be classified Wild Forest instead of Wilderness.

Again, the change was not explained. However, the modified proposal will provide easier access to the Hudson by allowing the public to drive fairly close to the river. It also may allow the state to keep the iron bridge, making it possible to create a snowmobile trail that would cross the river and continue to Minerva. The snowmobile trail is a high priority of local towns.

The modified proposal also calls for a Wild Forest corridor for snowmobile travel between Indian Lake and Newcomb–something not contained in the original.

When asked to explain why the staff modified Alternative 2, APA spokesman Keith McKeever said he could not elaborate but that the answer may come out in today’s meeting. Let’s hope so. This is one of the most important land-classification decisions in the agency’s history, and it’d be nice to hear the justification for the changes in Alternative 2. In short, why is 2A better than 2?

The APA commissioners will reconvene at 9 a.m. today and resume discussion of the Finch, Pruyn lands at 10:45 a.m. They are expected to vote on the staff’s recommendation on Friday.

APA Commissioner Dick Booth, one of the board’s staunchest supporters of the Forest Preserve, remarked at Wednesday’s meeting that he thought Primitive was the appropriate classification for the Essex Chain. He had earlier written a legal memo–which the APA has refused to release–arguing that a Wild Forest classification would violate the State Land Master Plan, which governs management of the Forest Preserve.

You can see the differences in the two Primitive proposals by examining the two maps. The top map shows the various classifications under the staff’s recommendation. The second map shows the original proposal.


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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. John Henry says:

    Under what conditions can state manage the wildlife and fish stocks? My understanding is the clubs stocked the lakes.

    Does one classification allow this over another? Does the state plan on stocking the lakes?

    As for camps I know when the leases are up they are to be burned or taken down. I have heard a few cabins will be/have been submitted for NYS Historical status. If this happens does this override any other ruling and cabins can stay like Great Camp Santanoni?

    • David says:

      I don’t think that different classifications effect what gets stocked, but I believe that motor vehicle access or designated state truck trails would allow DEC to stock with trucks instead of helicopter (I know this is the case with canoe areas I’m not sure about primitive areas though).

      As far as the buildings go the state technically does not own any of them at the moment, TNC does. When the leases expire in 2019 they will, however, be transfered to the state. At the present time these buildings cannot remain after their leases expire because the land around them cannot be designated a historical area (historical areas have to have a building on the national register of historic places or be recommended by the state board I think). Apprrently there are some actions in the works but unless they occur before the leases expire and the land is redesignated to historic the buildings must go.

    • Paul says:

      The state can stock the ponds. They even stock on Wilderness lands. That is really what the St. Regis canoe area is. Will they stock, and can they afford to stock, will the ponds be compromised by other fish getting in there? Those are different questions. There is no doubt that fish stocks are better protected on private waters. That will change now.

      John, do you really think a hunting camp would get NYS historical status? I think some should but I am sure I am biased.

      To answer the question I think there would need to be some amendment made to the ASLMP to allow them to stay where they are.

      I have said that I think that some type of interior outpost like we see at John’s Brook Lodge would be great for this area. Too bad the TNC could not have worked out some type of private in-holding for something like ADK?

  2. Phil Brown says:

    The state did not buy the buildings. They must be removed by the clubs.However, DEC will explore the possibility of preserving some buildings for their historical value.

  3. […] Explorer editor and Adirondack Almanack contributor Phil Brown has followed this process closely. Click here for his take on unanswered questions during the deliberation. Brown also reported on still-dangling […]

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