Monday, January 6, 2014

New State Lands: An Explanation and Analysis

The Essex Chain (Nancie Battaglia)After months of public debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Adirondack Park Agency voted in December to prohibit motorized recreation on most of the former Finch, Pruyn timberlands the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy a year ago.

The unanimous decision will create a 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness and ensure that the quiet of the remote Essex Chain Lakes will not be disturbed by motorboats. Under the APA plan, the lakes will be the centerpiece of a 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area.

Essex Chain APA-map-with-labelsHowever, the APA agreed to establish a Wild Forest corridor between the two motor-free tracts to allow snowmobilers to ride from Indian Lake to Newcomb. In addition, the lands north of the Essex Chain also were classified Wild Forest to permit visitors to drive most of the way to the lakes and the Hudson River.

Except for the snowmobile trail, the classification package resembles the proposal backed by environmental groups, which they characterized as “Wilderness with access.”

Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said he supports the decision. “The Park will be stronger and better than it was before,” he said. “Those lakes and the Hudson will be protected.”

Local political leaders also were pleased, since the snowmobile trail was their top priority. Without the trail, it’s doubtful that they would have supported the proposal.

Cedar River (Phil Brown Photo)The trail isn’t a sure thing as it raises a number of legal issues that must be sorted out. However, officials at the APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation say they will do what they can to make it happen.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said the snowmobile trail raises policy issues as well. “The motorized Wild Forest corridor sets a dangerous precedent for Forest Preserve management whereby lines will be drawn solely to facilitate motor-vehicle uses,” he warned.

In all, the APA classified about twenty-two thousand acres of new state land and reclassified about twenty thousand acres of adjacent Forest Preserve. The new lands include three properties purchased from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy: the 18,230-acre Essex Chain Tract, 2,823-acre OK Slip Falls Tract, and 923-acre Indian River Tract. In addition, the board classified a 160-acre in-holding purchased from the Open Space Conservancy.

It was one of the most important and complicated classification decisions undertaken by the APA. Over the summer, the agency held eight hearings in and outside the Park and gathered thousands of public comments. At one point, Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the Adirondacks to meet privately with local officials, sportsmen, environmental activists, and other stakeholders. State officials spent the ensuing months working out a proposal that would be acceptable, by and large, to all sides.

On the day of the vote, Basil Seggos, Cuomo’s top environmental aide, drove up from Albany to attend the APA meeting. Two days later, Cuomo visited Saranac Lake and praised the classification proposal, which required his approval, as “a consensus solution” that strikes the right balance between protecting the environment and providing recreational opportunities.

“The minute I can approve that plan I am going to approve that plan,” Cuomo said. Under the law, he could not do so for ten days.

In the years ahead, the state is committed to buying another forty-three thousand acres of Finch, Pruyn lands from the Nature Conservancy. However, none of the classification decisions is expected to be as complex as the one made in December.

Following are the highlights of the APA’s decision:

OK Slip Falls (Nancie Battaglia Photo) Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. At 23,494 acres, this will be the largest Wilderness Area designated in the Park since the adoption of the State Land Master Plan in 1972. It includes fifteen miles of the Hudson as well as parts of the Indian and Cedar rivers. Other natural gems are OK Slip Falls, the highest waterfall in the Adirondacks, and Blue Ledge, a scenic cliff in the Hudson Gorge. Most of the land came from the seventeen-thousand-acre Hudson Gorge Primitive Area, which was reclassified. In addition, more than six thousand acres of Finch lands, including nearly all of the OK Slip Falls Tract, were placed in the Wilderness Area. A boys camp will continue to own an in-holding that includes OK Slip Pond.

Essex Chain Primitive Area. This 9,940-acre tract is named for eight lakes and ponds linked by streams and marshy channels. It’s possible to paddle six of them without getting out of your canoe. The tract contains ten other lakes. Under the Primitive classification, motorboats will not be allowed on any of them. However, floatplanes will be allowed to use First and Pine lakes on the edge of the tract as a result of deeded rights that the Nature Conservancy donated to the towns of Newcomb and Minerva. The agency rejected a DEC proposal to allow planes to land on Third Lake, the largest in the chain. Roads in the Primitive Area will be closed to motor vehicles, but disabled people will be allowed to drive to Fifth Lake along a short Wild Forest corridor.

Snowmobile corridor. The APA established a six-mile Wild Forest corridor along the border of the Essex Chain Primitive Area and Hudson Gorge Wilderness to allow snowmobilers to go from Indian Lake to Newcomb. A tenth of a mile wide, the corridor largely follows former logging roads though a narrow valley. It connects Wild Forest lands on the Essex Chain Tracts and Indian River Tracts. APA employees say mountains on either side of the corridor will act as noise buffers, so winter visitors to the Essex Chain Lakes will be unlikely to hear the snowmobiles.

Polaris Mountain Primitive Area. This 953-acre parcel on the east side of the Hudson is home to the Polaris Club, whose members continue to lease one-acre plots around their camps. They also retain rights to drive to their camps. The leases will expire on October 1, 2018. The Nature Conservancy will have motorized access to the parcel for an additional year to remove any remaining buildings. After that, the parcel will be added to the Hudson Gorge Wilderness.

Analysis of the decision

The creation of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness was almost a given. The State Land Master Plan had long mandated that the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area be reclassified Wilderness if the OK Slip Falls Tract were acquired. Hence, all the classification options considered by the APA called for a Hudson Gorge Wilderness, and the towns didn’t oppose the idea.

Paddling the mouth of the Goodnow River near the Hudson (Phil Brown Photo)The debate centered on the Essex Chain Lakes. Local leaders wanted all of the Essex Chain Tract lying outside the Wilderness Area to become Wild Forest, which would have opened the door to motor vehicles, motorboats, snowmobiles, and floatplanes. Environmentalists, in contrast, wanted to add most of the Essex Chain Tract to the Hudson Gorge Wilderness. DEC sought a middle ground: a Wild Forest classification with special restrictions.

In the end, the APA rejected all three proposals in favor of a Primitive designation. The agency’s reasoning is set forth in a lengthy Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS). The document was prepared by the staff and approved by the board at December’s meeting.

In opposing Wilderness, the staff noted that the Gooley Club will continue to lease land on the Essex Chain through September 2018, with the right to drive to camps and use motorboats on certain lakes. These motorized uses preclude a Wilderness classification until after the leases expire.

The staff also decided that floatplane use on First and Pine lakes, which will continue indefinitely, forbade a Wilderness designation. “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 during its three-day meeting.

For the same reasons, the agency decided against designating the Essex Chain a Canoe Area, which is essentially a Wilderness Area for paddlers.

The towns and pilots must obtain permits from DEC to land on First and Pine lakes. DEC Regional Director Bob Stegemann, who sits on the APA board, told the Adirondack Explorer that under the easements granted the towns, the department can regulate but cannot prevent floatplane use on the two lakes.

But John Caffry, a lawyer for Protect the Adirondacks, disagrees. “Nothing in the easements obligates DEC to grant those permits,” he said. Moreover, he questioned whether the easements are enforceable.

In rejecting Wild Forest, the APA staff concluded that this classification would not adequately protect natural resources—especially marshes on the Essex Chain. There were concerns that motorboats would stir up sediments, damage aquatic vegetation, pollute the water, and bring in invasive species. The marshes provide nesting habitat, food, and cover for wildlife and spawning habitat for fish.

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

The DEC proposal attempted to address the environmental concerns by placing the Essex Chain in a Special Management Area within the Wild Forest classification. Special restrictions for the Special Management Area were to be written into the State Land Master Plan—including, presumably, a ban on motorboats.

The staff found that the proposal ran afoul of the master plan. “A Special Management Area may not be used as a substitute for classification or a classification category,” the FSEIS says. It adds that Special Management Areas are created when DEC writes a management plan for a Forest Preserve unit, which is done after classification.

That left only one option: Primitive. Under the State Land Master Plan, a Primitive Area is managed largely as Wilderness even though certain nonconforming uses (such as floatplanes) prevent its classification as Wilderness.

After Regan’s presentation, APA Commissioner Dick Booth said he agreed with the Primitive classification. “While many people want to see that area Wilderness, this classification is closer to what the State Land Master Plan envisioned, because of the nonconforming uses,” he said.

Booth, who is one of the board’s staunchest defenders of the Forest Preserve, had earlier written a legal memo concluding that a Wild Forest classification would violate the master plan.

A modified proposal

The recommendation contained in the FSEIS and accepted by the board differs in several respects from the Primitive option presented at public hearings. The reasons for the changes were not addressed at the agency’s meeting, but APA spokesman Keith McKeever said they were made to improve public access, accommodate more types of recreation, and to provide “connectivity” among towns in the region.

First and foremost, the modified option supports the creation of the snowmobile trail between Indian Lake and Newcomb, the most controversial aspect of the APA plan.

In addition, both the Essex Chain Primitive Area and the Hudson Gorge Wilderness shrank in the modified proposal.

The original proposal called for an 11,743-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, nearly two thousand acres larger than what was approved. The main difference is that the land north of the Essex Chain will be Wild Forest, enabling people to drive fairly close to the Essex Chain and Hudson River. Under the original option, visitors would have had to hike or portage at least a few miles to reach the waterways.

Mike Carr paddles Third Lake (Susan Bibeau Photo)The Hudson Gorge Wilderness was reduced from 32,234 acres to 23,494 acres. Originally, the Wilderness Area extended farther north along the Hudson, but the APA opted to draw the boundary at the Polaris Bridge, an iron structure that spans the river at the Blackwell Stillwater. The bridge will be in Wild Forest. If it were left in the Wilderness Area, it likely would have to be removed. If the bridge stays, it may be possible to create a snowmobile trail that crosses the Hudson and continues to Minerva—a high priority of the local towns.

Lastly, the APA agreed in the modified proposal to consider amending the State Land Master Plan to allow mountain biking on old logging roads in the Essex Chain Primitive Area. Generally, biking is not permitted in Primitive Areas.

Local officials lobbied for all these changes. Nevertheless, the final plan resembles in significant ways the “Wilderness with access” proposal favored by environmentalists. Under both, motorboats are banned from all water bodies and floatplanes are banned everywhere except First Lake and Pine Lake. And both allow hikers and paddlers to drive most of the way—but not all the way—to the Essex Chain and Hudson River.

Unfinished business

When the APA unveiled its recommendation, less than a week before the agency’s meeting, the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club issued a joint news release in support of it despite their objections to the snowmobile corridor. Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild were more critical in their remarks.

“The APA and DEC appear to have compromised their mission by facilitating snowmobiles between the Hudson River and the Chain of Lakes all the way to the Cedar River,” Dan Plumley and Dave Gibson, partners in Adirondack Wild, wrote in a letter to the APA.

The environmental groups point out that the new trail would run through the heart of the Essex Chain Tract even though DEC policy discourages putting snowmobile trails in the interior of the Forest Preserve. The department maintains that the policy is merely guidance, not law.

The critics question the need for the trail. Just a few years ago the state established a snowmobile trail between Newcomb and Indian Lake that runs along the west boundary of the Essex Chain Tract. Peter Bauer, the head of Protect, said a trail through the tract itself would be duplicative. “It is not linking any new communities together. It’s just providing new riding opportunities,” he said.

The snowmobile trail also raises several legal issues that must be resolved before it can be built. At one point, the trail would cross the Cedar River, which has been designated a Scenic River in the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System. DEC would need to build a hundred-foot bridge to accommodate the trail.

It’s uncertain whether DEC regulations allow the construction of a bridge over the Cedar. However, the department has agreed to change its regulations, if necessary. “Clearly the department is on board to make this happen,” Stegemann said during the APA meeting.

In addition, the APA intends to revise the State Land Master Plan to permit the use of non-natural materials in the bridge. Given the length of the bridge, this is considered necessary to make the crossing safe.

Another issue is that the trail would pass within a half-mile of the Hudson where the river is designated a Wild River. Normally, motorized use is forbidden in a Wild River corridor. Because this part of the route is on a gravel road, DEC might contend that motorized use is a pre-existing use exempted from the regulation.

In case the legal hurdles prove insurmountable, the APA has designated an alternative snowmobile route that would stay north of the Cedar and head west to join the trail created a few years ago. If this route is chosen, the Essex Chain Primitive Area will be split in two, and the southern portion will be renamed the Pine Lake Primitive Area.

But the alternative route has problems of its own. For starters, it would run close to the Cedar for some distance, and motorized use is generally prohibited within a Scenic River corridor. It also would require cutting a swath through forest and perhaps wetlands. Finally, critics say it would be several miles longer than the existing Newcomb-Indian Lake trail, undercutting the rationale for a second trail.

ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth said he could go along with the preferred route, if the legal questions are answered, but he would oppose the alternative. “Too much cutting, too many wetlands, and they still have to get an amendment,” he said.

Polaris Bridge

Local leaders say the new snowmobile trail would serve two purposes. First, it would provide a more scenic route from Indian Lake to Newcomb. Second, it could someday be part of a route connecting these towns to Minerva.

Polaris Bridge over the Hudson River (Linda McIntyre Photo)Under this scenario, snowmobilers could ride south from Newcomb or north from Indian Lake and then head east, crossing the Hudson on the Polaris Bridge and continuing on a yet-to-be-built trail through the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest.

Environmentalists, however, object to cutting a snowmobile trail through the middle of the Vanderwhacker tract. Woodworth said the trail should be built closer to Route 28N in Newcomb and perhaps make use of a rail corridor.

Without the trail, the environmentalists say, there will be no need for the bridge after the Polaris Club removes its camps. Finch, Pruyn built the bridge in the 1990s to access timber on the east side of the river. Adirondack Wild’s Dave Gibson said it was meant to be temporary and should be removed. “Finch constructed this bridge to allow for easy de-construction. It should go, no question about it,” he said.

Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, which has a non-voting seat on the APA board, argues that since the bridge is a pre-existing structure, it can remain under the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers rules.

Monroe said the bridges over the Cedar and the Hudson stand to benefit not only snowmobilers, but also mountain bikers, hikers, cross-country skiers, equestrians, anglers, and hunters. Without the bridges the rivers pose an obstacle to cross-country travel, dividing the Essex Chain Tract into three sectors.

Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, envisions a day when mountain bikers will be able to ride on wooded trails from Indian Lake to Minerva to Newcomb and back to Indian Lake. In fact, he wants to see mountain-bike trails connect communities throughout the Park, making it possible to ride from one town to the next on multiday trips.

“The Polaris Bridge has to stay there, not just for snowmobiling,” Farber said. “Bridges create the ability to connect communities and trail systems.”

Public access

Last year, DEC established two interim parking areas on the Essex Chain Tract and one on the Indian River Tract to provide access to the newly acquired lands. All three can stay in place under the APA classification scheme, but Monroe said he’d like to see one of them moved for the convenience of Hudson paddlers.

As it stands now, paddlers must carry about three-quarters of a mile to a put-in on the Blackwell Stillwater near the Polaris Bridge (it’s also used as takeout for whitewater paddlers coming from the north). Monroe said the parking area could be moved to within a quarter-mile of the river.

Monroe also suggests creating a parking area on the south side of the Cedar River near the site of the proposed bridge. This would enable paddlers to carry their canoes to the Cedar. It also would serve as a trailhead for hikes to the Essex Chain from the south.

To get to the parking area, visitors would drive along the gravel road that state officials hope will become a snowmobile trail. That road is now closed to automobiles, and Woodworth said he is against opening it. “That route is only for snowmobile use,” he said. “That is what we were promised by DEC and the Park Agency.”

Stegemann said DEC will make decisions about where to locate parking areas and which roads to open to vehicular traffic when it writes management plans for the new Forest Preserve tracts. The department also is looking at establishing a trail to OK Slip Falls.

Something for everyone

Adirondack Park Agency board praised the staff’s proposal as a model of compromise. Neither environmentalists nor the local towns got everything they wanted, but everybody got something.

What the towns got
• Snowmobile trail between Indian Lake and Newcomb, if legally permissible.
• Retention of Polaris Bridge over the Hudson.
• Floatplanes on First Lake and Pine Lake.
• Possibility of mountain biking in Essex Chain Primitive Area.

What environmentalists got
• The 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area.
• No motorboats on the 18 lakes in Essex Chain Primitive Area.
• No floatplanes on Third Lake, the biggest lake in the Essex Chain.
• Motor-less buffer north of Essex Chain.

Photos, from above: The Essex Chain (Nancie Battaglia); an APA Map of the classification area; the Cedar River (Phil Brown); OK Slip Falls (Nancie Battaglia); mouth of the Goodnow River, a tributary of the Hudson (Phil Brown); Mike Carr and a friend paddle Third Lake (Susan Bibeau); and the Polaris Bridge over the Hudson River (Lynda McIntyre).

This story is from the January/February issue of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of the Explorer, which is devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.

Related Stories

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.

61 Responses

  1. Running George says:

    “will be unlikely to hear the snowmobiles”… I’m sorry… but hahahahahaha. Are they kidding? I’ve been around those things for too long to but into that one! They can, and will be heard for miles.

  2. Phil Brown says:

    RG, the claim is that the mountains will act as a noise barrier. The proof will be in the pudding.

    • Paul says:

      This will really depend on a lot of factors. For example you need to be fairly close to that old rail corridor in Lake Clear to hear those snow machines racing down that. It is very load when you are very close. But I have also been rabbit hunting in there and sometimes just the snow on the trees will buffer a lot of that sound. Muffler restrictions should help with this problem.

      There seems to be wide spread support (even among the environmental community) for tearing up the RR tracks for the Adirondack RR and making that corridor through some Wilderness parcels more open for snowmobile use. This is really pretty similar. More snowmobile use (and noise) near Lows Lake is okay but here it is more of a problem?

      • Running George says:

        So if the “pudding” proves to be of poor flavor and rather noisy… then we get to toss it out… nope. We have to eat it because once this “pudding” is made, we’ll be stuck with it.
        I’m more than a little incredulous at the statement on how much trees buffer sound. Perhaps rose colored glasses may cause ones hearing to be less acute. I live where a woods (trees) and a hill should act as this astounding buffer to the screaming snowmobiles in my area, but yet I can hear them all week end long and even at 2:00 AM while lying in bed. Nope, not even trees, a hill, a good distance and even the buffer of my house walls can block the noise of these things out. There is not enough enforcement available to make muffler restrictions work. Guess I should purchase some rose colored glasses to muffle the sound.

        • Another guy says:

          You mean you can hear them from you’re house in the village? The sound probably echoes off your neighbors’ houses.

        • Phil Brown says:

          RG, I am not making the claim that snowmobiles won’t be heard. I am merely reporting the claim by the APA. There is a range of small peaks, not just trees, between the snowmobile route and the Essex Chain–a fact that underlies the claim. The claim has some plausibility, but I don’t know if it’s true. If the snowmobile trail becomes a reality we will find out, and that’s all I meant.

          • Uncle Bob says:


            Good job reporting the facts on this!

            If RG want quiet Wilderness, there is plenty of that around the Park, but this is a good balance and you did a good job covering it.

            People need to start to realize, if The People of the State of NY are going to continue to support the Forest Preserve, then the State Agencies need to work out users interests. The State Agencies appear to be trying hard with this Classification!

            It isn’t shocking, that you can find extreme interests, who will question anytime they don’t get 100% of what they deem to be the right decision. Sounds a little like Washington, doesn’t it?

            Good work Phil!

            • Running Georgw says:

              This isn’t about “extreme interests” it’s about protecting the Park, what it’s there or, and the reason for its existence. If having a preference for correct process as opposed to political trade offs makes me “extreme”, I’ll take it. Equally, if the reality that motor driven recreation is the wrong activity at the wrong time escapes you, then perhaps you should check to see if the “extremist” shoe fits.

            • dave says:

              Bob, did you know that there was a public comment period for this land and that it was 4 to 1 in favor of Wilderness?

              So if you are are wondering what “The People of the State of NY” want, I think you already have your answer.

              • loggerhead says:

                Dave – you keep bringing up the “4 – 1” hocus-pocus, so let me say this again…..
                The “4 to 1 in favor of Wilderness” hype comes out again.
                Let’s see the nature and substance of all these majority comments. How many were electronic or form petitions, form letters created by the funded Wilderness support groups.
                How many pro-wilderness comments were stimulated by Adirondack Wild’s false and misleading full page ad on the inside cover of the May/June Adirondack Explorer.
                Let’s agree that the pro-wilderness groups’ strategy of dominating public comment works well in the past, rallying the dilettantes and debutantes from afar who do not understand the true nature, the history or the complexity of the Adirondacks to raise their hands against some false fear of imminent degradation. The strategy of inciting fear in those that don’t understand the Wild Forest and Wilderness. Let’s agree that the overwhelming majority of comments ( most likely much greater than 4-1) given at the in-park public hearings were in favor of Wild Forest. – See more at:

        • Another Guy says:

          Most of the use on the lakes will happen when there is no snow. Ogives the size of that ridge, I doubt the sound will travel that far. Any sounds from snowmobiles will likely come from the other trail on private land that is closer to some of the lakes and has no major topography features to block the noise.

          I’ve only skied the road/trails in St Regis. Do the lakes get a lot of skiers?

          • Running George says:

            Nope, I don’t live in a village. Quiet wilderness is what the Park was meant to be about, not noisy motor driven recreation as a means to provide economic benefit to a relatively small number of people.
            The impact of snowmobiles well beyond the trail proper is constantly underestimated. Impacts to air quality, water quality from emissions running off from snow and yes, noise.
            The economic impact is constantly being overstated, the most recent exaggeration coming from Governor Cuomo at a press conference in Lewis County. The entire basis of snowmobile economics is based on a self congratulatory “study” that was designed to inflate the importance o snowmobiling.

          • Paul says:

            Not really, a few. The same will probably hold true for this “canoe area”. In fact you could probably snowmobile around the St. Regis canoe area and nobody would notice. I have carried a small chain saw in there a few times to clear a few big logs across some of the carries and nobody noticed. In fact most people (the DEC included) probably appreciated the help. This whole thing is totally overblown and not in the real context of these areas and their use.

  3. Steven says:

    It’s not perfect, but it could be a lot worse. It’s better than I had expected.

  4. Bill Ingersoll says:

    I must say that is a rather specious claim (on the part of the state) that because one section of the proposed trail passes through a valley, the whole thing will be inaudible from a distance.

    That said, though, I’m not sure that it will matter much because I’m sure there are days when the sounds from the existing trail through the easement lands carry to the lakes.

    • mike says:

      Would regs requiring mufflers on snow machines, boats, etc have any relevance to this discussion? Are mufflers technically workable?

      • Paul says:

        It appears they are required by law. And the new one is more restrictive. If noise is the issue for some (apparently it is) than it seems pretty relevant.

  5. Geo gymn says:

    Any “in road” , snowmobile or otherwise, leads to a diminished wilderness.

  6. Paul says:


    How far would the trail be from the lakes?

    Can you hear snowmobiles on Lake Clear or the St. Regis Lakes from the St. Regis Canoe area?

  7. Phil Brown says:

    At its closest, the trail is roughly 1.25 miles from Sixth Lake, the easternmost pond in the chain. I don’t recall hearing snowmobiles in the Canoe Area, but perhaps others have.

    • Paul says:

      Unless there is some kind of strange topographic feature that might amplify the sound (sounds like the opposite might be true) I don’t think you will hear sleds on the lake.

      It would be interesting to see if you could say hear a snowmobile on Upper St. Regis from Bear Pond? That is much closer than 1.25 miles with just a small bog pond (which could amplify the sound) and a slight rise between them. I don’t think I can hear any motor boats on Bear Pond when I am paddling in there? And there are some big noisy old boats on Upper St. Regis!

  8. zyxw says:

    So if there is nobody in the forest who can hear the roar of a snowmobile it doesn’t exist? It isn’t wilderness with a snowmobile road through the middle of it. The deer, bear, birds, etc. will hear it, and they are the real citizens of the wilderness. There’s no arguing that a snowmobile road doesn’t fit in a wilderness or else they wouldn’t have had to create a non-wilderness corridor to accommodate them. Why not carve out a spot for an ATV park while we’re at it?

    • DM says:

      Some studies have shown that irresponsible canoe use can lead to a number of adverse effects on the environment. Including marshlands, aquatic plants, and spawning fish.

      Also, there are countless cases of endangered plant species being trampled along foot paths in the US (most recently in a plot of lady slippers in Colton NY).

      So let’s take this one step farther. Let’s ban all human exposure into the ADK Park. No one is allowed to step foot in the park. Or Fly over it. Or take a picture of it as the flash will negatively affect photosynthesis for the native plant species.

      Do you think that would be a better solution?

      • Running Georgw says:

        “better solution”… a good place to start is to stop pretending that there is a moral equivalency or environmental impact equivalency between carbon emitting motor driven activity and human powered craft like canoes. There is none.

        • Paul says:

          RG, Moral equivalency? Electric snowmobiles already exist? Check out these zero emissions snow machines (pretty quiet also). It is pretty cool they have a McGill University designed zero emissions sled dragging one of the “carbon emitting” versions you describe to show how powerful they are!

          • Running George says:

            Well, your comment started me out with a good laugh. Electric snowmobiles? Sure they exist. A lot of things exist that aren’t being used. You had to provide me with some obscure “youtube” video to provide evidence of electric snowmobiles.
            When these things are being used, then use their existence as a way to promote your point, not in theory.
            I’ve seen enough commentary on snowmobile forums that makes me feel confident that there will be great resistance to electric snowmobiles from that crowd.
            Again, thanks for the laugh.

            • Paul says:

              No problem. Just thinking about the future. The entire discussion about classification and environmental protection should be forward thinking in my opinion. They are coming. Since they are already so well beyond what looks like a prototype perhaps we should require their use on any FP land where snowmobiling is allowed at some point in the not-too-distant future. One time not so long ago, since I was already around, we had far dirtier snowmobiles out there in the woods. Just like we are seeing the end of dirty two cycle engines on the waters.

              For more laughs check out this website where the describe a pretty amazing (and powerful) electric outboard motor. And you can buy one and “use” it:


      • Alan Senbaugh says:

        I agree completely. Thats why we should not have easy motorized or drive up access. The farther from a parking lot the better protected the resource is. Great Post. Thanks for the insight.

  9. DM says:

    It is very telling that Mr. Brown summed it up at the end of the article by showing “what the Environmentalist got” vs. “What the Towns got”.

    Let that sink in, because he is absolutely correct.

    This decision was a compromise between what the people that actually live in this area wanted, and what environmentalist want.

    “I don’t care if you need this trail to help sustain small business throughout the winter months, because I am going to come snow shoeing once every couple years, and I don’t want my weekend ruined by hearing the faint sound of a snowmobile 3 miles away”.

    If local Towns were flourishing, and small businesses were not shutting their doors in droves, maybe arguing about whether the added value of at bike path outweighs the environmental damage caused, could be seen as something more than elitism.

    But when our communities are begging for this small concession (on a newly acquired 23,000 acres mind you) and groups (headed by individuals that live in thriving ADK towns) take the stance that it is more important to not “set a precedent” than it is to allow any compromise that might help us survive, it is nothing more than “environmental snobbery” (I’m trademarking that term and I am going to sell tee shirts… along the new sled trail)

    • Geo gymn says:

      You can argue that only a small piece of pie was compromised away. So lets keep up with compromise until there is no more pie left? I don’t think they are baking any more new pies.

      • DM says:

        Didnt 23,000 acres of new pie just come out of the oven? Seems like they are baking new ones every day

        • John Warren says:

          The whole Finch purchase was 166,000 acres. The majority of that land already went to motorized uses that the towns sought via easements, including floatplane access and several snowmobile trails.

          There has been no shortage of providing whatever the towns want. None at all.

          • Paul says:

            Most of that land will probably eventually be added to the Forest Preserve once it is logged off and put back on the market, just give them a few decades to get that cut over. At that point if they want to keep any snowmobile trails they will have to eliminate some others somewhere else on the Forest Preserve. Maybe this newer one if it is built. Then you will be able to reclassify the entire primitive portion as Wilderness. Just be patient if that is what some folks are looking for.

            So will mt biking be allowed on this “snowmobile” trail?

            • John Warren says:

              A “probably” and four “ifs” – could your argument be more convoluted and detached from reality?

              • Paul says:

                This isn’t an “argument” it is speculation (hence the ifs). It isn’t detached from reality. We see a sale of timber-lands like that here with this land and re-classification was part of this particular classification. The only thing I added was moving a snowmobile trail. Now that there is a relatively new cap on trail miles on FP land that will have to be part of the process moving forward.

                Also, on the reality ticket is the fact that the dutch pension fund that owns these lands you are talking about will need to liquidate at some point. When they purchased the land it had one last thing that made it worth buying, the timber. The development rights are gone the next buyer will have to be someone who wants to buy a very large parcel of land with little or no short term timber value and no possibility of development and encumbered by an easement that allows the public to use the land. I can only think of one buyer that looks for that kind of real estate.

                • John Warren says:

                  When you need a “probably” and four “ifs” to reach a conclusion, you are reaching no conclusion at all. Not even a speculative one.

                  • Paul says:


                    Most of the land this is now easements will eventually be added to the Forest Preserve once it is logged off and put back on the market. It will take a few decades to get that cut over and for the pulp supply contacts to terminate. At that point to keep the snowmobile trails on what was the easement land they will have to eliminate some others somewhere else on the Forest Preserve. This relatively new one that had the Wild Forest corridor will be eliminated to allow that land to be reclassified from Primitive to Wilderness. This will take several decades to be completed.

                    • John Warren says:

                      “Most of the land this is now easements will eventually be added to the Forest Preserve” – why would you assume that? They didn’t make these easements just so they could be logged off and then turned into Forest Preserve, they are long-term investments in the forestry industry and motorized recreational access. They are, in some sense, subverting the Forest Preserve by removing land from being considered for the Forest Preserve. Had these easements been a part of the state purchase there might have (probably would have been) far more balance between motorized and non-motorized classifications.

                      The motorized advocates already have access to half of the 166,000 acres, now they want (and apparently will be getting), the majority of the other half. That’s some compromise.

                    • Paul says:

                      John, sorry I can’t figure out how to reply directly to your question below.

                      The entities that own these lands are all some form of a Timber Investment Management Organizations. They have to sell the land at some point in the not too distant future. Most of these have an investment time cycle of 10 to 15 years. There are almost no entities that remain that are long-term investors in timber land. The only exception here in the east are some smaller (yet still fairly large compared to most private lands) private parcels. This land cannot be subdivided and sold in that manner so those buyers are out. As we are seeing (some of it even documented here in some stories regarding clear cutting practices) this land is not being very sustainably logged. Just the tax obligations alone preclude that in many cases. Perhaps “logging them off” and selling them was not what the state intended when the sold the easements but that is what is occurring and what will happen. The only remaining question as with any sale is whom the buyer will be. Given the land will have no timber value, it has no development potential, and that it has the public access you describe even no real privacy who would want to buy such land? The answer is obvious, if and when they have the money, NYS.

                      If an investor comes along that wants to own a large piece of land with very little short or even medium term timber value, no development potential, is open for public use, and has high holding costs than you are right and I am wrong. BTW I hope you are right.

                      I am not saying that this was preconceived it is just a fact of the market and the circumstances of the land.

                    • Paul says:

                      “subverting the Forest Preserve”? When the land is for sale the state can be considered a potential willing buyer?

                      For examples of what I describe look at some of the past Lyme Timber (a TIMO not a traditional timber company) transactions. With the help of a conservation organization land was purchased with easements sold to the state logged by Lyme and then the underlying title to the land was finally sold to the state. The land may cycle once back through another TIMO but eventually they are not interested. There basically are no timber companies that are interested in long term investments any longer. That is just a fact of the market. Trees grow too slowly to satisfy Wall Street. That is why companies like Champion (now owned by IP) have divested everything they had in the east.

                      Again I hope you are right and this dynamic is just in my imagination but I don’t think so. Only time will tell. Some of the easement lands like the ones sold by Champion to Hear Wood Forest Fund are nearing the end of the 15 year cycle so we will see what happens. They appear to be pretty frantically logging that land like they were prior to the 1998 sale and now all they have left to cut is good maybe for wood chips?

                • Paul says:

                  It is summarizes well in a comment below:

                  “including easement lands for motorized access and Forest Preserve acquisitions yet to come.”

                  • Paul says:

                    In that I simply mean the point regarding the fact that these lands are still available for addition to the FP.

          • TiSentinel65 says:

            John Warren has a problem with representative government? Our elected officials are the voice of the residents of the park. They spoke, someone listened. Environmental groups spoke and they were also listened to. The APA deliberated and made a decision to try and placate all. That is what government is supposed to do.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Your are completely out of touch and writing only on emotional bias.

    • TiSentinel65 says:

      More of the same from the environmental community. My ears hurt, too many people, I can’t believe we have to look at that. The same old me me me me. These people are the the glass half empty crowd. They would complain about receiving a million dollars because they had to count it. They are not celebrating what they received. They are complaining about what they did not receive.

  10. David says:

    “We simply must band together-all of us who love the wilderness. We must fight together-whenever and wherever wilderness is attacked. We must mobilize all of our resources, all of our energies, all of our devotion to the wilderness. To fail to do this is to permit the American wilderness to be destroyed” -Bob Marshall

    • Paul says:

      Yes, that is true.

      In this particular case what is happening is commercial timberland is being turned into over 30,000 acres of Wilderness land?

      • David says:

        I think that Bob Marshall would find his quote well applied in this situation. His fight against roads in the wilderness could draws easy parallels to this classification. I wonder what Phil (whose collection of Marshall’s essays led me to that quote) thinks about the application.

        • Phil Brown says:

          My guess is that Marshall would prefer to see the whole parcel classified as Wilderness with no motorized use. In the Adirondacks, he opposed the construction of truck trails to fight fires. So I imagine he would be opposed to the establishment of trails for motorized recreation. However, this is speculation.

        • Bill Ingersoll says:

          I think this is an astute observation that gets to the heart of why the pro-wilderness crowd feels cheated by this APA decision.

          Marshall–and others of his generation–felt that wilderness was an ideal that needed to be vigourously defended.

          But what is being regarded as a “consensus decision” that offers “something for everybody” is really just evidence that pro-wilderness advocates lost control of the conversation.

          Because the Essex Chain was just one piece of a larger acquisition in which everyone truly did get something, including easement lands for motorized access and Forest Preserve acquisitions yet to come. Go back to 2008 and remember how well structured many people thought this purchase was when it was first announced.

          Therefore the failure now is that we did not view the Finch Pruyn purchase as a whole when classifying the Essex Chain. We simply addressed it like it was an isolated incident completely unrelated to what comes before or after–that if snowmobilers didn’t get a trail here, then they weren’t getting anything at all, which simply isn’t true.

          Not helping matters is that the people whose job it is to stand up for wilderness made a lukewarm attempt to do so. ADK was focused on its geriatric membership, which is apparently too old to walk more than half a mile to see a lake; and at any rate the club needs its state grant money, so it wouldn’t pay to rock the boat too much. The Adirondack Council had a Wild Rivers Wilderness proposal on the books since 1990, but they whiffed when it was there turn to go up to bat. Protect the Adirondacks advanced a weak wilderness proposal a year ago, leaving me less than sympathetic to any complaints they may be lodging now.

          That said, this APA decision will require future actions in order to fully implement it, so even if the governor signs it today the story is not over. This was just chapter one in the saga of the Essex Chain, I’m afraid.

          Basically, I think the APA is getting a little too clever with its interpretations of the SLMP, and the conservation groups have gotten too weak to do anything about it. I don’t think that wilderness was the best fit for any of these lands, including the Hudson Gorge, but I am disappointed with the level of advocacy that I observed, the quality of the discussion, and the lack of concern that the politicization of what was designed to be an apolitical process.

          • Paul says:

            Bill, I agree that there are many questionable changes required to make this work. It seems like they might have to fall back to a Wild Forest classification which I don’t think too many people really want, at least not if that allows motors on the Essex chain. I guess they could just restrict it to non-motorized use anyway.

        • Bill Ingersoll says:

          Getting back to Bob Marshall, I think there is also a legitimate argument that he might NOT be in favor of wilderness for the Essex Chain. He was known for 30-mile day hikes, so size was a key factor in his wilderness ideal. When he spelled out the specifics of what he thought a designated wilderness area should be, his size threshold was 200,000 acres; anything less would have been too small for his tastes.

          So it is possible that Marshall might not have gotten too excited about the Essex Chain. In one of his books he described a range of proposed land classifications, including wilderness; he might have suggested an alternative in this case, given the “small” size of the tract.

          But like Phil, I too am speculating.

          • Phil Brown says:

            Bill, you are right that when Marshall cataloged the nation’s roadless areas, which he thought should be protected as Wilderness, he had something much bigger in mind than the Essex Chain Tract. That did occur to me. But in the context of APA classifications, I am assuming Marshall would prefer motorless Wilderness to a motorized Wild Forest.

  11. Pete Nelson says:

    And here we have a couple of the usual charges of elitism directed towards the environmental community. That affords me the happy opportunity to once again point out that charge is completely irrational and in fact is exactly bass-ackward.

    In a country where territory that you can even come close to calling wilderness is but a tiny – and shrinking – fraction of the total land mass, at the same time that the desire and need for wilderness recreation is increasing, when the benefits of a wilderness experiences are had by a relative few, where millions of people will never set foot in territory such as we have in the Adirondacks, where the number of threatened or endangered species of plants an animals worldwide grows and grows, the real elitism is to say “the hell with wilderness values, I live here and I want my more direct snowmobile trail or my motorboat on that lake. It’s my land, my place, so what if > 95% of the rest of the country is developed?”

    Hey kids, if you want motorized recreation, nearly the entire nation has been paved up for you. Go have fun!

    Environmentalists want to save as much of the little chunk of the undisturbed natural world as we can, for everyone, not just you, for future generations, for nature itself, for a buffer against human-kind’s rapacious appetite and short-sightedness and the dangers that entails.

    Charges of elitism against the environmental movement, with those principles and passions behind it, are pathetic. They are especially so coming from people who want to get their own, in what they perceive as their own back yard.

    Who, I ask, has the selfish motives here?

    You want to call me an elitist, let’s talk about musical taste or single malt scotch or film. But when it comes to the question of wilderness or the environmental movement, which is without question one of the great signifiers of America’s world-leading democracy, forget it. You haven’t a leg to stand on.

    • Running George says:


    • Paul says:

      Of course here specifically in the Adirondacks the amount of Wilderness land is, and most likely will, continue to grow. The amount of land reclassified as Wilderness land like some of this land continues to grow. I see two other opportunities already teed up for the near future. But the idea that folks who want to do activities that are not compatible with a Wilderness designation should go to some public land somewhere else (even if it is nearby and not yet reclassified) is a valid one.

  12. Wally says:

    Lots of time spent writing comments instead of being out enjoying all the Adirondacks have to offer! Those who want decisions to match their own views 100% will nearly always be disappointed. That includes me. But I can at least appreciate the extent to which the APA listened to the different (and in some cases irreconcilable) perspectives and sought a reasonable solution. And say that, although I didn’t get all I wanted, the decision is one that overall benefits the Forest Preserve. More battles ahead!

  13. zyxw says:

    I do have to chuckle when folks buying and using $10,000+ snowmobiles call hikers elitists.

  14. John Henry says:

    This is a great proving ground for future decisions.

    This can prove a few claims

    Towns will flourish and the economy will improve with more motorized access. If they do not no need for more in future deals.

    Snowmobilers can respect the environment and not ride off trail or cause damage. Same with all users. f they do not no need for more in future deals.

    This all can be changed to Wilderness if abused by the new access classifications. There is nothing to say these special accesses are in any permanent.

    For over a 100 years this area has not been Wilderness, a few more years of now mix use will not impact that. If it does it at a latter date with proof be changed to Wilderness. If named now as Wilderness it never could go the other way.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox