By year’s end, the state intends to purchase two large tracts of former Finch lands that border the High Peaks Wilderness, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Known as McIntyre East and McIntyre West, the tracts encompass nearly twelve thousand acres near the Upper Works trailhead in the town of Newcomb.
Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, said he expects the state first will buy the 5,770-acre McIntyre West tract, which includes Mount Andrew, Lake Andrew, and part of Santanoni Peak, the fourteenth-highest mountain in the Adirondacks.
The 6,201-acre McIntyre East tract contains five miles of the upper Hudson River and about six and a half miles of the Opalescent River, a tributary of the Hudson. The purchase will greatly improve access to both rivers.
“I have paddled the Hudson there and the Opalescent,” Carr said. “What a trip; it is spectacular. When you go up the Opalescent—which is crystal clear coming out of the High Peaks—there are big sandbanks that are great for picnicking or swimming.”
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy purchased all Finch, Pruyn & Company’s land, about 161,000 acres, in 2007 and began selling parcels to the state more than a year ago. In all, the state agreed to buy sixty-five thousand acres over five years (the bulk of the rest has been protected by conservation easements).
The state completed the first two phases of the acquisition plan in 2012 and 2013 by purchasing, among other properties, the Essex Chain Lakes, OK Slip Falls, and a long stretch of the Hudson River, including part of the Hudson Gorge. These purchases, including a few non-Finch parcels, added up to roughly twenty-eight thousand acres.
This past March, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state had completed the third phase, buying fourteen parcels from the Nature Conservancy for $5.7 million. The governor also announced that the state, in partnership with the conservancy and Natural Heritage Trust, will offer community grants to improve access to public lands in the Adirondacks.
“Expanding the state Forest Preserve will provide year-round recreational opportunities to New Yorkers and tourists alike and continue to grow the North Country’s economy,” Cuomo said in a news release.
Eleven of the parcels, totaling 7,558 acres, are located inside the Adirondack Park. The other three, totaling 942 acres, are located south of the Blue Line in Saratoga County. Scattered around (or just outside) the Park, the parcels are fairly small, ranging from ten acres to 3,880 acres, prompting the Adirondack Daily Enterprise to ask in an editorial why the state bothered to buy them at all.
Carr defended the sale, saying the conservancy and state officials took a hard look at the Finch lands before deciding which would be sold to the state and which would be kept in private hands. All of the newly acquired properties in the Adirondacks abut existing public lands.
“These parcels do a great job of rounding out the Forest Preserve and improving public access,” he said.
For example, Carr said the Benson Road tract in Fulton and Hamilton counties—the largest parcel—boasts bald-eagle habitat, harbors a regionally rare flower, Canadian burnet, and contains an important snowmobile trail. Also, West Stony Creek flows through it.
Another valuable acquisition, he said, is the 1,250-acre Thousand Acre Swamp tract near Great Sacandaga Lake in the southeastern Adirondacks. The wetland is considered prime moose habitat. The town of Edinburg wants to build a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to allow birders and other visitors to view the wetland’s plants and wildlife.
The state also acquired the western slopes of Black Spruce Mountain west of Lake George (its summit is already in the Forest Preserve). Carr said the 191-acre parcel contains a stretch of Podunk Brook and a diversity of woodlands, including an Appalachian oak-hickory forest, which is uncommon in the Park. Two notable flowers, the woodland sunflower and orangefruit horse-gentian, also are found on the property.
Rock climbers have something to cheer about in the purchase of the 460-acre Sugarloaf Mountain tract in Indian Lake. The mountain has a long cliff visible from Cedar River Road. “Sugarloaf is a major slab-climbing destination,” Jim Lawyer, one of the authors of the guidebook Adirondack Rock, said in an email. “Its accessibility near a road, quality rock, remote atmosphere, and position in the Park ensure it will be a popular destination for rock climbers.”
Although the cliff had been on private land, some climbers explored it in past years. Lawyer said he knows of nineteen climbing routes, ranging in difficulty from fairly easy to experts only. As a result of the acquisition, he intends to include Sugarloaf in the forthcoming second edition of Adirondack Rock.
The Sugarloaf tract also contains a stretch of the 120-mile Northville-Placid Trail.
Following are the other Adirondack parcels in the latest deal:
Cedar Ridge (550 acres). Located in the town of Indian Lake, this tract contains two small ponds and borders the Blue Ridge Wilderness.
Good Luck (420 acres). Also in Indian Lake, this parcel includes Rock Pond and the eastern end of Francis Lake.
Hudson River Hyslop (301 acres). Located near the Harris Lake State Campground in Newcomb, this acquisition could improve access to Lower Duck Hole and Newcomb Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness.
North River (265 acres). This parcel includes a mile of Hudson River shoreline, including Mouse Rock, a boulder used by river guides to gauge the depth of the water.
Town Corners (154 acres). Located near the Park’s southern boundary, this tract will consolidate state holdings in a region of wetlands and streams.
Blue Ridge Road (77 acres). This property abuts the Dix Mountain Wilderness and contains a stretch of Niagara Brook. It’s accessible from the highway.
Buell Valley (10 acres). This small parcel is an in-holding within the West Canada Lake Wilderness. It was once the site of a logging dam on Buell Brook.
The Enterprise editorial notwithstanding, the purchase of these parcels has not generated much opposition. Nor is the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of the parcels likely to foster the kind of controversy that accompanied the classification of the Essex Chain Lakes last year.
In most land-classification disputes, environmentalists favor a designation of Wilderness, which prohibits motorized use, while local officials argue for Wild Forest, which is less restrictive. But the new parcels are so small that, in all likelihood, they simply will be added to neighboring Forest Preserve units. In most cases, this will result in a Wild Forest designation.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of controversy about it,” said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, a voice for local towns.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, agreed. “These tracts will be classified consistent with what they’re adjacent to,” he said.
Woodworth also defended the latest additions to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. “These tracts definitely have value for habitat and protecting the ecological quality of the lands,” he said. “They’re not supersized, but they’re still valuable in their own right.”
In contrast, the two McIntyre tracts are regarded as major acquisitions that will protect rivers, wetlands, and high-elevation habitat and offer new opportunities for hiking, paddling, backpacking, and other outdoor pursuits.
The Adirondack Council wants to see both tracts added to the High Peaks Wilderness. At 204,000 acres, the High Peaks Wilderness already is the largest designated Wilderness Area in the Adirondack Park. These additions would boost it to about 216,000 acres.
After the McIntyre acquisitions, the state will implement the final phase of the Finch, Pruyn deal: the purchase of Boreas Ponds, a lake with gorgeous views of the High Peaks, and some twenty thousand surrounding acres. The classification of this parcel may prove controversial as there is disagreement over whether a road leading to Boreas Ponds should remain open to motor vehicles.
Spokesman John Sheehan said the Adirondack Council wants to see most of the Boreas Ponds tract added to the High Peaks Wilderness. What’s more, he said the recent acquisition of a parcel near Elk Lake will make it possible to combine the High Peaks Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness. Sheehan argued that this would simplify management of the state lands. If all the council’s recommendations were followed, the High Peaks Wilderness would grow to roughly 270,000 acres.
Photos, from above, by Carl Heilman II: Lake Andrew, near the Santanoni Range; the Thousand-Acre Swamp in the southeastern Adirondacks; the cliffs of Sugarloaf Mountain near Indian Lake; map of the McIntyre Tracts and Boreas Ponds by Nancy Bernstein.