Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens, who announced his resignation this week, has announced that his agency will open nearly 20 miles of roads in the Essex Chain of Lakes to mountain bikers beginning Saturday.
DEC is using a technicality to open the roads before public comment has closed on the Unit Management Plan required by the State Land Master Plan.
The agency is currently seeking comments on whether or not to open these roads to bicycling as part of its its Essex Chain Lakes Management Complex Draft Plan. DEC has been managing the Essex Chain under a temporary Stewardship Plan, which this change amends.
The roads provide access to Deer Pond, Jackson Pond, Pine Lake, and include views of Third and Fourth lakes. Also accessible via mountain bike is the Cedar River at the location of a proposed bridge, and the Polaris Bridge (the Iron Bridge) over the Hudson River (though no biking is allowed across the river).
The routes offer two loops, one a 2.5 mile ride around Deer Pond and the other about a 15 mile ride utilizing Essex Chain Road North through the middle of the Essex Chain of Lakes, and along Deer Pond, Cornell, Woody’s, and Goodnow Flow roads.
The roads being opened, designated administrative roads by DEC, are located on “forever wild” Forest Preserve Lands classified Primitive (areas expected to become wilderness) and Wild Forest (where motor vehicles are allowed). DEC describes the roads being opened as follows:
· 8.5 miles of the Chain Lakes Road North from the Goodnow Flow Road to the Cedar River;
· 3 miles of the Chain Lakes Road South from the Outer Gooley Parking Area to the Cedar River;
· 2.5 miles of road connecting the Chain Lakes Road North to the Hudson River/Polaris (Iron) Bridge Parking Area;
· 2.5 miles of road around Deer Pond;
· 1.25 miles of the Drake’s Mill Road connecting the Chain Lakes Road North to the Hudson River/Polaris (Iron) Bridge Parking Area;
· 1 mile from the Chain Lakes Road South to Pine Lake; and
· 0.3 mile from the Chain Lakes Road North to Jackson Pond.
DEC’s announcement was accompanied by statements supporting the change from the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club, along with local leaders Betty Little, George Cannon, and Dan Stec.
Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway thanked the Governor and Commissioner Martens for opening these roads. “These lands and waters, now open to the public and protected as forever wild, are globally unique, ecologically rich and special,” Janeway added. “This action is part of protecting the Essex Chain of Lakes as motor-free, helping communities and establishing a snowmobile trail between the Hudson River and the Essex Lakes, while preserving water, land and wildlife for future generations.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club’s executive director Neil Woodworth said: “The Adirondack Mountain Club is pleased to support the approval of mountain bike and cycling use of properly designated state administrative roads in the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area in accordance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.”
Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson told the Almanack he was concerned that DEC was acting before the UMP was approved. “We are not against bicycling here,” Gibson said. “What we are against is the DEC deciding that this is a ‘Primitive-Lite’ area, and we can make major recreational access decisions here prior to a duly adopted UMP because the facilities exist, and because we do not want to go to the trouble of amending the SLMP, with the necessary public hearings.”
DEC is still seeking public comments on how it should manage the Essex Chain through July 27th. Public hearings are planned for this Tuesday, July 7, at Newcomb Central School and Thursday, July 9, at the Indian Lake Theater. Both hearings begin at 7 pm.
Comments should be sent to Corrie O’Dea, Forester, NYSDEC Lands and Forests, 232 Golf Course Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885 or can be sent by email to R5.UMP@dec.ny.gov.
Photo of the gate restricting access from the Outer Gooley Club Parking Area to the Cedar River (2014) by John Warren; maps courtesy DEC.