This has been an issue for decades and is now an even bigger issue at the inner Gooley Club, a complex of more than a dozen buildings, on Third Lake in the heart of the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive area.
The Cuomo Administration has provided an opening for advocates hoping to keep the Gooley Club by its decisions to retain two buildings on the Forest Preserve in recent state purchases: the farmhouse (known as the outer Gooley Club) overlooking the Hudson, just above the confluence with the Indian, on Chain Lakes Road in the Blue Mountain Wild Forest; and the historic cabin at the 4 Corners on the Boreas Tract in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. Though the state has decided to keep these two buildings it has not determined what their use will be or divulged how much they’ll cost to maintain.
Last week, the state released a list of buildings that various historic preservation groups have nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. This list included the inner Gooley Club on Third Lake in Essex Chain Lakes. The consent of the landowner is not required for buildings on public lands, but it is when a building is on private lands. The nomination for the inner Gooley Club was made by Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH). Leaders from the Department of Environmental Conservation who I spoke with said the state has no plans to retain the inner Gooley Club buildings.
Under the terms of the state’s agreement to purchase of the Essex Chain Lakes from The Nature Conservancy, the hunting clubs throughout the 69,000 acres of the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands were grandfathered for five years of additional use before their camps must be removed by the end of 2018. Last fall was the last year that club members could use their buildings for big game season, though they will get use their buildings during the summer fishing season this year. This fall, club members can either remove their camps and relocate them to other lands where they have contracts, or abandon them.
Under the terms of the state’s purchase, The Nature Conservancy is responsible for clearing all buildings that remain on these lands this fall. In the case of the outer Gooley Club on the Chain Lakes Road in Indian Lake, the state formally requested that the farmhouse remain and relieved The Nature Conservancy of its obligation to tear it down. The state has made no such request in the case of the inner Gooley Club.
AARCH is making the argument that the inner Gooley Club should be maintained for historic preservation purposes. Phil Brown broke this story at the Adirondack Explorer‘s website last week. In his piece, AARCH staff state that the state “did not follow its own rules” regarding the inner Gooley Club and its responsibility to assess the historic significance of the buildings.
The state requirement under the “Hinchey Law” (ECL 9-0109), passed after the state’s decision to retain Great Camp Santanoni. The Great Camp had been managed inconsistently until the Pataki Administration made it a Historic Area under the Adirondack Park State Master Plan and committed funds to stabilize and restore the buildings, work that has been ongoing incrementally ever since.
The Hinchey Law directs the state not to purchase any buildings when it buys land for the Forest Preserve unless they are part of a large and important transaction and cannot be avoided. If the case where the state does buy lands with buildings, it is directed to undertake an analysis of the historic resources of such buildings.
Last fall, I submitted Freedom of Information letters (FOIL) to the Department of Environmental Conservation and to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation requesting the Hinchey Law analysis for the buildings on the former Finch lands. I received information from both agencies that showed the state had undertaken the required analyses on the inner and outer Gooley Club buildings.
The Hinchey Law was passed in recognition of the state’s difficulty in managing buildings on the Forest Preserve. Without going into great detail, buildings on the Forest Preserve are limited to two uses by more than 40 years of state policy in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan: 1) state administration as necessary facilities for Forest Preserve management; 2) educational and historic preservation purposes. Buildings on the Forest Preserve cannot be used for any kind of public residential purposes. They cannot be leased or rented or used by the public for lodging purposes.
Today, the state manages a small number of state administrative buildings on the Forest Preserve, such as the caretakers cabins at Lake Colden, Marcy Dam, Raquette Falls and Wakely Dam. The state also manages a complex of buildings at the Whitney Headquarters on Little Tupper Lake in an area classified as State Administrative.
There are also many state buildings on Forest Preserve lands classified as Intensive Use areas. Those at Gore and Whiteface Mountain Ski Areas have been approved through Constitutional Amendments, while those that exist at dozens of State Campgrounds have been approved through administrative actions and the State Land Master Plan.
The state has also built a policy of retaining buildings for public educational and historic preservation purposes, such as the Great Camp Santanoni and some buildings associated with firetowers. These areas are classified as Historic Areas under the Master Plan. DeBar Lodge also hangs out there in the wind as the state tries to figure out its future. The whole issue of buildings on the Forest Preserve has never been litigated.
The inner Gooley Club application argues that the buildings and associated activities provided significant contributions to local history. The application talks about the importance of the hunting club in Adirondack history.
Across the Adirondacks, we have clearly done a better job at preserving the “Great Camp” culture of the 19th century Gilded Age – Santanoni and Great Camp Sagamore – are available to the public, but others have also been preserved by private landowners, including Great Camp Uncas, among others. Outside of the “Virkler” hunting camp at the Adirondack Museum we have not done enough to preserve traditional working class hunting camp culture and buildings.
Across the Adirondack Park today there are dozens and dozens of hunting camps, both on privately owned lands (such as the Grasse River Club, to name one of many), as well as on conservation easement lands, that merit nomination for many of the same reasons as the inner Gooley Club. But these camps have the benefit of upholding traditional cultural attributes while not undermining Forest Preserve law and policy.
Hunting camp culture is alive and well across the Adirondacks, and though memberships fluctuate due to long-term national trends that show a decline in hunting, it has stabilized over the last ten years. Any hunting club in the Adirondacks that has been around for decades should contact AARCH to work with them to get your club nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Note that listing a building on the National Register does not prevent the landowner from tearing it down.
It’s hard to see how the Gooley Club would conform with the Master Plan and be a State Administrative area used as a caretaker’s cabin or be a Historic Area and maintained as a living museum. AARCH has spoken about the possibility of using the buildings for public lodging as some form of hut-to-hut stopover. The Master Plan is quite clear that buildings for residential uses on the Forest Preserve are prohibited. The new final report from Adirondack Community-base Trails and Lodging System, which looked at hut-to-hut routes across the Adirondacks, does not include use of the inner Gooley Club as one of its 59 recommended routes.
As mentioned at the top of this piece, the state opened the door the inner Gooley Club issue because the it decided to keep two other buildings on the Forest Preserve as part of the Finch land purchases. The state also opened the door on the Essex Chain Lakes tract by deliberately weakening the Master Plan to allow state management activities with motor vehicles and public mountain bike riding in a Primitive Area, a classification that until then had been managed as if the lands were Wilderness. If the state can so easily weaken the Master Plan for motor vehicles and mountain bikes in Primitive areas, why not do it for buildings too?
What retention of the inner Gooley Club does do is threaten and undermine the Forest Preserve. Essential Forest Preserve values are on the line with this decision. Third Lake on the Essex Chain should be a landscape that is allowed to rewild in the future. The roads that access the Gooley Club should be allowed grow over and reforest as should the lands where the buildings now sit. The buildings should be torn down and the docks pulled out.
The hunting club culture of the Gooley Club that occupied the site for decades was part of a culture associated with an industrial forest and actively lumbered lands. State policy has ensured that this culture is an important part of all state conservation easements, some 750,000 acres in the Adirondacks.
The Essex Chain Lakes area is no longer an industrial forest, it is now forever wild and part of the Forest Preserve, lands where human intrusions, through both public use and state maintenance, should be managed to limit the permanent presence of humans and the vast forests should be let loose to grow wilder year after year.
Photos: The Inner Gooley Club on Third Lake in the Essex Chain.