Sunday, October 28, 2018

Gooley Club Buildings Removed At The Essex Chain

All of the buildings of the Gooley Club hunting camp on Third Lake on the Essex Chain Lakes have been removed. The site is cleared. The dozen or so cabins, the shower building, the main lodge clubhouse, the various storage buildings, and the network of docks are all gone.

Under the terms of the state’s purchase from The Nature Conservancy in 2012, the hunting camps and clubs on these lands were allowed to remain until the end of September 2018. Their last exclusive big game season was 2017. The Essex Chain Lakes Complex Unit Management Plan (UMP) called for the removal of the Gooley Club buildings once their term of exclusive use was up, but some members of the Gooley Club, along with allies at Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) and local government leaders, made a last stand to keep these buildings. They argued that the Gooley Club should stay and be preserved and maintained by the state as a kind of living museum of Adirondack hunting and fishing camp culture.

Protect the Adirondacks and others argued against this. We argued that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar camps and clubs that are successfully operating on private lands owned by clubs, on private lands leased by the clubs, and on leased parts of conservation easement lands. Many of these clubs have been in operation for decades, many have buildings as old or older than the Gooley Club, and there are many clubs that would be interested in sharing their stories and seeing their buildings recognized for their historic values.

Here on the Adirondack Almanack, I posted three articles (see them here, here and here) about the problems facing the State of New York regarding buildings on the Forest Preserve. Over the last 45 years a working compromise has been forged that buildings can be retained for various administrative purposes. Think of the caretaker’s cabins at Marcy Dam, Lake Colden and the Raquette River. Think of the Whitney Headquarters compound. These buildings are accompanied by a classification under the State Land Master Plan as State Administrative. Buildings can also be retained for historic preservation purposes. Think Great Camp Santanoni and some fire towers, such as St. Regis Mountain and Hurricane Mountain. Think John Brown’s Farm and Crown Point State Historic Sites. These are Historic Areas under the Master Plan.

The State has recently taken on two new buildings as part of the purchase and classification agreements negotiated between the state and local governments and their allies. Though the state has agreed to keep the farmhouse on the Chain Lakes Road overlooking the Hudson River outside of Indian Lake and the log cabin at the 4 Corners on the Boreas Tract, no plans have come forward for how these buildings will be managed and no funding has come forward for their upkeep. The state also has the 25-building complex known as Debar Lodge on Debar Pond in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest, a remnant of the state’s purchase of an extensive tract for the Forest Preserve in the 1980s. The lodge was turned over to the state fully in 2005 and has sat without a plan for its use or upkeep ever since, though the sprawling grass lawn around the main building is being mowed by somebody.

What the working compromise of the last 45 years does not allow, is for buildings on the Forest Preserve to be used for public lodging. We have primitive campsites and lean-tos. We do not provide huts on the Forest Preserve, though there is an effort to change that, which seeks to build a network of buildings on the Forest Preserve to facilitate hut-to-hut hiking. Right now, this effort is largely focused on routes that utilize day trips through the Forest Preserve where guests lodge at private facilities on private lands. This has worked well and two such trips that have been pioneered have been successful, yet the threat of building some kind of residential lodging system on the Forest Preserve persists.

The state should be congratulated for removing the Gooley Club buildings. They stuck to the UMP and they complied with the law. The Essex Chain Lakes tract suffers from a gerrymandered classification that subverted the State Land Master Plan. It includes motor vehicle bridges that subvert the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act. It includes an unnecessary redundant snowmobile trail running through the heart of these lands that undermines state snowmobile trail planning policy and requires cutting of new trail through old growth forests along the east side of the Hudson River in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. The Essex Chain Lakes UMP required revisions to dumb down the State Land Master Plan. For the first time in 45 years the Master Plan was weakened, by the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation, to allow the state to patrol a Primitive Area, which is supposed to be managed like a Wilderness Area, in motor vehicles, and to allow the public to ride bikes throughout the tract.

I had heard that the camps were gone before I hiked in this past Saturday. I passed a camper and pickup truck on the road in what I imagine was a long-term permit for deer hunting. I parked at the Deer Pond trailhead parking area. There were eight pickups when I arrived that I figured were deer hunters. I signed at the trailhead register and checked the gate there and was happy to see it locked. I started walking on the road in a drizzle of rain towards “the tube” that connects Third and Fourth Lakes. When I arrived at the Fourth Lake special permit parking area it was empty of vehicles and the disabled access campsite there was unoccupied. I had argued that the tube should be torn out, the road disconnected, and the channel between the lakes restored as a navigable wetland, but on this day I walked over the culvert on the gravel road, passing by a dock and canoe launch. I hiked south a half mile to the junction where the roads diverge west to Third Lake and east to the Hudson River.

After a mile or so I arrived along the lakeside road on Third Lake to the site of the former Gooley Club. I had been to this site before but never on foot. Once, in the early 1990s, a club member brought me in for a visit to see the camp and lakes. Since these lands had become Forest Preserve I have paddled in via Deer Pond and Third Lake and the carries in between, paddling close to the shoreline to take pictures of the club grounds. On one trip I met an old friend who was working for the club as the summer cook in the clubhouse. On this day, I walked on the shoreline road, lined with craggy cedars, its edges muddy with rising waters from beavers, and hooked around a point to where the buildings had once been.

The roadway that ran through the property was still evident as was the mowed green lawn. The building sites were evident by the open soil, long covered by cabins on blocks. There remained some gravel patches in wet spots and some stonework that channeled a small stream that ran through the camp. It was plainly evident by the patterns of aquatic plants in Third Lake where the docks had stood. Large white pines, cedar and bright yellow larch trees that had once towered over the club buildings stood out in the open lawn. I walked around and took pictures. There were no ATVs. No boats. No propane tanks. No docks. No motor vehicles. No buildings. The site is perfectly cleared. There remains some residual grading and restoration work to help the site expedite its recovery, but it’s minimal.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all who made the protection of the Essex Chain Lakes possible. To the leaders of Finch, Pruyn & Company. To The Nature Conservancy. To Governor Cuomo and state agencies. To the local governments who signed on to the deal. To the private donors and taxpayers who wrote the checks. To all who cheered it along.

As the rain turned to big wet snowflakes I ate a sandwich and drank hot coffee under cover of a cluster of cedar trees out of the main strain of the drizzling snow. The thick flakes thudded and the woods were loud. The site of the former Gooley Club will make a terrific campsite on Third Lake in the years ahead. It’s a beautiful site on a gorgeous bay, lined with islands of towering windblown white pines with long views beyond of forested ridges and Blue Mountain. It’s an extraordinary place that now fully belongs to the people. It’s the people’s land forever more. These lakes and the forest that surrounds them will grower wilder year after year, decade after decade, a grand showcase of the promise of forever wild. The Essex Chain Lakes suffer from poor campsites, but this spot will be a fine campsite, hopefully forever.

Related Stories

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

23 Responses

  1. ADKDogwalker says:

    One of the pick ups was mine and 3 of us were walking, not hunting, around Deer Pond. We saw one hunter. Just before you arrived a UTV pulled out of the gate at the parking lot. It had a NYS license plate and disabled permit and had parked the the 4th/5th lake disabled area.
    Most of the cabins remain on the Polaris Club site on the east bank of the Hudson. One has a key in the door.

  2. Gary Peacock says:

    Thank you, Peter, for the great article. I kayaked in and spent a few nights on Third Lake in 2016, shortly after it was opened to the public. I remember thinking that the sites were lacking in several ways, but it was still a nice outing. I look forward to a new campsite at the Gooley site. Keep writing! I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.

  3. jack smith says:

    Rather than tear down these hunting clubs, I would like to see the state allow them to remain and rent the immediate area around their buildings from the state. This would provide a source of income for future land purchases as well as maintain historic clubs.

    If implemented, the clubs would only have exclusive use of the building areas but would be required to follow the same rules as the public with regard to lake and land usage.

  4. David Gibson says:

    This is very good news from Adk Wild’s perspective as well. This is an example of re-wilding of a part of the Adirondacks that qualifies for it. Yes, thank you to the Adirondack Nature Conservancy for the difficult work involved knowing the deep attachments of Gooley Club members; and thank you to the State of New York’s DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and everyone at DEC Region 5 for supporting the action made necessary once the shoreline at Third Lake was classified Primitive by the Adirondack Park Agency. Former APA member Dick Booth fought for that classification in 2014. That also was not an easy fight, so I thank him as well.

  5. Smitty says:

    Great news. The Essex chain is a real gem. You’re right about the campsites though. Kind of a let down. But I like the tube between 4th and 5th. I consider it to be a “special feature”.

  6. Charlie S says:

    Speaking about re-wilding! When are they going to start allowing automobile use a tenth of a mile away from these pristine Boreas jewels?

  7. SW says:

    wasn’t the main building on the state and federal list of protected buildings due to historical reasons ? i would have imagine tearing them down would be some sort of legal ramifications ?

  8. Michael and Phyllis Sinclaiir says:

    Wonderful! This is why we are moving to the Adirondacks from PA. We eagerly await closing on our property.

  9. Tony Goodwin says:

    To remedy the “gerrymandered” classification of the Essex Chain that Peter mentioned in his article, I have on several occasions proposed that all land west of Chain Lakes Road be reclassified as Wild Forest. The UMP does not have to permit every use possible in such a classification, but mountain biking and maintenance of the administrative roads would not be in question. The Essex Chain is definitely a great addition to the Forest Preserve, but it is really too small to actually be considered as “wilderness” or “primitive”.

  10. Charlie S says:

    “The Essex Chain is definitely a great addition to the Forest Preserve, but it is really too small to actually be considered as “wilderness” or “primitive.”

    Too small! Those lakes are surrounded by a wilderness! Why wild forest?
    If we were to look at the wilderness for what it really is and respect and protect it as it well deserves we would see how ‘classification’ is just an excuse for insatiable humans to manipulate, to conquer and/or divide so as to gain a selfish end.

  11. Big Burly says:

    Peter, great write-up that brought back many memories when I often visited with family, members of the club. What I hope? That the public who now “owns” it will be as good stewards of this outstanding tract and site of the main camp as were the members of the Gooley Club — hopefully better stewards than the experience of the trails in the High Peaks.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      High Peak trails are fun and at times rugged; the terrain does not allow soft easy western type trails…

      … go out west if you want cute trails…

  12. Paul says:

    Why not leave the docks so that paddlers launching don’t have to stomp all the shoreline vegetation?

    There is a reason this is such a nice spot.

  13. Justin Farrell says:

    Despite the recent bridge & road work at both locations it seems like the Essex Chain tract continues to see much less public draw thab the Boreas Ponds tract, which is a bit of a shame as the Boreas Ponds tract is already showing signs of overuse, trash, & makeshift campsite along its shores. Hopefully DEC has also taken notice.

  14. Mtn Mama says:

    Can’t wait until these once hidden gems get trashed like Cascade and Porter and all the “Sixer” mountains. I don’t think “removing buildings” protects or preserves anything but ridiculous outdated policies.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Please explain the apples and oranges you described…

      … what do keeping buildings on a site have to do with Cascade, Porter, and the “Sixer” mountains?

  15. Mtn Mama says:

    Apologies for the difficult analogy Todd. I misunderstood. I didn’t know the comment section was meant for agenda based, consensus. I’ll refrain from obscure references that require thought in the future.

  16. Todd J. Rehm says:

    I agree with you that these are some beautiful lands. As a young man I, as did generations of my family, spent countless days of my formative years hunting, fishing and exploring this gorgeous country.

    Since 1866 the “former” members of the Gooley Club were excellent Stewards of this tract. They, too, deserve great credit in it’s preservation. The partnership that they had with Finch & Pruyn was a great and unique symbiotic relationship and a, soon to be forgotten, marriage of coexistence for the betterment of these forests.

    It is, however, distressing to me and many former “experiencers” that the state appears to have “stolen” the accessibility to this land, not so much for me, being “able bodied” but, from those who are not “able bodied.” I take issue with the confiscation of accessibility.

    Elderly members of my family, as well as many other families, can no longer step foot on this land which they, too, once fished, hunted and explored. It is stealing part of their heritage. Not to mention, the inability for those “tax payers” who have other physical handicaps or challenges to access.

    I’m not suggesting that the state need provide walkways or roads. I’m simply asking that access be made available.

  17. rc says:

    Cool! Now this public land is public land.
    I plan on visiting

Wait! Before you go:

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