Press-Republican

August 27, 2013

Creating Wilderness boundaries

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — Classification of new state land will have significant impact on three central Adirondack towns.

The Adirondack Park Agency is in the process of reviewing land use on four parcels purchased by the state at the end of last year. They are former Finch, Pruyn & Co. timber lands and have been shared with area hunters for generations.

The Adirondack Park additions are largely within the boundaries of Indian Lake, Minerva and Newcomb.

UPPER HUDSON HUB

This first round of land purchases, along with others planned over the next four years, has drawn central Adirondack communities together to assess and identify economic opportunity. Five towns have established the Upper Hudson Recreational Hub, and they have asked the APA to balance environmental protections against economic review.

The towns remain largely focused on the promise Gov. Andrew Cuomo made when announcing the state-land additions last summer.

Cuomo said then that “opening these lands to public use and enjoyment for the first time in 150 years will provide extraordinary new outdoor recreational opportunities, increase the number of visitors to the North Country and generate additional tourism revenue.”

In a letter to APA, Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said she hopes the land-use designation delivers Cuomo’s promise.

“Our hope is that classification will allow us to have a diverse base of recreation over four seasons. Our community discussions led us to believe that Wild Forest … is the most appropriate (designation),” she said.

Indian Lake officials said economic review is still missing from the ongoing discussion, calling the APA’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement “deficient from a legal perspective.”

In a 10-page legal analysis, Michael Hill, attorney for Indian Lake, said no classification could be made without an economic impact review.

“The (APA) and the governor have no social or economic considerations before them to ‘weigh and balance’ as required by the (state) regulations,” Hill said.

SUPPLY VS. DEMAND

APA Staff Economic Analyst Dan Kelleher presented economic indicators of added tourism impacts to APA commissioners in August.

“Land classification primarily impacts the supply of potential recreation opportunities and only in a limited way affects demand,” he said in summary. 

“It’s very difficult to predict if overall Adirondack (recreational) participation is going to go up or stay the same.

“We also recognize that local municipalities do gain a marketable asset. Every classification offers recreational opportunities as developed by DEC through the Unit Management planning process.”

But what APA defines as the scientific order for land-use regulation will drive that plan.

And several infrastructure hurdles are involved.

TOWN ROAD, FARMHOUSE

Indian Lake’s legal review emphasized “in the strongest possible terms” the need for motorized access — “especially on … Chain Lakes Road from Route 28/30 to the Cedar River. Such access is absolutely essential to enable visitors and residents to pursue recreational opportunities on these newly acquired state lands.”

Hill said the Chain Lakes Road is a town road. It winds from the tip of Lake Abanakee in Indian Lake north to the Gooley Club Road.

“In September of 1888, the Town Board ordered that a highway be laid out to the width of 3 rods in the described location of Chain Lakes Road,” the town’s attorney told APA.

“The road was included in what became known as the Town’s Highway Road District #24.”

Hill reminded commissioners that the road is protected in the APA’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“The towns of Minerva and Indian Lake have a non-exclusive right to provide for public motorized access ... This easement clearly anticipated the continuing public nature and use of Chain Lakes Road into the interiors of the lands to be classified.”

The towns also preserved rights for floatplane access to two ponds at the edge of the Essex Chain tract in the original land agreement.

And Indian Lake maintains that the existing Gooley farmhouse, built in the 19th century, is eligible for addition to the New York State Register of Historic Places. That structure, too, is situated deep inside the Essex Chain Lakes Tract. If land under it is classified Wilderness, the building would have to be removed.

THE WILDERNESS CONTENTION

Despite “non-conforming” access rights, a coalition of environmental groups wants Essex Chain Lakes kept free from motorized traffic.

In a joint press statement endorsed by nine separate groups, Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil F. Woodworth reported a “4-to-1 ratio of (public hearing) comments” sought to make the Essex Chain of Lakes “motor-free.” 

Woodworth said this ratio “demonstrates that prospective users comprehend that the fragile ecology and fishery of these 10 small lakes and ponds would be exposed to invasive species, overuse and the loss of remoteness and quiet if floatplanes, motorboats and all-terrain vehicles are permitted.”

APA OPTION 1A

Of the eight land-use plans developed by APA, environmentalists widely support option 1A, which would establish a Wild Forest region north of the Essex Chain Lakes, terminating at their northern shores, where Wilderness would begin.

Inside Wilderness, the lakes would not be opened for motorized access.

In an interview Friday, Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said Wilderness classification would not limit public access.

But, he said, where APA puts the Wilderness boundaries is critical.

“The key question appears to be where the Wilderness boundary will be located. Will it be limited to the Hudson Gorge? Or will it include the Essex Chain Lakes, protecting them in perpetuity? 

“We believe the Wilderness on the lakes will be the best for the economic value to towns and to the ecological value of the Adirondacks.”

The towns see value from a different angle.

“Without continued motorized access to the interiors of these tracts, the state’s acquisition of these lands would benefit only a select minority,” Indian Lake’s attorney Hill said.

“Most of the taxpayers who paid for these lands would effectively be excluded from visiting and enjoying them. … Fairness to all potential visitors as well as the viability of the Town of Indian Lake and other area towns hangs in the balance.”

The APA is expected to take up the discussion again at its meeting on Sept. 12 and 13.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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This is Part 2 of of a two-part report on land-use classification of four parcels of land in Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake in the Adirondack Park coming under state ownership.

TO LEARN MORE

Maps and more information on classification of these state lands are online. DEC Map: http://tinyurl.com/n7lmlcu

APA land-use maps for seven options: http://tinyurl.com/kodp6xo

Protect the Adirondacks Map of Wilderness access: http://tinyurl.com/lvq4os2