RAY BROOK — Public use of new state land is up for Adirondack Park Agency review this week.
Four parcels of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. land around upper reaches of the Hudson, Cedar and Indian Rivers are being classified under the State Land Master Plan.
In a “preferred alternative” — one of five possible scenarios — APA staff are looking to designate some of the former Finch, Pruyn property as Wilderness, conjoining it with existing Hudson Gorge lands to the south.
The Hudson Gorge would be reclassified in the process, changed from Primitive to the more restrictive Wilderness use, encompassing the newly acquired OK Slip Falls parcel.
A northernmost swath of the 18,230-acre Essex Chain Lakes parcel would be set aside as Primitive, meaning no motorized boat access to most of the area’s lakes and ponds.
A large eastern section of Essex Chain land would be recombined with existing Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. And a large western section would be melded to Blue Mountain Wild Forest.
A thin boundary of Unclassified land in the preferred alternative connects all four quadrants, which are centered loosely on the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers.
The Unclassified border would divide northern Primitive from southern Wilderness regions and connect Wild Forest regions east and west, giving gradual entry to backcountry wild lands.
The unique Unclassified border accounts for easements on existing roads, linking the towns of Indian Lake, Newcomb and Minerva.
In an interview Monday with the Press-Republican, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said APA’s proposed progression from Wild Forest to Primitive to Wilderness lends itself to access.
“This kind of stacks up how you transition from settled to wilderness areas,” he said.
“The experience of people coming into the Park is: You don’t go from the edge of civilization to wilderness. There were several high-level goals the governor (Andrew Cuomo) articulated when we bought the property.
“Number one is to protect sensitive natural resources on the site. That is APA’s first objective.
“Secondly, we wanted to make sure that the property was accessible and usable by lots of different people — old, young, disabled and everybody in between.
“And number three, the property is right in the middle of three major communities in the park. We wanted to make sure that (land use) would help connect those communities, so when people come to recreate, it’s tied into the towns.
“I think that this plan that APA has come up with really does reflect all three goals.”
IMPACT CALLED MINIMAL
Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, explained how the mix of Wild Forest designation fits with the longstanding environmental impact on part of the forest from logging.
Portions of the new state land have been managed as timber lots for 100 years.
“The proposed Wild Forest classifications do cover some critical portions of the road network that exists on the property,” he told the Press-Republican.
“Wild Forest also accommodates for priorities outlined by Indian Lake, Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson and Long Lake and their desire to connect the towns. The connector provides for four-season recreational opportunities, doing it in a way that focuses on existing road structures,” Farber said.
“The impact on the natural resources will be minimal if not non-existent.”
Farber said the APA has done “really good job” in the complex review, balancing the needs of insular communities with the need to protect the wilderness around them.
“Three one-acre state administrative areas in the proposal encompass existing gravel pits — called ‘borrow pits’ — used by logging companies for moving materials around inside the property,” Farber said.
“The easements allow the towns to continue to use these pits for what will become road and trail infrastructure.”
Farber said he is looking forward to APA review this week.
“I’m sort of excited to get the classification behind us so we can get started on the nuts and bolts of the Unit Management Plan process.”
GREEN GROUPS DIVIDED
Environmental groups are split over the Primitive/Wilderness/Wild Forest division.
The Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club issued a joint statement supporting the “preferred alternative,” while Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild expressed concern with the Wild Forest plan.
Dan Plumley, partner at Adirondack Wild, said the Essex Chain should be made wholly Wilderness.
“The fragmentation incurred by creating long Wild Forest, motorized corridors which separate the Essex Chain from the Upper Hudson River will create great management challenges and real costs for the state down the road,” Plumley said in a news release.
“We advocate for a far more comprehensive, unified approach to manage this landscape as Wilderness consistent with its characteristics and the need to protect natural resources.”
Plumley said they are also concerned that the Governor’s Office “unduly influenced” the creation of multiple classifications to allow motorized use.
“Natural-resource protection ought to be the prime consideration under law. The APA and DEC appear to have compromised their mission by facilitating snowmobiles between the Hudson River and the Chain of Lakes all the way to the Cedar River, which is designated Scenic.
“By so doing, APA and DEC would facilitate illegal all-terrain-vehicle uses and would violate their own Snowmobile Trail guidelines and possibly some additional policies and regulations,” Plumley said.
Martens feels the proposed classification strikes a compromise in a very elegant way, setting aside non-motorized use of the Essex Chain waterways, while allowing for snowmobile corridors between towns.
He reiterated that the proposal still needs APA approval and Cuomo’s signature.
Once land use is set, DEC will draft a formal Unit Management Plan.
Email Kim Smith Dedam:firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW THE DISCUSSION
Adirondack Park Agency discussion of land use on former Finch, Pruyn lands begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday at APA headquarters on Route 86 in Ray Brook and continues for most of Thursday, with a decision expected on Friday. APA meetings are open to the public. They are also webcast live on apa.ny.gov.