June 24, 2012

Something for everyone when new tract opens

By Elizabeth Lee, Living With Wilderness

---- — This week I was invited to join a group of guides, retailers and outfitters to see a tract of property that The Nature Conservancy purchased in 2007 from Finch, Pruyn & Company.

The tract surrounds the Essex Chain of Lakes south of Goodnow Flow in Newcomb. The conservancy is holding this parcel until New York state purchases it and adds it to the Forest Preserve. The transaction is expected to take place sometime between now and 2017.

Until the transfer is complete the property is closed to the public, but in time a spectacular, wild and previously private recreational destination will be open to all. To hikers, paddlers, hunters and anglers it means new adventures and many more days and nights under the sky. To photographers and naturalists it means an extravaganza of new sights. To outdoor professionals it means welcome new business.

Dave Olbert of Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb commented that, “Obviously this could be the biggest growth possibility for Cloud-Splitter ever. The potential increase in business volume may actually mean we could hire seasonal employees.”

The dark side is the effect on hunting and fishing clubs that have leased areas of the tract for decades. During the transition to state ownership, these leases will be phased out and with them will go a long history. Not surprisingly, the club members resent being displaced and are pushing back against the pending changes. The buildings, the dirt roads and the skyline are all part of the members’ lives. Although they never owned the property, their year-to-year leases have grown into multi-generation family traditions and deep connections to the land and water.

But every construct in the forest is part of some grand scheme of renewal. The Nature Conservancy is exercising their rights as property owners to negotiate the future of their investment. Through many channels The Conservancy and Department of Environmental Conservation have assessed ecological conditions, recreational value and forest inventories. The Essex Chain of Lakes is one piece of an extensive mosaic of parcels, each with a unique profile.

Mike Carr, executive director of The Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that, “[The] Nature Conservancy and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation developed a conservation plan for the forests and waters that balances the needs of loggers, outdoor enthusiasts, local communities and many others, while also achieving critical wildlife habitat and ecosystem protections.”

It is ironic that as we struggle to build our communities and connect more people to nature in sustainable ways, we disrupt some connections that already exist. However it’s indisputable that the opening of new public lands will benefit many new users. To that end, Mike Carr introduced the paddling trip Monday by laying out an expectation that no one who knows or intends to use the property should be excused from helping create a good Unit Management Plan for the Chain of Lakes. The long-term challenge is finding every way we can to ensure that relationships with special places — whether among family members, longtime lease-holders or ordinary travelers — can be maintained, not severed.

This week’s highlights on the Chain of Lakes were a red-tailed hawk, rose pogonia, turtle eggs, twinflower, lots of bear sign, minnows galore, sheep laurel and a pair of dueling loons. The water temperature was perfect for swimming and there are countless rocks for jumping off and sunning on. There are views of Blue Mountain, Dun Brook Mountain and Sixth Lake Mountain. Stay tuned for updates about when the gates open to the public.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at