RAY BROOK — A complex land-use plan for new state forest earned unanimous Adirondack Park Agency approval.
Commissioners voted 11-0 on Friday to OK a very detailed set of resolutions that classify former Finch, Pruyn & Co. timberlands in the heart of the Adirondack Park.
Classification allows for a broad reach of public access, including lakes preserved for paddle sports; roads open for mountain bikes and cross-country skiers; and a Wild Forest trail for snowmobiles connecting Essex and Hamilton counties.
Before the vote, commissioners reflected on the process; Dick Booth called the Essex Chain Lakes land-use plan a “fairly remarkable decision.
“Remarkable,” he said, in that it includes “a good deal of compromise. … Flash forward a hundred years and I would suggest to you (that) we are taking actions today for resources people will enjoy for a very long time.”
“The major point is the compromise part of this,” Commissioner Bill Thomas. “We made a compromise here that I believe protects the land and provides recreational opportunities for the communities.”
Commissioner Bill Valentino said there might be some criticism because not all those concerned got everything they wanted, recalling a flood of public comment letters.
“I can promise you, if I could reread every one of those letters, none of them would (anticipate) the decision we reached today.”
Commissioner Sherman Craig said the Essex Chain classification was not a typical process.
“I think the final solution is not exactly what I would have wanted. But when people are on the land, they will have absolutely no idea what color we used on our maps.”
North Hudson, Indian Lake, Newcomb, Minerva and Long Lake have formed a hub to market outdoor adventure on the new pieces of Adirondack Park. Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber said the Nature Conservancy has offered up to $500,000 for the towns to use in creating a recreational-use strategy.
’GOOD FOR BUSINESS’
APA land classification established a narrow Wild Forest zone between more sensitive forest areas for a snowmobile trail connecting southern Essex County with northern Hamilton County.
And snowmobiles mean business lights stay on during the winter, Farber said after the decision on Friday.
“If you have Wild Forest, then you have all these options left on the table, and you can work it out with what we are calling the Smart Unit Management Planning process. The simple reality is snowmobile access gets a lot of focus from the communities and also from people who don’t appreciate motorized use in the Adirondack Park.
“But snowmobiling is often the only game in town — for stores and restaurants keeping lights on in the winter, they need snowmobiling.”
Other comments from APA’s board acknowledged the rich and respectful discussion throughout the review process.
Commissioner Arthur Lussi thanked the Nature Conservancy for securing funds to buy the property and hold it for addition to Forest Preserve.
“The state made a great decision in investing in this property,” he said.
“But the highlight for me will remain the opportunity to attend the (public comment) meeting in Newcomb when we heard from the people. … It is people that take the time to do that who influence me and my guidance on this board.”
Newly appointed APA Commissioner Karen Feldman said the decision keeps a promise made to the towns — “that they would see economic benefit.”
But she also acknowledged the coming loss of more than 350 hunting and fishing leaseholders who have been part of the Essex Chain Lakes land for generations, whose buildings will be torn down when the lease is up in September 2018.
“These sportsmen and women have been extraordinary stewards of this land,” she said.
8 LAKES LISTED PRIMITIVE
The four parcels classified by APA leave wide-ranging access for public use and protection.
First and Pine lakes remain open for floatplane access.
The eight Essex Chain Lakes are classified in Primitive, primarily for paddling, hiking and other outdoor adventures without motors.
Access points to Primitive Areas were strategically mapped in Wild Forest to ensure easy ingress and egress.
Language in APA’s decision leaves room for revision to the State Land Master Plan to allow mountain-bike access on all-season roads in the new Essex Chain Primitive Area.
The Hudson Gorge region becomes protected Wilderness with the addition of OK Slip Falls acreage stretching along sensitive shores of the Hudson River.
TWO TRAIL OPTIONS
Polaris Club lands will be made Wilderness and added to the Hudson Gorge unit when the lease expires.
When the gravel is gone in three pits used by the towns of Indian Lake and Newcomb, they will be closed and the land classified State Administrative.
APA’s plan also expands Wild Forest Areas in Vanderwhacker and Blue Mountain units located east and west, respectively, of the new Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area.
APA left two options on the planning table for use at the southern end of the intended snowmobile trail. One version extends the trail south over a bridge on the Cedar River. The other sends the trail west into Wild Forest land before heading south. Final classification at the Cedar River point hinges on legal issues pertaining to bridge construction.
APA’s Essex Chain plan drew concern from some environmental quarters.
At Protect the Adirondacks, Executive Director Peter Bauer championed preservation of the Essex Chain Lakes as motor-free and applauded Wilderness designation for the Hudson Gorge.
But, he said, the Wild Forest corridor set to establish a snowmobile trail is a dangerous precedent, “whereby lines will be drawn solely to facilitate motor-vehicle uses in the forever wild Forest Preserve.”
He also challenged the plan to build a bridge over the Cedar River, facilitating access to the western Blue Mountain Wild Forest.
Bauer said Protect will monitor APA and DEC’s plans around the bridge construction, charging that “these are controversial issues and need extensive public scrutiny and intervention.”
The APA will post the overall classification decision formally before sending it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for review.
The governor has to sign the recommendation before it takes effect, allowing the DEC to begin formal Unit Management Plans.
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