Express News Staff
INDIAN LAKE - The vast majority of those who attended an informational meeting last week on classifying the Essex Chain of Lakes would like to see most of the land zoned as Wild Forest.
This came as no surprise to state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Natural Resource Supervisor Thomas Martin and Region 5 Director Robert Stegmann.
About 45 residents and elected officials attended the Thursday, Feb. 7, meeting at the Indian Lake Town Hall on DEC’s plans for classifying the land recently purchased from The Nature Conserv-ancy.
The DEC proposes classifying most of the land as Wild Forest, a designation environmental activists contend would allow too much motorized access.
Under DEC’s proposal 13,000 of the Essex Chain Tract’s 18,000 acres would be classified Wild Forest. It would be called the Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area. The other 5,000 acres, in the vicinity of the Hudson River, would become part of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area.
When it comes to classifying state-owned lands, Martin said, “Our goal is always the highest and best use.”
Several residents voiced their opinions on what they consider highest and best use. It all came down to making as much of the property as possible available to everyone, not just those who have the health and energy to hike long distances.
The Chain Lakes Road provides southern access to the lands and allows paddlers to drive to the Indian River, thanks to an easement TNC granted the Town of Indian Lake.
The concern is that portion of the Chain Lakes Road past the easement: just where the classification would change from Wild Forest, where motors are allowed, to Wilderness, where they are banned?
Locals would like the road to be in Wild Forest to where the Cedar River connects to the Hudson River, which is above where the Indian River connects with the Hudson.
But there could be a problem with the three-quarters of a mile section that goes to the Cedar River, because the NYS Wild, Scenic and Recreational River regulations overseen by DEC do not allow roads along such rivers and require a half-mile corridor on either side of the river. The road in question runs as close as a quarter mile to the river.
These Wild and Scenic restrictions did not apply when the land was privately held. Now, with the state owning the land, they will apply unless it can be proven the public used the road (perhaps as a town road) prior to the existence of the Adirondack Park.
If such proof cannot be determined, the other possibility might be a variance.
Martin said the DEC plans to keep roads open to provide access to two take-outs on the Hudson, one near the mouth of the Goodnow River and the other near the mouth of the Indian River.
The take-outs will enable paddlers to travel south on the Hudson from Newcomb and exit the river before entering the treacherous Hudson Gorge. The Goodnow takeout will be open to the public this spring.
Those at the meeting were not opposed to paddling opportunities from the north but expressed hope there would be more opportunities from the south. This is why they pushed for motorized access to a take-out at the confluence of the Cedar and Hudson rivers.
This could allow new paddling opportunities starting at the old swimming hole on the Cedar River at the end of Pelon Road and continuing to the Hudson and beyond.
While no one from any of the environmental groups argued against the greater access the locals would like to see, Martins said those arguments are already being made in press releases and letters being sent to APA commissioners.
Martins said it is imperative for local residents and their elected officials to make their views known as well, and not wait for a decision to be made by the APA without their input.