I attended the public hearings in Newcomb and Indian Lake regarding the classification of the recent purchase of the Finch lands by New York state. Speaker after speaker spoke about retaining access to these lands via motor vehicle, and most suggested Wild Forest would be the correct classification. As the process played out it became evident that most wanted even more Wild Forest than proposed by the Adirondack Park Agency's alternatives.
Accessibility to these lands would have been possible if the towns affected had considered another option.
During my tenure as executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association I had the opportunity to communicate with other snowmobile leaders around the region. In 2003 a small town in northern New Hampshire faced the possible loss of access to a 5,300-acre tract of forestland.
Instead of waiting for some private buyer or even the state to purchase the property, and possibly lose all access to the land, the town became proactive and worked with the Trust for Public Land to secure the property.
Loans and grants were secured from banks, state and federal governments to finance the property. The town set aside snowmobile trails and other access to the land and even retained the property as a working forest, generating income to assist in repaying the loans.
I know the cost to the towns to purchase the Finch, Pruyn lands would have been prohibitive, but I have to wonder if the towns could have worked with The Nature Conservancy or even Finch, Pruyn, before the land was sold to TNC, to secure ownership of the access to these lands. If the towns owned the access then classification of the surrounding lands would not be an issue.
In the future town leaders need to determine if any currently owned private tracts of land would benefit the town, and then work with the landowners to secure access, making sure any trail system is owned by the community and not by the state, where the lands are subject to the whims of the APA, DEC and the governor.
Let's become proactive instead of reactive.