MINERVA - The entire 18,188-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract purchased by the State of New York in late 2012 will be open to the public as of Oct. 1.
Although the state now owns the land, 11,600 acres of it is off limits to the public until leases held by sportsmen clubs expire.
Starting Oct. 1, one acre around each of the clubs’ buildings near the Essex Chain will still be off limits to the public. A square acre is about 209 feet per side.
Members of the Gooley Club and the Polaris Club own 96 private hunting camps in the area. Under the sale agreement they have until 2018 to remove them.
The Essex Chain tract is part of 69,000 acres NYS has agreed to buy from The Nature Conservancy over the course of five years for $50 million. Finch, Pruyn managed it for timber production before selling to TNC; it is riddled with over 40 miles of logging roads, almost of them currently closed to the public.
The Essex Chain of Lakes Tract has a northern portion and a southern portion, with the Cedar River dividing the two. A bridge over the Cedar River, which used to connect the two portions, no longer exists.
The northern portion, which contains the Essex Chain of Lakes, is accessible from the north from the Town of Newcomb on State Route 28N via the Chain Lakes Road. The southern portion is accessible from the south from the Town of Indian Lake on Rt. 28 via the Chain Lakes Road.
The Chain Lakes roads are two separate roads; travel from one end to the other is not possible.
In April NYS bought the nearby OK Slip Falls Tract with a 250-foot waterfall, one of the state’s highest; and the Indian River Tract of 2.1 miles of the Hudson River, the Blue Ledges and the Hudson River Gorge. Both are accessed from Rt. 28 in the Town of Indian Lake by the Chain Lakes Road.
An interim public access plan has allowed access to the Hudson and Cedar rivers since late spring.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation developed a Proposal for Public Access and State Land Classification for the entire 69,000-acre property.
When public hearings were held this summer on land use classifications for the Essex Chain (18,188 acres), OK Slip Falls (2,605 acres around a 410-acre privately owned in-holding) Indian River (945 acres) and another small tract -- 22,538 acres all told -- its recommendations were part of seven alternatives offered by the Adirondack Park Agency.
Land use classifications determine how the public can use state-owned lands within the Adirondack Park.
All seven alternatives would add land to and reclassify the current 17,100-acre Hudson Gorge Primitive Area to Wilderness.
Alternative 1A would create Wilderness around the Essex Chain and keep the Chain Lakes Road open only as far as the Outer Gooley Clubhouse, about three miles from Rt. 28 in Indian Lake. A portage of .7 miles further along the road leads to a .1-mile canoe carry from the Hudson River.
Alternative 1B would make all the lands Wilderness, off limits to access by motor vehicle, bicycle and horseback.
Alternative 2A would establish one large Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive Area and a large Wilderness area of most of the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area and all the OK Slip Falls Tract. Floatplanes would continue to be allowed to land on First and Pine lakes, but canoers would have about a three-mile walk from the take-out on the Hudson River just below the Goodnow River to the parking area, and about a one-mile walk from the takeout near the Indian River.
Alternative 2B would add a Wild Forest corridor from near the Cedar River north to the east end of Goodnow Flow. Motor vehicles (but not ATVs), bicycles and horses are allowed in Wild Forest.
Alternatives 3A and 3B would create a Canoe area of 6,668 acres (3A) to 14,340 acres (3B) on and around the Essex Chain (but excluding First Lake); and a Wilderness area of most of the Hudson Gorge, OK Slip Falls and parts of the Blue Mt. and Vanderwhacker wild forests.
Alternatives 4A and 4B are two Wild Forest proposals for 13,000 acres of the Essex Chain.
Both would expand the Blue Mountain Wild Forest to include the Essex Chain of Lakes, but DEC’s Alternative 4B would include a Wild Forest Special Management Area around the Essex Chain that would allow motorized boats and floatplanes and road access during Big Game Season, with certain conditions; and camping at designated sites.
The comment period on these options ended July 19. The APA State Land Committee started deliberations on classifying the lands at its Aug. 8 meeting, and continued them Sept. 12. Its next meeting will be Oct. 10 at APA headquarters in Ray Brook.
The lands are part of 161,000 acres TNC bought from Finch, Pruyn lumber company in 2007. TNC sold some 90,000 acres to a private company for timber management, on which NYS acquired conservation easements in 2010.