Express News Staff
RAY BROOK -- After three days of discussion, the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners unanimously approved what amounts to an historic state land classification action Friday, Dec. 13.
Neither environmental groups nor local governments and their constituents got everything they argued for, but most agree the classifications are a good compromise.
The APA voted unanimously to recommend that Governor Andrew Cuomo approve the agency’s Preferred Alternative to classify recently acquired New York State Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondack Park.
The action involves the classification of four new state land parcels.
In addition, the agency recommends the reclassification of existing state lands in the adjacent Hudson River Primitive Area, Blue Mountain Wild Forest and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. The total acreage involved totals 42,383 to 42,428 acres.
The APA’s recommendation provides for a mixed use of Wilderness, Primitive, Wild Forest and State Administrative land classifications. It would establish potentially five new forest preserve units and includes a multi-use Wild Forest corridor between the Primitive and Wilderness units.
This multi-use route would allow snowmobiles, and possibly mountain bikes, and largely follows existing gravel roads. It traverses upland, hardwood forests rather than wetlands. It is well away from the Essex Chain Lakes and most of the route is a mile or so from the Hudson River.
NEW STATE LANDS
The new areas would include: The Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area (23,494 acres); The Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area (6,955 acres); The OK Slip Pond Primitive Area (30 acres); The Pine Lake Primitive Area (2,798 acres); The Polaris Mountain Primitive Area (953 acres); and the addition of over 8,000 acres into the existing Blue Mountain and Vanderwhacker Mountain wild forest areas.
The APA reached its recommendation based on consultation with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and after a thorough analysis by staff of the physical, biological and intangible characteristics of the land and their ability to withstand use. In addition, staff had to factor in the legal requirements of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act, along with a number of unique deeded rights and easements associated with the lands.
Staff evaluated economic and recreational considerations as well. Throughout the process the APA considered thousands of comments received at eight public hearings and submitted during the public comment period.
What makes these recommended classifications truly historic is the attempt to balance the preservation and protection of natural resources with the need to bolster economic development by adding a variety of new public recreation opportunities to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Potential recreation opportunities include hiking, paddling, snowmobiling (including the potential connections between the towns of Indian Lake, Newcomb and Minerva), whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing, horseback riding and mountain biking.
On the Essex Chain and Hudson Gorge, automobile access would be allowed up to the edges of the new motor-free areas, but not inside. The plan also includes a single road from the north into a lake in the Essex Chain, reserved for those with a handicapped-access permit. Floatplanes will be allowed on First Lake and Pine Lake, via a previous agreement between the towns and The Nature Conservancy, from which the state bought the lands.
The Impact Statement for these classifications states, “Indian Lake, Long Lake, Minerva, Newcomb and North Hudson are highly dependent upon tourism for their tax base. These five towns have resolved to work together as the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub to help realize the economic potential.”
Bill Farber, chairman of Hamilton County’s Board of Supervisors, said the APA’s critical economic review points to a growing focus on building sustainable communities in the Adirondack Park.
“I really think that universally, among the environmentalists and the governor, along with the state agencies, everybody is starting to coalesce around the idea that in order for the Adirondack Park to be truly successful we need to establish sustainable communities -- towns both rich in natural resources and rich in the amenities travelers are looking for.”
Cuomo has argued that this deal will boost tourism jobs. Speaking in September during a visit to the former Finch, Pruyn paper company lands, Cuomo said, “I want people in New York City to see this parcel. I want people in New York City to know that from a tourism point of view, there’s Northern New York. If you live in New York state, there’s no reason you need to leave New York state to vacation.”
Indian Lake Supervisor Brian Wells said, “It looks like all the hard work and cooperation among the groups has paid off. I can't wait to walk across that bridge on the Cedar [River, which would connect the southern and northern parts of the Chain Lakes Road]. There are a lot of things that are going to need to be done, but I look forward to it.”
APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich said, “This is truly an extraordinary moment in the history of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. The agency’s proposal ensures the long-term protection of these lands and creates economic opportunities for the five towns of Minerva, Newcomb, Indian Lake, Long Lake and North Hudson.”
APA Executive Director Terry Martino said, “The staff were pleased to develop a recommendation that addresses natural resource protection, community connectivity and recreational access. I extend a sincere thank-you to everyone who participated in this monumental classification process, especially the agency staff that worked so diligently over this past year.”
“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” said William C. “Willie” Janeway, executive director of The Adirondack Council. “No one did. We are disappointed that the plan includes a corridor between the two areas where a snowmobile trail could be sited. We are pleased that the APA found a way to embrace recreational access and community needs, while still protecting the purity and peace of 34,000 acres of motor-free lands and waters.”
“The Adirondack Mountain Club applauds both the establishment of a 10,000-acre-plus motor-free Essex Chain of Lakes and the establishment of the largest new Wilderness area in 30 years, centered on the Hudson Gorge,” said Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth. “Some of these waters and lands are being opened for public recreation for the first time in over 120 years. This is good for everyone.”
After the vote was taken APA Commissioner Dick Booth said, “I very much hope the north/south snowmobile trail is made possible. Lots of people have made compromises and without those compromises we wouldn’t have gotten to this point.”
Commissioner Bill Thomas said, “I hope we get the Cedar River bridge in. I support everything Mr. Booth said.”
Commissioner Daniel Wilt said, “Human use should be preserved and promoted for all.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe said, "I think [the classifications] achieve the most important goal, and that's to connect the communities with a recreational trail, which this plan does if that bridge over the Cedar is built."
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said in a press release, “The motorized Wild Forest corridor sets a dangerous precedent for forest preserve management whereby lines will be drawn solely to facilitate motor-vehicle uses in the forever-wild forest preserve.”
Marketing will be essential if economic benefits are to be achieved. Tied to marketing is the need for a destination hotel/motel in Indian Lake, something for which Bill Osborne, director of Hamilton County Planning, Tourism and Economic Development, has consistently argued.
After the governor approves the recommendations, the next step will be for the DEC to draft unit management plans for the newly classified state lands.