State land deal centers on definition of ‘access’

Albany — A massive state land deal will offer access to 69,000 acres in the Adirondacks as the parcels are purchased by the state over the next several years.

But the extent of that access, as well as the definition of access itself, is expected to generate a firestorm of dissent among the state’s hunters, anglers and trappers as the deal progresses through the regulatory process.

Already opposed by officials in many towns where the lands are located, Conservation Fund Advisory Board members have also questioned the quality of the access to be offered in places like the Essex Chain of Lakes and the Boreas Pond area.

“The fear that I have, when they (state officials) talk about accessibility, is their interpretation of access is probably not anywhere near what ours world be,” CFAB member Bill Conners said at the board’s October meeting. “This whole thing looks bad to me.”

Conners, who also serves as the outdoors columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal, pointed specifically to the Essex Chain of Lakes tract.

“From Second to Sixth lake, you have roads on both sides and yet you’re going to have to drag your boat to the water,” he said. “And we don’t know how far yet. That’s ridiculous. Less than 1  percent of the population will even see the interior again.”

While CFAB’s role is to monitor expenditures from within the state’s Conservation Fund, members readily weighed in on state’s plan to buy several parcels from The Nature Conservancy for about $47.4 million.

CFAB Chairman Jason Kemper, who represents DEC’s Region 5 where the lands are located, said sportsmen’s representatives have, for the first time, been heavily involved in discussions leading up the regulatory procedures through the Adirondack Park Agency that will determine how much access will be offered.

“We’ve made some great suggestions on access, and when they’ve been run preliminarily by the APA the APA has said, ‘no way in hell,’” Kemper said. “We’ve been asked what our thoughts are, which is an improvement (over past state land purchases), but I don’t think we’re getting anywhere near what we should. It’s pretty frustrating.”

While the state has announced the pending land sale, the real showdown will come when the type and amount of access to the tracts is determined by the Adirondack Park Agency. Kemper urged sportsmen to offer public comment on the proposals during the regulatory period, but admitted hunters, anglers and trappers “will be outnumbered. But we have to comment.”

Conners, too, contends that “by the time the APA starts holding public comment periods they’ve already mapped it (the access plan).”

In addition to the Essex Chain of Lakes and the Hudson River system, another tract that’s expected to become a battleground for sportsmen and the APA is the Boreas ponds, a 22,000-acre tract in the town of North Hudson bordering the High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas.

While a seven-mile gravel road is available, preliminary plans call for gated access that will necessitate a three-mile hike into the ponds.

In addition, the main Finch Pruyn lodge building, an impressive log structure built in 1995, is slated to be town down. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, during a tour of the land, confirmed that DEC wants to remove the executive camp overlooking Boreas Pond to maintain the primitive character of the area.

But many sportsmen and political leaders see the camp as a potential outpost similar to Johns Brook Lodge in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) called it a “perfect wilderness access point” for physically challenged sportsmen.

Conners urged DEC’s fish and wildlife division to advocate on behalf of the state’s sportsmen for access to the 69,000 acres.

“The reason we have or will have access is our tax dollars that have now bought it,” he said. “And what we’re being told is that despite that, we can’t have access to it. It’s criminal, immoral and shameful to be treated that way. I had no expectation of access….but once we buy it it’s a different kind of argument.” 

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