Adirondacks land plan criticized by sportsmen
Albany — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s approval of a state land classification proposal for a massive Forest Preserve parcel in the Adirondacks has drawn some sharp criticism from sportsmen who were looking for greater access to the tract.
Cuomo’s signature on the proposal comes nearly two months after the Adirondack Park Agency approved “Preferred Alternative 7A” for the classification of the Essex Chain of Lakes and Hudson River parcels, 42,000 acres in all.
The land classification involves 22,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands the state purchased from The Nature Conservancy, including the Essex Chain Lakes tract; the Indian River tract and the OK Slip Falls tract, which boasts one of the state’s highest waterfalls.
The package also includes another 20,000 acres of adjacent Forest Preserve lands.
While Cuomo said the plan “offers the right balance in preserving the Park’s invaluable natural resources and providing recreational tourism opportunities for the public,” some government leaders and sportsmen’s groups felt greater access could have been allowed to hunters and anglers.
“Our participation was outstanding throughout the (public comment) process,” said Walt Paul, access and land use specialist for the New York State Conservation Council. “We kept our eye on the ball, ramped up our game, and the Council, Conservation Fund Advisory Board and Fish and Wildlife Management Board stood together, united.”
“And at the last minute they changed the rules of the game.”
Paul said the plan classifies most of the area as “Wilderness” or “Primitive,” and offers limited access to the lakes and rivers, prohibiting motorized boats. And, he said, just three miles of over 20 miles of roads within the tract remain open to vehicle traffic.
“The sportsmen and women of New York state, who contribute $9 billion annually to the New York state economy and $60 million per year to conservation efforts in New York weren’t even an afterthought,” Paul wrote in the Council’s newsletter.
Conservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Jason Kemper said the state fumbled an opportunity to provide access to a greater number of sportsmen.
“New York has never and will never acquire a piece of property as large as the Essex Chain that has this amount of infrastructure in place. This was an opportunity to provide access by all user groups to these resources,” he said. “The proposed wilderness classification will, in essence, close vast amounts of the Essex Chain to all but a small portion of the sporting community.”
Kemper added that the Essex Chain parcel already has in place a road network greater than the Moose River Plains area, where more access is offered.
“If you overlay the road network in the Essex Chain anywhere in the Adirondack Park you will not find a block of state-owned land that contains this much infrastructure,” he said. “Does that sound like a ‘wilderness area’ to you?”
Kemper said the snowmobile trail is a welcome proposal, but “for this parcel to be the ‘economic engine’ it’s being touted as becoming you need to provide four-season motorized access.”
APA board members, however, called the classification a compromise that for the most part was acceptable to both sides.
The APA plan would create a new 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, a 6,955-acre Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, a 2,798-acre Pine Lake Primitive Area as well as two smaller primitive areas. It would also add 7,000 acres to the existing Blue Mountain Wild Forest and 1,000 acres to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.
The proposal calls for a Primitive designation around the Essex Chain of Lakes, which will prohibit motorized boat traffic. An area that includes OK Slip Falls will carry a Wilderness designation, while the area north of the Essex Chain has been labeled Wild Forest, which will allow for a snowmobile trail that will link the Adirondack towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake and Minerva.
Once completed, it will be the largest addition to the State Forest Preserve in 118 years.
Cuomo said the plan “is a major step in both protecting and preserving the Adirondack Park for future generations. At the same time, this plan enhances the state’s efforts to attract more visitors to the Adirondacks and grow the region’s tourism industry and communities.”
And a pair of government leaders, Essex County supervisor chairman Randy Douglas of Jay and his Hamilton County counterpart Bill Farber of Morehouse, issued a joint statement touting the plan as one that will allow critical recreational opportunities in the affected towns.
“Did our communities and constituents get everything we wanted in the proposed Essex Chain designation? Of course not! But the opportunities that could seen be before Essex and Hamilton counties to provide unparalleled recreational opportunities and spur important new economic activity are exciting and historic, and set the stage for a much brighter future for our communities,” their statement read.
While sportsmen were disappointed with the “Primitive” designation for the Essex Chain of Lakes area, the environmental advocacy group Protect the Adirondacks! said it will “provide a great motorless destination that will be enjoyed by families for generations. New Yorkers will be able to watch these lands grow wilder each year as the forest reclaims roads and the beavers retake wetlands and swamps.”
But those access challenges, many contend, will make it difficult for sportsmen and others to “watch” the lands.
Paul said sportsmen’s groups have been “assured” that opportunities for sportsmen will be developed during the upcoming Unit Management Plan process. But given the series of events that led to the designations, he said he’s “not convinced” that will happen.
The classification package triggers additional reviews by the APA and DEC to address issues that will require revision of existing state laws and regulations. Those reviews are needed to allow for the snowmobile trail; the construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River to allow mountain biking in the Essex Chain tract and motorized access in some areas of the “Wild Forest” corridor.