ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally approved the state land classifications for 42,000 acres recently added to the State Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park on Friday, Feb. 7, a formality that allows the properties, formerly owned by Finch Pruyn & Company, to be opened up to the public for the first time since the nineteenth century while setting aside other areas for eternal preservation.
“I am thrilled to approve this land classification plan that will allow the state to both preserve the Adirondacks’ magnificent natural resources and provide public recreational and tourism opportunities that will help grow the region’s economy,” Cuomo said in a statement issued on Friday morning.
“The addition of thousands of acres of land to the State Forest Preserve is a major step in both protecting and preserving the Adirondack Park for future generations,” he said.
Cuomo said the plan will enhance the state’s efforts to attract more visitors to the Adirondacks by growing the region’s tourism industry and communities while also taking a “major step” in protecting and preserving the Adirondack Park for future generations.
“This is truly an extraordinary moment in the history of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve,” said APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich in a prepared statement. “Together we succeeded in finding common ground amongst diverse stakeholders and the Adirondack Park will benefit from these actions.”
The deal was widely seen as a compromise between environmental groups who wanted to classify the tract as wilderness — a designation that would prohibit all motorized access — and local officials who were angling for the wild forest designation that would allow for more uses.
The plan will allow recreation access to the newly acquired lands for people of all abilities for a wide variety of uses including hiking, paddling, cross country skiing, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, horse riding and snowmobiling.
Bordering the towns of Indian Lake and Long Lake in Hamilton County and Minerva, Newcomb and North Hudson in Essex County, officials stressed the importance of a possible trail system that would allow snowmobilers and hikers to connect to all five townships.
“We applaud the Governor for his actions regarding the Finch Pruyn land and its classification,” said Jim McKenna, head of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, the office responsible for promoting Essex and Hamilton County.
“They fit our strategic plan to a T.”
McKenna said his office’s research shows outdoor recreation as the primary driver of visitation to the region.
According to a study conducted by Tourism Economics in 2010, North County tourism is a $1.1 billion industry, generating $144 million in state and local taxes each year.
The towns in the Upper Hudson recreation hub directly affected by the designation, Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson, Long Lake and Indian Lake, plan to take a collaborative approach to use these expanded recreation assets to increase tourism and outdoor recreation-related business in the area.
North Hudson supervisor Ronald Moore said that he was happy with the official announcement and hopes a similar decision will be handed down for the yet-to-be-classified Boreas Tract in his community.
“We really don’t have much in the way of business here and these trails would really help develop our local economy,” he said.
“We’re very pleased because it gives everyone an opportunity for recreation and opens up a lot of opportunities,” said Minerva supervisor Stephen McNally. “The five towns working together with one voice really helped.”
“The governor signing this historic land classification plan shows a true understanding of what’s needed to help our communities survive,” said Indian Lake supervisor Brian Wells. “This balanced approach to support growth of our communities with access for all and protection of our resources will hopefully be the model for all future land acquisitions and classifications.”
“It’s good news for the community,” said Long Lake supervisor Clark Seaman, “and it’s really the first step in the process. We look forward to following the process of the unit management plan that will make these lands accessible to both residents and visitors.”
The Adirondack Council, the environmental advocacy organization that lobbied for a more restrictive classifications, applauded the Governor’s decision to establish both a 10,000-acre motorfree Essex Chain of Lakes and the largest new wilderness area in 30 years.
“This will protect the wild forest character and ecological integrity of the Adirondacks by keeping these lands and waters free from the pollution and invasive species that motorized recreation would bring.”
Noting that the five surrounding towns will benefit from the economic benefits of a pristine natural landscape, the Council expressed disappointment at the proposed corridor that would allow for increased snowmobile access.
“A 38,000 acre wilderness designation would have been better for sensitive waters and forests and for the rural communities that surround them,” said the group in a statement.
“However, we also understand and respect Governor Cuomo’s committment to balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders and making New York government work, producing positive results for the people of the state.”
Executive Director William C. Janeway said that a classification permitting a snowmobile trail that can only be used in the winter (and restricted from ATV usage in the summer) provides what local leaders say they need to sustain their economies.
“This is a new way for government to work in New York,” he said, “with benefits for the environment and Adirondack communities.”
The classification of the properties was endorsed by the Adirondack Park Agency on Dec. 13, 2013 and today’s announcement by Cuomo simply makes the classification official and marks the end of the APA’s involvement in the process.
The next step is for the Department of Conversation (DEC) to draft the aforementioned unit management plan that will lay out exactly how the public can use the newly classified land.
Calls to the DEC to determine a timeframe for the unit management plan were not returned by the time this story went to press on Friday afternoon.
Cuomo’s decision follows an increased state focus aimed at economically strengthening the North Country. Ongoing initiatives include his proposal last month to develop local destination resorts; a planned $9.4 million investment in ORDA, the state agency that manages Essex County’s Olympic infrastructure, and a series of grants to facilitate marketing initiatives that will ideally bring an influx of tourism to the region.
Last December, the state released a report showing that the number of visitors to New York increased by 8.8 million, a 4.2 percent increase, in 2013.
Statewide, the tourism industry is projected to generate $7.7 billion in state and local taxes with direct spending expected to reach $61.3 billion, up seven percent from 2012 and double the national average.
Tourism is also projected to add 24,800 jobs to the state economy by the end of the year, a 3.1 percent increase from 2012, which is also double the national average.
In total, leisure and hospitality is projected to finish the year with 818,700 jobs, making tourism the third fastest growing job sector in New York.