Adirondack Council's map of the proposed Wild Rivers Wilderness Area
New York state is poised to acquire thousands of acres of forestry land in the Adirondacks over the next several years, and environmental groups are already lining up to influence the Adirondack Park Agency’s Forest Preserve classification process.
But instead of simply taking out advertisements or launching a letter-writing campaign, the Adirondack Council has made the process easy for APA staff and commissioners; it has proposed a brand-new wilderness area and produced maps showing how these lands — mostly from the 69,000-acre Finch, Pruyn acquisition — should be classified. The proposal was announced in a press release.
“This is an opportunity that will never come again,” Adirondack Council Acting Executive Director Diane Fish said in the release. “This land has been off-limits to the public since before the Civil War. It is located within a day’s drive of more than 70 million Americans and Canadians. It contains no homes and no communities. The roads on these parcels will revert to foot trails quite easily. We urge the state to protect these soon-to-be-acquired lands, lakes and rivers to safeguard wildlife habitat and water quality and from overuse and motorized traffic.”
The Adirondack Council dubs itself as “the Adirondack Park’s largest and most influential environmental organization,” and sent a letter to state leaders in early December urging the state to adopt its plan. Council literature calls for the creation of “a large, new Wild Rivers Wilderness Area here that would combine the grandeur and dramatic beauty of Yellowstone, with the waterfalls of Yosemite National Park and the interconnected lakes and ponds of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.”
Fish said the Adirondack Council sent a letter to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, calling for the creation of a new Wild Rivers Wilderness Area. The Council also urged the commissioner to expand the High Peaks Wilderness Area when the state completes its purchase of 69,000 acres formerly owned by papermakers Finch, Pruyn & Co., of Glens Falls.
Wild Rivers Wilderness
The proposed Wild Rivers Wilderness Area would surround the Essex Chain of Lakes, the Hudson River Gorge, Blue Ledges, and OK Slip Falls. When purchased, the Council asked the state to combine these new parcels with existing sections of the Blue Mountain Lake Wild Forest, Vanderwacker Mountain Wild Forest and Hudson Gorge Primitive Area. It would include 48 miles of wild rivers, nine interconnected lakes and ponds, and one of the Adirondack Park’s most majestic waterfalls.
“More important are the rich variety of wildlife, the forests, wetlands, and fisheries this new wilderness would protect,” Fish said. “The foremost duty of the state, according to the State Land Master Plan, is to protect the rare natural resources on these lands from potential overuse, pollution, noise and invasive species that motorized traffic would bring. There are many ways to gain access to wild lands and waters without driving automobiles directly into the center of them. Creative solutions can be found.”
Fish reminded the commissioner that more than 90,000 acres of former Finch lands had been protected from development by conservation agreements with new private owners, which allow motorized public access and sustainable harvesting. Those lands are near the lands being purchased for addition to the public Forest Preserve.
The Council proposes that less than 50,000 acres of the former Finch lands become wilderness. That would mean another 18,000-plus acres of former Finch lands being purchased for the Forest Preserve would be eligible for motorized access.
The Council’s proposal calls for about one-third of Finch’s 161,000-acre former holdings to become wilderness.
Fish challenged Commissioner Martens to see this purchase as a part of a larger plan for the rational completion of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and sought to reassure him that designating an area as Wilderness will not prevent its use.
Fish said that bringing the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness closer, and adding the Wild Rivers Wilderness nearby, will benefit the communities of Newcomb, North Hudson and Indian Lake.
High Peaks expansion
The Adirondack Council also proposed an expansion of the High Peaks Wilderness, which would include the Boreas Ponds section of the Finch purchase, along with existing state lands not now managed as wilderness.
The Council’s letter to the commissioner contained recommendations on all 69,000 acres the state intends to acquire over the next five years from The Nature Conservancy. A copy of the letter and detailed maps of the areas described may be viewed at www.adirondackcouncil.org.
“We have been anticipating this opportunity for almost 25 years,” said Fish. “Back in 1988, we conducted the first comprehensive survey of the private Adirondack lands and recommended which lands the state should acquire (when they became available or from willing sellers) to complete the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The first three volumes of our 2020 VISION reports were completed by 1992, and became the backbone of the Adirondack portion of the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan. But our plans were sitting on a shelf until Finch, Pruyn & Co. sold its lands in 2007, and the Governor agreed to buy 69,000 acres of them in August.”