Paul Hai, program coordinator at the SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, watches a video presentation during the Adirondack Park Agency State Lands Committee meeting Sept. 12 in Ray Brook. Hai brought several students to the meeting.
With 4 minutes left of a two-hour meeting, Adirondack Park Agency (APA) State Lands Committee Chairman Richard Booth crushed local supervisors’ hopes of a wild forest classification for the Essex Chain Lakes in the Central Adirondacks, even though a decision has yet to be made.
“My opinion may be extreme and I may end up being in a very distinct minority,” Booth said. “I’ve looked at this enough, folks, to think that a wild forest classification, in my opinion, is not appropriate for this chain of lakes because of what the Master Plan says in terms on nondegredation and in terms of preserving the resources.”
In his final remarks, Booth spoke to the APA Board of Commissioners and staffers who were answering Board members’ questions regarding the former Finch, Pruyn company land.
“This is a sensitive group of resources,” Booth said. “I think that’s what we’re hearing from you guys in multiple ways. These are very small ponds. They’re really ponds. They’re not really lakes for the most part. So I would urge staff to think about some memo that comes through us.”
The memo Booth requested should clearly state the ramifications of classification based on the State Land Master Plan, which is a set of approved guidelines for using state-owned lands in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.
The memo, according to Booth, should look at the language of the plan in terms of the restrictions it places on the APA’s eventual decision.
“The overall guideline in the Master Plan is that the resources not be degraded,” Booth said. “That is the basic bottom line requirement in the classification process. And I think before we do this, we need an analysis that basically lays out what the mandates are of the plan and what the choices are regarding wilderness, primitive, canoe and wild forest.”
Four town supervisors from the five-town Upper Hudson Recreation Hub were in the audience at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook watching the State Lands Committee meeting. They all support a wild forest designation of the Essex Chain Lakes, asserting that it will draw more users to the region, therefore more tourism dollars, because a wild forest classification is less restrictive than a wilderness classification. In wild forest, for example, motorized traffic such as mountain bikes, motor boats and automobiles are allowed, based on the unit management plan. No motors are allowed in land classified as wilderness.
Sitting together in the audience were town supervisors Sue Montgomery Corey (Minerva), George Canon (Newcomb), Ronald Moore (North Hudson), and Brian Wells (Indian Lake). The only one missing from the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub coalition was Long Lake Supervisor Clark Seaman.
The supervisors’ reactions to Booth’s pro-wilderness speech at the APA meeting were mixed. Moore and Wells refused to comment. Corey put on a brave face but was clearly discouraged.
“I’m the eternal optimist, so I remain hopeful, but it’s challenging to remain hopeful,” Corey said.
Before Canon left the meeting with Wells, carpooling in the Indian Lake supervisor’s vehicle, he voiced his opinion of the proceedings.
“It was pretty good until the end, and then we heard some pretty negative things, particularly from Mr. Booth,” Canon said. “I obviously didn’t agree with his statements, and I hope the rest don’t either.”
Asked if he expected anything different from Booth, the Newcomb supervisor said, “No. Not really.”
Despite Booth’s pro-wilderness comments, all hope may not be lost for wild forest proponents. No other State Lands Committee members voiced an opinion on their impending classification decision. The other committee members are Sherman Craig, William Thomas, William Valentino and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann.
In addition, Booth has a history of voting his conscience, no matter how unpopular. For example, he was the only APA Board member to vote against the Adirondack Club and Resort project in 2011. The vote was 10-1.
The Newcomb supervisor thinks a decision on the Essex Chain Lakes classification should come sooner rather than later.
“I’m hoping they’ll make that decision next month, so we can get on with this business,” Canon said.
That decision, however, may not come until November at the earliest. Most State Lands Committee members said they needed more answers from staff before the real debate got under way, and an October decision is unlikely.
The APA held a series of eight public hearings this past summer to collect comments for state land classification alternatives for the former Finch, Pruyn lands. The classification proposals involve lands in the towns of Minerva and Newcomb, Essex County and the town of Indian Lake, Hamilton County.
Members of the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub favor a wild forest classification of all 69,000 acres of former Finch land, including the Boreas Ponds Tract, which has not yet been purchased by the state. The Essex Chain Lakes is part of that 69,000 acres and was purchased in late 2012.
Tracts of land
Below are the tracts of land currently up for classification at the APA.
•The Essex Chain of Lakes and Hudson River: With 11 lakes and ponds interconnected or within portaging distance of each other, the Essex Chain will provide a canoe route and a much anticipated paddling experience. A long history of fish stocking that includes brook trout and landlocked salmon will ensure outstanding fishing. A five-mile stretch of the Hudson River runs along the east side of the Essex Chain parcel, completing an uninterrupted, “forever wild” stretch. The Essex Chain tract provides opportunities for hunting, day rafting, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, overnight river trips, and camping.
•Indian River Tract, Towns of Indian Lake and Minerva, Hamilton and Essex counties: One of the most exciting and popular whitewater rafting experiences in the Adirondacks starts on the Indian River and continues for nearly 15 miles down the Hudson River Gorge. The addition of this 940-acre tract to the Forest Preserve will preserve this wild experience for future generations. The tract is critical to enhancing rafting operations that draw over 25,000 people annually to this region. It is also a key tract in promoting new recreational opportunities by providing long-awaited access and take-out points that will make the upper Hudson River to the north a viable option for paddlers wishing to experience calmer waters but avoid the class III/ IV rapids of the Hudson River Gorge.
•OK Slip Falls, Town of Indian Lake, Hamilton County: OK Slip Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Adirondack Park and part of a 2,800-acre property that will soon be made available to the public for outdoor recreational pursuits. The tract contains 2.1 miles of the Hudson River, the Blue Ledges, the Hudson River Gorge, as well as Carter, Blue Ledge and Pug Hole Ponds. This area is home to more rare and significant mosses and liverworts than any other site in the Adirondack Park. This parcel is located within the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area which is proposed for reclassification to a Wilderness Area.
Detailed maps and the draft environmental impact statement describing the proposed action are available at the Adirondack Park Agency offices and on the APA’s website at www.apa.ny.gov.