It was always about striking a balance — and to the credit of Adirondack Park Agency Commissioners, that is exactly what the new land-use plan put forth for the Essex Chain of Lakes does.
The new land classification adopted for the Essex Chain of Lakes — known as “preferred alternative 2A” — classifies eight water bodies in the Essex Chain tract primitive, allowing for motorless paddling. First and Pine lakes will remain open to floatplanes and access points will be strategically located in Wild Forest, to ensure easy access to all.
Some of the most wild sections of the former Finch Pruyn lands — the Hudson River Gorge and OK Slip Falls — will be forever protected under a Wilderness classification.
Perhaps more importantly for local communities, the plan calls for a narrow strip of Wild Forest through the corridor — following and utilizing existing roads and infrastructure — that will provide a critical link for recreational opportunities like mountain biking and snowmobiling between Essex and Hamilton counties.
It will also allow access to the Wilderness corridor for those who would otherwise only be able to stare at it on a map, and gives at least some conciliation to hunting and fishing leaseholders who have or will lose access.
Many officials, residents and business owners in the five towns bordering the tract have said that opening it to as many recreational users as possible is key to drawing people and jump starting local economies.
Business owners like Ruth and Dave Olbert of Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb have said they would like to expand, but need a classification that would attract people to town before making the investment.
It now appears those pleas did not fall on deaf ears.
To be honest, we were skeptical that the voices of Adirondack Park officials and residents wouldn’t once again be droned out by the wishes of downstaters and environmental groups.
It seems Adirondackers have long taken the back seat when it comes to land use regulations here, even though we truly have the most to gain or lose. Over and over again political persuasion has been won over by the huge voting contingent outside the Blue Line and the deep-pocketed members of green groups — many of whom also do not reside here full-time.
Few can argue that it has torpedoed the region’s economy — and census statistics showing a dwindling population here support that.
It is what created the “us versus them” mentality — and radical factions on both sides of the isle raised their ugly heads.
But alas, it seems there is a new sense of cooperation in the air. It seems we have a governor who truly cares about the livelihood of Adirondackers; APA commissioners who are willing to balance environmental stewardship with economic viability and local environmental groups that are agreeing to compromise.
Following an extensive public comment period and while the APA was struggling with classifying the more than 22,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn land purchased by the Nature Conservancy and then sold to the state, Gov. Cuomo visited with various stakeholders in late September of this year. At that time, green groups were calling for a Wilderness classification for nearly all of the Essex Chain of Lakes.
In turn, local officials and residents in the five towns impacted by the sale and classification — North Hudson, Indian Lake, Newcomb, Minerva and Long Lake — were calling for a less restrictive Wild Forest designation.
After meeting with both sides, Cuomo held a press conference at Gore Mountain in North Creek and also called for balance.
“We need to preserve the Park. We also need economic development. We need activity. We need revenues. And you have to balance the two,” he told the crowd and government leaders who had assembled that day.
That balance turned out to be preferred alternative 2A — and the stars started to align.
Both the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club came out in favor of preferred alternative 2A, as did Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman William Farber and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas before it was unanimously approved by APA commissioners Dec. 13.
Some of the most radical warring factions we spoke of earlier opted to dig their feet in the sand and bemoan the fact that they weren’t getting everything they were after, but for the most part those around the negotiating table each walked away with at least a small win.
It’s called compromise — and isn’t that what successful negotiating is all about?
Prior to the APA commissioner’s vote, Farber and Douglas said the land classification is “exciting and historic” and will “set the stage for a much brighter future for our communities.”
We couldn’t agree more, but perhaps even more exciting is the concept of a future where entities like green groups, local officials, Adirondackers and state leaders can work together to achieve compromise.
Now that’s historic.