Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters in Ray Brook
Adirondack Park Agency (APA) staffers July 2 wrapped up their final state land classification public hearings for the former Finch, Pruyn paper company lands in the towns of Minerva, Indian Lake and Newcomb. And public comments will be accepted until July 19.
The public hearing the evening of July 2 at the Warren County Board of Supervisors Room in Queensbury was the last of eight the APA held around the state. Earlier in the day, there was one hearing at the Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Albany. Other sites included the APA headquarters in Ray Brook, Newcomb, Minerva, Indian Lake, Rochester and New York City.
APA Counsel Jim Townsend served as the public hearing officer June 19 at the Downtown Conference Center at Pace University in Manhattan. The hearing included public comments from some Adirondack green groups and Big Apple residents who own second homes in the Adirondack Park. Many who testified favored a Wilderness classification for the new state land, leaning toward non-motorized access to places such as the Essex Chain Lakes.
“My principle interest here is ensuring that the motorless characteristics are maintained on the lakes,” said Robert Gillis, a property owner in the town of Johnsburg.
Gillis said his introduction to the Adirondacks began as a Boy Scout at the Massaweepie Boy Scout Camp near Tupper Lake. He has lived in New Haven, Ct. for more than 40 years but spends as much time as possible at his Adirondack camp.
“Either a 1A or a 1B option would be a most appropriate choice,” Gillis said. “After hearing the presentation by Walt (Linck), I could be favorably inclined toward 3A or 3B as well.”
The areas in question, which New York state recently purchased, are the Essex Chain Lakes (17,320 acres), the Indian River (925 acres), OK Slip Falls (2,780 acres), and Open Space Conservancy Tract (160 acres). The surrounding areas of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest, Blue Mountain Wild Forest, and Hudson Gorge Primitive Area are also up for reclassification.
•Alternative 1A would designate most of the land as Wilderness, with a small portion of Wild Forest on the western side of the Essex Chain Lakes and Indian River tracts. Alternative 1B would designate all the land as Wilderness.
•Alternative 2 designates most of the land as Primitive, with some Wilderness and Wild Forest areas.
•Alternative 3A would incorporate Wild Forest, Canoe, and Wilderness areas. Alternative 3B is similar, but with significantly less Wilderness.
•Alternative 4A splits the land between Wilderness and Wild Forest. Alternative 4B does the same, but with an added Special Management classification that could restrict access to the Wild Forest slightly more than would be normal.
Under all plans, the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area will be reclassified as Wilderness.
Most of the public comments over the public hearing process pitted Wilderness (1A and 1B) against Wild Forest (4A and 4B). In all, 24 of the 30 people who attended the New York City hearing gave comments, according to APA spokesman Keith McKeever.
“Participation in the public hearings exceeded our expectations,” McKeever said. “People were civil and respectful in their opinions.”
The main feeling among Wilderness proponents was that motorized craft will make the area less attractive and reduce potential users.
“Opening up the lakes to motorized crafts opens up the possibility of introduction of invasive plant an d fish species, petroleum-grade pollution to the waters, and larger amounts of debris left at the campsites,” Gillis said. “Motorized craft are inherently dirtier than muscle-propelled craft ... The quality of the wilderness experience is equally important to dedicated paddlers such as me. (It) is less tangible and harder to qualify but certainly relevant and legitimate. I refer to the noise and exhaust fumes, large wakes and so forth.”
Barry Oreck, a full-time resident of Brooklyn and part-time resident of Indian Lake, said he would welcome a Wilderness designation for the Essex Chain Lakes because he has to travel more than an hour to find motor-free waters to paddle: Lows Lake, Little Tupper Lake and the St. Regis Canoe Area.
“So the idea that there are enough motor-free lakes, or that we need more lakes for motors, seems absurd to me and it seems unfair that we have to go so far,” Oreck said. ”The winter is the same deal. We ski in our area, but basically we don’t go to Old Forge.”
Oreck said he stays away from cross-country skiing in Old Forge because of the abundance of snowmobiles.
“Maybe there have been improvements in snowmobile technology in the past few years, but when you get packs of 50 machines using petroleum, it’s going to have a major impact,” Oreck said. “We can hear them from 3 to 5 miles away, depending on the wind. So that’s a pretty big buffer when you look at this area and you think where might I be standing on my skis in solitude and peace where I couldn’t hear snowmobiles going on ... It changes the experience.”
Mary Beth Mylott has roots in the Essex County town of Moriah but has lived throughout the state all her life. For the past 18 years, she’s been a resident of the Bronx and works as a registered nurse. And she listed Bolton Landing as her address on the sign-in sheet at the public hearing.
“So I feel like I’m a New York Stater, not a New Yorker, because people think of that as the city,” Mylott said. “But all this time while I pursued my career south of the Blue Line, I’ve always felt ... that some place up there, there’s wilderness, and as a New York Stater, I can claim a part of that. It’s part of me.”
Mylott likes Alternative 1A and watched the archived webcast of the June 12 public hearing at Ray Brook. While living in places like New York City, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Troy and Kingston, she’s seen a lot of development.
“It’s changed,” Mylott said. “It’s suburbanized. So if suburbia can expand, why can’t wilderness expand? Let them revert. Let them go back. Can’t we not do that? I would really love to see that.”
The state should give wilderness equal play to development, she asserted.
“I may never paddle through the Essex Chain,” Mylott said. “And it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about me and it’s not about my access or my friends’ access. It’s not about your access.”
It’s not even about the governor’s access.
“Wilderness is not beholden to us. It owes us nothing,” Mylott said. “It doesn’t owe the recreation. It doesn’t owe the economic opportunity. And it doesn’t even owe the experience of solitude. It’s doesn’t owe me that. It was here before me, before us, and it will remain after us. So adding wilderness to the Park to ensure its continued existence or a better existence or a better chance in its future I think is a good thing. And it balances some of the other impact that we’re making within our own state.”
Jessica Nicoll has lived in Brooklyn since 1981 and has shared a part-time home in Indian Lake since 1989. Her first childhood family trips to the Adirondack Park were spent in 1965 island camping on Lake George. She supports Wilderness option 1A and tried to debunk the assertions of Wild Forest proponents that motorized access will lead to a worthwhile economic benefit to the Adirondacks and that denying access will limit growth.
“Since 1989, I have paid taxes in the Adirondacks, employed local plumbers, workers, carpenters, work crews and foresters, contributed to cultural organizations, supported local businesses buying groceries, hardware, clothing, outdoor equipment, farm tools and two sailboats and have hosted countless guests who have discovered the unique beauty of the Adirondacks and also spread their dollars throughout the Park,” Nicoll said. “I realize, like Bill McKibben, that what we think of as wilderness is not a pristine ecosystem, untouched by human hands. I see that every day as I sit on my deck overlooking the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.”
Nicoll said she’s also seen more development in Indian Lake and an increase in ATV and snowmobile use, making it more noisy with neighbors “who ride around and around and around and around and around.”
She also tried to debunk the assumption that accommodating motors within this the former Finch lands is a matter of sharing the Forest Preserve fairly.
“It is not a fair share,” Nicoll said. “The sound, the fumes, the appropriation of space and power and speed and the collateral physical damage imposed by motors in and beside the wilds of the Adirondack Park are, by their nature, dominant effects. To permit such dominance in an ecologically significant waters and lands would not be a gesture toward sharing the treasure that is the Adirondacks. Most large lakes and ponds in the Park are open to all forms of motorized uses. There is space enough for them. To permit them here as well would be to diminish the potential and the full beauty that can truly be shared and heard by all.”
Representatives from some of the key environmental groups in the Adirondack Park made the trip to Manhattan to promote a Wilderness classification of the former Finch lands.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, supports Wilderness Alternative 1A.
“And we do so for a variety of reasons,” Bauer said. “We see Alternative 1A as creating another Lake Lila, Lows Lake, Little Tupper Lake type of wilderness experience, a motorless wilderness experience. It’s increasingly rare, that opportunity.”
Dan Plumley, a partner with Adirondack Wild, attended many of the public hearings and said there’s a false contest being waged among the rhetoric.
“That false contest suggests that the state’s decision is between Wilderness and environmental protection versus Wild Forest and access,” Plumley said. “And that’s a lie. And that’s a falsehood. And it needs to stop.”
Protecting the Park’s natural resources is the Agency’s top priority, not the degree of access, he asserted. Access is available no matter the classification.
“And that’s what we all must be dedicated to, whether we’re snowmobilers or ATVers or canoers or backpackers,” Plumley said. “We all must be dedicated to that first under the law. And the Agency must make their decision on that.”
Adirondack Wild supports a modified 1A option and is asking that the Wilderness boundary that runs along the northern shore of the Essex Chain Lakes be moved north (half mile to a mile).
“We don’t want to see Wilderness lakes essentially or vulnerable lakes be split into classifications between Wilderness and Wild Forest,” Plumley said. “They should all be Wilderness.”
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said it’s been tough to find common ground when considering the classification of the Essex Chain Lakes and determining the long-term ecological viability of those waters.
“Alternative 1A really is a balanced approach ... 1A does have something for everyone,” Janeway said. “This is designed in a way with snowmobile connector trails that are a real priority for the community. Those are still provided.”
Janeway also had a message for Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
“There really is an opportunity here to unite us together on 1A to really create a legacy to have a game-changer for the Adirondack Park that enough critical wilderness in this core area ... where this can be a major recreational hub for the communities, and we can all go out and celebrate that.”
Access for motor craft
Snowmobilers has their say at the Manhattan public hearing as well. Jim Rolf, trail coordinator for the New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA), said the group’s official position has changed since the first time he spoke at the Ray Brook public hearing.
“We would like now to see none of these alternatives undertaken,” Rolf said. “We support most of the property in discussion to be classified as Wild Forest. We do not support elements of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest to be classified as Wilderness. None of the alternatives presented reflects what we would like to see chosen. 4A does come close to it, if it has some modifications, but it’s still too heavily favoring Wilderness.”
Snowmobiling is an $868 million-a-year industry to New York state and adds $249 million annually to Adirondack communities, Rolf said.
“I snowmobile in the Adirondacks,” Rolf said. “I spend money there. I enjoy it. I really would like to enjoy this area as well.”
Bill Farber, Hamilton County Board of Supervisors chairman, said he favors as much access as possible on the former Finch lands.
“When you think about some of the recreational opportunities that are excluded by a classification like 1A or 1B, you think about limiting the ability for people to use mountain bikes on a network of roads which clearly have the capacity to support that,” Farber said.
The current town of Morehouse supervisor, Farber has been a participant in the Adirondack debate for more than 20 years. He’s attended many APA meetings and has been a vocal proponent of property rights. He’s the chairman of Adirondack Partnership and former president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages.
“And I can tell you that the only thing that’s black and white about the State Land Master Plan is the black ink and the white paper that give you a wonderful document to read,” Farber said. “I can tell you as a local government official that in a perfect world, we would have recreational opportunities on the lands within the Adirondacks and on the lands contemplated under the State Land Master Plan that really match what was dreamt about when it was drafted because those communities in the Park, those economies in the Park, they need the economic benefit of all of those users. And it’s really figuring out how to — in a more effective way than we have in the past — accommodate all those users, figure out where the opportunities are to weave that together.
The deadline for written comments on classification of the former Finch lands is Friday, July 19. They should be mailed to: James E. Connolly, Deputy Director, Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, PO Box 99, 1133 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977. Comments can be sent by email to email@example.com.