Soaring mountain cliffs and gentle backcountry lakes are key features of the rugged Adirondack wilderness.
For years, there has been a protracted debate over the value of protected state lands encompassed within the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Is land more valuable as a protected wilderness or when utilized as a working forest?
In recent months, the ongoing debate has been rekindled due to the proposed State purchase of nearly 69,000 acres of Adirondack forest lands from The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
According to the NYSDEC, the TNC lands will be sold to the State in a phased five-year contract beginning this year. If all goes as planned, the proposed acquisition will be the largest single private parcel of land added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in over a century.
The lands include a variety of remote parcels acquired from Finch and Pruyn Timberlands as part of a total of 161,000 acres purchased by TNC in 2007.
Included within the proposed purchase are many unique and biologically important lands, as well as some high quality, recreational real estate. Of particular note are the Essex Chain of Lakes, OK Slip Falls and the Blue Ledges of the Hudson River Gorge.
The 18,000 acre Essex Chain tract encompasses nine lakes and numerous ponds, as well as a critically important junction of the Cedar and Hudson Rivers which will provide public access to, and from these wild rivers.
Over the years, Finch and Pruyn has leased portions of these lands to a variety of private hunting and sporting clubs, including the fabled Gooley Club. In fact, some of the proposed new lands have remained in private hands for over a hundred and fifty years.
Leases for the remaining private hunting clubs, which total about 2000 acres, are set to expire by 2018. When the camps are finally gone, it will signal the end of an era. Although the leaseholders never owned the lands, they treated them well, and protected them as their own. They have been good stewards, and they’ve long enjoyed the benefits of their care.
Throughout the 1980’s, I often flew into First Lake on the Essex Chain of Lakes with Helms Aero Service out of Long Lake. The big lake held a fine population of trout, and it provided plenty of solitude. However, it was not unusual to see or hear a motor vehicle, as there are many miles of roads woods roads lacing the vast property.
Boreas Pond, which is the centerpiece of the Boreas Pond Tract, has a wonderful, log lodge situated along it’s shoreline. Located nearly six miles distant from the nearest paved road, the existing log lodge would provide a wonderful setting for an Interior Outpost, similar to Adirondac Loj on Hart Lake.
However, it is unlikely the structure will be allowed to remain after state acquisition, due to land use restrictions in ‘wilderness areas”.
Although the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) owns Adirondac Loj on Hart Lake, as well as Johns Brook Lodge, both of these properties are located on private lands which are adjacent to and surrounded by state wilderness or primitive corridors.
ADK opened Johns Brook Lodge in the Johns Brook Primitive Area in July 1925. In addition to a Main Lodge, ADK maintains several outbuildings as rentals, which include Camp Peggy O’Brien, Winter Camp and a small hut built for volunteers. In the early 1990s, both Winter Camp and Grace Camp were renovated.
According to a 1903 opinion by the NYS Attorney General, the term wild forest lands was intended “To preserve such lands as a wilderness, in which the work of man should not appear; these lands should remain subject to natural conditions and results, without the intervention of man, in cutting, pruning or otherwise cultivating the woods or the land.”
Quite obviously, over the years exceptions have been made, most significantly in the High Peaks Wilderness.
There are similar opportunities to establish Interior Outposts near the historic McIntyre Tract, where the Open Space Institute retains both the restored McNaughton Cottage, as well at a log cabin, hunting camp on the Upper Preston Pond.
In addition to these properties, SUNY/ESF also maintains a former NL executive cottage, the Masden House which is located near the Upper Works in Tahawus.
As the use of the Adirondack’s most remote recesses continues to increase, the benefits of maintaining a presence in the nether reaches of the park are likely to be realized, especially in terms of search and rescue, and protection of natural resources.
Currently, the Adirondack Park contains 85 percent of the total combined wilderness in the eastern United States. It also contains about 27 percent of all the forested land in New York State.
There are 18 designated wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park totaling about 1.1 million acres. With the recent establishment of a marked hiking trail to the summit of Jay Peak in the Jay Mountain Wilderness, there are no longer any wilderness areas in the Adirondacks that remain trailless.
The Boreas Pond parcel alone will serve to link three separate wilderness areas by connecting a vast expanse of woodlands with an historic, 12,000 conservation easement that has protected the lands surrounding Elk Lake for over 60 years. The purchase will connect the Dix Mountain Wilderness with the Hoffman Notch Wilderness and the Western High Peaks Wilderness.
As a result, it’s likely a majority of the proposed new lands will be zoned as wilderness. As such, management of the new lands will prove to be a stretch, considering the current DEC staffing levels.
It is expected the natural and historic resources of these proposed new purchases will draw new visitors, which will serve to boost the economies of local towns such as Newcomb, Minerva and North Hudson.
Although several local politicians have argued the proposed state lands will not generate comparable economic benefits to a working forest, or recreational leases, the math simply doesn’t support such arguments.
In 1920, about 120,000 people were employed in the wood products industry in New York state. By 1970, less than 6000 were so employed.
The peak year for the Adirondack lumber industry was 1905 when about 3.5 million trees were felled and over 700 million board feet of lumber were produced. Today, the Adirondack lumber industry can’t compete with pulpwood produced on tree farms in Siberia, or hardwoods harvested in Malaysia.
Currently, machines such as ‘feller/bunchers’ and similar on-site production mills, can be operated by a small contingent of workers. They can accomplish the output of a small army of lumbermen, in less time and with far less expense.
It is difficult to compare the economic values of a working forest to the economic benefits of a protected forest. However, the most glaring comparison is evident in the scenic vistas, the abundance of fresh water, fresh air, the diverse ecosystems and the wildlife.These quality of life issues are available to both visitors and local residents.
Wood products are available in many places, across the globe. However, wilderness is not so easily procured. Modern society is just not producing wilderness anymore. It is a product that grows slowly, and spoils easily. Yet once it takes root, it is very difficult to remove it.
With over 23 percent of the US population located within a day’s travel, the Adirondack region is ideally suited to dispense the elixir of wilderness for years to come.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.