Joe Hackett spends a fair amount of time in the vast Lows Lake region, fishing and paddling with guests.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of discussions regarding the recent state purchase of lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. The purchase includes several large parcels of timberlands, and numerous hunting and fishing clubs that leased these lands.
I know what it is like to lose a lease. I am reminded of the sentiment every time I return to Lows Lake and the Bog River Flow. As a young man, I traveled into the region frequently as a guest of the Grasse Pond Hunting and Fishing Club.
After the state purchased the land, I continued to return, and although the old camp was gone, I still knew the land far better than most visitors. I knew where the springholes were, and where big brook trout could be found during the fall, or directly after ice out.
Similarly, the former leaseholders of lands on the Bog River Flow, the vast Whitney Park or in nearby Robinwood had a unique knowledge of their own special areas. They knew where the deer were, and how to set up a drive and where to set out the watcher.
Even after public access was eventually granted to these former private lands, no one knew the area as well as former lease holders and they returned often to take advantage of that knowledge.
While many no longer had their own private camp, they still had an attachment to the land, and there was no cost for a lease. While there is still bitterness over the state purchases even after decades have passed, I now realize how selfish we were to think we owned the land. In reality, we only rented it for a short time.
These lands will remain far beyond our brief stay on this earth, and fortunately, a large portion of them will now remain much as they were when they first were found, and likely far into the future.
In a similar fashion, members of the many hunting, fishing and sportsmens clubs that leased lands on the Essex Chain of Lake, the Boreas Ponds, the Hudson River and other properties in southern Essex County will likely maintain a positive relationship with their former haunts. Even though The Nature Conservancy sold the lands to New York State, these former club members will still have the upper hand when it comes to knowing the lay of the land. Undoubtedly, in some cases there are third and possibly even fourth generations of former leaseholders, who love these lands as if they were their own. And there is no doubt they have treated them accordingly.
There is and likely always will be, a conundrum of opinion over the development, or protection of wild lands, especially in rural areas. While the protection of park land in the middle of New York City is of obvious benefit to local residents, it is not such a clear chose in rural areas, such as the Adirondacks and Catskills, where park lands are much more prevalent.
In the Northeast, the remaining wild lands feature a mix of both state and federally protected parkland, as well as managed timberlands and large private estates and other inholdings.
Although large tracts of managed timberlands are located adjacent to designated wilderness lands, in both the Adirondacks and elsewhere, land designation is often an arbitrary label. Over the years, I’ve traveled through the wilderness and encountered crowds that resembled Times Square on New Years eve.
Conversely, I’ve driven in motor vehicles through vast tracts of seemingly untracked territory on private lands that have been in the hands of the same families since the 1800’s. One particularly massive Adirondack property has been in private hands since 1848, and it remains as wild, or wilder today than it was when it was originally purchased.
Developed lands are quite easy to find throughout the Northeast, however truly wild lands are almost impossible to find. Although the term ‘wilderness’ is often tossed around, there are many who would argue that there is no true wilderness left in the East. It is an argument that has some teeth, despite a few vast parcels.
When wild lands are taken out of production, there will almost always be a loss of industry, raw materials and a variety of jobs associated with woodlands and extractive industries. Many of these positions have become family heirlooms that were handed down from father to son and beyond.
There is an ongoing debate over the use of wild lands, and the best, and most productive economic benefit. Wilderness designation ensures the availability of other resources and values, such as scenic beauty, peace and quiet, and opportunities for solitude into the indefinite future.
Those values, and their long-term protection, may attract or retain residents, vacationers and the businesses that serve them. Homes in close proximity to public recreational trails have a resale value that average about 20-25 percent higher than comparable properties that are not located close to a trail.
Protected lands that provide public recreational opportunities increase the quality of life for local residents, as well as visitors. These lands increasingly provide opportunities for a sustainable future, and healthy lifestyles.
Gold and silver are considered valuable because they are rare minerals. If the same vein of thought, it is obvious that wild lands are a similarly, rare commodity. Similar to veins of gold or silver, the likelihood of discovering a new vein of totally wild lands is pretty slim, so it is wise to bank and protect what we currently have.
Undeveloped land is a finite property, which continues to become increasingly rare especially in modern times. As a result, it becomes obvious that we must protect the limited supplies we already have, and continue our efforts to uncover more.
Extraction industries last only as long as the resource is available. When all of the materials are gone, so are the jobs. However, wild lands not only retain their original value, their value will continue to increase in value as time goes on. Rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, mountains and valleys are a renewable resource, and the protection of wild lands is an investment in our future.
I recognize that such a statement is considered blasphemy to many proponents of property rights, yet I have come to understand the reality of our legacy. If we don’t take care of our wild lands and promote efforts to secure more, who will. For more than two centuries, Americans have consumed and tamed the land at an alarming pace.
It has been estimated that every day, nearly nine square miles of rural land are lost to development. In the United States, we gobble up land at an alarming rate, and we often neglect the little bits of land that we do manage to protect.
If you don’t believe it, please experience if you will, the raging traffic pouring into and out of the Boston area, New York City or Washington DC on any given day. Or spend a few hours experiencing what it is like to be stuck in traffic on the Beltway on a hot Sunday afternoon.
In the Adirondacks, many residents are blind to such realities. We complain when we are stuck in a slow moving line of cars, or behind a snowplow that is moving at a snail’s speed.
But all that is required to grasp the reality of the situation is to take a drive beyond the borders of this wild bubble of parkland we call home. We are spoiled, and myopic to believe that protected lands are of less value than developed lands. These same lands are often at our very doorstep. The vast majority of these lands are utilized very lightly, and primarily just during the summer months.
I like the fact that I can walk out my back door, and travel nearly 30 miles or more in any direction from my home.
And since state park lands are free and open to the public, local residents have an opportunity to utilize them much more often than visitors, and in fact, we do. One of the most recent studies conducted to gauge the number of Forest Preserve users, reveals that local residents constitute the majority of users. Not only are local residents in the majority, we also utilize state lands more frequently than visitors from out of the area.
While some still believe there are just too many restrictions governing the use of land in the Adirondack Park, there are some who believe the restrictions are not tough enough.
With a free camping permit, I can legally establish a campsite on most state lands for up to two weeks in one location.
If I set up a camp on Sept. 1, and renew the permit two weeks later to be used as a hunting camp, I can maintain the campsite for the duration of the big game hunting season, which runs into the first week of December. That’s roughly four months of camping on state land, and it is all rent free. Try to see how that goes over in Central Park.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.