Dozens of people turned out Tuesday, June 25 at the Indian Lake Central School for the Adirondack Park Agency public hearing on the classification of former Finch, Pruyn paper company land now owned by the state of New York.
Adirondack Park Agency (APA) officials held another public hearing on the classification of former Finch Pruyn lands on Tuesday, June 25 in the Indian Lake Central School gymnasium, which was well attended by local residents.
Also in attendance were officials of town and county governing bodies. As expected, interest was extremely high, and this was attested to by the fact that more than 40 of the attendees offered public comment and the hearing ran from 6 p.m. to nearly 10 p.m.
For all but a handful of those making comments, the message was clear: residents and local leaders of Indian Lake and four partnering communities (Long Lake, Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson), banding together as the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub, want to see the classification of the former Finch Pruyn land as Wild Forest.
“When is enough, enough?” asked Indian Lake Town Supervisor Brian Wells. “I will not be satisfied with anything less than a Wild Forest classification … any other classification will be economically detrimental to the five communities bordering this land.”
APA officials presented seven different classification options for recently purchased state land that was previously owned by the Finch, Pruyn paper company located within the towns of Minerva, Newcomb, and Indian Lake. They include 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.
Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, addressed the attendees, saying that he was there to listen to the comments of local residents “because no one knows these lands better.” He then stressed that the economic viability of the surrounding towns should be the focus of these classifications.
The intertwined issue of access and economic viability was further reinforced throughout the hearing. Indian Lake resident Mike Farrell approached the issue from the standpoint of fairness.
“All New York state taxpayers contribute to the purchase of land and most use is excluded to only a physically fit few,” Farrell said, pleading with the APA not to make the mistake he felt was made with the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area. “This land belongs to everybody and should be accessible to everybody.”
The few commentators that countered this message predominantly favored either proposals 1A or 1B. Both of these proposed options weighing heavily toward much of the land being classified as Wilderness, the most restrictive of all the possible classifications. The primary argument for supporting these classification options was to protect and provide the solitude of a true wilderness experience.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, pointed to his belief that there is a need for a Forest Preserve with a “wide swath of recreational opportunities.” Specifically, he pointed out, “We are looking for Chain of Lakes to provide paddlers with a motor-free experience on a large lake … a Lake Lila-like experience.”
Bauer communicated his feelings that Wilderness classification is a policy that looks to the future, “to what these lands could be.” In addition, he and other members of Protect the Adirondacks raised issues of invasive species being carried into the area on cars, boats and trailers and some, such as Peter O’Shea, also made the connection between the offering of a wilderness experience and the fostering of long-term economic growth.
Ann Melious, director of Hamilton County Economic Development and Tourism, said the opportunity for solitude is not lacking in Hamilton County.
“I am hoping that we do not find our solitude in the middle of the highway in the town of Indian Lake,” Melious said, adding that Wilderness often has had the unintentional result of being elitist — available for access by a fortunate few. “This is public land and we need to invest in assuring that the public can access it.”
Indian Lake Town Councilman John Valentine said the protection of the Adirondacks is not only land and water, but it’s the communities.
“I am an environmentalist, but not a protectionist,” Valentine said.
Valentine said if people walked the Indian Lake Main Street, they would notice there are at least a dozen vacant commercial properties in the hamlet, not the least of which is the one that housed the town’s former market.
“Forty percent of Hamilton County is already classified as Wilderness,” Valentine said.
Valentine made a strong appeal for a Wild Forest classification and for consideration that the area south of the Cedar River and west of the Hudson River be envisioned as the southern gateway to the lands in question. As such, he made a strong appeal to reopen the Chain Lakes Road back to where it once crossed the Cedar River, allowing for a significant impact on the surrounding communities’ economic future through “increased visitors, recreation opportunity and economic opportunity.”
Valentine said the town of Indian Lake has a legitimate claim to the Chain Lakes Road that goes back to the 1880s. He also contended that these public hearings were suffering from a lack of public transparency, “not letting the public have access to judge the land, while asking the public to comment without access and proper assessment time.”
Indian Lake resident and Gooley Historical Society proponent Lou Spada pointed out that the towns’ populations are decreasing as students graduate and leave to find jobs. He said the communities have suffered from many of the Forest Preserve classifications.
“The decisions being made on this land classification are life-altering,” Spada said. “The land should be accessible by all potential users and not just a small few. If the governor is serious about economic development, then the classification must be Wild Forest. We would not have to cut one tree. The roads and trails that already exist have existed for over 100 years, but there are some who would now tell us that we can no longer use the land.”
Finally, Spada pointed to the historical value that exists within the confines of these lands and how it might be capitalized upon culturally and economically for the growth and enrichment of the surrounding communities as a historical recreational hub, perhaps in conjunction with an organization such as the Adirondack Museum.
Tracey Eldridge said that when he graduated from the Indian Lake Central School some years ago, the graduating class numbered around 40 students. He pointed to the fact that the graduating class on June 22 numbered only 20, saying that this is a barometer of what is happening to Indian Lake and most of the communities in the Adirondack region. Access is necessary for people to see and appreciate the beauty of what is here, and when they do, they tell others and they visit the region.
”The only reasonable classification is Wild Forest with intensive use on the currently existing roads,” Eldridge said.
Following up on this point, many other comments surrounded the issue that the lands under consideration for classification have been used by humans for over 100 years and making the claim that “man’s footprint” is clearly on the lands in question.
Minerva Town Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey said these lands represent a “working landscape” and asked the APA to classify these lands in a way that honors what local officials believe was Gov. Cuomo’s promise: that this land purchase would increase the economic opportunities by promoting unparalleled, all-access, year-round, four-season recreational activities for residents and visitors.
Perhaps the message of the community to the Governor, the APA and the NYSDEC was best summed up by the comments of former Hamilton County economic development and tourism director Bill Osborne, of Lake Pleasant, in support of a Wild Forest designation:
“Forest Preserve is in the best shape ever, but our communities are in the worst shape. It is time we cared about the most endangered species — the Adirondack resident. There may be a lot of good reasons for Wilderness, but I can tell you, economic development is not one of them. We can deal with the usage issues in the UMPs.”
Once the APA approves a classification for state land in the Adirondack Park, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is in charge of drafting a Unit Management Plan (UMP) for it.
Other remaining APA hearing dates include:
•July 1 at the Harley School, Rochester - 7 p.m.
•July 2 at DEC headquarters, Albany - 1 p.m.
•July 2 at Warren County Board of Supervisors Room, Queensbury, 7 p.m.
The deadline for written comments is July 19. Written comments should be mailed to: James E. Connolly, Deputy Director, Planning, P.O. Box 99, 1133 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977.