Former Finch Property Now a Mosaic of State Lands
by Mary Thill
Last week the Adirondack Park Agency outlined what people will be allowed to do on 22,000 acres of new Forest Preserve at the center of the Adirondacks. The recommendation directs where we can pedal or paddle, explains where float planes may land, and threads snowmobile routes through the former timberlands. The decision was framed in part by the economic potential of funneling users, primarily snowmobilers, through the small communities that border state land. (For some background, read Christian Woodard’s “Coming Attractions,” from Adirondack Life‘s 2013 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors.)
“The agency’s proposal ensures the long-term protection of these lands and creates economic opportunities for the five towns of Minerva, Newcomb, Indian Lake, Long Lake and North Hudson,” APA chairman Leilani Ulrich said in a press release.
Agency staff and commissioners classified four new state land parcels: the Essex Chain Lakes Tract (18,230 acres), Indian River Tract (963 acre), OK Slip Falls Tract (2,789 acres) and the “OSC Tract” (160 acres). In addition, the agency recommended reclassification of lands in the adjacent Hudson River Primitive Area, Blue Mountain Wild Forest and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. In all, approximately 42,300 acres are involved.
The agency’s recommendation lays out a mosaic of Wilderness, Primitive, Wild Forest and State Administrative land-use classifications laced by snowmobile trails. (Click here for a guide to what these classifications mean.) Five new Forest Preserve units would be established:
- The Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area (23,494 acre)
- The Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area (6,955 acre)
- The OK Slip Pond Primitive Area (30 acre)
- The Pine Lake Primitive Area (2,798 acre)
- The Polaris Mountain Primitive Area (953 acre)
Also, 8,000 acres would be added to the existing Blue Mountain and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest Areas.
Governor Andrew Cuomo singled out snowmobile trails during remarks in Saranac Lake Sunday, saying he will sign off on the APA recommendation by year’s end. (Snowmobilers clearly have the governor’s ear: state economic development grants awarded last week provided $1.25 million for nine snowmobile trail groomers statewide.)
A lot has been written about this decision. Even though it establishes major new Wilderness tracts, most of the discussion focuses on Wild Forest sections that allow motors and roads. And, because towns own floatplane rights on Pine and First lakes, the APA employed a Primitive classification rather than Wild Forest to sidestep having to also allow motorboats on Essex Chain waters. A lot of people called the Solomonic decision “something for everyone.” Another surmised that the APA had to cut the baby into many pieces because there is no classification category that allows it to dictate a wide variety of uses.
Below are links to some reading that make the minutiae interesting:
A map of the lands and their classification.
Adirondack Explorer editor and Adirondack Almanack contributor Phil Brown has followed this process closely. Click here for his take on unanswered questions during the deliberation. Brown also reported on still-dangling questions after the decision.
Protect the Adirondacks summarized its concerns about etching a snowmobile corridor through wilderness lands and the plan to maintain small bridges over the Upper Hudson and Cedar rivers.
The Adirondack Association of Towns and Village spelled out its recommendations for motorized use of former Finch lands in an October resolution.
North Country Public Radio reporter Brian Mann analyzed the governor’s intervention in the process.
The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which purchased the timberlands from Finch, Pruyn & Co. (now Finch Paper) and transferred them to New York State, did not weigh in on classification decisions. But amidst all the land-use arcana, a simple fact was underscored in a New York Times article. “It’s a point that gets forgotten in the classification debate,” said Michelle Brown, a conservancy scientist. “This land will never be developed or harvested for timber. It’s forever wild.”
This post has been edited to reflect the following correction: towns own floatplane rights only on Pine Lake and on First Lake on the Essex Chain, not on multiple lakes in the Essex Chain. It has also been amended to add a link to a news story about Governor Cuomo’s role in the process.