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Banning floatplanes won't create wilderness

November 8, 2008
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

There have been a rash of interesting developments regarding state lands in the Adirondacks. First and foremost, was a recent decision by the Adirondack Park Agency regarding commercial floatplane access into the Lows Lake-Bog River Flow Primitive Area.

The issue was finally resolved when APA commissioners recently voted against a proposed state Department of Environmental Conservation amendment that would have extended the right for floatplane access for an additional 10 years on a permit basis.

The permit system was contested by a consortium of environmental groups that included the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Residents' Committee for the Protection of the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club.

The environmental consortium brought a lawsuit against the agency to force them to abide by the original UMP, which had initially called for a floatplane ban to take effect within five years. The ban was to take effect this year.

Although the APA commissioners did leave the door open for the DEC to develop another proposal, it appears to be a dead issue. I doubt the state will want to get involved in litigation against a consortium of deep-pocketed organizations, especially in such tough budgetary times.

After traveling extensively throughout the Lows Lake-Bog River Flow over the past 30 or so years, I find it rather ridiculous to think that banning floatplanes from the area will make the Bog River Flow an instant wilderness area. The Boy Scout reservation has a pontoon boat that travels the lake daily, as do numerous other motor boats from private inholdings.

Several individuals have threatened discrimination suits, claiming the denial of handicapped access that was afforded via the floatplanes. But it will take deep pockets to press these claims. There appears to be little that the average person can offer in a fight against the assembled consortium. I fully expect to see the results of this effort come across my desk soon in the way of a fundraising campaign, touting their latest accomplishment in keeping the wilderness wild by eradicating floatplanes from the "last best place."

The effort appears to be another step in the effort for Quiet Waters in the park and a first step in signaling the end of traditional use. If removing commercial floatplane use is truly the intention of the numerous environmental advocacy groups, I often wonder why the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has retained and maintained their numerous commercial enterprises, which include lodges, parking lots and dining facilities which are located in the heart of the state's largest wilderness area. It may be blasphemous, but if protecting the wild character of the Park is the real issue, maybe ADK should consider selling its Heart Lake and Johns Brook properties to the state in order to make the High Peaks an actual wilderness area rather than a "drive-to" park.

State acquires more land

In recent weeks, there have been bold efforts to add to the state's Forest Preserve. Possibly the greatest was extended by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) with the purchase of the historic 14,000-acre Follensby Pond tract.

Purchased from the McCormick family, the huge parcel contains the 1,000-acre Follensby Pond, over 12 miles of Raquette River shoreline and extensive woodlands.

With TNC challenged by huge purchases of the Finch and Pruyn lands and the Domtar Tract, the timing of this purchase was unexpected, especially with the state suffering through a severe financial crisis that includes a $1.5 billion budget gap and a growing state debt that nears $52.5 billion.

Fast on the tail of this transaction comes news of the latest land sale, which involved over 20,000 acres of lands surrounding Lyon Mountain, a 3,830-foot elevation summit which is the tallest peak in the northeast corner of the Park, as well as Chazy Lake shoreline .

The 3,830-foot peak now sports a new summit trail, compliments of ADK Trail Crews which were contracted by DEC earlier this summer to construct it. Designed to include over a dozen switchbacks, the newly designed trail is 3.5 miles, about a mile longer than the old one, with far less steepness. I'm certain the new trail will be embraced by the ever-growing fraternity of backcountry ski enthusiasts within the Park.

The state picked up the entire 20,000-acre parcel from the TNC for $9.8 million with Environmental Protection Fund money which had been earmarked for the purpose in 2005.

An additional parcel containing over 84,000 acres of forest land in the Domtar Tract was sold to Lyme Timber of New Hampshire about four years ago. This purchase includes an agreement with the state for conservation easements to permit recreational use by the public, while also retaining a number of traditional hunting camp leases. These leases assist timber companies with land taxes and provide stewardship of the property.

While some may clamor over additional state land purchases in the Park, it is interesting to note that not all state lands are immediately locked up by preservation.

I recall a statement made by Tom Martin, a DEC regional forester, regarding easement lands. Martin said, "If it weren't for New York state lands dedicated to sustainable forestry, there probably wouldn't be a viable forest products industry left in the Park today."

First major snowfall

In typical Adirondack fashion, the season's first heavy snow arrived before Halloween, when last week's storm deposited over a foot of snow across the region.

The previous week, severe rains and high winds brought down much of the remaining foliage, which served to open the woods. Within a week, the woods were nearly closed again as a heavy wet snow stuck to limbs and bowed over saplings, making trails all but impassable.

With cold temperatures setting up rim ice on the ponds and streams running high with rain and snowmelt, conditions were far from ideal. The foul weather certainly accelerated migrations, as was evident with the increased number of flocks of geese moving south in the days following the storm.

While snow made for tough travel conditions, it was welcomed by the hunters, who could see farther and read tracks better. Snow highlights the brown coat of the deer and muffles the sounds of a hunter's approach. The contours of the land become more evident while a storm provides a predictable timetable for deer movement.

Compounding matters is the progression of the rutting season. Bucks are now on the move, looking for does to breed. Scrapes and rubs are becoming more evident as bucks are looking for love in all the wrong places.

Where I hunt, the most noticeable signs in the fresh snow were the numerous turkey tracks. Tracks were everywhere, as they traveled from the swamps to the summits. Like winged Hoovers, the turkeys sucked up beech nuts, berries and anything edible on the forest floor.

The first snow also provided a welcome diversion for numerous skiers, snowshoers and sledders who embraced the opportunity to relish in the season's initial offering. The Olympic Regional Development Authority's crew at Mt. Van Hovenberg worked feverishly to capture the moment. They groomed the fresh snow into a well manicured trail system that brought the skiers out in force.

 
 

 

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