RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved a management plan for a vast complex of state-owned land that stretches from the shores of Lake Champlain to the town of St. Armand.
The Taylor Pond Complex Unit Management Plan calls for the construction of new hiking and snowmobile trails, trailhead parking areas, lean-tos and camping areas. It also recommends studying the creation of a mountain biking trail network in the Taylor Pond area.
The plan, developed by state Department of Environmental Conservation staff, was presented to agency commissioners at their Thursday meeting in Ray Brook.
The Taylor Pond Complex is made up of 26 separate parcels spread across three counties: Clinton, Essex and Franklin. It includes 45,000 acres of state Forest Preserve, 6,000 acres of state forest and more than 1,300 acres of wildlife management area. There's another 23,000 acres of conservation easement lands that are not subject to this management plan.
APA Senior Planner Kathy Regan said there are many opportunities for hiking in the unit, and the plan addresses issues with some of its trails. It would reroute sections of the hiking trails on Catamount and Silver Lake mountains. Dead-end and redundant snowmobile trails would be closed, and a new snowmobile trail would be built near Taylor Pond that would allow people to ride between the Clinton and Franklin County snowmobile trail systems and the hamlet of Wilmington.
The plan calls for building a 12-car parking lot for one of the two trails that go up Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain, a popular hiking destination. The shorter, steeper trail to the mountain's summit may be rerouted and possibly closed, although Regan said that "many people expressed an opinion they did not want the trail closed and they would be will to do a great amount of work to keep it open.
"It will be looked at," she said. "There are many factors that go into that before DEC determines whether or not it will be closed."
At Franklin Falls Pond, the UMP calls for blocking off a boat ramp at a popular fishing access site, another part of the plan that Regan said has proved controversial.
"According to the State Land Master Plan, a fishing access site does not contain a ramp or permit the launching of trailered boats," Regan said. "The plan proposes for this area to be blocked in some way to prevent trailers from going down there, but (DEC is) trying to do it in a way that's friendly so that people who need to be able to push their canoes in or slide their ice shanties over will be able to do it."
DEC plans to study whether another informal boat launch on Union Falls Pond should become a formal boat launch, which would require reclassification.
Among other proposals, the plan recommends removal, relocation or screening of campsites on Union Falls Pond and Franklin Falls Pond that are not in compliance with the State Land Master Plan. New campsites would be identified so there would be no net loss of camping areas, Regan said.
Regan said the plan includes a recommendation to study, and if appropriate, to develop a mountain biking trail system that would connect the Wilmington Wild Forest to the Taylor Pond area and points east.
"There's a great trail system within Taylor Pond right now, and it abuts the Wilmington Wild Forest, which has a pretty extensive mountain bike system," Regan said. "There is work that would need to be done, but there's a great opportunity to be able to connect Wilmington to Taylor through the easement lands that are up farther north, and they could go to Peru, just like the snowmobiles are."
While there were plenty of public comments as DEC was assembling the plan, the APA only received one comment letter.
Last week, the environmental group Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve gave the UMP a low grade.
"While we appreciate the significant effort that has gone into this plan to date, we do not believe the Taylor Pond plan meets a sufficiently high standard in assessing and analyzing ecosystems and the opportunities to enhance the region's biological diversity," Adirondack Wild's Dan Plumley said in a press release.
Plumley said the UMP doesn't address the ongoing effort to create the so-called Split Rock Wildway, which would provide wildlife habitat connections between Lake Champlain, the West Champlain Hills and the Jay Mountain Wilderness to the west. He said the plan also fails to address wildlife recovery efforts, including proposals to restore the eastern cougar in the Adirondacks, and doesn't take into account climate-change-related issues.
APA commissioners raised no serious concerns with the plan Thursday.
DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegeman said it's taken nearly 10 years to put the UMP together.
"This is a lesson in perseverance and pulling together a really fantastic product," he said.