The state Adirondack Park Agency has drafted a list of seven possible classifications for the first phase of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands to be added to the Forest Preserve.
The APA board will get its first look at each option, and consider setting a series of public hearings on the proposals, at its meeting Thursday and Friday in Ray Brook. A final decision on the classification of the lands, which will determine how much the public will be able to access them, isn't expected until early fall.
The seven alternatives involve lands in the Hamilton County town of Indian Lake and two Essex County towns, Minerva and Newcomb. They include three tracts of former Finch timberlands that the state has purchased from The Nature Conservancy: the 18,888-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract, the 3,015-acre OK Slip Falls tract and the 945-acre Indian River Tract. Another 160-acre parcel called the OSC tract, an inholding in the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest, will be classified in this round. Also, existing state lands next to the Finch tracts in the Vanderwhacker and Blue Mountain wild forests, and the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area, could be reclassified.
The alternatives range from wilderness, the most restrictive state land classification where motorized vehicles are prohibited, to wild forest, where more opportunities for access and public recreation are allowed.
The seven options, according to the agency's draft Environmental Impact Statement, are as follows:
-Alternatives 1A and 1B: Primarily Wilderness. These options would create a large Hudson River Gorge Wilderness area on both sides of the Hudson River, offering wilderness rafting, paddling and camping opportunities. The Essex Chain of Lakes would also become wilderness, and the network of logging roads on the lands would be closed to vehicle and mountain bike use. Recreation opportunities would include hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and horseback riding. The wilderness area would not include First and Pine lakes, allowing floatplane access to those lakes to continue.
-Alternative 2: Primarily Primitive. This option would create a large primitive area that would encompass the Essex Chain of Lakes and surrounding lands. A wilderness area would be created, including most of the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area, the OK Slip Falls tract and the OSC tract. Most of the roads would remain closed to vehicles, to be abandoned or convert to trails. Mountain bikes would be allowed on state administrative roads, and floatplane access would continue to First and Pine lakes.
-Alternatives 3A and 3B: Primarily Canoe. These options would create the second canoe area in the Park. It would center on the Essex Chain of Lakes, providing a 6 to 7 mile canoe route. These alternatives would also have a wilderness area that includes the Hudson Gorge, the OK Slip Falls tract and the OSC tract. Portions of the new lands would be designated wild forest. Most of the roads would remain closed, although mountain biking would be allowed on state administrative roads.
-Alternatives 4A and 4B: Primarily Wild Forest. These options would expand the Blue Mountain Wild Forest to include the Essex Chain of Lakes and Pine Lake. Motorized boat, snowmobile and floatplane use could be allowed throughout the Essex Chain, and most of the road system would remain open. A smaller wilderness area and three state administrative areas would be created. A special management area could be created in the Essex Chain of Lakes to protect its waters and fisheries, for example, by prohibiting motorized access on the lakes or only allowing camping at designated sites.
The Park's environmental groups have called for these new tracts to be designated largely as wilderness, although to varying extents.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said Monday that one of the wilderness alternatives the agency will consider resembles the 72,000-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness that his group first proposed 20 years ago.
"We're happy to see that the Park Agency essentially took what appears to be our recommendation and made it one of the options," he said.
Sheehan said these tracts deserve wilderness protection "mainly because they contain some of the most sensitive and biologically rich wildlife habitat and water in the state."
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is also backing the Council's plan. It wants the new wilderness area called the Paul Schaefer Wild Rivers Wilderness in honor of the Adirondack conservationist, who fought to protect the Upper Hudson River from four proposed dams and reservoirs in the 1960s and lobbied for the acquisition of OK Slip Falls.
Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Mountain Club have called for somewhat less wilderness and are OK with some limited road access to the interior of the new lands.
Hunting and fishing groups and some local government leaders say wild forest would be better than wilderness.
"The governor has said this acquisition is going to be good for the communities," said Fred Monroe, director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. "In order for that to happen, there has to be access to a wide range of users and there's got to be tourism infrastructure in the communities. If it's limited to wilderness, it seems to me there's going to be a net loss to the communities."
Monroe, who is supervisor of the town of Chester, is a member of the Polaris Club, one of two hunting clubs whose decades-long exclusive leases to the Essex Chain tract will run out later this year.
As many as eight or nine hearings on these alternatives could be held, both inside and outside the Park, during June and July, APA spokesman Keith McKeever said Tuesday. He said a decision by the board could be made sometime in late summer or early fall.