SARANAC LAKE - The state Adirondack Park Agency has advanced a series of classification proposals for 47,000 acres of Forest Preserve land in the central Adirondacks, including the first phase of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands acquired by the state.
The APA board voted unanimously Friday to accept a draft Environmental Impact Statement that outlines seven possible classifications for the lands, including various combinations of wilderness, primitive, canoe and wild forest. The board also agreed to set a series of public hearings on the options, which will be held in the Park and around the state this summer.
The confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers, pictured here, is one of three former Finch, Pruyn and Co. tracts of land the state Adirondack Park Agency is considering as part of a 47,000-acre state land classification package.
(Photo — Carl Heilman, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)
The classification package includes 23,000 acres of former Finch lands in the towns of Indian Lake, Minerva and Newcomb that the state has recently acquired from The Nature Conservancy: the Essex Chain tract, the OK Slip Falls tract and the Indian River tract. A 160-acre parcel owned by the Open Space Conservancy, which the state is expected to close on soon, is also included. The agency is also considering reclassifying the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area, and portions of the Vanderwhacker and Blue Mountain Wild Forest.
APA Senior Planner Kathy Regan noted that the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area would become wilderness in all of the seven classification proposals. That's because of a stipulation in the State Land Master Plan that says it should be reclassified as wilderness once the state buys or secures easements to the private lands that "intrude" in the area.
As a result, most of the variation among the seven classification alternatives is with the Essex Chain tract and the Indian River tract.
There are two largely wilderness alternatives, called 1A and 1B. In 1A, which Regan called a "large wilderness paddling experience" there would be 38,563 acres of wilderness and 7,032 acres of wild forest. The wild forest lands would be the Indian River tract and areas north of the Essex Chain of Lakes. In option 1B, nearly all of the lands in question - 45,347 acres - would be classified as wilderness.
Option 2 would create an 11,743-acre primitive area, primarily made up lands in the Essex Chain tract. A primitive area is a sort-of wilderness-in-waiting due to nonconforming uses, in this case because float plane use would continue on First and Pine lakes. Another 32,234 acres in this alternative would be wilderness, including the Hudson and Cedar Rivers, and 1,637 acres would be wild forest.
Alternative 3A would create the Park's second canoe area using 6,624 acres around the Essex Chain of Lakes. Another 31,939 acres would be wilderness and 7,032 acres would be wild forest. Regan said this option would allow for mountain biking on state administrative roads, "and you'd have a marketing tool by calling it a canoe area. There's some pizazz to that."
Alternative 3B would expand the canoe area designation to part of the Hudson River and lands south of the Essex Chain, including the Indian River tract. The canoe area would be 15,067 acres, with another 18,829 acres as wilderness and 11,702 acres as wild forest.
Options 4A and 4B would expand the Blue Mountain Wild Forest to include the Essex Chain of Lakes. In both options, there would be 33,942 acres of wilderness and 11,653 acres of wild forest. The only difference is that in 4B, a special management area would extend over the Essex Chain, which would allow the state to implement restrictions on float plane and motor vehicle access to what Regan described as lakes that are "sensitive ecologically."
APA Planning Director Jim Connolly stressed that these aren't the only options for the lands.
"We have provided in these maps and in the documents a range of alternatives, but they're not the only alternatives that can be considered as part of this process," Connolly said. "Boundaries can be tweaked, areas of classification can be tweaked."
APA commissioner Sherman Craig noted that outside organizations, including environmental groups, have come up with their own proposals for these lands.
"If you look at all the alternatives in front of us, would you say all of those organizational perspectives are represented?" he asked.
Regan said she believes they are, in one form or another, although she said the agency "started from scratch and didn't want to look at their recommendations when we were developing our alternatives."
Earlier, Walt Linck, an APA associate natural resources planner, talked about the possible recreational uses on the lands.
"We should try to provide for a whole range of recreational opportunities based on the abilities of these lands to withstand the use," he said.
Linck said there are three major areas of potential recreational use on the lands. The first is the Hudson River corridor, between Newcomb and the confluence of the Indian River, which he described as an "incredible" and "wild" paddling opportunity. The second is the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area, which will become wilderness.
"The hiking opportunities in here, particularly to see OK Slip Falls and some of these ponds are outstanding," Linck said. Whitewater rafting down the Hudson Gorge wouldn't be impacted by the change to wilderness, he said.
The third area is the Essex Chain tract, where Linck said a network of lakes and ponds could create many opportunities for water-based recreation. It also has a network of dirt roads and trails.
"The opportunity will exist, if these lands are classified as wild forest, for motorized and mechanized uses," Linck said. "The possibility exists for motor boating, mountain biking, snowmobiling."
Linck also said the Essex Chain's roads could become a horse-trail network, regardless of which classification is selected. He also talked about the possibility of creating a mountain biking trail on the east side of the tract that would connect to Indian Lake, and possibly to Newcomb.
Public hearings on the options would likely be held in Ray Brook, Indian Lake, Minerva, Newcomb, Albany, Rochester and New York City. Dates and locations haven't been set but the hearings would likely be held from mid-June to early July.
In addition to the public hearings, Connolly said the agency is working with DEC to coordinate possible field trips to the lands for APA board members.
A preferred alternative could potentially be presented to the board in August or September.
Maps of each classification option are posted on the APA website at apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2013/05/StateLand/DSEIS_MapSeries_20130506draft.pdf.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.