NEWCOMB - The Essex Chain of Lakes is now open to the public for the first time in more than 100 years, even though the state is still in the process of classifying the lands.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that 11,600 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberland that the state has purchased from The Nature Conservancy was opened for outdoor recreation Tuesday under an interim plan administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The date the lands opened, Oct. 1, coincides with the end of the exclusive leases a pair of hunting clubs had to the property.
The lands are now open for hiking and horse trail riding, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter, on the tract's network of old logging roads. Also allowed are hunting, trapping and bushwhacking on the surrounding lands, and fishing and paddling on the Essex Chain Lakes and other waters on the tract.
Invited guests paddle through the Essex Chain of Lakes in June 2012. On Tuesday the state opened the lakes to the general public.
(Photo — Melody Thomas, courtesy Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy)
The public can only access the lands for day-use activities under the interim plan; overnight camping is prohibited. The use of motor boats and floatplanes by the public is also prohibited during the interim period.
Cuomo, in a press release, encouraged people "to explore this undiscovered and incredible part of the Adirondacks.
"Under this initial plan, we can attract tourists and generate much-needed economic activity in the region while at the same time balancing the needs of the communities in the Park and protecting the property for generations to come," Cuomo said.
A 7,600-acre portion of the Essex Chain tract, including lands along the Hudson and Cedar rivers, was opened in June via a pair of parking areas the state established.
The 11,600 acres that opened Tuesday can be accessed via the Goodnow Flow Road, south from Newcomb. When the road reaches Goodnow Flow, cars and trucks can either turn right onto a road that becomes Cornell Road and ends at a gate and a parking area for Deer Pond, or they can continue on Goodnow Flow Road to a parking area that's roughly a quarter mile from the Hudson River.
From the parking area near Deer Pond, paddlers can portage their canoes and kayaks roughly a quarter mile from the parking lot to the pond. From there, they can paddle across Deer Pond to a landing where there's a half-mile portage to a put-in site on Third Lake. Paddlers can then travel by water to First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh lakes.
The state says signs will direct the public to the open roads and parking areas, and gates have been installed on side roads to direct public motor vehicles to the Essex Chain Lakes tract and prevent trespassing onto adjacent easement lands. In addition, kiosks will provide maps, regulations and information about the leaseholders' privileges.
While the leaseholders no longer have exclusive use to the newly opened lands, they will still have one-acre exclusive-use envelopes around their camp buildings. Leaseholders also continue to have motorized access to and from the leased camps, including snowmobiles in the winter, ATVs during mud season, and cars and trucks for the remainder of the year. ATV use by leaseholders will also be allowed on designated access roads during hunting season.
Leaseholders will also be allowed to use boats with motors of 10 horsepower or less on Second through Sixth lakes, Jackson Pond and the Blackwell Stillwater section of the Hudson River from ice-out through June 30 and from Oct. 1 through the end of big-game rifle season. They will also be allowed to use electric motors on those waters between June 30 and Oct. 1.
The extent of public access to the lands will be determined once they're classified and once DEC completes a unit management plan for the area.
Last year, Cuomo signed a contract to buy 69,000 acres of former Finch timberlands from The Nature Conservancy over the next five years for $48 million, using money drawn from each year's state Environmental Protection Fund. The first phase of the deal closed in December, when the state bought the 18,000-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract for $12.3 million. In April, the state bought another 9,300 acres, including the Indian River and OK Slip Falls tracts, for $6.3 million.
The state is now in the process of classifying these first three tracts, along with thousands of acres of adjacent Forest Preserve lands. The alternatives include wilderness, which is the most restrictive and where bicycles and motorized vehicles are prohibited, as well as primitive, canoe and wild forest, the least-restrictive option where bicycles and some motorized use is allowed.
The state Adirondack Park Agency is expected to make a recommendation to the governor, who will have the final say on the classification, at its meeting this month or in November.
The state has posted a map of access points to the Essex Chain of Lakes at www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/Essex-chain-access.pdf.