NEWCOMB - The state Department of Environmental Conservation's plan to ban campfires on the Essex Chain of Lakes has brought mixed reactions so far.
The plan is in place to protect the natural resources of the area. According to the DEC, the problem with fires is mainly the firewood gathering aspect. The only place in the Adirondack Park that currently has this prohibition is in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, a high-traffic area that draws lots of hikers and campers. This ban was written into the High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan that was approved in 1999. It was a result of forests around campsites being picked clean of potential fire wood, including small trees being chopped down.
When DEC officials led a media tour of the Essex Chain of Lakes in the central Adirondacks near Newcomb last month, Commissioner Joe Martens said the decision to ban fires on the lakes was not an easy one but was ultimately made to keep the campsites in their primitive states.
Mike Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Dell Jeffrey, a forest ranger, look at a map at a campsite on Third Lake in the Essex Chain of Lakes in June.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"Although actual fire sites are usually quite small, a more serious aspect involves firewood gathering, which by itself causes widespread and often severe impacts," states the Essex Chain of Lakes Management Complex Unit Management Plan. "This activity greatly increases the area of disturbance around primitive tent sites and it is common that the disturbed area can be 10-20 times greater in size than the actual primitive tent site zone. Campfires consume wood which would otherwise decompose and replenish soil nutrients."
The management plan states that fires are prohibited at the tent sites and any place within 500 feet of water bodies in the Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive Area.
"This is the most effective way to protect the ecologically sensitive areas directly adjacent to the lakes and ponds," the plan states.
Former DEC employee Doug Fitzgerald, a licensed guide who lives in Lake Clear, wrote a letter to the DEC about the Essec Chain unit management plan, asking that this ban be lifted. He was one of many people who submitted comments on the unit management plan that were due July 25.
"Although I personally always carry a cook stove and use it for almost all my cooking in the backcountry, I still find that the prohibition of fires on the shoreline sites in the Essex Chain is an unnecessary rule," Fitzgerald stated in his letter. "I believe that the campfire ban in the Eastern High Peaks was a practical and necessary management tool and has made a difference there. The situation there is much different than what is found in the Essex Chain. The High Peaks have been heavily used for decades and camping use is year-round. In addition, the forest types found there differ greatly and are more fragile than those found in the Essex Chain.
"I have camped in many of the Forest Preserve units that are primarily accessed only by canoe and kayak users. In all cases I have rarely, if ever, seen the degradation mentioned in the 32-year-old citation from Cole, Dalle-Moll. In fact, I believe that the conditions stated in the opening paragraph of this section describe more front-country locations than they do backcountry. It is fair to point out that camping on these sites will primarily take place during the short warm season in the Adirondacks. There are many months each year when these sites will lay fallow and rest."
Dave Olbert owns Cloudsplitter Outfitters in Newcomb with his wife, Ruth. He said he has mixed feelings about the no-fire rule but said he's "more OK with it than not.
"I certainly can understand the reason for it around the lakes to not have those areas get so trampled and whatnot and wood taken, especially if people start cutting trees," he said. "I can see it from an environmental standpoint, but the nostalgia of having a fire is awful nice in a camping area. So overall I think they should be allowing it, but I think the compromise of allowing it in other areas other than the lakefront sites, I thought that was a good compromise. It's worth a try."
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth is familiar with the problems that firewood gathering can have on an area. His organization owns the Van Hoevenberg trailhead that leads to Marcy Dam and Lake Colden, where many of the problems associated with firewood gathering occurred in the High Peaks.
"In popular sites like that, I think we both have seen places like that that were denuded by the gleaning of firewood, and so I think given the anticipated popularity of those sites, I think it's a good thing," he said. "The worst problem we ended up having in the High Peaks was the almost tent-like cities with no covering foliage at places like Marcy Dam and Lake Colden, and as soon as the fire ban was put in those areas, those sites recovered in remarkably short time and retained their aesthetic appeal."