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Marion River Carry has been a crossroads in the Central Adirondacks for more than a century
Marion River Carry has been a crossroads in the Central Adirondacks for more than a century

New development in Adirondacks sparks fears about popular canoe route

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This morning the Adirondack Park Agency will vote on a developer's plan to build four new homes along the shore of Utowana Lake in Hamilton County.

The project has drawn fierce opposition because the land in question involves a traditional portage trail known as the Marion River Carry.

The trail over private land has been used by paddlers and other travelers for more than a century.

As Brian Mann reports, critics say that traditional route could be threatened.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The Marion River Carry has been an important link in Adirondack history since the late 1800s, when steamboats docked at the site and a short railroad opened access to the region around Blue Mountain Lake.

At the Park Agency’s meeting Thursday in Ray Brook, environmental program specialst Virginia Yamrick pointed out that the privately owned route still gets a lot of use today.

"This pink that is shown [on the map] is the existing canoe carry as it winds and turns through the property...right out to the Marion River," she said.

John Collins who lives in Blue Mountain Lake, says the route over private land is a vital connection.

 "If you are paddling in the Adirondacks and want to come to Blue Mountain, guess what, that's how you get here," he said.  "It's also the path of the 90 miler [canoe race]."

Dean Pohl, who owns the land, wants to subdivide it into five parcels.  He says homes would be built on four of the lots, but the chunk that involves the trail wouldn’t be developed.  And Pohl said the trail will remain open to paddlers.

"Absolutely.  It has been for a hundred years through five different owners beginning way before the turn of the century.  There's no need for any change."

But this issue project has drawn a ton of criticism from paddlers and from Pohl’s neighbors. 

The issue has sparked a fierce debate in the town of Indian Lake which has local jurisdiction over the land.

And the APA received more than 90 letters most of them in opposition to the project. 

Neil Woodworth with the Adirondack Mountain Club says his group hasn’t taken a stand on construction of the new homes, but he says the trail should be protected.

"We would certainly love to have a provision that insures that critical canoe carry," he said, describing the route as "one of the great long distance canoe routes in the Park."

 At yesterday’s APA session in Ray Brook, board member Cecil Ray echoed those concerns and suggested that some kind of easement or deed provision should be negotiated as part of the permit.

"Maybe this has gone on just fine on a tacit understanding basis for years, but there is a change here.  You're going to bring in four new homeowners there.  And those four new homeowners might have different views about the public's access to that carry."

But the Park Agency’s lead attorney John Banta said he didn’t think state law would allow the APA to impose that kind of mandatory access.

 "Is there sufficient connection between the carry and the subdivision proposed to justify a zoning or regulatory imposition?  New York is very strict on that."

 According to board members Arthur Lussi and Lani Ulrich, if the trail is closed in the future, paddlers would have to sue to gain access.

 "that would go into a civil situation," Ulrich said.

"Not the APA.  The users of that route [would have to file suit]" Lussi added.

This debate comes at a time when paddling access rights are a controversial topic in the Park.  Landowners near Tupper Lake are currently suing a canoer for using a portage trail over private land along Shingle Shanty Brook.

At least three board members, including Bill Valentino, say the Marion River carry project needs better protection for paddlers.

"I  mean my feeling is that I want to protect the public access, and I don't know the legal route to get there," Valentino said.

Dean Pohl, who owns the land, acknowledged that his project makes some people uncomfortable, but he said there was no need for an easement or a deed restriction to protect the trail

 "People don't like change and this is a little bit of a change on Utowana  Lake, but this is private property and that's the underlying situation."

At their meeting today, the Park Agency could give tentative approval to the project, pending a final review by the town of Indian Lake.  Or the APA could send the development to a round of adjudicatory hearings.

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