Roughly 19,000 acres will be added to the "forever wild" forest preserve in the first phase of the project. State officials say they plan to buy the first big chunk of the former Finch timberlands by the end of the year. Roughly 19,000 acres will be added to the "forever wild" forest preserve in the first phase of the project. Supporters say these lands will open popular new areas for hiking, paddling, hunting and fishing.
The process is now underway to determine the kind of rules and guidelines that will shape public access, and state officials say they hope to avoid the kind of clashes that have marked past land classification efforts.
When state officials lay out the scope of the new recreation opportunities on the former Finch timberlands, they sound sort of breathless.
"This is where the Indian River and the Hudson come together," says Karen Richards with the State Department of Environmental Conservation. "This confluence has all been on the private lands. The intent here is that the public will now have access."
Over the next five years, New York will add nearly 70,000 acres to the forest preserve, much of it providing key connectors between existing Adirondack Park land. But that $50 million purchase only begins a process, Richards says, of sorting out exactly how the land will be used by the public: "There's no conception at this point about what this land will be. We're trying to form a plan that recognizes opportunities on the land and then the classification process will proceed from there."
Meetings are underway now with local government leaders, environmentalists, sportsmen's groups and other state agencies. Last week, Richards gave a presentation on that process to the Adirondack Park Agency. The DEC, she says, will make detailed recommendations about how the land should be managed — and the APA will make a final decision.
APA executive director Terry Martino says public input will be a big part of how the final plan is shaped: "We know that we'll be going out, we'll be having public hearings on this, we'll be talking with the public on this…So it's a big process that we're really on the verge of moving into."
Complicating the process is the fact that the state is buying the forest preserve part of the Finch lands in chunks. The Essex Chain of lakes will be added to the Park by year's end — but other parcels probably won't be added for at least five years.
APA commissioner Dick Booth questioned whether the detailed planning process should begin before all the lands are acquired. "There's at least an argument that all of that should be looked at conceptually together. I'm not so sure it makes sense to divide up the parcels in the north."
But Fred Monroe, head of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, says the classification effort and the unit management plans that will follow should be done as quickly as possible: "I would advocate for classifying it as you purchae it. I think the communities have a real interest in having it classified soon rather than later.”
In the past, debates over parkland classification have been fierce: Should new land be wilderness? Should motorized recreation be allowed? Speaking on background, environmentalists, local government leaders and sportsmen say the discussion this time is more amicable.
Hardline opposition to snowmobiles by green groups in the Park has eased and from the beginning it's been understood that parts of the Finch lands would be used to create snowmobile connector trails between communities.
Connie Prickett is with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the group that brokered the FInch project. She said there are no preconditions on what kinds of public use will be allowed: "We don't predetermine the classification. We have done quite a bit of scientific asessments of the land and we will make that information available and hopefully that will be valuable to the state as they make that decision."
State officials say they hope that some public access will be allowed around the Essex Chain of Lakes and new stretches of the upper Hudson River even before the detailed planning and classification process is complete.
Public hearings on use of the Finch lands will likely begin next year.