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Tom Welsh, a fishing guide from Johnsburg, speaks at a public hearing on the new Finch Pruyn lands in Minerva. Photo: Nicholas Mann
Tom Welsh, a fishing guide from Johnsburg, speaks at a public hearing on the new Finch Pruyn lands in Minerva. Photo: Nicholas Mann

Public comment period ending for new Adk Park lands

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This is the final week for the public to offer input and opinions about how to manage tens of thousands of acres of new public lands in the Adirondack Park.

The Adirondack Park Agency held hearings across the state to gather feedback on seven different proposals for how lands in Indian Lake and Minerva should be classified.

The hearings have wrapped up, but people still have until the end of the day on Friday to send written comments.

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The Finch Pruyn land project is complicated, involving roughly 45,000 acres of land around the Essex Chain of Lakes and the Upper Hudson River.

It also involves the possible reclassification of lands that have long been in state hands in the Blue Mountain and Vanderwacker Mountain Wild Forests.

The state Conservation Department has put together seven different models for how those lands might all be stitched together and managed and in rough terms the models range from mostly wilderness to mostly wild forest.

That second classification, wild forest, would mean more roads, and more motorized access.

In public hearings, this is the approach that's drawn support from local leaders including Sue Montgomery Corey, town supervisor in Minerva.

She says a local committee of roughly 40 people concluded that wild forest would attract more visitors and mean a bigger boost to the economy.

"The classification that creates the best balance and potential for hope is 'wild forest,'" Montgomery Corey said during a hearing at Minerva's public school.

The Essex Chain of Lakes. The process is now underway to determine what kind of recreation and public use will be allowed. Photo: Carl Heilman, courtesy Adirondack Nature Conservancy
The Essex Chain of Lakes. The process is now underway to determine what kind of recreation and public use will be allowed. Photo: Carl Heilman, courtesy Adirondack Nature Conservancy
Her views were echoed by Jim Rolf from Rome, New York. He's with the New York state snowmobile association and spoke at a hearing in New York City.

"I snowmobile in the Adirondacks. I spent money there. I enjoy it. I really would like to enjoy this area as well." He argued that more snowmobile trails would enhance the park's winter economy.

Some sportsmen have lobbied against this conservation deal because it will eventually displace a handful of traditional hunting clubs that have long occupied the Finch timberlands.

Don Sage from the town of Schroon heads Essex County's League of Fish and Game Clubs.

During the hearing in Minerva, he argued that after years of logging, a wilderness classification doesn't make sense for these lands.

"None of these lands meet the criteria for wilderness. Any wilderness classification destroys all tourism use and economic benefits," Sage said.

But others during the public hearing process argued for the state to lean heavily toward a wilderness designation – a view particularly popular for backcountry paddlers.

Robert Gillis, a seasonal resident of Johnsburg, spoke at the hearing in New York City. "My principal interest here is insuring that the motorless characteristics are retained on the lake," he said, describing motorboats as "inherently dirtier" than muscle-powered craft.

Barry Oreck, a seasonal resident of Indian Lake, argued that keeping the Essex Chain motorless would expand opportunities for paddlers like himself who now have to share most Adirondack lakes with motoroboats.

While the sentiment at public hearings inside the blue line tended to tilt toward more motorized access, hearings outside the Park seemed to show more loyalty to the idea of a wilder, more pristine Park.

"Somewhere up there [in the Adirondacks] there's wilderness and as a New York stater, I can claim part of that," said Mary Beth Mylott from New York City. "It's part of me."

"We have so little wilderness left," agreed Dennis Duffy from Long Island.

While many public comments broke along these broad ideological lines, much of the feedback has also focused on specific questions of access.

Even many paddlers are concerned that proposals for management of the Finch lands could close access roads, meaning much longer portages.

Tom Welsh is a fishing guide based in Johnsburg. He says some of the proposed parking areas for canoe and raft launch sites are just too far from the water.

"Hauling one of our rafts the proposed .8 miles up a slope is not a viable option," he said.

As this process goes forward, the Adirondack Park Agency and the DEC will have to decide how close people can drive to the Essex Chain of Lakes and to two key put-ins on the Hudson River.

There are also big questions about the use of mountain bikes, and a plan to allow float planes to land on Third Lake in the Essex Chain.

As this public comment period winds down, one new wrinkle in the Finch Pruyn process is that it has been a remarkably undramatic affair – without the kind of shouting and conflict that marked earlier land classification debates in the Park.

"I had a conversation in Newcomb the other night with a longstanding Adirondack advocate who acknowledged that it was the first time in his memory that he'd seen hearings of this magnitude where the conversation remained as civil as it did," said Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made the Finch Pruyn land deal – with a price tag of roughly $50 million — a cornerstone of his environmental policy.

To promote the deal and to raise awareness about new recreation opportunities in the Park, Cuomo will host a whitewater paddling competition this weekend in Indian Lake.

On Sunday, he'll paddle the Indian River with elected officials from around the state. On Monday afternoon, Cuomo will race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Read Brian's blog post, which includes the address for public comments by mail, at The Inbox.

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