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The Gooley Club is one of the traditional camps that will be displaced by the Finch Pruyn conservation deal. Photo source:  Youtube
The Gooley Club is one of the traditional camps that will be displaced by the Finch Pruyn conservation deal. Photo source: Youtube

Hunting clubs face big change in Finch Pruyn deal

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Last week, the Adirondack Park Agency took up final deliberations on the future of the former Finch Pruyn timberland. The state is gradually adding more than 65,000 acres to the state forest preserve, as part of a conservation effort launched by the Adirondack Nature Conserve.

Most of the process has been remarkably free of controversy. But one flashpoint has been the fate of roughly 20 traditional hunting clubs that leased land from Finch Pruyn for decades.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

The tradition of hunting leases will continue on the easement lands."
Todd Moe: Brian, give us the big picture: Why are these hunting clubs so important and why has this one issue continued to spark controversy?

Brian Mann: This is really a tradition that dates back a century and more in the Adirondacks, with the big timber companies leasing chunks of land to sportsmen to hunt and fish. This is a generational thing and for hundreds of families, this has been a way of life, an affordable way to spend time on the land. Jim Connolly, one of the top APA officials working on this project, talked last week about the historic importance of these camps – he's talking here about a camp called the Outer Gooley Club.

"This was an example of a typical late 19th century, early 20th century private hunting and fishing club in the Adirondacks. The site itself was integral to river [log] drives on the Hudson River. Served as a boarding house for river drive crews during the late 1800s."

I should say, Todd, that the current club building, the one that stands now, has been there since the late 1920s.

TM: So as the Finch Pruyn conservation deal moves forward, what happens to these clubs?

BPM: In the past, conservation deals in the Adirondacks often just booted these clubs out altogether – and that created a ton of animosity. The leases ended and they were evicted, forced to close down. This time, it's been handled differently. Clubs have been given the opportunity to relocate onto parts of the former Finch Pruyn land – known as "easement" lands – that aren't being added to the state forest preserve.

APA Deputy Director for Planning Jim Connolly gave much of the presentation at Thursday's meeting in Ray Brook. Photo: Brian Mann
APA Deputy Director for Planning Jim Connolly gave much of the presentation at Thursday's meeting in Ray Brook. Photo: Brian Mann
Bob Stegemann who heads the Conservation Department in the part of the Adirondacks affected by this deal, talked about those options at last week's APA meeting.

"There also is a continuation of hunting leases and also an opportunity for some of the displaced leases from the fee lands to move onto the easement lands. So the tradition of hunting leases will continue on the easement lands."

TM: But that idea, giving clubs a chance to relocate and keep operating – that hasn't made everyone happy. This has continued to be one area where criticism has continued.

BPM: It has. One of the wrinkles here is that Fred Monroe, head of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board – who has a non-voting seat on the APA commission -- has been one of the fiercest critics of this land deal. And he's also a hunt club member whose camp is directly affected. He argued last week that the clubs didn't get the kind of respect and attention they deserved.

"They could have gone further and seen all the camps in the Polaris Club," Monroe said. "They could have seen the monument of all the people who've been there, the 52-history of the club. There's a trail that goes up to another camp up on Wolf Creek, that was my brother's camp. Unfortunately, I don't think they've seen the whole picture."

TM: Brian, what is the argument for moving these camps? I mean, why not allow them to keep operating in those areas if they've been there for decades?

BPM: Environmental groups, recreation groups, even some local government leaders argue that these lands have been closed to the general public for more than a century. We're talking sections of the Indian River and the Hudson, the Essex Chain of Lakes, and Boreas Ponds. With the clubs out of the way, the lands will be open to everyone – to more hunters, more sportsmen, more paddlers. Some green activists also just want these lands restored to a more wild state, with fewer structures and fewer roads.

TM: So what's likely to happen? Will some of these 20 or so clubs choose to relocate and keep operating on other lands nearby – or are most of them likely to just disappear?

BPM: I think some of both will happen. There has been a huge political fight here, and a lot of resentment. But it appears that these clubs will have to go from lands that are being added to the forest preserve. I asked Fred Monroe if he thought sportsmen would take up the opportunity to relocate and he said some would.

"Yeah, they might relocate onto easement lands and suffer a big loss, the loss of their camp and having to build another one or buy another one. I think some people will. I'm considering that myself."

TM: So a big transition for sportsmen. What's the timeline here, Brian. For clubs on the former Finch Pruyn lands, when do they have to be gone?

BPM: In most cases, clubs and cabins that have to be removed from these new forest preserve lands have to be gone or dismantled by 2018.

The APA is expected to vote on a management plan for roughly 45,000 acres of new forest preserve lands as early as next month.

 

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