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The confluence of the Hudson River, at right, and the Cedar River, bottom, is on the 18,300-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract in the towns of Minerva and Newcomb. Photo: Carl Heilman II, courtesy of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy
The confluence of the Hudson River, at right, and the Cedar River, bottom, is on the 18,300-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract in the towns of Minerva and Newcomb. Photo: Carl Heilman II, courtesy of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy

Historic Finch lands decision near in Adirondacks

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The Adirondack Park Agency has begun final deliberations into the future of the Finch Pruyn timberlands.

Roughly 40.000 acres in the central Adirondacks are slated to be classified tomorrow, with state officials pushing for creation of a big new wilderness area along the upper Hudson River. Also in the works is a new motor-free paddling area on the Essex Chain of Lakes.

At the start of yesterday's session, APA executive director Terry Martino called the conservation effort "historic." She praised the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, which engineered the massive deal, first unveiled in 2007.

Some aspects of the Finch classification plan remain controversial, including a plan to build a snowmobile bridge over the wild Cedar River. But the big story this week may be how amicable this process has been, with far less drama and bitterness than in previous years.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

APA commissioners asked questions about the details of the Finch lands plan on Wednesday, but there appeared to be no opposition. Photo: Brian Mann
APA commissioners asked questions about the details of the Finch lands plan on Wednesday, but there appeared to be no opposition. Photo: Brian Mann
At yesterday’s meeting in Ray Brook, Hamilton County board of supervisors chair Bill Farber said local government leaders don’t like everything about the package being considered this week by the APA.

They would have preferred some motorboat access to the Essex Chain of Lakes.

But he says local government got most what it needed – including some access to these new lands for floatplanes, and trails for snowmobiles.

"At first blush it looks encouraging that many of the uses that were most important to the towns may be sustained," he said.

Just the fact that Farber’s tone of voice is so mellow – that’s big news.  In past years, land classification debates in the Park sparked firestorms, bitter wars of words.

Part of the change in tone here is attributed by all sides to the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the green group that engineered the Finch conservation effort beginning six years ago.

As part of their outreach effort, TNC spokeswoman Connie Prickett says her organization worked hard to make the deal work for local communities.

a motorized wild forest corridor through the heart of a major new forest preserve area, bridges over wild, scenic and recreational rivers, this is really the new normal...
"We asked the towns what kinds of opportunities would be of interest to them," she said.

Specifically, the Nature Conservancy hard-wired into this deal that there would be opportunities for the kind of motorized recreation that local leaders wanted, including float plane access to two ponds.

"We made a promise that we would do that," Prickett recalled, "as we did with the snowmobile connector trails."

Most of the new big snowmobile trails are located on easement lands – part of the Finch lands that are remaining in private hands, but with new recreation access acquired by the state.

But as part of this land classification deal, state officials are also proposing to run a snowmobile connector trail through the heart of the new "forever wild" protected area.

Phil Brown with the Adirondack Explorer has been covering this process in-depth.  He says that issue is probably the most debated detail of the classification plan.

"Basically you have these two large motorless area separated by a snowmobile trail," Brown said.

This  patchwork approach – a combination of wilderness, primitive and wild forest areas – is designed to give everyone a bit of what they want. 

That means motorless lakes for paddlers, but also new snowmobile opportunities and continued access for floatplanes. 

But the result is complicated. 

During yesterday’s hearing, APA lead attorney Jim Townsend acknowledged that the plan will require changes to the state’s regulation – especially a plan to build a new snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River.

APA lead attorney Jim Townsend says this land classification plan will require regulatory changes by the APA and the state Conservation Department.  (Photo:  Brian Mann)
APA lead attorney Jim Townsend says this land classification plan will require regulatory changes by the APA and the state Conservation Department. (Photo: Brian Mann)
"The second change that needs to be made is by the [NY Conservation] Department of its scenic river regulations, which currently prohibit snowmobile bridges over a scenic river," Towsend noted.

Peter Bauer, with Protect the Adirondacks, says he loves a lot of this land classification plan.  But he says some of the details make him nervous.

"What's being proposed here, with a motorized wild forest corridor through the heart of a major new forest preserve area, bridges over wild, scenic and recreational rivers, this is really the new normal for forest preserve management and classification in the future."

APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich. Photo: Brian Mann
APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich. Photo: Brian Mann
Again, Bauer and others who are criticizing details of this plan say there are many aspects that they support – including creation of a 24 thousand acre wilderness around the Upper Hudson Gorge and the decision to keep the Essex Chain of Lakes motor-less.

Also, two other green groups – the Adironadack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club have endorsed this package.

At yesterday’s session there appeared to be no real opposition or skepticism among APA commissioners.

At the end of the first day of deliberation, APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich sounded relieved to be nearing the finish line.

"This day has been a long time in coming," she said.

On Thursday, the APA commission will dig into more details of this complex plan – including a review of the existing road system on the former Finch lands, and a look at how this new recreation area might benefit towns like Indian Lake, Minerva and Newcomb that hope to see a boost to their tourism economies.

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