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Governor Andrew Cuomo paddles a stretch of the Indian River, just upstream from the confluence with the Hudson River. Photo: NYS Governor's office
Governor Andrew Cuomo paddles a stretch of the Indian River, just upstream from the confluence with the Hudson River. Photo: NYS Governor's office

Cuomo says he'll sign Adirondack wilderness plan

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The Adirondack Park Agency voted Friday to create a vast new 24,000-acre wilderness and primitive area along a remote stretch of the upper Hudson River.

The land, most of which lies in Hamilton County, had been owned by the Finch Pruyn logging and paper company for more than a century.

This decision by the Adirondack Park Agency commission sets aside a sprawling area of wild rivers, pristine lakes, and forests where most human development will be banned forever.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Last July, Governor Andrew Cuomo paddled the whitewater route that passes through the pristine Hudson River Gorge. 

"I want to expose this part of the state of New York, it is a magnificient part of the state as you can see," he said.

He dragged with him New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wearing a New York City Sanitation Department t-shirt.

"If we get through this alive, we’ll be happy," Bloomberg joked.

That trip was part of an effort to build support for creation of a huge new protected area near the Hudson River’s headwaters in the Adirondacks.

Friday morning, the Adirondack Park Agency voted unanimously to do just that — classifying a big stretch of the Hudson River and nearby lakes as a wilderness and primitive area.

APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich. Photo: Brian Mann
APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich. Photo: Brian Mann
Chairwoman Lani Ulrich from Old Forge drew wide praise on Friday for helping to craft this complex deal.

The action created the largest new wilderness area in New York state in a generation. Joe Martens the state conservation commissioner described the decision as historic.

"Wilderness still matters to a lot of people whether they’re actually experiencing it themselves or just knowing that it exists."

Phil Brown is a guidebook author and outdoor writer for the Adirondack Explorer magazine.  He said many areas now being opened to the public for hiking and paddling haven't been seen by New Yorkers since before the Civil War.

"They include some real natural wonders, including some real natural wonders, such as OK Slip falls one of the highest waterfalls in the state and the Hudson Gorge.

Governor Cuomo pushed hard to get this deal done, committing the state to spend nearly $50 million dollars and visiting the Adirondacks repeatedly over the last year to push negotiations forward. 

On Sunday, during a visit to Saranac Lake, he said he would sign off on the APA’s decision before the end of the year.

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
The APA "came up with a consensus solution that...conserves, protects, also develops recreation, snowmobile trails, et cetera," Cuomo said.

In the end, the Park's biggest environmental groups supported the plan but so did local government leaders in the Park, who who in the past have often attacked land conservation efforts. 

In part, that's because green groups agreed to a compromise that allows more roads, more snowmobile access, and floatplane landings on two remote lakes.  Bill Farber heads the board of supervisors in Hamilton County, "At least at first blush it appears that most of the uses that were important to the towns will be sustained," he noted.

But those details angered some environmentalists, who say allowing snowmobiles to use a narrow corridor through the primitive area sets a bad precedent.  Dan Plumley with Adirondack Wild said backroom deal making shaped too much of this package. 

Dan Plumley. Photo: Adirondack Wild
Dan Plumley. Photo: Adirondack Wild
"We know that there were decisions made that were political, agreements made that did not include the public, that excluded some organizations," Plumley said.

But others praised what they described as a workable compromise crafted in part by the governor himself.  Dick Booth is an environmental law professor at Cornell who sits on the APA commission.  He voted in favor of this deal.

"Had we talked eight weeks ago, I was not willing to concede that we needed a snowmobile corridor," Booth said.

He said he had reached the conclusion that a snowmobile trail wouldn't harm the environment.  Also, he said, without that compromise "we wouldn't have gotten close to this solution."

Mike Carr is the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack director and the chief architect of this project, including the effort to partner closely with towns.

He says Governor Cuomo's took a special role in crafting this compromise.  "The governor made a great pick here and he will be in the history books for his vision."

Creation of this new wilderness area is only the first step in a larger effort to protect the wildest stretches of the Hudson River. 

The Nature Conservancy is still holding roughly 40,000 acres of forest lands which the state plans to acquire by 2018.

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