Finch Lands Update
Land acquisitions in the Adirondacks, and anywhere for that matter, are always controversial. I’ve been following the developments of the state’s acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands in the central Adirondacks since 2007. If you are not familiar with this topic, then let me refresh your memory.
In June of 2007, Finch, Pruyn Inc., a timber company based in Glens Falls, New York, sold 161,000 acres of Adirondack timberland to the Adirondack chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). By early 2008, TNC had worked out details with the state to sell portions of the land in fee purchase for inclusion in the
Adirondack Forest Preserve. Much of the remainder was targeted to be sold to another timber company with the state purchasing the development and some recreational rights through conservation easements.
The easement deals, some 89,000 acres, were completed in 2011 and now the fee purchase of 69,000 acres is set to take place incrementally between now and 2018. It’s been a rough road at times for all parties involved in this deal. With the state suffering economic hardships, questions surfaced as to whether the state should be spending money on other priorities besides land deals.
When the lands are sold to the state, someone such as the recreating public gains. Someone else, often hunting clubs and holders of recreational leases, lose. TNC did their best to relocate various hunting clubs on fee purchase lands. In fact, there is as much land available for lease on conservation easement lands as the clubs had prior to 2007. But that doesn’t make it any easier for clubs who relocated or moved on entirely from their known haunts. Many remain sick over this deal.
But, it is a done deal and the state has made the first purchase sealing the deal on the Essex Chain and Hudson River tracts in the towns of Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake. The controversy now is one that many of us knew all along was coming, and that is over classification. Wilderness, of course, is quite restrictive in terms of motorized use. Wild Forest, on the other hand, is more lenient. Still, while a Wild Forest classification may allow for motor vehicle access and even usage of motorboats, snowmobiles, and floatplanes, this is certainly not guaranteed. Things have a way of being restricted during the Unit Management Plan (UMP) process which will eventually come along for these lands.
Of the 21,200 acres in this tract, 17,320 are in the vicinity of the nine lakes and ponds that make up the Essex Chain as well as the Hudson River. Late in 2012 the DEC put fourth several ideas that included something for everyone here. Drivable access to within a quarter-mile of the one of ponds (Deer Pond) as well as the Hudson River were at the top of the list. Such access would benefit anglers, paddlers and even rafters on the Hudson as it would include two more take-out options before boaters had to commit to the whitewater of the Hudson River Gorge.
DEC also has suggested seasonal floatplane access to Third Lake, the biggest of the Essex Chain. And for hunters, including those who perhaps may have once leased these lands, they’d like to open another road on a seasonal basis and have designated campsites there quite similar to what you’d find in Moose River Plains or along Floodwood Road adjacent to the St. Regis Canoe area. For this all to happen, the area has to be classified as Wild Forest.
Green groups such as the environmental protectionist organizations are looking for a more restrictive classification; but from what I’ve seen at public hearings on the future of these lands, they too want access, especially something like DEC’s plan for nearby access to Deer Pond and thus the Essex Chain Lakes. Those public hearings are the result of the Adirondack Park Agency seeking public input earlier this summer on seven scenarios they created for the future of these lands. While a few mirrored somewhat DEC’s ideas others leaned more towards the green group’s initiatives. Most of the comments I heard or read supported Wild Forest classification. This came mainly from sportsmen’s groups who want solid access for hunting, fishing and trapping. Many of them called for better vehicle access to the lakes so they wouldn’t have to drive so far.
Snowmobiling, a major economic factor in the Adirondacks, also needs to be considered. One of the first things TNC did in their plan was to lay the groundwork for future snowmobile connector trails. Some have already been realized on easement lands while others are to be determined, and the APA’s decision on classification will be that determining factor. It will also likely set a precedent for future decisions on the next two large tracts of former Finch, Pruyn lands coming up for fee purchase: the McIntyre tract and more importantly, the Boreas Ponds tract where a much needed snowmobile connector trail to North Hudson is visualized.
Getting back to this 21,200 acres, there were other concerns that arose during the public hearing process. One big one is the historic value of the region as the Hudson River was the scene of the legendary lumber era, and there are still structures in there from those days. The Gooley farmhouse near the confluence of the Indian and Hudson Rivers is on the National Historic Registry, and it was pointed out by the Adirondack Architectural Heritage association that there was no consideration for these structures in any of the APA’s plans. These structures could be lost forever if nothing is done to protect them.
By the time you read this the APA and the Governor may have already made their decisions on the classification of the Essex Chain and Hudson River tract. Whatever that decision is, outdoors folk of all types will be stepping foot on some of these lands for the first time when they become available this fall. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo this year has begun to routinely claim that “New York is open to hunting and fishing.” Let’s see if his final signature on this and future classification plans for Adirondack Forest Preserve lands proves it.
Dan Ladd is an outdoor writer and a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association who contributes regular columns to the Plattsburgh Press Republican and Glens Falls Chronicle.
He is a freelance contributor to NY Outdoor News, Lake Ontario Outdoors, and Adirondac. He is the author and owner of the website ADKHunter.com and the author of the books Adirondack Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks and Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks.