If you threw a dart at a map of the Adirondack Park, a dead-center hit would be somewhere near the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers in Hamilton County, just before the foaming Hudson Gorge rapids start.
It’s the pulsing heart of one of the wildest parts of the 6-million-acre park, and the state just acquired it.
But things could have been different. Back in the 1960s, there were plans for four dams that would have impounded the Hudson at points between Luzerne and Newcomb — and instead of a wild corridor, we could have a bunch more Great Sacandaga Lakes where seasonal homeowners would squabble with state regulators, who would squabble with other regulators.
Those dams were never built, and a big reason why were the efforts of a Niskayuna resident named Paul Schaefer, whom many people regard as one of the great American conservationists of the 20th century.
There’s a proposal to name the just-acquired state lands for Schaefer, who grew up in Schenectady and lived in Niskayuna most of his life, building a house on St. David’s Lane that is now owned by Union College but still dedicated to the Adirondacks.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve wants the roughly 23,000 acres from the Essex Chain of Lakes to the end of the Hudson Gorge named the Paul Schaefer Wild Rivers Wilderness.
“There is no one so closely associated with the protection of the wild upper Hudson River and the park’s wild river systems as Paul Schaefer,” said Dan Plumley, a partner in Adirondack Wild.
The proposal comes as the Adirondack Park Agency begins a review to determine whether the new lands should be managed as wilderness or wild forest.
In a nutshell, a wild forest classification allows for primitive roads and structures, while wilderness lands are to have no permanent signs of man, period. There’s a network of primitive roads in the Essex Chain of Lakes area, but a wilderness designation would close them.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended a wild forest classification for that area, saying it would promote recreation. But the APA is also going to consider wilderness classification for the land.
“There’s a lot of recreational interest in these lands. They are beautiful,” said Walt Linck, an association natural resource planner at the APA.
The Essex Chain tract was bought from The Nature Conservancy last December as part of the state’s multiyear purchase of 65,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn lands. In April, the state purchased another 2,800 acres on the south side of the Hudson Gorge, including the 250-foot-high OK Slip Falls. It’s not the Hudson’s biggest tributary, but it’s one of the prettiest.
The state’s plan is to manage the new acquisitions, together with some existing state lands in the area, as a single unit, whether as wilderness, wild forest or something else, like a “canoe area.”
The APA will hold seven or eight public hearings on the plan around the park, and around the state, this summer. It isn’t expected to make a recommendation before fall. Whatever it recommends goes up the chain of command, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo making the final decision.
Schaefer, who died in 1996 at 87, spent the final years of his life trying to forge a deal between Finch Pruyn and the state for the OK Slip Falls lands. Those efforts were the seed, if not the sapling, that led to The Nature Conservancy striking a deal with the Glens Falls paper company in 2007.
Adirondack Wild’s partners worked directly with Schaefer years ago at the Association to Protect the Adirondacks, but others also acknowledge his important role.
“In the 1960s, the great conservationist Paul Schaefer, anticipating the eventual acquisition of this parcel, fought hard to protect this section of the Hudson River from a series of dams that would have tamed the wild waters that make this portion of the park so special,” Adirondack Council Deputy Director Diane Fish said in a statement supporting wilderness designation for the lands.
The new state lands include the confluences of the Hudson with the wild Cedar River, as well as the dam-controlled Indian River. Rafting trips that start on the Indian River and run through the gorge’s world-class rapids will continue regardless of the surrounding land’s classification, APA officials said.
Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The views expressed in his column are his own and not necessary the newspaper’s. He can be reached at 885-6705 or [email protected]