Over the next five years, more than 69,000 acres in the sprawling Adirondack Park, including more than 5,000 acres in Fulton and Saratoga counties, will become public for the first time in more than a century.
The state is purchasing the land from the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group, for $47.4 million. It is pulling the money from the Environmental Protection Fund, a dedicated pot replenished by a tax on real estate transfers. The fund cannot be used for any purpose other than for farmland protection, recycling and environmental protection.
The Nature Conservancy had in 2007 purchased 161,000 acres of land from Finch, Pruyn & Co., a paper manufacturing company, now named Finch Paper, based in Glens Falls.
The Conservancy continues to harvest lumber on the remaining 94,000 acres through agreements and it leases some of the land to hunting groups and for recreational purposes.
The purchase is the state’s largest acquisition in 117 years and it has reignited anger about the state locking up once-private property and limiting commercial and recreational access to it.
Last month, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors followed the actions of six other county boards to approve a resolution opposing the land purchase.
The measure is largely symbolic, as the deal is done. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced it in August.
List of complaints
Still, Fulton County supervisors used the resolution to hammer home some pet themes. They criticized the state for spending $47 million to buy land while refusing to make Fulton County whole for some $2 million in back taxes owed by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, a state agency, or reducing the local cost of programs the state requires counties to provide to residents. The state provides limited financial support for many of the programs, such as early childhood intervention services or Medicaid, requiring counties to fund them through local levies. Supervisors also said the land purchase would result in the loss of 300 jobs, mostly in the logging industry; Fulton County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Mayfield Supervisor Richard Argotsinger, who voted for the resolution, said the state is “spending a lot of money when the money could be going toward mandate relief.” He said the 3,800 acres in the town that will become state property in coming years is an active forest that is being harvested. “There is nothing wrong with having an active forest,” he said.
Northampton Supervisor Linda Kemper said the county opposes future purchases by the state of land within the Blue Line. “Moving forward, we need to work with the state to better manage what we have and be able to sustain the local economies,” she said.
The Blue Line is the color of the boundary on a map that defines the Forest Preserve in the state. The state constitution requires the state to make “forever wild” any property it owns or acquires in the Blue Line and prohibits it from selling or transferring the land in any way. The state strictly regulates property within the boundary, which sometimes causes conflicts between New York landowners seeking improvements.
Kemper said if land becomes forever wild and “places are closed to the public, it will hurt the economy.” She said the state needs to manage what it already has rather than putting more into the preserve. “The state does not have the resources to manage what they have now.”
Assemblyman Marc Butler, whose new 118th Assembly District includes large swaths of the soon-to-be-public land, said many residents in the North Country oppose the state land purchases. “When the state takes over one of these properties, they put on restrictions for use,” he said. “I look at this from the perspective that people live there and need to make a living.” He said restrictions would affect tourism, “which is what puts bread on the table for many people,” as well as the activities of people who run hotels, gas stations and restaurants.
Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, disputed many of these claims. He said rather than limiting access, the state acquisition will open up miles of land for hiking, paddling, hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. Some new snowmobile trails will be created as well.
“Countless hikers, anglers, hunters and others eagerly await new public-access opportunities to these special places as the state purchases lands from the conservancy,” he said.
Private hunting groups will be given a chance to relocate from the soon-to-be public land to other privately owned forests. Argotsinger said there are no hunting camps on the Mayfield parcel.
Carr called the state’s investment extraordinary in that it will help boost New York’s $11.3 billion outdoor tourism economy, which employs some 130,000 people. “Tourism generates 17 percent of all employment inside the Adirondack Park. What it takes to get people coming here is spectacular natural areas and that is what the governor is investing in,” he said.
Carr disputed the loss of 300 jobs locally. “That is a multiplier that does not hold up. The economists we employ find that statement ridiculous.”
Carr said the land will remain on the tax rolls and some parts will be improved before the transfer. In Mayfield, for example, the 3,800-acre parcel that will become part of the Forest Preserve will connect two existing snowmobile trails to create a single trail. There also will be public access to Stony Creek, which is private land, for recreational purposes.
Argotsinger said the town will see a benefit through the creation of the snowmobile connector.
In Edinburg, a tract of land called the Thousand-Acre Swamp will be opened to public access for the first time. The tract is home to the second-largest population of moose in the state. There will also be an easement on the property to allow for a snowmobile trail and to establish a handicapped-accessible viewing platform. The land is currently under lease to a hunting group, which will have to relocate.
Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond said the loss of the hunting camp will have little effect on the local economy whereas the opening of the land to the public will have a positive economic effect. She expects the land transfer to occur within the next three to four years.
The Adirondack Park contains six million acres; the state owns 2.5 million acres and the rest is privately owned. It contains the largest old-growth forest in the Northeast; more than 40 mountains above 4,000 feet; 2,800 lakes and ponds; and 30,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams. More than 131,000 people live there year-round and 70 million people live within a day’s drive.