Someday, the state will acquire Follensby Pond, a sapphire of the Adirondacks.
Located in the remote country east of Tupper Lake, the 1,000-acre wilderness lake is legendary — site of the Philosopher’s Camp of 1858, and pristine enough that it’s where the effort to re-introduce bald eagles to New York state was launched in the 1980s.
It’s in no danger at all of the shoreline being subdivided for lakefront mansions. The Nature Conservancy bought the lake and thousands of surrounding acres in 2008. State officials nevertheless consider it a “top priority” for acquisition and addition to the Forest Preserve, which would let people visit.
It just won’t happen soon. In fact, the Adirondack Council started an outcry last week after word surfaced that the state has given up a $2.5 million grant federal grant it received in 2010 toward the cost of acquiring Follensby Pond.
The state and the Nature Conservancy have a long working relationship, and a Follensby deal was never expected to happen before the conclusion of the current agreement for the state to acquire 65,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn forest land from the conservancy over the next five years. The first phase of what over time will be a $49 million deal closed in December.
The lost federal funding nevertheless shows the need for more state funding for land acquisition, the Adirondack Council said in testimony to the state Legislature in Albany last week. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed increasing the Environmental Protection Fund from $134 million to $153 million this year, the fund had a $255 million appropriation as recently as 2008. The fund that pays for land acquisitions, park improvements and farmland conservation was butchered during the worst years of the state financial crisis.
“If the EPF had remained at 2008 funding levels, both the Finch and Follensby parcels could have been acquired and added to the Forest Preserve by now,” said Scott Lorey, legislative director for the Adirondack Council.
State officials said the federal Forest Legacy grant was supposed to be used by last July. The state was given a six-month extension from that date but opted not to try for another extension “due to competing priorities for land acquisition projects.”
The Nature Conservancy paid $16 million for Follensby Pond. Assuming that’s what the state would pay the conservancy, the grant would have reduced the state share to $13.5 million.
“The department will not have the state share of the funds for the purchase of the Follensby Pond property in the near future,” Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Legacy Coordinator McCrea Burnham wrote to the Adirondack Council last month.
The Nature Conservancy is prepared to wait, said Michael Carr, executive director of the group’s Adirondack chapter, and wasn’t expecting anything to happen soon.
“It’s farther out. It’s behind all the other acquisitions that we’re working on,” he said Thursday.
Carr said the state did the right thing to surrender the Forest Legacy grant.
“That way, it can be re-invested elsewhere, and the state can reapply in the future,” he said.
In the interim, the Nature Conservancy is paying local property taxes, leasing some of the 14,600-acre property to hunting clubs, employing the property’s longtime caretaker and conducting biological research, Carr said.
The conservancy doesn’t have the staff to open the property for public recreation, though Carr looks forward to the day when the state can open the property.
“The property includes 10 miles of Raquette River frontage bordering the High Peaks Wilderness. The public will be amazed at the beauty of it,” he said.
The pond has a historic Schenectady connection. James Stillman, a city native and 1848 Union College graduate who became a respected painter, organized the Philosophers’ Camp there in the summer of 1858.
Among those who gathered at Follensby were eastern Massachusetts intellectual lights including essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet James Russell Lowell and Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz, the first man to deduce through scientific evidence that the Earth had experienced previous ice ages.