The long-awaited Adirondack Park Agency plan for classifying more than 30,000 acres of new state lands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn is now out. And it was worth waiting for, a blueprint that doesn’t give anyone everything they wanted, but gives everyone some of the things — and environmentalists, most of the things. Winning acceptance for a plan that balances competing interests, that increases recreational opportunities while still protecting the park, is quite an achievement in a place where compromise has usually been considered a dirty word.
These new lands in the central Adirondacks are spectacular, and environmentalists would have liked to see all of them designated wilderness, the Forest Preserve’s most restrictive classification. The APA did recommend that classification for 23,000 of the acres centered around the Hudson River Gorge. But this came as no great surprise since there was widespread consensus, even among local officials who would like to see more of the park in private hands and open to development, that these lands are a treasure and need to be preserved for the ages.
It was the level of protection to be given the rest of the land that was the real point of contention. Many people, including at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, wanted the less restrictive Wild Forest, a designation that not only allows multiple uses but motorized ones, such as cars, boats, floatplanes and snowmobiles.
However, the APA recommended classifying 10,000 acres in the Essex Chain of Lakes area as “primitive,” which would treat them essentially as wilderness except for some pre-existing uses such as hunting clubs and floatplanes on two remote lakes.
Unfortunately, the agency also recommended creating a Wild Forest corridor to accommodate a proposed new snowmobile trail between Indian Lake in the south and Newcomb in the north. Not only is this trail not needed — there’s already one linking the two towns that takes a different, though slightly longer, route — it would run right through the heart of the property, splitting the new wilderness and primitive areas.
On the positive side, the snowmobile trail would avoid massive tree cutting and possible wetlands damage by using old logging trails. And the motorized use would be limited to winter — i.e. no ATVs.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of snowmobiles to the Adirondack economy, and this trail was one thing that local officials wanted badly. Lately they and environmentalists have been understanding each other, and working together, better through such efforts as the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance. This needs to be encouraged.
If a seemingly unnecessary but ecologically acceptable snowmobile trail is what’s needed to get local buy-in on a plan that would treat the vast majority of the new lands as wilderness, it’s worth it. The park can take it.