ADIRONDACKS -- The future of a remote but historic hunting and fishing camp the state acquired in 2012 is being debated again.
Local government leaders in the Adirondacks want to preserve the main buildings at the Inner Gooley Club, the private camp in the Essex Chain Lakes whose lease on state-owned land ends Sept. 30. The buildings were recently added to the National and State Historic registers, but that's no guarantee of their preservation.
The club's lease ends Sept. 30. Under a state management plan, the buildings must be removed by Oct. 1, 2019 -- unless, local officials hope, Gov. Andrew Cuomo intervenes.
"We're just looking for a stay of execution, if you will. Lets talk about it," said North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore.
Environmental groups say the buildings should be removed, in keeping with the state's established plans for the Essex Chain Lakes, which was conservationists' dream lists of state acquisitions for decades.
"I think everyone in the public will benefit if this is returned to wilderness," said John Sheehan, a spokesman for The Adirondack Council.
State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Lori Severino said the buildings will either be razed or moved, but no final determination has been made. She said their potentially historic nature was recognized and discussed during the plan process.
The club is on the south shore of Third Lake in the town of Minerva, on land it has occupied since 1866. The land was leased from the Finch Pruyn paper company until The Nature Conservancy purchased it as part of a deal for 161,000 acres land in 2007. The state of New York bought the land in 2012 and added it to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which must be kept "forever wild."
The state classifies the land as "primitive," which means man-made structures must be removed, in keeping with the "forever wild" clause in the state constitution. While Cuomo could delay demolition, permanent preservation would require coming up with a special historic category for the site.
Local officials see the complex of more than a dozen small rustic buildings as having potential as a forest ranger substation, interpretive education center or as part of a "hamlet to hut" network -- but the first step, they said, it postponing any demolition.
"I think the (Adirondack Park Agency Local Government) Review Board supports preserving it, but the first step is to not knock it down, and then conduct a conversation that involves a lot of stakeholders," said Fred Monroe of Chestertown, the review board's executive director.
The Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages, the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board and the five towns in the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub back the preservation idea. All have adopted formal resolutions and sent them to Cuomo, DEC leaders, and various elected officials.
The buildings were added to the state Register of Historic Places in March, and to the National Register of Historic Places in May. The documentation of their significance was done by Adirondack Architectural Heritage, a private architectural history group that is supporting their preservation.
"This is an outgrowth of the effort by (AARCH Executive Director) Steven Englehart and AARCH to get the (state and national) historic listing, and this was the next logical step," said Donald J. MacElroy of Clifton Park, who is vice president of the Gooley Club. "Once listed on the State and National Register it called for an effort to preserve the buildings."
Englehart wasn't available for comment.
The Gooley Club's members are leaving, either way, as of Sept. 30. The club, which had leased 15,000 acres but only built structures on about seven acres, will be moving a few miles northwest, and leasing about 3,000 acres from a private lumber company.
Though the club was founded in 1866, most of the current buildings date from the early 20th century.
"It's very old, and it's a big part of the history and tradition or the Adirondacks, and of hunting and fishing for visitors and hunting and fishing for residents," said Monroe, who will be losing a family camp at the Polaris Club, another private hunting and fishing club in the Essex Chain. That club was founded in about 1960; there are no plans to try to save it.
Preservation advocates argue that the Gooley Club, because of its age and size, is different.
"This location has been important to the area for 152 years, and do we do ourselves any favors by wiping out all of that history?" MacElroy asked.
Environmental groups say they recognize and honor that there are memories associated with the property, but point out that the preservation issue was addressed in the 2016 DEC unit management plan, which concluded they should be removed.
"In regard to the removal of the Inner Gooley Club buildings, (the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation) requested that the department record these buildings prior to demolition and consider relocating one or more of the structures to the site of the Outer Gooley Club," the plan states.
A separate farmhouse-style building known as the Outer Gooley Club, about three miles south of the main camp complex, is being preserved by the state for possible administrative use and has parking for people hiking to the interior.
David Gibson, management partner in Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, thinks the structures should go. "First of all, there is a contract between the state and The Nature Conservancy that says the will be removed, and I think the contract has to be honored. The state classified that land as Primitive, which is basically to treat it the same as Wilderness. The club also knew this, of course. They've known this for 10 years. There's been a lot of time for transition."
Sheehan said that if the state determined the buildings are significant, it could move them, and let the current location on Third Lake return to a wild condition.
"They could be preserved in some way, but the expectation is that that land will be returned to a wild condition," Sheehan said. "We're hopeful that like many of the roads in that area, it will return to forest fairly quickly."
If state officials did want to preserve the buildings, the closest parallel would be what was done at Camp Santanoni, a former "Great Camp" on Newcomb Lake in Newcomb. After the state acquired the property in the 1970s, there were calls to demolish it, but the state ultimately, after years of debate, gave it a special "historic" designation in 2000.
The town of Newcomb, Adirondack Architectural Heritage and volunteers have worked since then to preserve and upgrade the building complex. Five miles from a paved road, it has become a popular destination for people hiking, skiing or riding mountain bikes.