SARATOGA COUNTY -- The wild and mountainous lands between Moreau Lake State Park and Saratoga Springs have the potential for new recreational development, according to a study released Monday.
The Southern Palmertown Conservation & Recreation Strategy, released by the land conservation group Saratoga PLAN, lays out ideas for linking state parks and state forests through four towns, via a series of long and short off-road trails. The goal is to preserve forests and provide convenient access to the outdoors for residents of surrounding towns.
"It's a plan for economic development based on conserving the landscape by preserving working forests and wetlands and providing access to convenient public recreation," said Maria Trabka, PLAN's executive director.
PLAN developed the 126-page strategy over the past year, in cooperation with the Open Space Institute and other groups interested in preserving the land, which includes foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, north of Saratoga Springs. It was written by planning consultant Alta Planning and Design, of Troy.
At the strategy's heart is a decade-long effort to link Moreau Lake State Park to Lincoln Mountain State Forest and then Daniels Road State Forest, both in Greenfield. That could bring hikers to the northern edges of Saratoga Springs. The plan became more feasible in 2015, when hundreds of acres around the closed Mount McGregor prison were added to the Moreau Lake park's land holdings.
Trabka said PLAN has talked to private landowners about allowing the trail connections and is working with the towns involved: Greenfield, Moreau, Corinth and Wilton. All have growing populations, as does most of surburan Saratoga County. The county's growth over the past 60 years has increased pressure to develop land, and preservation efforts like the Palmertown plan are a response to that pressure.
"(The Palmertown Range) is vulnerable for conversion to housing, but it's also very convenient for people in growing population centers," Trabka said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, meanwhile, is developing new management plans for the 1,219-acre Lincoln Mountain and 524-acre Daniels Road state forests. Draft plans have not been released, but PLAN and other conservation organizations have offered their input.
Greenfield Town Supervisor Dan Pemrick, whose town has most of the private land that would be involved in the strategy, said he hasn't seen the plan, but the town of Greenfield is in favor of conservation efforts.
"The town has been supportive and will continue to support that, though obviously we would do it with careful consideration of local input," he said.
In addition to making connections for a long-distance trail, Trabka said the strategy calls for a network of trails and trailheads, with new parking for some existing informal trails, and some shorter trail loops near trailheads for people who just want a short walk.
PLAN hopes for some progress in the near future.
"Definitely within the next year, and we'll be asking the towns to do an intermunicipal (cooperative agreement), and we're applying for grants to fund a part-time position to push this plan forward."
The report also notes the area includes some of the wildest terrain in Saratoga County, including unfragmented forests that provide wildlife habitat and timber, and the headwaters of Kayaderosseras Creek and Snook Kill. Trabka said the area is also gaining recognition as a corridor used by wildlife moving between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks.
"Our goal is to develop a landscape-scale conservation strategy for the area that promotes community engagement and recreation opportunities while balancing ecological protection and community development," states a summary of the strategy.
A trail system could bring bring more visitors to the area, which PLAN says would benefit campgrounds, motels, restaurants and other businesses.
Already, there are public trails at Moreau Lake that go from the lakefront to the ridge of the Palmertown Range. The southern end of the trail will eventually link up with the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail, which in turn may connect to other trail networks around Saratoga Springs and trails that run south and east to the Mohawk River/Erie Canalway Trail and the Hudson River/Champlain Canalway Trail.
Saratoga PLAN, partnering with the Open Space Institute and Alta Planning and Design, conducted a series of community engagement events about the strategy late last year and earlier this year. The events were followed up by two surveys and interviews with key parties, according to the plan's summary.