In the News  Archive

Adirondack trails newly opened on former Finch Pruyn timber preserve

Times Untion
August 16, 2015

By Casey Seiler

Newcomb - Less than a month has passed since almost 20 miles of trails in the Chain Lakes section of Essex County were opened to mountain bikers, but on this weekday in late July it's clear that one particular constituency is ecstatic over the prospect of seeing more people in this rolling, gorgeous stretch of former Finch Pruyn timber preserve.

Deer flies.

Clouds of them, seemingly impervious to energetic slapping and copious applications of several brands of repellent. Corrie O'Dea, a state Department of Environmental Conservation senior forester who helped design the new trail system, has never seen them quite so rambunctious.

"I recommend a long shirt and long pants," says O'Dea, the only member of the party who's properly dressed to fend off the swarm.

You can't blame the insects, which by the time you read this will be on the wane in the North Country. For any wild thing — such as the hustling bear cub and plentiful deer spotted on the drive to the trailhead five miles south of the town of Newcomb — the Chain Lakes is a great place to live.

For mountain bikers and those on horseback, it's now a better place to visit. The trails, which opened on July 4, wend their way through a network of trout-rich lakes, ponds and other wetlands alternating with stands of old- and new-growth forest.

A seven-mile eastward ride from the parking lot on Deer Pond Road to the Polaris Bridge on the Hudson runs under thick canopy and across open meadows. Perhaps the most scenic spot is the narrow bank separating Fourth Lake and Fifth Lake, a vantage that affords a panoramic view of water and wood.

The trails are open under a draft unit management plan that has been in development since the tract, initially acquired from the timber company by the Nature Conservancy, was added to the forest preserve in 2013.

Bob Stegemann, regional director for DEC's Region 5, called the newly accessible terrain "an incredible, beautiful resource." He said the UMP strikes the proper balance between preservation and the sort of public access that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has championed — both through policy and his media-intensive seasonal Adirondack Challenges.

"It's going to be, at the end of the day, an asset to the community to attract people here," Stegemann said of the trail network.

Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council and a former DEC regional director, called the Chain Lakes tract "a beautiful little paradise." He agrees with Stegemann that the plan for the 10,000-acre Chain Lakes tract answers "the challenge and the struggle" that mark so many management questions within the Blue Line.

But in that tradition, elements of the plan remain in dispute.

While most of the newly accessible trails are north of the Cedar River, the UMP includes a plan to construct a 140-foot bridge that would connect the upper routes with paths on the Chain Lakes Road South. The bridge would allow riders — on horse, bike or snowmobile — as well as hikers and those on snowshoes and cross-country skis to more easily travel between Newcomb and Indian Lake in Hamilton County. Local leaders and businesses hope this recreational corridor — parallel to the Hudson and the Indian River — would draw the sort of tourists who are currently bypassing the Blue Mountain region for the High Peaks.

The Adirondack Council supports the construction of the Cedar River bridge in the context of the larger plan, particularly the protection of the lakes as being motor-free. (Limited floatplane use is allowed on First and Pine lakes in the complex.)

"These things together make a package," Janeway said.

Protect the Adirondacks, a conservation group that often finds itself at odds with the state over development within the Blue Line, is dubious that the trails will find a sufficient number of cyclists to warrant the impact on the Chain Lakes.

"The market that exists for mountain biking on dirt roads in the Essex Chain Lakes area is unproven and purely anecdotal," the group says on its website.

Janeway, however, notes that the paths were originally designed for heavy equipment. "I'm not worried about environmental damage from biking on those roads," he said.

Protect the Adirondacks and other groups also want to see more restrictions on actual and potential motor vehicle use on the trails — including on the proposed bridge across the Cedar River. (The group also wants to see the iron-planked Polaris Bridge, built in 1992 by Finch Pruyn, removed entirely — a position the Adirondack Council concurs with.)

The public comment period for the DEC's draft management plan recently ended; the agency is currently reviewing the results in order to offer responses and make any amendments to the blueprint. The final UMP will be submitted to the Adirondack Park Agency for consideration.

"I think there's going to be a fight" over the Cedar River bridge, said Ruth Olbert of Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb.

Olbert and her husband are among a group of local investors who received a $100,000 "recreation hub grant" — part of a $500,000 program administered by DEC, the Natural Heritage Trust and the Nature Conservancy — to start up Newcomb Guides Service.

The startup used a chunk of the money to secure a 12-passenger van, a canoe trailer and a fleet of 10 fat-wheel bikes capable of handling snowpack as well as warm-weather terrain.

Olbert has seen an uptick not only in the number of backcountry users but in their economic bracket as well. You can tell, she said, by the quality of their gear.

"We've been here a really long time hoping that this kind of thing would happen," she said August 16, 2015

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