In the News  Archive

APA's timeless gift for all of us

Times Union
Commentary by Fred LeBrun

A long anticipated yet dreaded recommendation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Adirondack Park Agency for what public access and types of recreation will be allowed on more than 30,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn lands heading into the forest preserve was finally rolled out late Friday.

It’s a home run, with fireworks. Hats off to Cuomo and his state agencies for bringing this off. It’s legacy quality.

Competing stakeholder groups were holding their collective breath. Environmental oversight groups were prepared to go to war if the pristine Hudson River Gorge and Essex chain of lakes did not receive a high level of protection, which translates largely to no motorized access.

The local governments of the five towns whose lands were on the line were deeply skeptical that motorized access to the lake region, which they see as a desperately needed economic engine, would again be denied. Conflict seemed inevitable.

Yet the complex preferred option announced by the APA threads the needle so beautifully that it accomplishes a first in my more than 40 years of covering Adirondack issues, since the creation of the often maligned Adirondack Park Agency itself.

Everybody’s happy. Not delighted, because no one stakeholder got everything it wanted, but pleased.

It is a rare day indeed when Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe from local governments, Neil Wood-worth of the Adirondack Mountain Club and Willie Janeway of the Adirondack Council sing a hymn of praise in harmony. The exception is Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks, who is much less enthusiastic about compromise.

The vehicle for this stellar accomplishment is establishing a complicated land classification system that in effect sets limits on uses in different areas. Wilderness is the highest level of protection, which means no motorized vehicles whatever. More than 23,000 acres of the wild and dazzling Hudson Gorge get that level of protection, which pleases environmentalists, including Bauer.

In truth, that was never a bone of contention, says Monroe. Local governments felt the same way.

But how to handle the new paradise of recreational possibilities, the more than 10,000 acres of the Essex chain of lakes tract where the Gooley and Polaris clubs will reside to a diminishing degree until 2018, most certainly was.

The preferred option the APA is offering is to treat the lakes region with the second highest level of protection, primitive.

This allows for some nonconforming uses, honoring covenants or agreements that precede the classification. In this case, float planes will continue to use Pine and First lakes on the edge of the chain.

Bauer is concerned that there’s a potential for the state to expand motorized use in adjoining areas in the future, for redefining primitive downward as a protection level.

Planes, though, won’t land on the centrally located gem, Third Lake.

Motorized general public access very close to the lakes will be allowed, but the lakes themselves will see only paddles and oars, and fishermen will have to work for their prizes.

The key to what pleases local governments is the creation of a wild forest designated swath a tenth of a mile wide from Indian Lake to Newcomb along the Indian River and across the Cedar River designated specifically for snowmobiles and their groomers. It’s a long-sought community connector route. It may also extend to mountain bikes but won’t include ATVs or other motorized vehicles.

So three-season paddlers and hikers will hear only the occasional float plane on First or Pine, but nothing else, and my old friend Newcomb Supervisor George Canon will get his snowmobile highway and winter will belong to him. A route, incidentally, that follows existing roads, requires no new land clearing, but does need a regulatory change by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a bridge over the Wild and Scenic-designated Cedar River.

The APA ‘‘preferred option,’’ which will now go through a long regulatory and public review process that could result in minor alterations, creates five new forest preserve units through the classification system, all of them primitive except for the Hudson Gorge Wilderness.

In addition, more than 8,000 acres will be added to the Vanderwhacker and Blue Mountain wild forests, which are on either side of the Essex Chain Lakes primitive area. This especially pleases Monroe, because that enlarges these motorized recreational areas.

I’m confident that only minor alterations will materialize through the regulatory process precisely because of the methodology that got us where we are.

High marks, again, to the governor who took a personal hand in brokering a settlement involving all the stakeholders, and to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. Martens is a strong adherent of an enlightened philosophy that started with Gov. George Pataki and his DEC commissioner, John Cahill, and was later espoused by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis: Bottom up decision-making on critical land classification issues, and bringing all stakeholders to the table.

So there are no surprises here. The result is the best holiday present an Adirondack lover could have, and for generations to come.

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