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Hearings underway for Park's new Finch Pruyn lands

June 14, 2013

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This weekend, the state will open up portions of two recently-acquired former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands in the central Adirondacks. That will mean more places to go in the Park for paddling, hiking and fishing. The access is temporary as the Adirondack Park Agency works to come up with a classification plan for the lands.

That process formally got under way this week when the APA hosted the first of eight public hearings scheduled around the state. Environmentalists are pushing for the new lands to be protected as wilderness, while sportsmen and local government officials want to see more opportunities for public access to the lands.

The APA has proposed seven classification options for 47,000 acres of state land in the towns of Minerva, Newcomb and Indian Lake. They range from wilderness, which is the most restrictive, to wild forest, where cars, motorboats, float planes and mountain bikes could potentially be allowed.

The Hudson Gorge Primitive Area would become wilderness in all seven options. Much of what was debated at Wednesday's hearing in Ray Brook focused on the classification of one of the newly acquired Finch tracts, the Essex Chain of Lakes.

Representatives of the Park's environmental groups were nearly unanimous in supporting option 1A, which would provide for a large wilderness paddling experience but also allow some limited road access to the Essex Chain.

"One of the advantages of alternative 1A is as a balanced approach recognizing some of the competing interests, it does provide for motorized access into that point to make sure we have wilderness and we do have access," said Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council.

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth also supported option 1A. He said he was worried that a wild forest classification would open up the extensive network of old logging and other roads in the Essex Chain tract to too much vehicle access.

"I think, in that very small area of lakes and ponds, you won't be able to escape the sound of motors and a motorized society like you could if it's managed as a wilderness area," Woodworth said. "I also worry about the effect of two-stroke engines, of boats with motors bringing in invasive species and overfishing."

One environmental group, however, wasn't on board with either of the two wilderness options. Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild called for a larger buffer of wilderness to the north to protect the Essex Chain.

But supporters of the wild forest classifications said they would provide more opportunities for public access, and therefore, could create more economic benefit for the towns.

Sue Montgomery Corey is the supervisor of the town of Minerva. "Our hope is that the classification will allow us to have a diverse base of recreation over four seasons," she said. "Our community discussions led us to believe that a wild forest classification is the most appropriate."

Our hope is that the classification will allow us to have a diverse base of recreation over four seasons - Sue Montgomery-Corey, Minerva

Ann Melious, Hamilton County's economic development and tourism director, said thirty-nine percent of the land in her county is already wilderness. "I can state as fact that wilderness has not helped economic development in Hamilton County," Melious said.

Representatives of several sportsmen's groups spoke in favor of a wild forest classification.

Jason Kemper, chairman of the state Conservation Fund Advisory Board, said the Essex Chain is "significantly different" than the other Finch tracts the state is scheduled to acquire, because it already has an extensive road network that can allow for public access.

Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said the land doesn't meet the agency's definition of wilderness.

"Take a look at the real character of the land," said "Take a look at the infrastructure that's there. Take a look at the roads and the uses that have existed there, and read the State Land Master Plan and the language specific to a wilderness."

Roughly 70 people attended Wednesday's public hearing. The next hearings will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at the Minerva Central School and 7 p.m. that same night at the Newcomb Central School.

A final decision on the classification could be made by the APA board in August or September.

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