Press Releases

Adirondack Council Supports Cathead Mtn. Hatchbrook Conservation Project  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

BENSON, N.Y. -- The Adirondack Council today announced that it supports a conservation project that would grant members of the Hatchbrook Hunt Club automobile access across public Forest Preserve to their private lands in exchange for the Club’s deed to 480 acres of new Forest Preserve and the Club granting public access to the summit of Cathead Mountain. 

The 480 acres would be added to the Silver Lake Wilderness Area. The project would also facilitate public access to Grant Lake, just beyond the Club’s lands, inside the Wilderness Area.
 
“Among the goals of an updated proposal are the expansion of the Silver Lake Wilderness, improved conservation protections on the Club’s lands, public access to Grant Lake, and legally restored Club automobile access,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “All of those goals can be achieved through this new proposal. We believe that these proposed public benefits merit the public’s interest and support.” 

The Club is located on private lands that are entirely surrounded by public Forest Preserve. Prior owners had been unlawfully granted motorized access across the Forest Preserve for a few years but lost that access. The practice was halted more than 25 years ago in the aftermath of a federal civil rights lawsuit. 

The exchange would grant the private club the right to maintain less than 7/10 of a mile of an old road across a 46-acre tract of currently motor-free Adirondack Forest Preserve. That road would lead to the Club’s parking lot. The exchange requires an amendment to the “Forever Wild” clause of the NY Constitution, which prohibits public officials from granting private use of public Forest Preserve without permission from the voters. 

The 46 acres would remain in the Forest Preserve, subject to the Forever Wild clause, but the Club would get an automobile right-of-way across it for its use only, to parcels it owns surrounded by Forest Preserve.

This type of Constitutional Amendment is referred to as a use-amendment, similar to those allowing downhill skiing on Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks (at Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre ski centers).

Absent a constitutional convention, constitutional amendments require two consecutive, separately elected Legislatures to pass identical resolutions. The resolution must then be submitted to the voters for approval at the following General Election. Additional “enabling legislation” is needed to carry out the terms of the resolution. The process takes about three years. 

The Adirondack Council supports a strong conservation outcome that includes a right-of-first-refusal for the state and an accredited land trust, so lands could be acquired and protected in the future should the Club move to sell its lands, Janeway said. 

In addition, the Adirondack Council recommends the inclusion of a sunset provision, so the amendment expires if no action is taken to convey the parcels within two years after the amendment has been approved by the voters.  

The Council also supports the establishment of permanent legal public access to Grant Lake (on the Forest Preserve, beyond club lands) and the summit of Cathead Mountain, as well as the restoration of and public access to the NYS fire tower located on club lands. 

Emergency Tower Can Proceed Now 

Hamilton County can immediately build an emergency radio communications tower on Cathead Mountain, Janeway said. The summit of Cathead Mountain is owned by the Club, with Forest Preserve on three sides.

The Adirondack Council supports the construction of an emergency communications tower with an on-site power system, similar to those in use in other remote locations that are prone to harsh weather. An off-grid tower doesn’t require a new road, so there is no need to wait three years for permission from the voters to amend the “Forever Wild” clause, plus months more while a road is constructed and a power line installed, he explained. 

The kind of remote, mountaintop emergency communication towers the Adirondack Council supports are currently in use in northern Maine, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, Baranoff Island in Alaska, and Princess Elisabeth Research Station in Antarctica.   

Towers with independent power systems are more reliable in poor weather because they keep working when local power lines or the entire grid is knocked out by a storm. The Adirondack grid is notorious for such failures – storm-induced and otherwise. In her 2022 State of the State Address, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed shifting emergency infrastructure to off-grid power in order to increase reliability and public safety. 

“When road access to a mountain summit doesn’t exist, as with Cathead, off-grid installations are faster and less expensive to build, and are more reliable when the grid goes down,” Janeway said. “Off-grid towers have a smaller and more environmentally friendly footprint.   

“New York State officials regularly use helicopters to stock fish, drop lumber, and help build new trail bridges on the Forest Preserve,” said Janeway. “The previous owners of the Club even harvested lumber from their mountain slopes using helicopters. Building a tower and installing solar and renewable energy back-ups with helicopters is not only a reasonable alternative but a better alternative. The days of needing a road up Cathead Mountain for that have passed.”     

The summit of Cathead Mountain already hosts solar, wind, and gas-powered state police communications equipment, attached to a former state fire observation tower. The tower is no longer open to the public. The state police are maintaining that tower without any access road, but have expressed an interest in a tower upgrade. 

Moving state police radio equipment to a new tower would allow for restoration of the fire observation tower and restored public access to it, via hiking trail.
 
The Adirondack Council is committed to upholding Article XIV, the “Forever Wild” clause of the State constitution, Article XIV, Section One:  

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed.” 

“Since 1894, these 54 words have provided critical protection for the ecological integrity, clean water, clean air, and wild character of an Adirondack Park that sustains the largest intact, temperate deciduous forest on Earth,” said John Sheehan, Communications Director for the Adirondack Council since 1990. “These protections are also keys to sustaining the economy and attracting new residents and visitors to the region. Exceptions or amendments should be rare, specific, and narrow in scope. They should be considered only when there is a demonstrated and documented public benefit and no reasonable alternative. 

“There have been a number of well-intentioned proposals over the past two decades to solve the auto-access and emergency tower issues at Cathead Mountain,” Sheehan said. “We believe this proposal addresses both local public safety and private-access issues constructively while providing the greatest conservation benefit to the people of the state. Ultimately, it will be up to the Legislature to decide what type of resolution, if any, it passes. So far this session, no amendment resolution or enabling legislation has been filed with the Senate or Assembly.”  

Established in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. It is the largest environmental organization whose sole focus is the Adirondacks.   

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy, and legal action. It envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, core wilderness areas, farms and working forests, and vibrant, diverse, welcoming, safe communities.

For more information: John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340 

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