First impressions of the Essex Chain

NEWCOMB – As the sun set on Wednesday evening, real estate broker Judy Morris stuck a “for sale” in the front yard of a home on Goodnow Flow Road.

Morris had been waiting for the nearby 11,600-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract to open to the public on Tuesday to do that.

“I have some people waiting to list under my advice until this opened up,” she said in the Essex Chain parking lot minutes before driving away and putting the sign in the ground. “In fact, I have a (for sale) sign in the car I’m going to put on my property.”

Morris said she expects the opening of the lands and waters will increase the value of nearby homes and increase demand for them. Most of the properties she represents are located off of the Goodnow Flow Road, which connects to the access road to the Essex Chain of Lakes.

“I think it’ll be a big draw in the beginning,” she said. “I own my own business in Newcomb, and I think it’s going to help me a lot.”

Fourteen parties signed the trail register on the first day; one of those consisted of 16 people. Five parties signed it the second day. The number would have likely been bigger if it had been in the summer months and on a weekend. Many people have given up paddling for the season.

Morris didn’t get on the water Wednesday, but hopes to in the future. Instead she took a short walk on the property with friends to scout out the portages.

Purchased last December, the Essex Chain of Lakes is part of 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands the state is adding to the Forest Preserve in coming years. Some, such as the OK Slip Falls tract, have already been purchased from The Nature Conservancy, which owns the lands, and some are in the process of being bought.

The Essex Chain of Lakes consists of 11 lakes and ponds that are interconnected or within portaging distance of each other, making up a 7-mile canoe route.

Contractor Anthony Audino, who took a walk on the lands with Morris, also appeared to be excited about the it opening up.

He planned to come back and recreate on the lands, ponds and rivers. Both the Hudson and Cedar rivers are located on the new state land.

“I’d like to venture out and see what kind of rapids I can find and get into the different lakes and do some fishing,” said Audino, who would also like to see some mountain bike trails on the property.

Except for the Gooley Club buildings and other miscellaneous items along some of the shorelines, the lakes have a very remote feel. One can’t hear the sound of cars. The area is similar to Lake Lila in the William C. Whitney Wilderness in that it is only accessible by driving down a long, narrow, bumpy road.

Those who visit will find themselves with plenty of places to explore and enjoy. That’s what Adirondack Explorer editor and Adirondack Paddling guidebook author Phil Brown found when he visited the first day.

“I was really impressed with the views of the mountains from Third Lake especially,” Brown said. “You have these wide views. You can see all the way to Vanderwhacker and Blue Mountain.”

Dun Brook Mountain and the Fishing Brook Range are also visible from Third Lake.

There are also hidden gems for those who seek them out. For instance, there is an outlet at the end of First Lake that can be paddled for roughly half a mile at this time of the year. In the spring, when the water is higher, it could likely be paddled farther and with more ease.

Another interesting spot is between Fifth and Sixth lakes, where there are floating bog mats.

For the last 60 years, just about the only people to access the Essex Chain of Lakes were members of the Gooley Club, which still has buildings on Third Lake. The club consists of about 70 members who hunt and fish in the area.

The club will be allowed to lease the land until 2018. After that, the structures will be removed, unless a historic designation is given to any of them or one is made into a caretaker’s cabin for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Gooley Club caretaker Bruce Jennings said the members see plenty of wildlife on the Essex tract lands, including deer, fishers, martens, bears and moose.

“We have a moose that is traveling between First Lake and what they call Grassy Pond,” Jennings said. He also saw one in the spring while driving on the access road.

The Gooley Club area is off limits to the public, but people do have the option of paddling nearby to check it out. The buildings include a main lodge and dining hall, eight cabins and bath houses.

“We had a couple people come by, a couple people stop at the dock just to look at the place and make comments on how well we’re keeping it up,” Jennings said. “People that haven’t seen it are really curious.”

For Gooley Club members, having these lands open to the public is a new experience. Jennings emphasized that members don’t have a problem with the people using the lands and waters.

“I’ve heard a lot of comments about how the people at the Gooley Club are going to be angry at them being here,” he said. “We’re not angry at the people. We’re angry at the state for buying this property.”

Jennings then corrected himself saying that they weren’t angry but upset with the state because the purchase means the club will have to move to a new location and lose many of its current privileges, such as driving freely on the large network of dirt roads.

The members have used the property for many years and have been good stewards of the land, he said. He expressed concern that members of the public will leave behind garbage and not take proper care of the land.

“It’s going to be abused instead of properly used,” Jennings said. “There is those people that are conscious about the environment and about the waters. There are a lot of people that go to a campsite that clean up after themselves, but there’s a lot that (don’t) and that’s what we are going to be looking at.”

Paddling across Deer Pond Wednesday morning, part-time Newcomb resident Jessica Hunter also expressed a similar concern with management of the land. Her concern was regarding the lack of backcountry bathroom facilities that exist now. Users must bring a trowel and toilet paper if they want to demonstrate proper backcountry etiquette, which isn’t uncommon. There are no open-air or walled pit privies currently installed.

“There’s going to be a lot of toilet paper and human crap,” Hunter yelled. “You know you’re going to have hundreds of people in here. Take care of it now.”

DEC spokesman Lisa King said facilities will be put in after the classification and UMP processes are finished. However, DEC will explore the need for placement of a privy at the parking area soon.

“In the meantime, the public is encouraged to follow the principles of ‘Leave no Trace’ as they enjoy the backcountry,” she said.

Hunter also expressed concern about the length of the two carries to get to Deer Pond and then Third Lake. The first carry is a quarter-mile, and the second is a half-mile. Access is an issue that is currently being debated by state officials and will be determined by the DEC and state Adirondack Park Agency in the land classification and unit management plan. The plans will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for final approval.

However, the portage length is similar to what exists between ponds in places such as the St. Regis Canoe Area, although the canoe area does have put-in access to ponds from parking lots because it is located just off state Route 30. The Essex Chain of Lakes is more remote than the canoe area.

Brown said he thinks the backcountry users who visit the area will likely be respectful, in part because they worked hard to get there. He thinks the carries are manageable and the area will be a big draw for paddlers.

“It’s top notch,” Brown said. “It’s a lot of fun to go from one lake to another. It’s kind of like the (St. Regis) Canoe Area where you have a lot of variety, and I wish I had more time to explore it. I want to go back there again.”