Governor signs Finch land classification

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo approved a state land classification package for 42,000 acres of Forest Preserve in the central Adirondacks Thursday.

The classification package involves 22,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands the state bought from The Nature Conservancy: the Essex Chain Lakes tract, home to series of inter-connected lakes and ponds; the Indian River tract, site of a key takeout point that will open up a 12-mile stretch of the Hudson River to recreational paddling; and the OK Slip Falls tract, which boasts one of the state’s highest waterfalls. The package also includes another 20,000 acres of adjacent Forest Preserve lands.

The state Adirondack Park Agency board voted unanimously to recommendation the classifications to Cuomo on Dec. 13. At the time, APA board members heralded their decision as a compromise. Local governments had wanted more motorized access to the Essex lakes on old logging roads, and environmental groups were not happy about a snowmobile trail that ended up as part of the plan. For the most part, however, both sides said it was acceptable.

“The addition of thousands of acres of land to the state Forest Preserve is a major step in both protecting and preserving the Adirondack Park for future generations,” Cuomo said in a press release. “At the same time, this plan enhances the state’s efforts to attract more visitors to the Adirondacks and grow the region’s tourism industry and communities. Today’s announcement marks a momentous occasion for New York’s history and landscape.”

The agency’s plan would create a new 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, a 6,955-acre Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, a 2,798-acre Pine Lake Primitive Area and two smaller primitive areas. It would also add 7,000 acres to the existing Blue Mountain Wild Forest and 1,000 acres to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.

One of the plan’s key recommendations calls for a snowmobile trail on a wild forest corridor through the heart of the property, primarily on old logging roads, linking Indian Lake to Newcomb and Minerva. Making the trail happen will take changes in both APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, as well as construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River.

The plan would also allow existing roads on the Essex Chain tract to be used for mountain biking.

The lands are part of 69,000 acres that Cuomo agreed to buy from The Nature Conservancy in the summer 2012 for the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The lands are slated to be purchased over five years. Once complete, the acquisition of the former Finch lands will be the largest addition to the Forest Preserve in 118 years.