DEC to revise draft Essex Chain plan

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it will make “substantial revisions” to its draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes in the Central Adirondacks.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a press release that the decison was made in response to comments from local businesses, community representatives, individuals and a variety of stakeholders. The agency had issued the draft UMP in June and accepted public comment on it through mid July, then extended the public comment period through July 25.

The Essex Chain Lakes Management Complex includes the 6,956-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, the 2,788-acre Pine Lake Primitive Area and a portion of the 42,537-acre Blue Mountain Wild Forest. The complex of lands is located in the town of Indian Lake in Hamilton County, and towns of Newcomb and Minerva in Essex County.

The original draft contained proposals to allow seasonal hunting access along some of the roads on the property. It also called for the creation of facilities for people with disabilities, construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River and the use of some of the property’s roads by mountain bikes. DEC said that a plan to locate a snowmobile trail through the lands to connect Indian Lake, Newcomb and Minerva would be addressed by a future UMP amendment. The agency now says that work will take place as part of the current UMP process.

“DEC has decided it will revise the draft UMP to fully assess the options for locating a snowmobile trail and propose a preferred alternative,” the agency said in the release.

Among other changes, the new bridge over the Cedar River had been proposed for non-motorized recreation including hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In the revised draft UMP, DEC says it will explore options that could include using the bridge for mountain biking and snowmobiling.

The agency said it expects to release the revised draft UMP for public comment this fall and complete it in time for implementation in 2015. Until that plan is approved, DEC will continue to manage access to and recreation on the lands under an interim stewardship plan.

DEC is working with partners, including the towns of Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson, Indian Lake and Long Lake, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Adirondack Ecological Center and the Student Conservation Association to implement the stewardship plan. Public access projects already completed include the designation of 13 permit-only primitive tent sites on and around the Essex Chain, the posting of signs and the creation of parking areas.

Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors and supervisor of town of Morehouse, said he was happy DEC is taking another look at its plan for the Essex Chain.

“I am very pleased that a decision has been made to incorporate the full plan for the snowmobile trail connections into one complete UMP,” he said. “For the five towns, snowmobiling has been determined to be one of the most significant economic drivers associated with these lands.”

Environmental groups also applauded the decision. Protect the Adirondacks, in a press release, said the plan was “deeply flawed and included a number of proposals that openly violated state laws and existing regulations,” including the proposed bridge over the Cedar River, a plan to retain the Polaris Bridge over the Hudson River, and a proposal to maintain former logging roads as new public motor vehicle roads. The goup also said the original plan undermined the state Adirondack Park Agency’s “primitive” designation for the Essex Chain by allowing vehicle access to Fifth Lake.

“The DEC needs to go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that complies with state law and protects these extraordinary natural resources of the Essex Chain Lakes, Hudson and Cedar Rivers,” Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a press release.