Couple organizes to fight campsite closings on Follensby Clear Pond

There are nearly three dozen campsites on the popular Follensby Clear Pond, and the DEC plans on closing about half of them. (Photo provided — Sheila Delarm)

SARANAC LAKE — Last month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released its long-awaited unit management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, a complex of public land that encompasses about 75,000 acres of land and nearly 20,000 acres of water in the Tri-Lakes area.

Actually, the ambitious plan, which covers public uses such as hiking, hunting, mountain biking, snowmobiling and camping, has generally been well received. However, a group has formed to push back against the DEC’s plan to close more than a dozen campsites on the popular Follensby Clear Pond near Saranac Inn.

“Save our Sites” is represented by Sheila Delarm and Bob Eckert of Paul Smiths. The pair said in an email that the state’s plans for the wild forest were generally agreeable.

“We are positive about most of the plan,” they wrote. “Our concerns are relative to an interpretation of the waterfront campsite spacing and setback guidelines being over-zealously applied to Wild Forest State land in the area of the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest that is heavily canoed.”

The UMP calls for the closure of 18 of the 32 sites currently located on Follensby Clear Pond, including the lone lean-to site on the pond. The DEC also plans to build four new sites on the pond.

“This significant reduction in campsites is needed to comply with required separation distances,” the DEC said in the UMP. The DEC will also limit to one week the amount of time any party can stay at the sites since the department acknowledges that demand is likely to outpace supply.

By way of reasoning, the state argues in the UMP that many of the sites are too close to the water’s edge or cannot accommodate a pit privy that meets setback guidelines. For the lean-to site, the UMP says “the island it is on is not large enough to allow a pit privy to be built to the required set back distance.”

The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, the guiding document for lands within the Adirondack Park, mandates that pit privies be located at least 150 feet from the mean high water mark of any lake, pond or waterway. The SLMP also says any new or reconstructed sites or lean-tos be at least 100 feet from the mean high water mark and reasonably screened from the water.

Another problem is that the SLMP recommends campsites be a quarter-mile apart, and the ones on Follensby Clear are closer together than that.

But Eckert and Delarm argue that the DEC needs to do a better job of maintaining what already exists rather than closing sites.

“Nothing states definitively in the APSLMP that Wild Forest has to be treated in this same manner” as wilderness, they wrote. “The intent of the classification system was to treat different areas uniquely, (so) let’s do so.

“Destroying sites that are already (there) is costly, and even more destructive to the area than leaving existing sites. It’s very challenging to make an existing site ‘disappear’ and takes constant and budget-draining vigilance to enforce closure. Spend the money that would be spent on closures and construction instead on erosion control and site improvements for existing sites.”

Eckert and Delarm recommend that the state Adirondack Park Agency amend the SLMP to allow camping along the water’s edge and reduce the quarter-mile separation between campsites in land designations other than wilderness, the most restrictive classification in the Adirondacks.

“If there is not a significant amount of public comment the final plan will look very similar to the current draft,” they wrote. “The public’s comments are critically important as they could form the foundation for changing the APSLMP to better accommodate saving our sites and keeping organized camping groups.”

The DEC has put the full UMP up on its website at www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22593.html along with presentations and fact sheets. Information on Save Our Sites can be found on the group’s Facebook page.

To comment on the UMP, send written comments to Steve Guglielmi, Forester, P.O. Box 296, 1115 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12997-0296 or by email to r5.ump@dec.ny.gov. Comments will be accepted on the plan until Aug. 11.

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