Open Space Institute purchases popular tract, hopes to add land to Forest Preserve

A hiker takes in the view from the summit of Huckleberry Mountain in Warren County. The Open Space Institute recently purchased more than 1,000 acres that includes the mountain, which will likely be added to the state’s Forest Preserve. (Photo provided)

The Open Space Institute, which purchases land in order to protect popular or sensitive areas, announced earlier this month that it had completed the purchase of more than 1,000 acres in the southern Adirondacks.

The 1,285-acre Huckleberry Mountain property abuts the state’s Wilcox Lake Wild Forest in Warren County. OSI hopes to transfer the land to the state for addition to the Forest Preserve within the next three years, according to Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for OSI.

Larrabee said in an email that OSI paid more than $700,000 for the parcel, but was unsure when the public would be able to access it.

“The property holds great recreational promise, and [we] expect it [will] be a very popular hiking and climbing destination,” she said. “Trail work needs to be done on the property to ensure safe, public access.”

The highlight of the purchase is Huckleberry Mountain, which is not to be confused with a mountain of the same name near Lake George that OSI recently transferred to the state. The Huckleberry Mountain in the new parcel should be an attractive place for hikers and rock climbers. The mountain summit is 2,400 feet above sea level and there is an elongated, open ridge that used to be popular with rock climbers before a private owner closed access.

Wilcox Lake Wild Forest is already home to a popular hiking destination in Crane Mountain, which is home to a high-elevation pond along the hiking route. The mountain used to have a fire tower, but it was removed in the 1980s.

In addition to the possible recreational opportunities, OSI says that the parcel plays an important ecological role as well.

“The property offers long-term habitat protection,” OSI wrote in a press release. “Due to a diversity of ridges, wetlands and slopes on the property that support a range of ‘micro-climates,’ or natural strongholds better equipped to recover from disturbance, the property will remain a refuge for threatened plants and animals even as climate change occurs.”

OSI said the property is already home to peregrine falcon nesting sites, a heron rookery and Crystal Brook, which is a tributary of the Hudson River and offers ideal brook trout habitat.

“The conservation of this incredible, stunning property is a resounding win for outdoor recreationists, and will open this beautifully rugged property to the public,” OSI President and CEO Kim Elliman said in the release.

OSI says the parcel is only 30 miles from Interstate 87 and has two access points along Route 57. There is also an existing trail to the summit of Huckleberry Mountain, but it is not open to the public.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which would ultimately oversee the parcel when it is transferred to state ownership, was also happy with OSI’s efforts.

“New York’s amazing Adirondack Park just became more magnificent,” DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in the release. “DEC is proud to partner with the Open Space Institute to preserve and protect another irreplaceable piece of New York’s natural beauty.

“Protecting this pristine parcel will connect more hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to the Adirondacks and ensure future generations have the opportunity to explore and experience all of the wonder these lands have to offer.”

While the anticipated move is for the parcel to be added to the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, the DEC currently has no permanent management plan for that forest, but a draft unit management plan [UMP] was issued by the department in 2006.

According to that plan, the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest is about 125,000 acres, and contains hundreds of miles of streams and rivers, along with 45 lakes and ponds and 7,000 acres of wetlands. The DEC says that the vast majority of the 80 miles or so of trails in the forest are designated snowmobile trails.