It appears the state is planning to purchase the Essex Chain of Lakes first in its plan to acquire 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. land in the central Adirondacks.
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Monday, in a phone interview with the Enterprise, that buying the Essex lakes tract first makes sense for two reasons.
"It matched up with how much (money) we think we'll have available from the (Environmental Protection Fund) here to spend," Martens said. "Also, it was a very attractive parcel from a public use point of view. So the quicker we can make that available for public use, the better."
OK Slip Falls is in one of the parcels of land the state plans to buy from The Nature Conservancy, although it likely won't be in the first phase of the purchase this year.
(Photo — Carl Heilman)
The state plans to spend $13 million in this fiscal year and $49.8 million over five years, using funds from the EPF. The last payment would be made in the fiscal year 2016-17. The state comptroller and attorney general still need to sign off on the deal.
When the state opens up the Essex Chain of Lakes tract to the public will depend on when the hunting and fishing club leases associated with the property run out, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said. Some media are reporting that it could be as early as this fall.
DeSantis said the lease holders have the option of remaining on the land through September 2013.
The Essex Chain of Lakes includes 11 lakes and ponds that are interconnected or within portaging distance of each other. It also contains a 7-mile canoe route. It is located in the towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake and Minerva.
DeSantis said the DEC is also working with The Nature Conservancy to open a stretch of the Hudson and Indian rivers, but Conservancy officials said details about exactly what will be open to the public won't be known until the deal is finalized.
The Conservancy has already been showcasing some of the land slated for Forest Preserve this summer, in anticipation of the future land sales. In mid June, some local guides and outfitters were taken on a trip of the Essex Chain of Lakes and other former Finch properties so they could become familiar with them for publicity purposes and be knowledgeable during any public process that would determine how they are managed.
Once the state closes on the purchases, the land will go before the state Adirondack Park Agency so it can be classified. A unit management plan would then be developed for it, or it would be added to an existing unit. Both the classification and management plans require input from the public.
Neither Martens nor State Forester Rob Davies, director of the DEC's Division of Lands and Forests, could say how the lands will be classified because they have to go before the APA and be subject to public comment, but they did agree that the classifications of the surrounding lands is an important factor in the classification process.
The Essex lakes tract, for example, borders state wild forest while other tracts border land with the more restrictive wilderness designation.
"What surrounding lands are classified and how they fit in with the overall management of those areas, those are important points ... but we don't really have a specific scheme in mind yet," Martens said. "We want to get out and see what the public's got to say first before we get to classifications, but it may make perfect sense in some instances to classify areas as wilderness."
Martens was specifically referring to the McIntyre Tracts, which border the southern High Peaks Wilderness.
In the past, unit management plans have taken years to complete, and some have never been done despite a 1999 ultimatum by Gov. George Pataki to finish all the plans in five years. When asked about this, Martens said the state's familiarity with the property should help speed up the process.
"The good news here is both the DEC and Nature Conservancy have done a lot of homework about the natural resources on the these particular tracts, so they have a lot of information," Martens said. "But we intend to go out to the communities and have public meetings and solicit public input on what the classification for the parcels should be. Then once the classification plan is ready, we do a unit management plan for the property."
Davies said because so much of the work on the ground is done already, "We're hoping to be able to move forward with the classification and unit management planning process in a much more simultaneous manner and a much more expeditious manner."
As for future Forest Preserve purchases in the Park in the meantime, Martens said he doesn't think they will happen anytime soon. Currently, the Conservancy is also holding the 14,600-acre Follensby Park property in the towns of Tupper Lake and Harrietstown with the intention of selling it to the state.
"This is all we can handle for five years in the Park," Martens said about the former Finch Pruyn lands. "The EPF, we obviously want to make sure there's other acquisition funds for properties outside of the Park. So that's another one of the balancing acts. Follensby is a very important parcel, but we're counting and hoping that TNC is just going to hold and manage that property that they have been for the last several years."