SARATOGA SPRINGS - An Adirondack environmental group is calling for creation of a new 39,000-acre Upper Hudson River Wilderness Area on former Finch, Pruyn and Co. lands.
This summer, the state announced plans to purchase 69,000 acres of former Finch timberlands over the next five years from The Nature Conservancy, which acquired the land from Finch paper.
The state has said the 22,000-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract will be the first tract purchased, potentially in 2013. The group Protect the Adirondacks has a proposed a new wilderness area that would encompass much of this property.
"Protect envisions a new wilderness area that protects the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River," Executive Director Peter Bauer said. "Wilderness classification is the best protection to create a motorless lakes system for the Essex Chain Lakes and protect the Hudson River as a wild river."
"Wild country and wild rivers grow fewer each year and a new wilderness area for the Upper Hudson would provide permanent protection for 22 miles of one of the greatest rivers in America," added Protect board co-chair Chuck Clusen.
The proposed wilderness area is centered on a stretch of Upper Hudson River from the town of Newcomb to North River. It would include more than five miles of the Cedar River and four miles of the Indian River as well as dozens of other lakes and ponds.
The new wilderness area would be created from roughly 19,000 acres of former Finch lands and 20,000 acres of existing Forest Preserve lands in the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area (17,000 acres) and the Blue Mountain and Vanderwhacker wild forest areas (3,000 acres).
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated plans to continue floatplane access to First and Pine lakes on the edge of the proposed new wilderness area.
Bauer said his group recognizes the established floatplane use on these lakes and has drawn proposed boundaries to classify those lakes as wild forest. The group also recognizes public interest in access to the Essex Chain Lakes for canoe camping and has drawn boundaries for road access to this area through conservation easement and wild forestlands.
Bauer said he believes the new wilderness area would enhance the popular Hudson River-Indian River whitewater-rafting industry by managing, for the first time, the Hudson River as an integrated resource and by providing much improved day use and camping opportunities through the entire length of the Hudson River Gorge.
"An Upper Hudson River Wilderness will protect the whitewater-rafting industry over the long-term," he said. "This industry has proven to be highly successful as well as sustainable and provides terrific opportunities and wild river experiences for visitors to the Adirondack Park."
The proposed area would be larger than nine existing Adirondack Park wilderness areas. Five other wilderness areas have more than 100,000 acres each. They are the High Peaks, West Canada Lake, Five Ponds, West Canada Lake and Silver Lake wilderness areas.