The state has completed the purchase of another 9,300 acres in the Adirondacks, most of it former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands.
The second phase of the Finch deal, which the governor announced last summer, includes one of the highest waterfalls in the state, OK Slip Falls in the town of Indian Lake, and a key takeout that will open up a 12-mile stretch of the Hudson River south of Newcomb to recreational paddling.
The state is buying the land from the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which had bought it from Finch, Pruyn as part of a 161,000-acre deal in 2007. The Conservancy sold more than 90,000 of those acres to a Dutch pension fund for logging, with conservation easements sold to the state. Some land went to towns for community uses, and the remaining 69,000 acres are going to the state in phases over five years.
Blue Ledges, located along the Hudson River Gorge in the town of Indian Lake, is among 9,300 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands the state has acquired from The Nature Conservancy in a deal announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
(Photo — Carl Heilman, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)
The state paid the Conservancy $6.3 million for the latest 9,300 acres and will pay full property taxes on each tract, according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.
"There is not a more fitting way to celebrate Earth Week than protecting spectacular property in the Adirondack Park that will create tourism opportunities and bring more visitors to this magnificent place," Cuomo said in the release. "With these newest acquisitions, we are building upon past state investments in the Adirondacks as we enhance a world-class Park that contains a wealth of private and public lands in one of the most beautiful settings on earth."
There are six tracts involved in this phase of the acquisition:
-OK Slip Falls, town of Indian Lake, Hamilton County, 2,800 acres, includes OK Slip Falls, Blue Ledges and 2.1 miles of the Hudson River
-Indian River, towns of Indian Lake and Minerva, Essex and Hamilton counties, 940 acres, includes the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, a takeout point for paddlers who want to access the Hudson south of Newcomb but avoid the more treacherous Hudson River Gorge
-Casey Brook, town of North Hudson, Essex County, 1,500 acres, near Elk Lake, will provide hiking access to the High Peaks and hunting and camping opportunities. It's next to to the Boreas Ponds tract, another Finch parcel the state plans to acquire.
-The Saddles, town of Whitehall, Washington County, 2,540 acres outside the Park, not part of Finch, Pruyn's holdings, features tall cliffs and 2,200 feet of undeveloped shoreline along Lake Champlain's South Bay.
-Spruce Point, town of Whitehall, Washington County, 726 acres outside the Park, provides a wildlife pathway between New York and Vermont, will become a new state forest and be used for forestry, hiking, hunting and camping.
-Ice Meadow, town of Chester, Warren County, 727 acres, "ecologically significant," 1.5 miles of Hudson River frontage. A trail system will be developed here in partnership with the town.
State officials had hinted in recent months that they were close to finalizing the purchase of several of these tracts. One aspect of the deal that hadn't been reported, however, is that the state is getting $500,000 from The Nature Conservancy to be used for "economic development and community connections" in the towns involved in the Finch deal, including Newcomb, Minerva, North Hudson, Indian Lake and Long Lake.
Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett said Tuesday the specifics of how those funds will be doled out and used are still in the works, but "you could sort of envision things like promotion and stewardship of these new lands and public access.
"We're going to work out the details, but this is one way for The Nature Conservancy to continue with its community outreach and keep the momentum going for communities to benefit from their proximity to these newly protected lands," she said. "We look forward to working with DEC (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) and local stakeholders to figure out the spending plan for those funds."
The state has signed a contract to buy the 69,000 acres for $48 million, using money drawn from each year's state Environmental Protection Fund. The first phase of the deal closed in December, when the state bought the 18,000-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract in Newcomb and Minerva for $12.3 million.
State Adirondack Park Agency officials said last month that they're working on a draft classification plan for at least three of the tracts the state has closed on: the Essex Chain, OK Slip Falls and Indian River parcels. The plan will determine the extent of public and recreational access to the lands, most of which have been off limits to the public since before the Civil War.
The Park's environmental groups want to see these tracts largely designated as wilderness, which would ban motorized access. Sportsmen's groups and local officials would prefer a less restrictive designation as wild forest.
The DEC has proposed classifying 13,000 acres of the Essex Chain parcel as wild forest, making it part of a new Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area. Another portion of the Essex Chain tract - a section that runs along the Hudson River - would become part of a new Hudson River Gorge Wilderness that would also include the Indian River and OK Slip parcels, and what is now the Hudson River Gorge Primitive Area.
A public comment period will begin once the APA's draft classification plan is released, likely sometime in the next few months, and public hearings will be held around the state before the agency's recommendations are sent to the governor for approval.
Once the classifications are approved, DEC will develop unit management plans for the properties, but the public won't have to wait until then to access some of the former Finch lands.
The APA and DEC are currently working on an interim public access plan that would provide early access to the Hudson and Cedar rivers through the Essex Chain of Lakes and Indian River tracts, according to the governor's press release. The plan is expected to be released in the next few weeks with public motor vehicle access to begin in late May or early June, depending on road conditions.
The Nature Conservancy is still holding another 41,000 acres of former Finch lands that it plans to sell to the state, including the 11,950-acre McIntyre Works tract near Newcomb and the 22,000-acre Boreas Ponds parcel, which borders the High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas. Contract documents the Conservancy signed with the state say those two purchases won't be completed until 2014 and 2016, respectively, although they could close earlier if Environmental Protection Fund money becomes available sooner.
"We'll continue to work through the contract as we can," Prickett said.