DEC adopts rec plan for Oswegatchie easement

Would involve new ATV routes, trails, campsites

One of the biggest changes for the Oswegatchie Conservation Easement would be to allow use of all-terrain vehicles on some roads, under the oversight of Lewis County. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released its recreation management plan for almost 17,000 acres of private land with an easement allowing public access, most of which is inside the Adirondack Park.

The RMP for the Oswegatchie Conservation Easement includes numerous measures meant to expand access to people with disabilities, as well as allowing all-terrain vehicle use that the county will monitor.

The easement consists of “approximately 16,929 acres in the towns of Croghan and Diana in Lewis County, including more than 14,000 acres within the Adirondack Park. The property surrounds 3.5 miles of the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River, shares 9.6 miles of boundary with forest preserve lands, and one mile of boundary with state forest land,” a press release from the DEC said.

Conservation easements are agreements between the DEC and landowners that allows for public access in exchange for economic benefits for the landowners. Easement lands are often working forests.

“The OCE has been used for timber production since the late 1800s. Historical recreational use has been largely represented by hunting, fishing, and trapping, as well as the related lease of camps on the property,” the RMP says. “Under the Oswegatchie Conservation Easement, Lassiter (Properties Inc.) retained the rights to continue harvesting timber, exclusive use of existing structures (lease camps), as well as exclusive hunting rights for September through December for 30 years — ending in 2019.

“The (DEC) now pays 72.3% of the OCE property taxes, the negotiated portion of taxes represented by purchased rights. Since acquiring a conservation easement on the property, NYSDEC has designated several roads as open to public motor vehicles, built Microburst Boulevard in 1995, replaced the bridge over the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River in 2004, and removed the fire tower from the summit of Bald Mountain in 2009.”

The RMP says all roads that are currently open to public use will remain so, but the department will also add a couple of roads to new campsites. The DEC also plans on building six new parking areas, all of which will be constructed to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The Blue Swamp Road will be accessible to people with CP3 permits and snowmobiles, but will be closed for mud season each year. Roads will be open to snowmobile traffic, and the DEC will either widen or build a parallel trail along the Bald Mountain Road.

One of the biggest changes for the property would be use of ATVs. Until now, no public ATV use has been allowed, but under an agreement with the DEC, Lewis County will be allowed to oversee ATV use on some roads under the new plan. The change comes with a number of restrictions, though, that could cause the DEC to revoke the permit.

The RMP also calls for the construction of about a half-dozen hiking trails, as well as eight new campsites. Mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed on the roads open to the public.

The RMP also estimates that it will cost the DEC just over $45,000 per year to maintain all the recreational facilities on the easement.

For more information or to download the RMP, go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/80005.html.