New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has the right idea about what to do with the 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. land the state is buying from The Nature Conservancy: some of which it's already bought and some of which is in the works.
The DEC is taking a balanced approach, proposing that much of the land become wilderness - the state's most stringent land category, which bans things like snowmobiles, motorboats and most manmade structures - and much of it fall under the less strict wild forest category.
For example, DEC's plan for the proposed Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area would let cars and trucks drive to Deer Pond, where a canoe launch, parking area and primitive tent sites accessible to people with disabilities would be built. Vehicle access from the east would also be allowed.
Floatplane access would continue on First and Pine lakes, as well as to Third Lake in the early spring and late fall under a permit system. DEC has also proposed allowing some roadside camping in the tract during the fall hunting season.
This makes sense to us.
Environmental groups are, predictably, pushing for more wilderness. The Adirondack Council, for instance, wants the whole Essex Chain of Lakes to be classified that way. Among its concerns are that direct access to a few ponds and rivers will lead to overfishing and invasive species.
Those are things to guard against, for sure, but it's already done for wild forest areas all over the Park. Even the more heavily used of these, like the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, are far from ruined.
The people of New York are spending $49.8 million for this land. They already own a lot of remote wilderness, and this would add greatly to that under the DEC's plan. It also ought to have at least something for the anglers with small motorboats, the snowmobilers and the people who want to drive in for boating camping, fishing or picnicking - especially since the access is already there with existing logging roads.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed this huge land purchase through, he made it very clear that it was for the people of New York to enjoy, and also to enhance outdoor recreation tourism opportunities for nearby communities like Newcomb and Minerva. The Enterprise had opposed the deal, saying the state has enough Adirondack land and too little money, and that the land would be in better hands with The Nature Conservancy, but environmental groups joined the chorus praising the governor for the deal.
When the governor led the Capital District and Adirondack press corps on a field trip to Boreas Ponds, his message was clear: This land is your land - all of ours. Tell all the millions of New Yorkers what we have up here. Come up to the Adirondacks in large numbers. Fish, canoe, hike, etc.
Sure, people could still recreate in these areas without things like road access to ponds, but it would be fewer people, more along the lines of how many come to Newcomb now to hike and fish - which isn't very many.
If this deal doesn't lead to many more people coming to these quiet central Adirondack towns for recreation, then Gov. Cuomo's promise will have failed.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan, citing the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, says recreational access is supposed to be secondary to resource protection, but there's no such thing as perfect protection, especially for public land. Private land is much easier to protect; you don't have to let thousands of people tromp all over it.
These forests, now that they're owned by all New Yorkers, will be "forever wild" under the state Constitution's Article XIV, but it probably will never be as wild as it was during the 150 years it was private and off limits to the public, even though it was logged. Environmentalists tend to regard state purchase of land as the ultimate in preservation, but that's not necessarily true.
If you really want to keep land natural and untrammeled, have someone buy it and keep it private and pristine. That's the idea behind The Nature Conservancy, and over many years it's been proven that there is plenty of donors' money out there ready to serve this cause.
If, on the other hand, you want the people to own the land, you have to answer to the people. And in the Adirondacks, that means adhering to the age-old balance between people and nature that's inherent in this patchwork of private and public lands. It's part of the Park's original deal, its great compromise.
We would rather the state hadn't bought this land, but since it did, it owes it to the taxpayers to set it up in a way where a variety of its public owners can use it responsibly. The arrangement won't satisfy everyone's every desire, but it will still be beautiful, wild, peaceful and inspiring.
It's a lesson to those urging the state to buy Follensby Park near Tupper Lake, another tract The Nature Conservancy bought from a careful steward who - like Finch, Pruyn - kept the land remarkably wild for many decades.
Aside from the facts that the state is long on land and short on money, and that it has no apparent endgame for how much of the Park's land it ultimately wants to own, its officials must consider that if New Yorkers as a whole buy Follensby, the property might become considerably less wild - even if it's designated as wilderness.
Be careful what you wish for.