Access to state-owned Adirondacks land debated

More than 150 residents from the Adirondack region listened and shared their concerns about the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of around 100 parcels of land owned by the state.. (The Leader-Herald/Opal Jessica Bogdan)

NORTHVILLE — Environmentalists, government officials and local community members came together Monday night at Northville Central School to discuss the future of tracts of land in the Adirondacks recently acquired by the state.

Among the issues is whether to allow motorized access to the land.

The Adirondack Park Agency hosted the open public comment opportunity. Residents from Hamilton County, the village of Mayfield, town of Benson and Amsterdam joined the crowd of about 150, and more than 60 participants voiced their opinions on how the land should be classified.

The APA is in the process of evaluating 33 proposed state land classifications and 13 reclassifications for a total of 50,000 acres. Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, explained that local areas see an impact on trails and roads toward the town, sparking a local economic impact.

Karl Abrams, Hamilton County Sheriff, raised public safety and communication as issues for Cathead Mountain, which he believes should be reclassified with fewer restrictions.

He described an instance when a body was found 16 miles back in the woods and a way to respectfully remove the body had to be determined.

“I don’t have a helicopter, I can’t fly to the top on the mountain. I need to walk or have a vehicle that can handle the land,” Abrams said. He said as an avid hunter and fisherman, he owns an all-terrain vehicle that he was able to use to safely, humanely and respectfully remove the individual. “You have to let up on some of the restrictions,” he said.

Cathead Mountain is located in the town of Benson, Hamilton County, and currently is classified as “primitive.” A primitive category aims to maintain primitive conditions of transportation and the environment, meaning no additional trails can be added and no motorized vehicles can be used.

Farber explained the APA process for land classification. The state of New York makes a decision to buy a piece of  land and give it to the forest preserve. The first step is closing on the land, allowing the state to take ownership. Then in some instances, the state goes right to classification. Different categories for classifications include “wild forest,” “primitive” or “wilderness.” Once classified, they develop a unit management plan. The classification is the first cut at how will the lands be used.

“We see an interesting transformation in the process. When people want to see the state buy the land, everyone has this huge moment where they all say that the land will be wonderful for all kinds of recreation, so sport groups and environmental groups stand up and cheer. Ironically, when we transition to the classification, then you start to see the group split and have environmental groups saying that all of the land should be wilderness and sport communities say you have enough wild forest [and] to give us access to the land,” Farber said.

According to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, Cathead Mountain has two reclassifications available based on the need for the fire tower on the mountain.

“Either the fire tower and the telephone line could be removed and the whole area should be added to the Silver Lake Wilderness Area, or the fire tower and telephone line to the tower, if found to be necessary, could remain and the primitive area be enlarged to include an appropriate, small acreage surrounding the Cathead Mountain tower, until such time as the tower is no longer needed … a Unit Management Plan was adopted for this area in 2006,” according to the master plan.

Abrams said the he feels that any land should be protected, up to a certain point.

“I understand that you have to have some of these restrictions, that you have to have these protections. But I’m here for the people in Hamilton County and anyone around the county. Cathead Mountain is a vital part in order to get out of the town. I want to make sure that the communications are there so if you’re hurt or your family is hurt, God forbid, I’m not able to get there in time to help,” Abrams said.

However, not everyone agreed with the reclassification of the mountain. Environmentalists voiced concerns for the preservation of nature and worry that when they’re older, there will be no wild land left.

Tyler Solcaslt, of Old Forge, spoke about another area — Boreas Ponds, located in the heart of the Adirondacks. Solecaslt said 80 percent of the Adirondack Park is already within one mile of the road, and he feels that changing Boreas Pond to have more public access shouldn’t happen.

“When I left the Adirondack Park temporarily last year to walk the Appalachain Trail, I was deeply disturbed. I thought my wild journey was going to spectacular, but instead, I found that I had to cross a road every four miles on average along the trail,” Solcaslt said.

He continued on to say that when he grows to be an old man, he may not have the same physical capability and argued that doesn’t mean that every pond or mountain in the Adirondacks should have a road to it.

“There is not much wildness left in this country and I hope they can see the value in what’s left. If not for today, then for future generations. Wilderness has already been stolen,” Solcaslt said.

Prior to the public comments, Assemblyman Marc Butler said the APA does a good job with its mission to protect the character of the Adirondacks. Butler did not have a formal presentation himself, but said he would provide written comments at a later date.

“This is democracy at the most basic level, where people have a chance to weigh in on this,” Butler said. “As this process goes forward, I want to remind everyone to not overlook the most precious resources that we have in the Adirondacks and that is for people who live, work and recreate there.”

Public comments are being accepted through Dec. 30 and written ones can be sent to Kathleen D. Regan, deputy director of the APA to [email protected] or via mail to P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

By Chad Fleck

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