By Dave Gibson
Three college research fellows – Erin, Kayla and Azaria (left to right) - spent the past three months at the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry campus in Newcomb intensively studying the Essex Chain of Lakes, the Upper Hudson River and Finch Lands. Photo © Dave Gibson
At the invitation of Paul Hai (SUNY ESF), Dan and I spent time with these students in September and October, helping them through our Wilderness Stewardship Training introduction to the Park, its history, the laws and the new Forest Preserve lands in context. As usual, we did more than most groups they met with – Dan cooking one of his famous Dutch oven meals, giving us additional time to dialogue informally with these students at Huntington Lodge, with beautiful Arbutus Lake outside and a warming fire and well-laid table inside.
Today in Newcomb the students delivered their final presentations on how these lands should be classified in front of some tough questioners – SUNY ESF professors, staff, Ross Whaley, DEC Forest Ranger Brian Dubay, DEC Natural Resource Supervisor Tom Martin, Jim Herman and Dave Mason from Keene Valley, myself, Phil Brown from the Explorer, among others. All three retained their poise under questioning.
The immersion in place – Newcomb, Minerva - that these students experienced sensitized them to local concerns and issues. They recommended a Wild Forest classification for the Chain and surrounding lands, but essentially wilderness management for the lakes (no motorboats), and very careful use of perimeter parking limited to just twelve car/trucks, and very few primitive camping sites in order not to overwhelm the natural resources. They recommended muscle-powered access to the lakes as much as possible. They felt that outdoor guides should be allowed closer parking access to the water bodies, as they bring with them paying clients and an added local economic benefit. They recommended recreational and ecological studies (Limits of Acceptable Change type assessments) to guide any future expansion of perimeter access, parking and overnight camping, and urged true conservative approach to recreational pressure in order not to establish an initially high pattern of use on sensitive natural resources that should remain under intensive study. They recommended that SUNY ESF work with the Towns to convey general and camping information to visitors. A permit reservation system for the Essex Chain was discussed at length, but they felt it required additional study. The students would have recommended Wilderness classification except they felt strongly that all-terrain bicycling should be permitted on the road system as an alternative way to access the lakes and rivers four miles from any blacktopped road, and for its own recreational enjoyment and related tourism benefit to Newcomb, etc. They rejected Primitive or Canoe classifications (which allow bicycling under certain conditions), but I sensed they did not immerse themselves in the nuances of the State Land Master Plan. They were uneasy about recommending expanded snowmobiling in this area due to sensitive resources, and a lack of knowledge of the overall trail system beyond the Chain Lakes. They were against use of ATVs anywhere on the land in question because of the impacts that would result.
These students admitted they came into this study with a bias towards wilderness, and complete their work with a deeper relationship with the land and its host communities. While Adirondack Wild differs with their particular classification recommendation (we are recommending a Wilderness classification, as you know), the research fellows did carefully think through many, not all of course, of the most important management factors and issues. We commend them and their teachers – Paul, Stacy, Marianne and others – for inviting so many stakeholders to help with their research project and for tackling a highly controversial and relevant topic like this – as the classification decision at the APA is still in flux.
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