Scenic byways and other recreational opportunities bring in tourists to generate income for the local economy. Credit: Courtesy of VisitAdirondacks.com
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) stepped in, purchasing 161,000 acres of lands untouched by development in the heart of the Adirondack wilderness. Those lands contain vast tracts of forest, the highest waterfall in the park, and scenic vistas of gorges along the Hudson River. It was an acquisition heralded by environmentalists and recreation enthusiasts, thrilled that so much previously closed wilderness would be open to the public.
The TNC staff had worked with foresters at Finch Pruyn on a number of forestry conservation issues, says Michael Carr, executive director of the Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. That close relationship helped TNC step in on this once-in-alifetime opportunity.
The $110-million purchase gave TNC a landholding the size of 11 Manhattan Islands, spread across six different counties. The properties adjoin state lands in many places and were often devoid of any roads. A large band of marble runs across the center of the landholding, creating a rich soil that grows a number of rare plants.
“When you look at timber data on the Finch lands, it reveals that these lands are very well stocked and well managed,” Carr says. “They connect a lot of water courses and contain the headwaters of many, many rivers.”
After the land acquisition, TNC went through an 18-month process to analyze the property’s ecological value and devise a plan for how to use the resources. Working with local and state government officials, scientists, and other environmental organizations, TNC decided to sell 92,000 acres to a timber investment firm, from which state officials later acquired a conservation easement. That opened up areas for snowmobile trails, a vital economic resource for the park during the long winter months.
Of the remaining land, the consensus among those various groups was to set aside 65,000 acres of forest that represented a rich ecological resource and open up new areas for public recreation. The state has agreed to buy those lands, but the decline in the economy has delayed the purchase, Carr says. Since then, some local government leaders like Senator Little have balked at the plan, arguing the state has too much forest land already.
Since the early 1990s, according to Sheehan, the state has eyed the Finch land as a possible addition to its forest holding because it represents such a diverse habitat and provides public access to some of New York’s most scenic areas. Uneven terrain and sensitive ecological sites also make many of the areas inside those 65,000 acres unsuitable for logging. Carr adds that recreation and tourism are major economic drivers in the park, which will only increase with this land purchase. However, if Little’s bill passes, logging activity would seriously limit recreation opportunities across those 65,000 acres, as well as threaten the ecological stability of sensitive areas and fragment the habitats on which local wildlife depend.
“The Adirondacks are the best example in the world of a temperate deciduous forest,” Carr says. “These lands are critical to protecting that habitat.”
Darrin Youker is an environmental reporter from Reading, Pennsylvania, and can be reached at email@example.com.