NEWCOMB -- Float planes would have access to at least three lakes in the 69,000 acres of former Finch Paper land the state is incrementally buying, according to an internal state Department of Environmental Conservation draft proposal to the Adirondack Park Agency.
“If you want this to benefit the communities, it has to be accessible,” said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Local Government Review Board.
The state bought the first piece of the property from The Nature Conservancy in 2012 and expects to complete the $50 million land deal by 2017.
The DEC proposal would place most of the state’s largest Adirondack land acquisition in a century under the wilderness designation — the most restrictive classification in the Adirondacks, which bans any motorized access.
But in the 18,000-acre Essex Chain of Lakes in Minerva and Newcomb, fall-season float plane access would be permitted on at least three of the lakes, under DEC’s proposal.
“To provide float plane access into the heart of the Essex Chain is very disappointing,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
Much of the chain is easily paddled and some spots would remain accessible by road, Woodworth said.
“I don’t think you need to have the loud noise or disruption,” he said, of float planes.
The DEC proposal would designate much of the Essex Chain — 11 interconnected lakes that have paddlers salivating — as wild forest, which is less restrictive than wilderness, although much of the area would also be considered a special canoe area, a classification never used before in the Adirondacks.
“We don’t have a lot of confidence in the special management areas,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “The wilderness classification kind of cleans that up.”
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the proposal comes after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, “including the environmental community, elected officials, sportsmen groups and the tourism industry.”
Both environmentalists and local governments support DEC’s plan to keep many of the roads open because they provide take-outs and put-ins for paddlers. DEC made some “good compromises,” Woodworth said.
The proposed classification maps, labeled “confidential internal draft document,” were apparently provided to environmentalists on Wednesday, following a meeting of DEC officials on snowmobiles. DEC released the map later Thursday after the internal versions gained media attention.
Float planes, and motorized access to the Forest Preserve in general, have been at the core of the Adirondack debate for decades.
Former Warrensburg supervisor and float plane advocate Maynard Baker pulled the plug late last year on a federal lawsuit against the state over the banning of float planes from more than three dozen lakes in the Adirondacks over the last four decades. Baker argued that restricting access to the able-bodied violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some local government officials regularly criticize continued state land buys, for what many see as the closing off of productive woodlands. The Finch land purchase has also been blasted because it means the death of more than a dozen private hunting clubs that for decades leased property from the company, including the century-old Gooley Club.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2013-14 budget would boost the land acquisition line of the Environmental Protection Fund by $12 million relative to the previous budget, topping it off at $82 million.
The Adirondack Council and Protect the Adirondacks have different suggestions for the Essex Chain, but both call for more restrictions than DEC is proposing.
The DEC proposal, which must be approved by Adirondack Park Agency commissioners, would also classify roughly 5,000 acres surrounding the upper Hudson River as wild forest, instead of wilderness.
Protect argues the Finch plan should include an additional 10,000 to 12,000 acres of wilderness instead of wild forest, Bauer said.
Monroe counters that much of what is already proposed as wilderness includes cabins and logging roads, which aren’t consistent with the wilderness designation.
“It looks like there’s going to be manufactured wilderness,” Monroe said.
Local governments are likely to support the wild forest designations, he added.
The lengthy process leading to the land’s final management rules involve public input before APA commissioners vote on the proposal, DeSantis said.
“This is just the very first step,” she said.
The former Finch lands include OK Slip Falls and the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, two areas often mentioned as the most beautiful spots in the Adirondack Park.
The property includes lands within the towns of Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake.