Important Opportunity for Public Comment
DEC Unit Management Plans for the Forest Preserve in the Works
Governor Pataki has set priority for speedy statewide completion of UMP's
By Carol W. LaGrasse
Over the decades since the Adirondack Park Agency law was put into place in 1973, the Unit Management Plans for the Forest Preserve land in the region have been the subject of long delay. In fact, the UMP for the High Peaks Wilderness Area took 27 years to finish. While the plans drag on, some projects dependent on the policy decisions based on these plans have been held up. DEC has completed only about 25 percent of the Unit Management Plans (UMP's) for the Wilderness and Wild Forest areas of the Adirondack Forest preserve.
This is changing. In 1999, Governor Pataki issued an ultimatum that all UMP's be completed in five years. Hearings have begun for some areas, which are called "Units," and official information including some schedules for participation are available on the DEC web site. Public participation is becoming lively.
What's at stake? DEC will decide whether to close or open roads; whether to allow one type of use or another, such as snowmobiles, ATV's or skisor to accommodate all of them; whether and where to build new hiking trails; what new facilities to build, such as parking areas, boat launching sites, picnic areas, information areas, ranger cabins, trailheads, restrooms, campsites, and even handicapped access. Even search and rescue planning, fire protection, and vegetative cutting are areas of UMP policy making. Fisheries and wildlife policies are important points of discussion. Historic sites are another area of consideration, as are fire towers, which can be converted to viewing towers.
For example, consider the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest in the southeastern Adirondacks. Hearings have not yet been announced for the management plan for this Unit, which covers most of eastern Hamilton County, western Warren County, and part of northern Saratoga County. Half the area of the Town of Stony Creek, where I reside, is included in Wilcox Lake Wild Forest.
Yet, facilities to serve the public in the enormous area named after Wilcox Lake are inadequate. Many years ago, guided by a family who have lived nearby all their life, my husband and I bushwhacked and then climbed to the top of Baldhead Mountain and enjoyed an unforgettable view. Neither Baldhead Mountain nor Moose Mountain have trails to their summits.
According to Barbara McMartin, the author of many books on hiking trails in the Adirondacks, "Wilcox Lake Wild Forest is so big and varied that it could be the most important recreational area in the Park."
In her book, The Adirondack ParkA Wildlands Quilt, Ms. McMartin points out the beauty of the places in the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest where she has hiked.
She writes, "Waterfalls on Tenant Creek, a chain of lakes (Murphy, Middle and Bennett), the trail along Stony Creek, the marshes in Madison Creek Flow, and the deep, fern-filled valley of Jimmy Creek are all special places as equally deserving of trails as the wild forest's mountains. I am lucky that I have visited all these places. Few people have, and yet as a wild forest, these places ought to be accessible to all outdoors people, especially family groups."
In 1987, the State of New York "Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan" observed about the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest: "This area is capable of withstanding considerably more use without destruction of the physical resource or the wild forest atmosphere." The plan states, "...there are few trails marked for hiking and cross country skiing. Opportunities may also exist to create a fairly extensive trail system in this area."
Although the technical reports for the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-first Century were largely oriented toward strict preservation, preservationists writing these reports for the Commission urged that the wild forests receive more easily accessible recreational use.
For instance, writing on "Forest Preserve Management" for the Commission in 1990, Prof. James C. Dawson recommended that wild forest areas include: "The development of trail systems suited to large groups and families with little or modest backcountry experience."
The towns and villages of the Adirondacks should take advantage of the beauty of the forest resource surrounding each community. This is an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get involved in the Unit Management Plan process.
In Greenfield Center during February, at the DEC public hearing about State Forests just south of the Adirondack Park, the articulate and lively statements by snowmobilers, ATV users, four-wheel drive vehicle users, all terrain bikers, hunters, hikers, cross country skiers, equestrians, handicapped individuals, and even property owners concerned that old town roads are kept open made for one of the most vibrant evenings of public participation I've experienced. One hunter pointed out that closing roads shuts out hunters, because a person cannot carry heavy game very far. Concerns about picnic facilities, parking, keeping as much access as possibleand even bestowing motor vehicle permits for senior citizens to carry out game, and about fire protection were all raised. One property owner asked DEC to clearly mark trails and boundaries to discourage vehicles from crossing his front lawn.
These state forests in Saratoga, Washington, and Warren Counties are loggedas opposed to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and their management for productive use was discussed. Both DEC personnel and the citizens emphasized the potential economic benefit to the State and localities from use of the forests. These and many more considerations are all vital to the UMP process.
An important point that citizens made at the DEC hearing at Greenfield Center was that there is not enough information circulated about the uses that the public can enjoy of forest land owned by the State. In 1990, the prominent preservationist, Thomas Cobb, pointed out in his technical report, "Profile of Outdoor Recreation Opportunity in the Adirondack Park," for the Twenty-first Century Commission, "The public is not sufficiently informed or educated on the differences between land classifications of the 2 ½-million-acre Forest Preserve and private industrial and non-industrial forest lands; what recreational opportunities and facilities are available within each land classification; and, where to find them."
Elected officials in the Adirondack Park have available the professional planners in the county planning offices to help them make official statements by analyzing the benefits of potential recommendations, while making professional presentations to bolster their points.
But I have seen, once again, that individual citizens and citizens' groups are perfectly articulate at the hearings, unfailingly getting their key points across.
There have been three decades of ever-narrowing access to State-owned land, while the DEC continually acquires large tracts of land under the assumption of making the forest more available to the public. Those of us who would like to see less government land ownership may have reservations about joining constructively in commenting at hearings on the management of State-owned land. To not participate would be a grave mistake. Any opportunity to maximize the productive use of government-owned land for the benefit of the people of the communities should be put to full use, whether to improve the tax base, to create employment, improve the vitality of our towns, improve fire safety, or to make available recreation and the pleasure of enjoying nature to those of us living in the area and the broader public.
Local people should telephone DEC or tap into the web site, get out to hearings or write letters, and give DEC their thinking on the management plans being developed for the Units of the Forest Preserve. This is a practical opportunity to promote the future of our communities.
-Carol W. LaGrasse March 2001
For additional information:
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
Office of the Commissioner
50 Wolf Road
Albany, NY 12233
or see: www.dec.state.ny.us