RAY BROOK - The state is gearing up for a large influx of visitors this summer to one of its prized acquisitions in the Finch, Pruyn and Co. land deal.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to open a series of primitive campsites to the public in the new 7,000-acre Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area by July 1, Tom Martin, DEC's regional natural resources supervisor, told state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners last week.
Martin said there will be a total of 13 campsites, 11 of which will be located on the series of interconnected lakes and ponds that make up the Essex Chain, located south of Newcomb. Camping will be by permit only for a maximum of three nights, Martin said.
"The intent of that, obviously, is because we expect large demand, and if we did our standard two-week camping permits, I think the area would not be available to as many people as we'd like to make it available to," Martin said.
Permits for the sites have to be reserved 10 days ahead of time. Martin said the permits will be available through DEC staff, backcountry stewards and staff at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb.
In addition to the campsites, Martin said DEC is also developing and relocating parking areas, designating and marking trails, creating a horse staging area and posting signs in preparation for summer visitors to the Essex Chain.
Meanwhile, DEC is set to release a broader unit management plan Wednesday for what it's calling the Essex Chain Lakes Management Complex, which includes the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, the Pine Lake Primitive Area and portions of the Blue Mountain Wild Forest. Martin said the UMP "will serve to protect the area's natural resources and set the stage for how these areas will be accessed and used in the future.
"These areas contain a special variety of ecologically significant resources, including numerous pristine lakes, ponds, large wetland complexes and scenic stretches of the Hudson and Cedar rivers," Martin said. "These areas afford a variety of recreational opportunities as part of a larger recreation complex in the central Adirondack Park. ... The general public has not had unfettered use of these lands in over 100 years."
Most of these lands were among 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn timberlands that Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to buy from The Nature Conservancy in the summer 2012. In December, the APA approved a state land classification package for the lands. Cuomo signed it in February.
Martin said the UMP contains proposals to allow seasonal hunting access along some of the roads on the property. It also calls for the creation of facilities for people with disabilities, construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River and the use of some of the property's roads by mountain bikes. The plan would guide management of the area through 2018, when a pair of hunting clubs' exclusive leases to the property run out.
One of the facilities for the disabled would be located between Fourth and Fifth lakes, where DEC wants to put a parking lot, waterway access site and a campsite. Martin also said the same location would include a parking lot for access to the Essex Chain by the general public, through a permit.
"Why would there be a parking lot that far in (for the general public), in an area you're trying to maintain as a primitive area?" asked APA Commissioner Richard Booth. "I'm not expecting an answer to that question. I understand the handicapped access. I just think that's got to be thought of real hard, if we're trying to maintain that as a primitive area."
Mountain biking would be allowed on the roads currently used by the hunting clubs that have leased the property. That use would have to be revisited when the clubs' leases run out in 2018, Martin said.
"Once the leases go away, there's no motor vehicle access on those roads for the lessees, and therefore we have the issue of mountain bikes in a primitive area on roads that are not open for motor vehicle use," he said.
Martin said the department considered several design options for the bridge over the Cedar River before opting for a wood truss bridge that would accommodate foot and horse traffic. It's not meant for use by snowmobiles, he said.
That raised some questions among commissioners because the classification package they approved called for creation of a snowmobile trail through the heart of the property that would link Indian Lake to Minerva and Newcomb. One of the options for the trail would require building of a new bridge over the Cedar River.
Martin said that snowmobile trail connection is still being developed.
"There are two alternatives in the classification package: one using a bridge over the Cedar River and one going east-west north of the Cedar," he said. "At this point we are not prepared to have those discussions. One or the other is still an option on the table."
Commissioner Bill Thomas pressed Martin on how long it will be before the snowmobile trail is developed.
"It's certainly a high priority for the department and it's certainly a high prior for the communities," Martin said. "What we're doing today is to get things in place for what we expect is a huge influx of the public, and I'd think that pretty quickly we'll start working on the next steps in the plan."
In addition to the UMP for the Essex Chain Lakes Management Complex, DEC is also expected to release a draft UMP for the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest on Wednesday. The plan outlines possible routes for community-connector snowmobile trails that would connect Newcomb to North Hudson and Minerva. It also includes a link from those connectors into the Essex Chain Lakes tract.