NY votes to preserve 24,000 acre wilderness along upper Hudson River

Shan213 via/Flickr
December 16, 2013

A state panel voted Friday to create a vast new 24,000 acre wilderness area along a remote stretch of the upper Hudson River.

The land had been owned by a logging company and environmentalists feared that remote stretches of the upper Hudson might be sold for resort or second-home development.

This decision by the Adirondack Park Agency commission sets aside a sprawling area of wild rivers, pristine lakes, and forests where most human development will be banned.

Last July, Governor Andrew Cuomo paddled the whitewater route that passes through the pristine Hudson River Gorge.

“I want to expose this part of the state of New York, it is a magnificient part of the state as you can see.”

He dragged with him New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wearing a New York City Sanitation Department T-shirt.

“If we get through this alive, we’ll be happy.”

That trip was part of an effort to build support for creation of a huge new protected area near the Hudson River’s headwaters in the Adirondacks.

Friday morning, the Adirondack Park Agency voted unanimously to do just that -- classifying a big stretch of the Hudson River and nearby lakes as a wilderness and primitive area.

It’s the largest new wilderness area in New York state in a generation. Joe Martens the state conservation commissioner described the decision as historic

“Wilderness still matters to a lot of people whether they’re actually experiencing it themselves or just knowing that it exists.”

Phil Brown is a guidebook author and outdoor writer for the Adirondack Explorer magazine.  He said many areas now being opened to the public for hiking and paddling haven't been seen by New Yorkers since before the Civil War.

“Well these are lands that have been closed to the public since the 19th century and they include some real natural wonders, including some real natural wonders, such as OK Slip falls one of the highest waterfalls in the state and the Hudson Gorge.”

Governor Cuomo pushed hard to get this deal done, committing the state to spend nearly $50 million dollars and visiting the Adirondacks repeatedly over the last year to push negotiations forward.

In the end, the Park's biggest environmental groups supported the plan but so did local government leaders in the Park, who who in the past have often attacked land conservation efforts.

In part, that's because green groups agreed to a compromise that allows more roads, more snowmobile access, and floatplane landings on two remote lakes.  Bill Farber heads the board of supervisors in Hamilton County.

“At least at first blush it appears that most of the uses that were important to the towns will be sustained.”

But those details angered some environmentalists, who say allowing snowmobiles to use a narrow corridor through the primitive area sets a bad precedent.  Peter Bauer is with a group called Protect the Adirondacks that’s already suing New York state to limit snowmobile trails in the Park.

“In many ways what’s being proposed here with a motorized wild forest corridor through the heart of a major new forest preserve area, bridges over wild scenic and recreational rivers - this is really the new normal.”

But others praised what they described as a workable compromise crafted in part by the governor himself.   Mike Carr is the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack director.

“The governor made a great pick here and he will be in the history books for his vision.”

Creation of this new wilderness area is only the first step in a larger effort to protect the wildest stretches of the Hudson River. The Nature Conservancy is still holding roughly 40,000 acres of forest lands which the state plans to acquire by 2018.