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Locals have mixed feelings over woodlands deal

The states agreement with The Nature Conservancy announced Friday to preserve 134,140 acres of Adirondack timberlands cheered environmentalists, but left some residents wondering if the deal meant a tightened chokehold on local economies -- or whether theyd be booted from lands they once enjoyed for hunting and fishing. The agreement called for 57,699 acres of the woodlands in the Adirondacks -- until last summer owned by Finch Paper Holdings LLC and now owned by the Conservancy -- to be kept as Forever Wild, while 73,627 acres will be designated as Working Forest. These latter holdings would be retained under state conservation easements that will allow regulated timber harvesting while providing for recreational uses. Timber cutting or development would be prohibited in the wild Forest portions. The agreement, covering the northern holdings of Finch Paper, are located in Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson, Minerva and Long Lake. Sweetening the deal for local residents are promises by the state and the Conservancy to link and expand existing snowmobile trails, and to set aside 1,098 acres for community uses including affordable housing and town facilities. However, Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe said that about 20 hunting camps, where about 500 local hunters and thousands of their family members and friends hunted and fished for generations, would likely be eradicated. Its going to be a sad day when the state starts destroying these camps, he said. This amounts to a loss of a way of life people have enjoyed for over 50 years. Monroe said his father, brother, nephews and brothers-in-law were members of one of the hunting clubs which owns a camp now slated for destruction -- without compensation, because it sat on land leased from Finch Paper. But Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club said that two-thirds of the existing hunting camps, or those not on Forever Wild lands, would likely stay. The camps on the more restricted forest preserve lands would be allowed 10 years to relocate, he said. This deal is a win-win situation, with the lands of greatest ecological and recreational value -- the crown jewels of the former Finch-Pruyn lands -- to be protected and put in public ownership, he said. Woodworth said that while some of the camps would be displaced, recreational opportunities would be increased with new public access for hiking and canoeing in the Hudson River Gorge, in the Essex Chain of Lakes, and the southern approaches to the High Peaks region. Opening these natural treasures to the public for the first time will greatly enhance the allure of the Adirondacks as one of the nations premier tourism destinations, he said. This plan will make the Hudson River the longest and most exciting whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking opportunity in the Northeast. Town of Newcomb Supervisor George Canon and Indian Lake Town Supervisor Barry Hutchins said the agreement had both negative and positive aspects. This could be good, or could be bad overall, Canon said. Hutchins said he was enthusiastic about the promised interconnection and extension of snowmobile trails. The agreement contemplates a network of trails linking North Hudson, Newcomb, Long Lake, Minerva, and Indian Lake. The snowmobile trail connections between these communities is huge, Hutchins said. This creates a loop weve been seeking to establish for many years. He said that linking of snowmobile trails between hamlets would attract vacationing snowmobile enthusiasts, and boost local economies. Our goal is for snowmobile to come to any of the hamlets, stay at a motel and be able to ride all over the Park without having to hopscotch during their trip, he said. Canon, Hutchins and Monroe said they were pleased about how the agreement was reached after extensive negotiation with local officials, seeking their input. In the agreement, Newcomb gets a dam repaired, a parcel of land set aside for the expansion of a golf course, and another plot reserved for housing for foreign-exchange students. In Indian Lake, a small plot will be reserved for a ballfield. Hutchins said it was a welcome change from past land acquisitions -- deals which were sealed without local involvement. The process semmed to be a lot better this time with the Nature Conservancy meeting with local communities and trying to meet their needs, he said. It was a productive way to get all of us on board, with everybody a winner. But Monroe said he had concerns about how the agreement would bar logging on thousands of acres of prime timberland, which could in the long run hamper the economies of local communities. If you look at this agreement as a whole, 57,000 more acres will be out of forest production, he said, adding that conservation agreements have traditionally been the first step towards converting lands to Forever Wild. This is absolutely means a loss of jobs in the timber industry -- which is vital to our economy. The 134,140 acres of Adirondack timberlands covered by the agreement are part of the 161,000 acres The nature Conservancy bought from Finch Paper in June. The fate of the remaining 26,860 acres have yet to be negotiated.

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