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Hunting camps preserved on former Champion lands

The state Adirondack Park Agency may preserve more than 200 hunting and fishing cabins on easement lands formerly owned by the Champion Paper Company.

The full Agency board is expected to approve the measure during its meeting this morning.

The APA's ruling represents a culmination of years of planning and negotiation between state agencies, hunting clubs and the current landowner, a South Carolina based timber management organization called the Heartwood Forestland Fund.

Roughly 110,000-acres of former Champion lands were sold to Heartwood in the late 1990s subject to conservation easements purchased by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

One of the conditions of the easements was the removal of the hunting cabins within 15 years.

But as the deadline to remove the camps grew near, Heartland had a change of heart and decided it would like to continue leasing to the hunting clubs.

As a result, DEC and Heartland have reached what is being called a quid pro quo arrangement to allow the 208 existing camps to remain. The new agreement would also allow 12 new camps to be constructed.

In exchange, Heartwood will transfer 2,145-acres of land located in the town of Santa Clara to the Forest Preserve where it can never be logged. The addition helps protect the watershed of the St. Regis River.

But that deal won't become final until Friday when the APA decides whether to approve the retention of the cabins.

APA Chairman Curt Stiles stressed that the Agency's decision dealt expressly with the environmental impact of retaining the camps and not the merits of the deal between DEC and the Heartwood timber company.

Each hunting camp will be given a 1-acre exclusive use area that will be marked with private property signs, but the rest of the easement lands will remain open to the public.

More than half of the easement lands and the majority of the hunting camps are located in the town of Santa Clara. Camps located on tracts in St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties will also be retained.

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