If the Essex Chain Lakes becomes wild forest — opening the land up to a myriad of uses, such as mountain biking, motor boating and snowmobiling — it would increase the traffic in communities near the property. So will wilderness, but there would most likely be fewer tourists with the limited access. Still, without infrastructure additions — such as beds and restaurants — those communities would not be able to take advantage of this new opportunity no matter the classification.
A wild forest classification will not be the magic bullet for economic development in the central Adirondacks. It will not solve the communities’ problems or create as many jobs as people say it will. But it may help. When you don’t have much, every little bit helps.
So why do communities continue to age and decline economically in the Adirondack Park while the state continues to buy new land? It’s not because of those purchases; they are assets to the state. It’s because of the way the state manages and regulates land — public and private — inside the Adirondack Park.
Take the Essex Chain Lakes, for example. Eight APA commissioners and designees from three other state agencies — DEC, Department of State, and Empire State Development — make the decision of how to classify Forest Preserve. What happens next? The DEC takes the lead on a unit management plan, with help from the APA, and the DOS and ESD go home to Albany. Why?
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — ESD and DOS should be part of the unit management planning process, not in a way that takes the DEC away from its primary state land management role, but in a way that creates economic opportunities in the communities that are impacted by the Forest Preserve. In this case, ESD and DOS should be working to find ways to boost economic development in the five towns surrounding the Essex Chain Lakes.