ALBANY — State officials have completed agreements to protect almost 260,000 acres of Adirondack wilderness and open much of it to public recreation."The economic history of the Adirondacks is tied to tourism and the timber industry," said Rich Erdmann, executive vice president of the nonprofit Conservation Fund, which brokered and helped finance the deal. "The significance both for the local landscape and the benefit to the local economy I think are really compelling."The deal was struck in 2004 by the Pataki administration with International Paper Co. for conservation easements on 257,000 acres of forest and wetlands in nine counties.The forests are a major source of lumber for the mill in Ticonderoga, Erdmann said.Under the contracts, logging by Lyme Timber Co., which bought most of IP's Adirondack holdings, will continue through "sustainable forestry," including selective harvesting and planting to replace trees.
The company gets a break from local taxes, paid instead by the state, and agrees to never sell the land for development.Besides new hiking and snowmobile trails, easements should open valuable river access and canoe routes, said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club."I think with the different routes that are possible and portages that are possible, we're gaining several hundreds miles of linked canoe routes, depending on which way you turn at the portages," Woodworth said.Easements covering 41,000 acres, mostly in Hamilton County, were signed in late 2005 for $5.5 million from the State Environmental Protection Fund.The balance closed last week for $23.9 million from the state and $4.4 million from private funds, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.The private funds included grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Ace Group, Erdmann said.Other parcels are in Warren, Washington, Franklin, Clinton, St. Lawrence, Essex, Saratoga and Herkimer counties.The state acquired full public recreation rights to about 82,000 acres and partial rights for hiking and snowmobile trails on about 173,000 acres, as well as the outright purchase of nearly 2,000 acres.
Former Gov. George Pataki had estimated the cost at $20 million to $25 million to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, which is supported by real-estate transfer taxes, depending on actual appraisals. The total was about $34 million, Erdmann said.