Preserve Follensby Pond!

A key moment in the unfolding story of the Adirondack Forest Preserve has arrived, and Albany needs to act – lest a once-in-a-generation opportunity passes us by.

In 2008, The Nature Conservancy acquired 14,600 acres of land southeast of Tupper Lake from a conservation-minded landowner. This tract included 10 miles of frontage along the Raquette River and – perhaps most importantly – the entirety of Follensby Pond.

At 970 acres in size, Follensby is no middling mud puddle. This is the lake where, in 1858, Ralph Waldo Emerson vacationed with Louis Agassiz and William James Stillman at the so-called “Philosopher’s Camp.” It was also the site of some of the first post-DDT reintroduction efforts for bald eagles.

The Conservancy’s purchase of Follensby Pond coincided with its much more ambitious effort to acquire and preserve the former lands of the Finch Pruyn logging company, which became the organization’s main priority for a decade. Now the time has come to consider Follensby’s future – but unfortunately, full acquisition for the forever-wild Forest Preserve might not be an option.

What We Know

Unfortunately, very little is known about how this deal may unfold. In October, the Adirondack Explorer magazine reported that The Nature Conservancy is in early discussions with Governor Hochul’s administration, but that it has extreme reservations about opening the tract to the public.

At issue is the lake’s fishery. In addition to Follensby Pond’s other claims to fame, it is the home to a unique strain of heritage lake trout, and apparently the Conservancy is highly concerned that public access to the lake could result in the introduction of non-native or competing fish species. A similar event was recorded in 1998 at Little Tupper Lake, although no one knows how or when bass was introduced into that trout fishery.

Because of this concern, some people are speculating the Conservancy may be negotiating a deal with the state that eschews the Forest Preserve, such as a conservation easement that includes development rights only, without the option for public recreation.

If this were the case, it would represent the first time the State of New York exercised doubt about Article XIV, the constitutional provision that provides iron-clad legal protections for the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

Faith in the Forest Preserve

Such a retreat is indeed very concerning. Since 1885, when the Preserve was first established by statute – and especially since it was enshrined in the state’s constitution in 1894 – the public land system in the Adirondack Park has been touted as the best-protected landscape anywhere in the nation. Therefore we cannot simply assume that the Forest Preserve would fail such a pristine resource as Follensby Pond.

Only the Forest Preserve, as backed by Article XIV, can ensure these 14,600 acres of lands and waters will be forever wild, never sold or developed. No other tool in the state’s arsenal can ensure the terms of Follensby’s protection will never be renegotiated, weakened, or terminated.

Conservation easements are important tools for the protection of working forests or other parklands of secondary priority where the state simply lacks the resources for full acquisition. But that is not the issue here: Follensby is a prime candidate for preservation, and because it has been listed on the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan for decades, local towns cannot veto the purchase.

In other words, nothing seems to be stopping anyone from acquiring the land other than an unprecedented lack of faith in the Forest Preserve.

Adaptive Management Is Required

Clearly, the best way to preserve the land is with all of its natural and cultural features intact. As wilderness advocates, we would not want to see the resource degraded just for the sake of opening a new canoe route.

This is a situation in which the deal to acquire title to the tract must include much more than the transfer of money, followed by a basic work plan to open some trails and campsites. What’s needed here is a detailed adaptive management strategy to guide the state Department of Environmental Conservation through the transition period and beyond.

As part of this process, state land managers will need to inventory all of the sensitive natural and cultural features the property may include, clearly iterate the conditions it wishes to maintain for each, and then implement a monitoring mechanism to ensure those conditions are being sustained. If troubling trends are detected, then alternative management actions might then be triggered immediately.

In a way, a similar process has been employed for decades in the adjacent High Peaks Wilderness, where high levels of hiking traffic nearly reduced the alpine summits to bare, lifeless rock. Rather than closing Mount Marcy to the public, DEC sought partnerships with non-profit organizations to implement the popular – and highly successful – Summit Stewardship Program.

With this example in mind, it is not difficult to imagine a tailored solution for Follensby Pond that includes a lake steward program.

Help Us Move the Needle

Although the negotiations that will determine Follensby’s future are confidential discussions known only to the Conservancy and Governor Hochul’s staff, the speculation that alternatives to the Forest Preserve might be in consideration is disturbing. Therefore we think this is a good time for wilderness advocates everywhere to take action.

Please join us in a call-in campaign to the governor’s office in Albany. While we likely won’t be talking with Ms. Hochul herself, we will be getting the attention of her aides in the executive chamber – and conveying the message that we see Follensby Pond as an important addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

It matters that the acquisition process be done right, in a way that trusts the proven strengths of Article XIV and arms state land managers with the tools and resources to preserve the tract’s entire community of life, from its heritage fishery to whatever unique cultural resources might be found there.

We must demonstrate to Governor Hochul this is an effort that the public values highly. If you support the full acquisition of Follensby Pond, help us “move the needle” by communicating your support directly to Albany!

A few years ago you helped us call for strong protective measures at Boreas Ponds. Today we are raising the rallying cry for Follensby. Join us, and be a part of an important moment in Adirondack history!