Essex Chain by ©Nancie Battaglia
Essex Chain by ©Nancie Battaglia

On the weekends of August 24 and September 7, as all of you were sending messages to Governor Cuomo to protect the Essex Chain Lakes (and there is still time to Take Action), I decided, as Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) new conservation director, I needed to visit the Finch Pruyn acquisition lands that have been the focus of my first few weeks with ADK’s Albany Public Affairs Office. The Adirondack Park is fairly new to me, although I have family roots here. In fact, I’m trying to track down an Essex County farm and mountain from a painting passed down to me from my 1st cousin twice removed who visited the farm frequently in the last century. Our extended family has visited the area many times over at least the past 80 years and we suspect some of the family lived in the area before that.

My first trip on August 24 was from the town of Newcomb, north of the Finch Pruyn acquisition lands. I booked a site at the nearby Harris Lake State Campground. I arrived on Saturday morning, stopping at the Cloud-Splitter Outfitters to get a couple more maps and some local firewood. After I explained my target hike, which was the new northern Hudson River Access, the proprietor, reminded me that I could not hike down most of the gated roads until after October 1st.  He gave me directions to the Goodnow Flow Road which leads to the Essex Chain Lakes and the Hudson River access. With the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Interim Public Access Plan as my guide and my new maps in hand, I set off.

The Goodnow Flow Road wound south, past hard-to-read, but pleasantly crafted wooden signs declaring the area “private.” At the Goodnow Flowage the “private” signs became more emphatic, but I continued on and found, on the southeast end of the flowage, a small dirt road of sand, boulders, potholes, and washouts. The road was labeled “Chain Links Road–Private.” (Google Earth and Google Maps label the road as the Gooley Club Road). Despite the signs, the roads to the Goodnow Flowage are open for public access (local outfitters, and local town citizens all agree). The Chain Links Road, despite its sign, is now a DEC administered road allowing public access to a parking area .8 miles from the Hudson River. The DEC Interim Access Plan which illustrates this is an essential guide to any Finch Pruyn excursion. I carefully drove down the Chain Links Road, past the sign, through a now open gate down what appeared to be a rarely maintained road toward the Hudson River. I passed two closed yellow gates which mark roads into the Essex Chain (which should be open to the public˗˗at least for hiking˗˗after October 1st), a couple of dirt borrow pits, and a recovering clear-cut before I finally got to the Hudson River Access kiosk.

I parked, signed in after providing a new logbook and pen from my van, checked out the comforting “You Are Here” map displayed conveniently at the kiosk, and began the 0.8 mile descent to the Hudson. Shortly, I rounded a bend and found a sign directing me off the road down a small inconspicuous path. The path opened, framed by the boughs of a large white pine, at the canoe take-out on the Hudson River. It truly was like stepping into a dream. The river and surrounding landscape that opened in front of me was seriously breathtaking. I found a large slanted rock jutting into the Hudson from the riverbank. It was warm and inviting then, not long after mid-day (and later could make a perfect lounging spot for gazing at stars). I closed my eyes and heard nothing at first, but then there were so many beautiful bird songs and calls, and the sound of the river flowing—but no motors, not one.

Across the river and the nearby Polaris Bridge, which was festooned with American flags and another private-keep-out-sign, the members of the Polaris Club (and the Gooley Club) who will continue to have motorized access to their camps (now on state land) until 2018,  must have been having lunch, or napping, or relaxing and enjoying the silence like me, because except for the fabulous sounds of a late summer day, I heard no highway noise, no boats puttering down the river, or cars grinding down the road.

The lack of motorized noise should not have been a surprise since, at this point, I was over 2 miles from the nearest public road in all directions, a fact that placed me in what the DEC has described as a “Remote Interior” area.

Later that day, I hiked up Goodnow Mountain (to see the Finch Pruyn lands from 2,690 feet + the fire tower) which was an excellent reminder to me of my need to build lung capacity and my fitness level for my future work with ADK. A little girl dressed in pink (probably 5 years old) looked at me with pity when I was still about ½ hour from the fire tower at the mountain’s peak and confided, “Don’t worry. You’re really close now.”

When I hit the top of the mountain, the air and flora changed in a delightfully refreshing way. I climbed the fire tower and immediately understood why ADKers (and everyone else who has ever done it once and then never stopped) climb peaks. It was, literally, breathtaking. I snapped pictures in all directions trying to capture the experience. The Essex Chain Lakes were hidden from view, nestled between Sixth Lake Mountain and its smaller peaks in the north, and Cedar Mountain and its peaks in the south.

The next morning I awoke at Harris Lake to a misty cool dawn. I had what must have been the most delicious cup of coffee in several years, and then got back on the road to my new life in Albany.

Supporting documents:
http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/finchinterim.pdf
http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/snowmangguid.pdf

Part 2 of this blog will be posted next week, September 19.