Protect the Adirondacks salutes the outstanding stewardship of the Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve in recently donating a conservation easement on its entire 12,000-acre holding on the south side of the Dix Mountain Wilderness, located primarily in the Town of North Hudson. This was a truly stunning and generous act by the Ernst Family, the owners of the Elk Lake Lodge and the Preserve. In the excitement over the state closing in December 2012 with Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Land Trust (TNC) on the first major tract of the former Finch lands, which will be purchased as new additions to the Forest Preserve, the great news about Elk Lake was overshadowed.

This is a terrific deal for the Adirondack Park and a great environmental stewardship accomplishment by the Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve and TNC.

See a PDF map of the new conservation easement here. See a news report in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

The Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve includes Elk Lake and Clear Pond as well as a long stretch of The Branch, which flows into the Schroon River. The property includes flanks of the Boreas Range and Boreas Mountain and has long provided public access to the High Peaks on two trails, one westerly to Panther Gorge and summits of Haystack and Skylight mountains, the other northerly to the slides of McComb Mountain and South Dix and the southern trail to the summit of Dix Mountain. Ample parking has always been provided, the access road has always been well maintained.

The Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve is not new to environmental protection. It donated one of the first easements in the Adirondack Park in 1963 when it voluntarily protected 1,000 feet around Elk Lake to protect the the great scenic vistas in America of the High Peaks towering over Elk Lake captured by Carl Heilman and so many others. The lodge and associated buildings and forest lands at that point were excluded.

The property has been managed for forestry for decades, largely through a partnership with Finch Paper. The conservation easement will allow forestry to continue in perpetuity as well as the limited business and residential property footprints. 3,500 visitors stay at the Lodge each year. Public access will be improved and maintained in perpetuity to the High Peaks as well as to the Dix Range. Thousands use the public access hiking trails. New fishing access will be provided to The Branch.

This conservation easement was a gift to the state. It’s value is roughly $10 million. It’s an extraordinarily generous act for the Adirondack Park as the Elk Lake area is an integral part of the High Peaks and a vital connecting tract of the great unbroken forest that spreads across the central Adirondacks. It’s a wild area with moose and bobcats, lake emerald dragonflys, blackpoll warblers, Northern bog aster and extensive black-spruce tamarack bogs. It is dominated by northern upland forests and steep mountainsides.

The conservation easement gift was accompanied by a land swap between the Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve and The Nature Conservancy. In the swap the Preserve gave 1,600 acres in the northwest section of the property to TNC, which will transfer it to the state as part of the Boreas Ponds tract in the Finch lands deal. Called the “Casey Brook” tract, these lands connect the Dix Mountain and High Peaks Wilderness Areas and protect the north end of the Boreas Range. These lands will become part of the Forest Preserve and added to either the High Peaks or Dix Mountain Wilderness areas. In exchange, the Preserve received the recreation and timber management rights to the 1,800-acre “Three Brothers” tract, which is south of Clear Pond and borders the Elk Lake access road on the east. The Three Brothers tract had been part of the former Finch lands and have been in forest management for 150 years. The Three Brothers tract is part of the overall 12,000-acre conservation easement and will remain in forest management in perpetuity. There is no public access to this tract.

Protect the Adirondacks congratulates the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Department of Environmental Conservation, the Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve and Ernst Family on a job well done to protect over 13,500 acres along the southern High Peaks.

With this deal, the State New York now owns over 786,000 acres of conservation easements in the Adirondack Park.