Editorial note: The following are the comments I sent to the DEC regarding the draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes on 07/25/14.
Dear Josh Clague,
After reading the draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes I would like to make the following comments:
1.) I support the multiple use groups facilitated in this plan, including but not limited to the nearby parking (for those unable to hike/portage long distances), equestrian use, mountain biking, paddling, float plane access, etc. I think this is the right path forward for this region and strikes the right balance between conservation and access.
2.) I strongly disapproved of the camping permit system when it was first introduced. I feel it is unnecessary long-term, and adds unnecessary red-tape for a camping trip. Further, I have been monitoring the reservation list published by AIC daily and at no point has there been more than 60% occupancy in the 4 weeks that camping has been open. Typically it has been less than 50%. This alone shows that concerns of overuse are unfounded. Furthermore most of the overnight visitors have come because it is new, which will die down in the coming weeks/months. After talking with a few who have stayed, many are not planning on coming back anytime soon — no disrespect to the lakes, rather there are numerous other offerings in the park to explore.
My second concern with the permit system is best demonstrated by an experience at JBL about 6 weeks ago. As a group of 8, we reserved a lean-to in advanced. Unfortunately the limit was 6 people and the other lean-tos were already reserved. Therefore my wife and I hiked about .4 miles to a nearby campsite and setup a tent. The issue was that the other group who reserved the nearby lean-to never showed up (there was rain in the forecast). Therefore, the reservation system backfired – holding a site for no-one. We hiked a significant distance and setup a tent, when we could have remained close and stayed in a lean-to (preferred). I see similar issues happening here.
For these two reason I feel strongly that a first-come, first-served strategy should be paramount. Regarding the desire to monitor the use of the area, if the self-registration kiosks are not sufficient, I would not be opposed to self-registering permits posted at the entrance for overnight guests – similar to what was used in the high peaks in the early 2000s. This provides an equal balance of protection, access and enjoyment.
3.) While I truly understand the concern of preventing camp fires when the use is significant (see #2 above). Given the low usage of the outer lakes/ponds, I do not see the rationale for restricting fires there in any way. For instance, there has been virtually no camping at 6th Lake (1 party – me), Grassy Pond (1 party). That would mean less than 4 days (generously) of fires in the month of July. Therefore I propose limiting campfires only on the “primary” lakes (3rd, 4th, 5th and Deer Pond). This would strike an appropriate balance, and perhaps even out the camping pattern slightly.
Therefore I would like to recommend the majority of the management plan remain unchanged. That said, I feel that at least one of the following should be removed immediately: reservation system or fire restrictions, with the other to be reviewed annually to determine its merit. Long-term I do not see the need for either of these restrictions. Unfortunately this region was marketed as to be a boon to tourism, and protected as such. The camping traffic is not living up to the hype, and therefore the protection needs to realigned with the actual use, not forecasted usage.
Gregory Moore, Ph.D.