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By Bernard C. Melewski

In September, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Adirondacks. He met with local officials who have been pressing him, in the name of economic development, to allow trucks, jeeps, floatplanes, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles onto tens of thousands of acres in the Upper Hudson River basin, called the Essex Chain of Lakes, which were recently acquired by the state of New York.

The governor held a second meeting with environmental groups, which are unanimous in promoting that the Essex Chain become the newest wilderness area in the Adirondack Park. They argue that the majority of the Essex Chain should be treated as wilderness, allowing motorized access nearby but not in the most sensitive areas.

The governor stated that he held both meetings to seek advice from the “experts” on how to proceed. He need not have traveled so far.

Two decades ago, Cuomo’s father, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, formed the Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. In its report, the commission proposed that the state acquire the Essex Chain and nearby lands, then owned by the Finch Pruyn forest product company. The commission also recommended that once acquired, these lands be classified and thus preserved as wilderness. It even produced a map of its recommendation for the new “Wild Rivers Wilderness Area.”

Both the landowner and local officials (many of the same people involved today) harshly condemned the commission and the notion of any new land acquisition in the Adirondack Park by the state, much less preserving it as wilderness.

In May 1992, Mario Cuomo traveled to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Despite biting black flies crawling all over his face – he famously declared that dealing with the State Legislature was a worse fate – the then-governor urged New Yorkers to support the vision of the future Adirondack Park embodied in the report of his beleaguered commission – including the recommendations for new wilderness areas.

Cuomo’s son will soon receive the recommendation of the Adirondack Park Agency, whose members are all appointed by him. But the final decision, under state law, as the governor has stated, is his alone.

The creation of the largest wilderness area in the Adirondack Park in more than 40 years would be a lasting legacy for this governor – and a wonderful testament to the foresight of his father, as well.

Give future generations of New Yorkers a gift of wilderness, governor. An announcement around the holidays would be nice.

Bernard C. Melewski is an environmental attorney who has worked for many years on Adirondack Park issues.