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Debate continues over Cathead Mountain land swap proposal

Adirondack Forest Preserve sign
Pat Bradley
Adirondack Forest Preserve sign

The Adirondack Council is advocating for a land swap that it says would allow a hunting club motorized access to its land while providing enhanced emergency communications in a rural Adirondack county. But others say the idea lacks an overarching community need to justify a constitutional change to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

An old fire tower at the summit of Cathead Mountain has been used as an emergency communications tower. The only current access for maintenance is via helicopter.

The Adirondack Council is supporting a project that would allow members of a private hunting club motorized access to about 80 acres land in exchange for 480 acres to be added to the Forest Preserve along with public access to the summit of Cathead Mountain. Council Spokesman John Sheehan said club members had purchased the property knowing it was landlocked within the Forest Preserve where motorized use is prohibited.

“This would allow them some relief from that by granting them what’s known as a Use Amendment similar to the ones that are in place for say Whiteface Mountain or Belleayre or Gore Mountain Ski Areas where a specific purpose is granted. In order to do it permanently you really need to amend the constitution to allow that to happen.”

Voters would need to approve a state constitutional amendment because the land swap is governed by the Forever Wild clause of the New York Constitution. Sheehan says if approved the Hatchbrook Sportsmen Club would also allow public access to Cathead Mountain’s summit.

“The previous owners cut off access to the mountain and essentially gave the State Police permission to put their radio equipment on top of that and it’s powered entirely by wind and solar right now. There is some backup equipment there as well that would, if those systems fail, provide electricity to the tower to keep it going. So it’s off the grid but it’s reliable and something the State Police want to keep until they’ve got a replacement for it. So this would solve a couple of problems at the same time.”

Adirondack Wild Friends of the Forest Preserve Managing Partner David Gibson says a number of proposals have been made over the years regarding Cathead Mountain that revolve around two issues.

“One is a hunting and fishing club has been unable to drive motor vehicles to their clubhouse. The other issue is Hamilton County could not provide reliable emergency communications. What was worked out in a course of six years was a constitutional amendment that would allow emergency communications to happen, to be more reliable, in return for a land exchange and that’s the framework we support. And the Adirondack Council’s proposal does not mention improving reliable emergency communications in southern Hamilton County. There’s no mention of it. And that is the important benefit that we want to see move forward.”

The Adirondack Council hopes the state legislature will consider its proposal before the session ends in early June.