According to Mike Horn, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director, the Wiawaka Uplands project is the next step in that organization’s multi-year effort to preserve the ecological integrity of Lake George’s south basin, the most densely populated and heavily used portion of the watershed.
That $850,000 transaction, which will enable the LGLC to purchase a conservation easement across 47 acres of forest, stream corridors and wetlands, is expected to close this fall.
“Of the 35,000 acres comprising the south basin, only 4,000 acres are developed. Roughly 24% of it is permanently protected by the Lake George Land Conservancy, by New York State, by Warren County and by the towns,” said Horn.
While 24% may seem like an impressively large percentage of land to have under protection, in reality, it is not, said Horn.
“That leaves about 22,000 acres that are undeveloped, but also unprotected,” said Horn.
Over the past two decades, the Lake George Land Conservancy alone has protected nearly 2,500 acres along a rim from Pilot Knob and Dunhams Bay to French and Prospect Mountains. Many of those lands are now or soon will be available for recreation.
“The benefits of conservation are clear,” said Horn. “We’re protecting water quality, natural habitat, scenic views and recreational opportunities. As additional opportunities to lock in the benefits of conservation in the south basin present themselves, we will try to take advantage of them.”
The south basin of Lake George is very much like other parts of Lake George – a source of water flowing north toward the La Chute River, scenic views, habitat for wildlife, hiking trails, a rich history.
What makes the south basin unique, said Horn, is its proximity to major transportation corridors, making it easily accessible to hundreds of thousands of visitors every month, as well as the extent and depth of the amenities available to those visitors.
Its accessibility and desirability add to the pressures to develop lands that ought to be left undeveloped, said Horn.
Protected, these lands would not only help keep Lake George clean but provide even more amenities, recreational ones.
“Recreation really feeds into the economic vitality of the region and enhances the quality of life, for visitors, for seasonal residents, for year-round residents,” said Horn. “Hiking trails are a tremendous resource for people to get out and to enjoy nature.”
As part of the Wiawaka Uplands Project, the Lake George Land Conservancy will pay for a sustainable trail system and a public parking area with kiosk and interpretive materials, as well as the costs associated with stewardship and maintenance.
Those trails will be available to the residents of and visitors to Lake George, as will be hiking and biking trails on the McPhillips Preserve on French Mountain.
“As long as they are aligned with the visions of the community, it would be exciting to expand upon those opportunities,” said Horn.
According to Horn, “the South Basin lags behind the rest of the lake when it comes to permanent land protection, and there are many areas, from Pilot Knob to Diamond Point, where forests, wetlands and stream corridors could be kept intact and prominent peaks left unscarred. It’s our mission to protect these resources.”
Horn said the Lake George Land Conservancy only works with willing landowners, and that a strategy for conserving a property is unique to a specific property and to its owners.
Nevertheless, he said he hopes the visibility of the Wiawaka Uplands Project will remind people of the Conservancy’s past successes in the south basin and encourage them to support similar projects in the future.
“Given the extent of the built environment in the south basin, and how busy it is here, many people believe there’s nothing more that can be done here,” said Horn. “That’s simply not true.”