Recreation or conservation? DEC to reclassify Big Indian parcel

Above: A document showing a roughly 1,200-acre parcel acquired by the state in Big Indian, near the Belleayre Ski Center. Source: DEC website.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has announced that the agency has completed a proposal to reclassify about 940 acres of a 1,200-acre state-owned parcel in Big Indian near the Belleayre Ski Center, which was acquired by the state in 2011 as part of a deal with the developers of the proposed Belleayre Resort.

In a press release about the proposal -- released on Monday -- the DEC announced that a public hearing would be held the next day to get public input on the reclassification. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 17 at 7pm at the Belleayre Ski Center's Overlook Lodge.

In the Catskills region, which is part of the state Forest Preserve, the DEC uses a system of six classifications for public land. Each classification allows for different levels of use. Wilderness, the most restrictive classification, allows for some recreational use, but less than other classifications. On Wild Forest lands, the next-most restrictive class, the DEC manages for greater recreational use and human impact on the landscape. 

In previous documents related to the Belleayre Ski Center and Belleayre Resort, the DEC has already announced the proposed reclassification another piece of the 1,200-acre Big Indian parcel: 263 acres to be added to the Belleayre Ski Center as Intensive Use land. Another 149 acres outside the parcel, currently part of the Belleayre Ski Center, would be reclassified from Intensive Use to Wilderness. On Monday, the agency announced the proposed reclassification of the remaining parcel, roughly 940 acres: 361 acres in Lost Clove, including the Lost Clove trail, would be reclassified as Wilderness. Another 542 acres on the eastern ridge would be added to the Shandaken Wild Forest.

The classification of the Belleayre parcel is important to local recreational groups, who want to see the land made available for various outdoor activities, and to local environmental groups who want to protect sensitive ridgetop land on Highmount. In July of 2012, the Catskill Mountain Velo Club petitioned the DEC to give the Belleayre parcel a less-restrictive classification, like Wild Forest or Intensive Use, in order to allow local mountain bikers and cross-country skiers to use existing logging roads on the property. 

The DEC writes that Tuesday's hearing will "provide an opportunity for the public to meet with DEC staff and share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions regarding management of the newly acquired State lands." The agency will also accept written comments until September 30, 2013. Comments on the plan can be submitted to DEC at the Region 3 office: NYS DEC, Region 3, 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561 or by e-mail to the DEC's Bill Rudge at [email protected].