Northeast Wilderness Trust closes on landmark wilderness project in Champlain Valley

A vast expanse of Adirondack foothills at the headwaters of the Boquet River, including wild streams, pristine ponds, and mature forest, was permanently protected May 24, 2019, for the benefit of nature and people.

“This is a momentous day for wilderness in New York’s Lake Champlain region,” says Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust, the non-profit that purchased the 2,434-acre property in the Essex County town of Chesterfield from the Rodgers family. “In contrast to the great wilderness areas of the High Peaks and lakes country of the central and western Adirondacks, the easternmost region of the Adirondack Park remains underrepresented when it comes to forever-wild landscapes. Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve is a big step toward ensuring that low-elevation areas receive equal wilderness representation within the beloved Adirondacks. It’s in these ‘West Champlain Hills’ where some of greatest biological diversity is found in all of the Adirondack Park.”

The purchase of Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve entailed a year of fundraising towards a total project budget of $1.8 million. Major funding support came from Sweet Water Trust, Conservation Alliance, Gallogly Family Foundation, Open Space Institute, and Cloudsplitter Foundation. 

Partnering with Northeast Wilderness Trust, Adirondack Land Trust will hold a "forever-wild" conservation easement on the property, and will be responsible for ensuring that the terms in the easement are upheld in perpetuity. 

“This project is both innovative and unique in the Adirondack Park,” said Mike Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Land Trust. “First, this is not like other Adirondack wilderness; this is private forever-wild land that will now be opened to the public for uses that are compatible with its wilderness character. Also, the Adirondack Land Trust is just one of several partners using their different expertise to protect and manage this special place, leveraging the strengths of all involved. The Adirondack Land Trust has a 35-year history of investment in the Champlain Valley, primarily in farmland protection, and we are honored to work with Northeast Wilderness Trust and others to protect its biological diversity as well.”

Eagle Mountain is the beating heart of a large, intact forest that connects the High Peaks to lower elevation lands near Lake Champlain.  Surrounding protected areas include New York State’s Jay Mountain Wilderness and Taylor Pond Wild Forest (home to the local landmark, Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain), as well as other privately conserved lands.

The dramatic cliffs of the property’s namesake summit harbor nesting habitat for rare Peregrine Falcons, the fastest animal on the planet.  These New York State-listed endangered birds have been documented successfully nesting within the boundaries of the Preserve for the past several years.

In addition, the acquisition of Eagle Mountain will protect more than five miles of headwater streams that feed into the North Branch of the Boquet River. These streams are cold, clear, and support rich native brook trout habitat. The exceptional water quality of this stream system is further demonstrated by the presence of the Eastern Pearlshell, a rare freshwater mussel found in only a few locations in New York State and at risk throughout its historic habitat due to water pollution and dams. 

“The protection of Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve is a monumental achievement in the larger effort to protect irreplaceable public resources within the Adirondacks,” says Kim Elliman, president and CEO of Open Space Institute, one of the project’s funders. “The Preserve is a critical stepping stone for wildlife moving across the landscape from Lake Champlain to the High Peaks. OSI is proud to have supported this project, and we commend the Northeast Wilderness Trust on their tireless work seeing this land protected.”

Champlain Area Trails will team up with Northeast Wilderness Trust and Adirondack Land Trust to develop a footpath that showcases the property’s beauty while respecting rare plant and animal communities.  In addition to hiking, fishing, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, and skiing, hunting with some restrictions will be allowed by permission. Hunting permits are free and can be obtained atwww.newildernesstrust.org.

Author and Northeast Wilderness Trust Advisor Bill McKibben wrote, "The Adirondacks are perhaps the world’s greatest experiment in ecological recovery, a place hard used a century ago and now slowly recovering, slowly proving that where humanity backs off, nature rebounds." Jon Leibowitz of Northeast Wilderness Trust reflected that “Eagle Mountain is the proof behind McKibben’s lofty words. This landscape is not pristine or untouched, but its wild character is strong, and from this point forward, it will continue its recovery and rewilding. With this project we take a giant step towards creating a brighter, healthier future for both human and wild residents of this special corner of the Northeast.”

Photograph of Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve courtesy of Brendan Wiltse