Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Backcountry: A New State Land Designation?

Six Rivers Overview Map (Bill Ingersoll Proposal)Ever since the state announced that it had closed on its purchase of the Essex Chain of Lakes and sections of the Hudson River — part of the property formerly owned by Finch Pruyn — there has been much preliminary discussion for how these lands should be classified under the State Land Master Plan (SLMP). What you are about to read is one more such proposal. This one, though, is not from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) or any conservation group. Rather, it is my own personal, independent proposal.

Since 1972, all state-owned land in the Adirondacks has been classified under one of several management categories listed within the SLMP. The major categories are Wilderness and Wild Forest, but others include Primitive, Canoe, and Intensive Use. Each one carries its own set of management guidelines, which largely deal with recreational access. Whenever the state buys new land, as it is doing now, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is required to classify the property. It consults with DEC, makes a recommendation, invites public input, votes on a resolution, and obtains the approval of the governor. The very first stage of this process has already begun, even before the public at large has had a chance to explore the new land.

For many people – and I unashamedly include myself in this camp – the pinnacle of these classifications is Wilderness, which is defined in part by its poetic preamble: “A wilderness area, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man — where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This SLMP description is modeled after the 1964 Wilderness Act, and its primary goal is to preserve the larger tracts of Forest Preserve in a primitive state, free of motorized intrusions.

Under other circumstances, I might be persuaded that the new Essex Chain property and the existing Hudson Gorge Primitive Area could be combined into an attractive new Wilderness Area. But lately I have been wondering if Wilderness really would be the best option for this region, and if instead there is an opportunity here to go in a new direction. The property seems to contain too many potential compromises that would make the Wilderness designation an uncomfortable fit — not only because of the expected floatplane use at First and Pine lakes, but also because Wilderness guidelines would eliminate the option of allowing bike use of the road system, as well as apply group size restrictions on the Hudson River’s whitewater rafters.

Wilderness is regarded as the highest of the land categories, and it is usually a newsworthy event when new acreage is added: the governor’s office issues a press statement praising his environmental policies, with the conservation groups chipping in a few lines of support. Since a new designation is worth a moment of positive press, this may explain why there have been a series of new designations over the last decade, some of the parcels advanced to the highest category before they probably deserve to be. The William C. Whitney Wilderness, Five Ponds Wilderness expansion near Lows Lake, and Hurricane Mountain Wilderness were all designated with exception zones or corridors that have allowed otherwise non-conforming uses to continue, like flaws in an otherwise precious gem. Very few have been “true” Wilderness additions, uncompromised and fully compliant with the SLMP, the way designations used to be in prior decades.

Hurricane Mountain is a good example of a flawed Wilderness with a recent vintage. I am not going to tell you that the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain is damaging to the surrounding forest, but the APA’s decision in 2010 to spot-zone the tower’s footprint was what can only be described as burst of cartographic creativity. It tells me that our politicians and bureaucrats still want that positive buzz from designating new Wilderness acreage, but they don’t want the controversy of bringing these areas into full compliance — such as by removing a tower that had been slated for relocation. So in the last decade we have seen new Wilderness acreage complete with snowmobile trails, access roads, bicycle corridors, and fire towers. Everybody supposedly comes away happy because they all get something. But with each of these split designations the Wilderness designation is becoming increasingly bastardized.

Recently, DEC has created conceptual maps for the Essex Chain and nearby stretches of the Hudson River that outline a conceptual scheme for their designation. Under this proposal, part of the property would be designated as the Hudson Gorge Wilderness, and the rest would be Wild Forest. Some of these Wild Forest lands would be overlaid with a smaller zone called the Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area, presumably as a “special management area,” since there is no such thing as a “Canoe Recreation Area” listed in the SLMP. This is a complex package, and therefore a difficult proposal to describe succinctly. It requires a somewhat more advanced understanding of the SLMP to see what the DEC is trying to accomplish.

The essential problem with the Essex Chain and Hudson Gorge is that there appear to be simultaneous desires to provide opportunities for motorless recreation while also allowing bicycle use of the former Finch Pruyn logging roads, floatplane access to First and Pine lakes, and even motor vehicle access in certain places. No single classification in the SLMP accommodates all of these management goals obviously, so the department is therefore seeking to manufacture one by piecing together a variety of designations: Wilderness here, Wild Forest there, a special management area on top of this over here.

Mix it all together, and the result would be a very colorful map.

From a recreational perspective, it would be a nightmare because few members of the public will have the patience to learn which activities are being allowed on which acres. For instance, someone seeking to travel the old roads from Indian Lake to the Goodnow Flow would pass through all three management zones: Wild Forest near the Gooley Steps, Wilderness near the Cedar River, and the Special Management Area near the Essex Chain. Unless such a visitor was an expert at interpreting the SLMP and its associated map, he might not know where these zones are or why bikes might be allowed on one side of a river but not the other. He might question why there are even three separate sets of rules for a single section of Forest Preserve. Simply stated, a split designation this complicated would be unworkable.

And frankly, it’s not what the SLMP is about. What is a state land classification but a set of expectations? When the provisions of the SLMP are split too finely on a facility-by-facility basis — placing multiple sets of expectations for the same geographic area — the designations will become so blended that any distinctiveness between them is lost. I would not expect to find Wilderness conditions in a place with road access into the interior, for instance, or solitude on a chain of lakes with floatplanes on one end and a boat ramp at the other. What counts is not what clever things an APA cartographer can do with GIS software, but the on-the-ground reality of the subject property.

Take a look at this downloadable version of the original SLMP map from 1972. The dark green shapes are Wilderness, light green are Wild Forest. Note that they were applied in broad strokes to large areas. Forty-one years ago, a Wilderness designation was a bold statement, applied wholesale with few reservations and doubts. So were the Wild Forest designations, for that matter. You don’t need a magnifying glass to see where the corridors and fire tower footprints are, because there aren’t any.

Getting back to the Essex Chain, I do not dispute that bicycle use of the old road system or use of the Hudson River by large groups of whitewater rafters may be legitimate activities. I only fear how the state may bend the SLMP in the interest of accommodating these uses. So rather than trying to piece together multiple designations into a complex pattern like a jigsaw puzzle, I am suggesting that we have perhaps reached a point in the year 2013 where we need to add another tool to the SLMP toolbox – one that allows us to incorporate a variety twenty-first century requirements, draft a single set of corresponding guidelines, and apply them to the largest possible area. What DEC is proposing to accomplish with three designations, we could create much more cleanly with one new one.

In my view, this “missing link” in the SLMP is a semi-primitive non-motorized designation that would accomplish many of the same preservation goals as Wilderness, but provide an alternate set of management guidelines. It would be a useful tool in situations like the Essex Chain, where the qualities of the subject parcel warrant a stronger designation than Wild Forest, but where existing features could allow types of recreational access that wouldn’t otherwise be compatible with Wilderness. The name of this new designation should reflect similar values as Wilderness while at the same time being distinct from it. I propose the name “Backcountry.” And finally, the bulk of the lands that include the Essex Chain, Hudson River, and adjoining state lands (a total of 69,000 acres) should be designated as the Adirondack Park’s first Backcountry Area.

This is something that I have given much thought towards recently. I am convinced that this approach – or something very similar to it – is the only elegant solution to not only the Essex Chain and Hudson Gorge, but to Forest Preserve units throughout the park. I have even put together a detailed proposal document that I have recently submitted to the APA (with beautiful maps by Teresa DeSantis, by the way). It outlines how I think Backcountry should be defined, the basic guidelines for how it should be managed, and the manner in which it could be applied to the Essex Chain as the “Six Rivers Backcountry Area.” I will let this file go into the specifics without the need for me to rehash it here. Download it, read it, and if you like, support it.

The problem with any new idea is that to come to life it requires a larger acceptance. So what if Bill Ingersoll has this clever little proposal? Until someone at the APA decides to adopt it as a valid option worthy of further exploration, the Backcountry Area concept will remain little more than pieces of paper and bits of data. I am under no illusion that any of my proposals would be simple actions to execute. They would require the involvement and support of many people, with a sequence of required actions to make the idea a reality. The implementation of the Backcountry Area designation would be a major adjustment to the SLMP and possibly to the way much of the Forest Preserve is managed. There would of course be much debate and public scrutiny.

At the moment there is no official public comment period on the classification of the Essex Chain or the Hudson Gorge, but there is never anything to prevent concerned citizens from corresponding with our state land managers. If by some chance you support my proposed amendments to the SLMP, including the concept of the Backcountry Area designation, then a show of support couldn’t hurt at the moment. I suggest addressing comments to:

James Connolly
Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977

Bill Ingersoll

Bill Ingersoll has hiked and backpacked in wildernesses across America, but feels most at home in the grand forests of the Adirondacks. He became a co-author (with Barbara McMartin) of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebook series in 2000 and is currently the series' publisher. Additionally, his articles and photos have appeared in Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Sports & Fitness, and Adirondack Life magazines.

A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, You will find him exploring the North Country with his dog Lexie in all four seasons, by trail, snowshoe, and canoe.

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69 Responses

  1. Matt Sisti says:


    I own a home in Newcomb, not far from the Essex Chain. I’m also an avid outdoorsman, splitting time between backpacking, hunting, fishing and yes, biking and snowmobiling. Certainly i have a vested interest in what happens here. Your proposal is wonderfully written and hits the issue squarely in the middle. You’ve captured the essence of the problem while at the same time offering a sound solution. I plan to talk to many people about this.

  2. Good Job Bill! Thanks for the opportunity to create these specialized maps for your proposal.

    Teresa DeSantis- Cartographer

  3. Curt Austin says:

    There are two models of good decision-making: 1) a set of documents, outlining principles and procedures, and 2) a very smart and knowledgeable person familiar with all points of view.

    There are obvious limitations to the first approach, not least of which is that does not avoid the human judgment that this approach mistrusts so deeply. It involves the collective action of many people, most of whom are not of the sort described in the second approach. The document describes a procedure for conducting an arcane form of warfare; naturally, the best warriors win.

    The problem with the second is *not* that they do not exist, it is that other people have trouble recognizing them.

    Good luck, Mr. Ingersoll.

  4. Trailpatrol says:

    The US Forest Service has used the designation “semi-primitive non-motorized area” for years, particularly in eastern forest units…but the people who patrol them, paid and volunteer, are called “Backcountry” Rangers. (As compared to “Wilderness Rangers” in the BWCAW, Bob Marshall, Selway-Bitteroot, etc.) It is a very useful management tool.

    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

      Interestingly, I encountered the “semi-primitive non-motorized” areas while passing through a national forest in Wisconsin in 2011. They were actually labeled as such on USGS maps. I like the concept, but the name is a bit too abstract, which is why I’m making a push for Backcountry.

      But yeah, what I’m proposing isn’t entirely groundbreaking — only in the context of the Adirondacks.

  5. Paul says:

    “The essential problem with the Essex Chain and Hudson Gorge is that there appear to be simultaneous desires to provide opportunities for motorless recreation while also allowing bicycle use of the former Finch Pruyn logging roads, floatplane access to First and Pine lakes, and even motor vehicle access in certain places. No single classification in the SLMP accommodates all of these management goals obviously, so the department is therefore seeking to manufacture one by piecing together a variety of designations: Wilderness here, Wild Forest there, a special management area on top of this over here.”

    Bill, why doesn’t Wild Forest fit the bill? Motor vehicle use is prohibited in Wild Forest areas. The only exception is on a road which can be classified as a road. The question will be about waterway classification for planes. Till recently this has not been an issue.

    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

      Motor vehicle use is most certainly NOT prohibited in Wild Forests. The language of the SLMP does seem to minimize and discourage it, but snowmobile trails, access roads, and floatplane-approved lakes are all common in Wild Forest areas.

      • Paul says:

        Snowmobiles. Good point. I forgot about that.

        “access roads, and floatplane-approved lakes are all common in Wild Forest areas.”

        These are two of the things that are maybe wanted here right? So Wild Forest is a pretty close fit. Would allowing snowmobile use on these roads in the winter be a big deal? If not can’t you just say that these are not approved snowmobile trails (which they probably are not) and that would take care of that? Maybe the local communities over there would like to see some snowmobile use in there. It wouldn’t be the end of the world probably.

        • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

          Snowmobile trail corridors have already been routed along the periphery of the area, in some cases on conservation easement lands that were also former Finch lands.

          I have proposed a small number of access roads at strategic locations.

          Floatplanes at Pine and First lakes seem to be a foregone conclusion. My proposal incorporates this.

          I highly encourage you to read the proposal document and study the maps, which will probably address many of your concerns.

          • Paul says:

            Bill, I did and it does. But it is somewhat unrealistic to think that yet another classification is going to be added. This is probably a can of worms that many would like to avoid. If we want to consider the “back country” classification than perhaps we should also consider a classification near the Wild Forest and Intensive Use ones on the list that might allow ATV use in some areas of the Forest Preserve, like we have with snowmobile use. Many folks would support that idea.

            My point was that the best thing we have now that could fit what folks may want is a Wild Forest classification. If you operate a motor vehicle that is not a snowmobile without the required permit (that you can get in some special circumstances) on Wild Forest land you are committing a crime.

            • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

              Thanks Paul for reviewing the document.

              I never once envisioned this to be an easy process. All it takes is one response from the APA saying they are flatly not interested, and the game is over. But if I never tried…

  6. Dan Plumley says:


    Many good point in this article that I certainly agree with. Adirondack Wild has repeatedly testified against the spot zoning and corridor zoning trends of the DEC and APA over the past several years in the Moose River Plains, 5 Ponds, as well as Hurricane. This type of “convenient” compromise ends up gutting the integrity of the State Land Master Plan for recreational reasons other than classifications that are merited from the fragility of the wild land resource. Moreover, the administration and enforcement of these lands — as well as the public’s ability to understand the different orientations — grow more complex and costly.

    DEC’s proposal for the Essex Chain of Lakes is sadly along the same “thread the needle” political compromise. At the end of the day on site, it will prove to be increasingly unworkable and damaging to the wild resources and character the SLMP was designed to prevent.
    The “backcountry” classification you suggests already exists. It is called “Primitive” areas and this was, in fact, the rightful classification for the Hurricane Area with the fire tower and a power line corridor as recognized non-conforming uses. The illiterate spot zoning of the tower footprints at the very summit of Hurricane as “Historic” and all surrounding lands as “Wilderness” was an anathema in APA practice and should be overturned.

    Most of the Essex Chain of Lakes, due to their ecologically very sensitive nature should be classified either Wilderness or Primitive if non-conforming uses like woods roads are to maintained. The latter question of the roads – and whether they all should stay needs to be addressed forthrightly and in a manner recognizing the opportunity that might be available to New York if the roads were closed, scarified and naturally returned to wild lands. This should be evaluated as well as maintaining some roads for mountain bicycle use. A “Primitive” designation would allow for this consideration over time.

    Canoe Area designation is possible, as well, though this would be a very small Canoe Area. Either way, due to its size and vulnerability, the Essex Chain is going to need special regulations to protect its character and fisheries.

    “Primitive” designation of lands where non-conforming uses have been removed then are of the character, potentially, of being re-classified as Wilderness. Thus, an additional “Backcountry” layer of designation is unnecessary.

    Now the ball is in the APA’s court to assess the classification character and true susceptibility to impact and use of the Essex Chain of Lake Tract. The SLMP process of classification should evaluate these alternatives in essence
    as an Environmental Impact Statement analysis weighing the pro’s and con’s of differing classification proposals.

    Hopefully, the Park Agency staff will do their utmost to recommend a classification scenario that truly preserves and protects the wilderness and primitive qualities of this very unique, small and vulnerable wild land area.

    We all have an obligation to see that they do.

    Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild

    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:


      Thanks for your comments, but you’re making a very basic misunderstanding that needs to be addressed.

      Primitive and Wilderness both fall under the “primitive” class of land management, and Wild Forest is its own class. The SLMP makes repeated references to the “primitive character” of both Primitive and Wilderness — which are essentially versions of the same thing — and the “wild forest character” of Wild Forests. Three SLMP designations, but only 2 sets of standards.

      Backcountry is about a third set of standards, “semi-primitive.” What I am absolutely, positively trying to avert is any re-writing of Wilderness/Primitive. If you want to find the best precedent for Backcountry in the existing SLMP, I strongly suggest that you look toward Canoe. My Backcountry proposal can either be viewed as a “new” designation, or the expansion of an existing designation that was so narrowly defined in 1972 that it has so far been applicable only to one area, St. Regis.

      Please, please, please thoroughly read my proposal document, as you will find that none of my ideas are merely cosmetic or spontaneous.

      • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

        Furthermore, Dan, the semi-primitive category is only new to the Adirondacks. As has been mentioned above, it is something that is already being used in national forests. Except there it’s not called Backcountry.

        • Dan Plumley says:


          Thanks. Neither in my message or in response would I ever suggest your ideas are merely cosmetic or spontaneous. As I stated, “many good ideas,” in your piece. I will certainly gladly read your proposal, though I stand by my comments from my point of view.

          Federal wilderness conceptions were first born in the recognition of the New York’s “Forever Wild” act establishment in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Semi-wilderness is essentially primitive by another name. In the Adirondacks, primitive classifications can stand alone — same with canoe. Foremost, however, as my comment notes is that regardless of classification, the State through the DEC, APA and the People have to first assess the susceptability of the resource to impacts and wilderness character in fact and potentially and classify accordingly.

          Adding as yet another classification line to the long list whereby we fail to truly preserve “Forever Wild” characteristics of lands held under Article XIV may not be the answer we are looking for and I’m certain you would not accept.

          It is incumbent upon the Adirondack Park Agency to do their job and fully evaluate the resource of the Essex Chain of Lakes. If they do so correctly, I believe that wilderness principally, primitive with non-confirming uses, or canoe can be applied this year. Hoping to get legislative change to the SLMP for another classification change would take years.

          Let me know how to assess your written proposal and I’ll review it promptly and offer feedback of course.

          Thanks Bill,


          • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

            There is a link to the proposal document embedded in the article above, or you can use this one:

            And semi-primitive is not simply primitive by a different name. Once more I will state that semi-primitive is a distinct, existing category in some national forests.

            Please explain this comment:

            “Adding as yet another classification line to the long list whereby we fail to truly preserve ‘Forever Wild’ characteristics of lands held under Article XIV may not be the answer we are looking for and I’m certain you would not accept.”

            What aspects of my proposal fail to uphold the principles behind the Forest Preserve, in your opinion?

          • Paul says:

            Dan, The classification system (albeit with some flaws like anything) has tried to keep things Forever Wild from what I would call an “Adirondack” perspective remembering what the spirit of the Adirondack Park is all about: a place where people and nature can live and work together. That doesn’t mean that a Forever Wild land cannot have some uses that you and your group do not support. You could argue that many of the things that go on in Wildernesses areas are not compatible with Forever Wild if defined in too narrow a way.

  7. Dan Plumley says:


    One additional comment: the term “backcountry” in the Adirondacks has been used colloquially for decades referring to private lands that offer open space, wild land buffering and working forest values and opportunities in the park’s designated Resource Management, Rural Use and Low Intensity Use zones.


    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:


      Many people also use the term “backcountry” colloquially to describe remote, undeveloped areas. It’s opposite is “frontcountry,” which in recreational terms describes developed campgrounds and boat launches.

      Therefore I’m not sure that I understand your concern.



      • Paul says:

        In all the time that I have lived or spent in the Adirondacks the term “back country” is commonly used to refer to remote stuff on public land. In fact I would say more often than it is used for private parcels, this seems to be a more recent popular use of the term. I fact I found it interesting how often it was used to refer to land close to Tupper Lake when the ACR was under discussion? That seemed new to me. It made the land seem all remote maybe that was the idea?

  8. Dan,

    I think Bill is making the point that “Backcountry” has a broader connotation than just land use in the Adirondacks.
    I lived in Logan, Utah for three years in the late 1990’s, and locals refer to the nearby Federal Public Lands in the Bear River Range and the Uintahs as “The Backcountry.” Bill is not off his mark.

    Teresa the Cartographer

  9. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    First, to be clear: Bill, I read your report, reviewed the maps (thanks Teresa, very nice work and I may be talking to you about another mapping project down the road)and reread relevant portions of the SLMP. Okay.

    I have two comments.

    First, Dan we obviously agree on many specifics regarding management of the park, however in this case I disagree with you with respect to the Primitive Classification. Both the historic intent and the current language in the SLMP positions the Primitive classification as Wilderness wannabe, with a clear goal to get as close as to Wilderness as possible. Either the nonconforming aspects are to be removed over time and the land eventually reclassified as Wilderness or the parcel is forced by small size, proximity to development or a permanent feature unrelated to recreation to be an “odd duck,” unclassifiable as Wilderness without diluting the meaning of that designation.

    Bill’s proposed Backcountry classification has a clearly different purpose to me, namely to allow recreational use that is not consistent with the original intent and language of the Wilderness designation yet is potentially consistent with a biological and ecological level of protection and management commensurate to that afforded Wilderness. That is quite different than the intention of Primitive, not the least reason being its intended permanence in enshrining and regulating certain types of use that are an uncomfortable fit in the current SLMP.

    If we are going to reopen the SLMP in a big way I could imagine one approach being to rewrite the Primitive classification, which was perhaps a poor way to deal with the problems of nonconforming features in the first place, and make it something like what Bill proposes. Short of that I support Bill’s proposal.

    I do agree with you that “Backcountry” is perhaps not the best name given its broad and casual use in these parts.

    Second, Bill, one of the things that intrigues me about your idea is the opportunity to relieve some pressure on Wilderness and in fact revisit Wilderness management to do a better job of managing and protecting it in the spirit of the original designation. It seems to me that by opening substantial areas to a wider variety of recreational and back country activities we can in turn get a lot more strict about Wilderness than we are now. That is a tradeoff that I find very appealing. Any comments on that?



    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

      Hi Pete,

      First, I think you got the characterization of the existing Primitive designation 100% correct. It’s a “wilderness-in-waiting” category, distinguished from the Wilderness designation ONLY because of some “flaw.”

      Rather than rewriting the Primitive classification, I suggest we look at the Canoe Area designation instead. This was a one-off designation that was applied in 1972 to a single area that was originally proposed for Wilderness. Because that area was being actively managed by a nearby state fishery, which wanted to retain its network of truck trails, a customized classification had to be created. It has been considered for a few other areas since then, but rejected as a viable option because of its narrow guidelines. When I was drafting my Backcountry guidelines, I was actually modeling it after a blend of Canoe and Wild Forest guidelines.

      In regards to your questions on Wilderness:

      Yes, I am trying to deflect some of the criticism away from Wilderness, if not the actual usage. The High Peaks will always be the High Peaks, and until somebody finds a 4000-foot summit south of Speculator, most people will keep on trucking up to Exit 30 on the Northway. I don’t see that changing at all regardless of what happens downstream on the Hudson River.

      I am not necessarily proposing any changes to the Wilderness guidelines at this time, which is partly the point. I’m a bit more worried about the people who feel “shut out” of Wilderness and want to revise the guidelines in the opposite direction from what you are suggesting. Think back to the discussion a month ago about bikes. The Backcountry designation could deflect some of that attention.

      But beyond that, the subject of Wilderness management is a beast unto itself. I travel to federal Wilderness Areas in national parks and forests when I can, and in addition to simply enjoying the time spent in a new landscape I do make mental notes of how they are being managed. When people get embroiled in discussions about overuse of the High Peaks or something, they almost always forget that these issues are not specific to the Adirondacks, but are in fact encountered nationwide. In some respects, the Adirondacks can (and have) served as a model for federal land management, but the reverse should be true, to. If you go to you can find some excellent documents from the national parks and forests. In terms of faciltities maintenance — particularly trail conditions — what I have observed is that the places that enjoy some sort of fee revenue tend to be in the best shape, because these areas also tend to have funded trail crews of one kind or another.

      Now, if you want to broach a controversial topic, I highly recommend proposing that DEC move to a fee permit system in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Post your argument, open up a bottle of your favorite alcoholic beverage, sit back, and enjoy the fireworks.

      • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

        Actually Bill, when I wrote my “Third Way” column a few weeks back, I described myself as being open to the idea of a fee system. No one commented; I think it was too oblique in the context of the Dispatch. So here: a fee system in the High Peaks seems like potentially a good idea to me.

        To those who think such a thing would never be tolerated I would merely point out it already partly exists and there’s little outcry. How are the trailheads at the Loj and Garden faring? The parking fee is a fee, after all.

      • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

        Haha, you might want to shout it out a little more loudly.

        • Pete, thanks for your appreciation of the maps I did for this project. I am interested in any mapping projects you might have in mind. If you send an email to me at, I will send you my phone #, and we can talk.

          Pete and Bill: On the newly proposed idea of a fee permit system for the Adirondacks- how would it work? Would it be for the High Peaks only? Would it be for backpackers who are camping, or also for day-use trail users? How would one envision a practical and successful application of a fee permit system in the Adirondacks?

          I am reminded of the myriad of US Forest Service “Fee Areas” out West. I always liked the little mineature primitive camping areas of 5-10-20 sites, well laid out- sometimes with a caretaker, sometimes not (sometimes a caretaker takes care of a group of sites.) And a little box to put your money in, and to write out your permit.
          It’s a very low key setup. Well worth the $7 or $10 a night to camp out for a night or two. I’ve always thought them as inviting as one is entering or leaving the backcountry before/after a backpack, as a staging area for one’s high-country adventures. They also come in handy when one is en-route between areas that one would like to explore, and there is not enough time in the day to reach one’s destination. It would be nice to have a bit of this in the Adirondacks.

          I’m trying to remember back when I backpacked in Yellowstone- I had to get a permit- to be hung on the fly of your tent- I can’t remember if there was a fee or not- but I remember there was a walk-in registration system. What I most remember was the old NPS guy who made us watch the bear/grizzly video- and then he quizzed us on: “Now, if a bear approaches you when you are in your tent- what are you going to do?”

          Does anyone have a link to usage figures in the High Peaks vs. the rest of the Park? Any statistics?


          Teresa the Cartographer

          • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

            Hi Teresa,

            To be clear, there really is no “new proposal” for fee permits in the Adirondacks. It’s just a topic of conversation that comes up every now and then.

            My experiences with the permit system in western parks is similar to yours. The self-serve campgrounds, the pre-trip mandatory ranger talks, etc.

            In my observation, people who have encountered fee permits before tend to be more open to the idea of having them in the High Peaks. People who have not been to an area that required a fee permit tend to be far more skeptical of the idea. The chief objections are that (1) as NYS residents, we already pay taxes to support state land stewardship, so a fee would just be an additional tax; (2) charging people to access state land would hurt tourism; and (3) there is no guarantee that the revenue generated by the permits would not be diverted to some other purpose.

            I personally see how such a system could work well in the High Peaks for overnight camping. Everybody setting off from Tahawus or Heart Lake or Keene Valley for an overnight hike would have a permit and know precisely where their campsite is. The idea is not to reduce the number visitors, but simply to distribute them to where the available sites are. Currently you see multiple parties crowding into a handful of campsites, because at the end of the day everybody ends up at the same popular destinations … and the result is the perception that the High Peaks are crowded. If everybody had their own campsite and a sense of privacy, that perception goes away.

            One problem is that any such system for the High Peaks would require some infrastructure to support it: more ranger stations near key trailheads, and an integrated computer system to track the number of permits. Some area merchants could also become permit stations too.

            But this is all just speculation. I would expect a significant amount of resistance to any fee permit proposal. Supposedly the state’s environmental conservation law prevents it from happening, although I’ve read that stipulation and I found the language to be very vague. Technically, the Indian Lake Islands and Saranac Islands are already fee areas, but this point seems to be lost on most opponents.

            • Dave says:

              There are 2 ideas here. One is a permit (fee or no fee) and the other is a fee-for-permit. Permits can be made easily available (say, over the net) and used like a ski pass for a period of time or a season. They would limit or meter people flowing thru an area.

              The are fees for many things in the Park. Camping at many places has a fee and a reservation system. Putting a boat in Lake George requires paying a fee. Skiing on Whiteface. Parking at the Garden or at Heart Lake.

              Other places have different fees depending upon residency. NYS residents might be free, but others might pay a fee.

              We have made less use of systems that are time slot reservations, but not for a fee. This is in place now at the 9/11 memorial in NYC to meter people thru the place. It might be a good thing from something like Cascade.

              But fees are a different idea and people react to it depending upon what the fee is used for. If it goes to the Park in some manner, it isn’t sure a big deal. Today, these fess often go directly back to the small operation they support.

          • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

            Dear Teresa:

            I will send you send you a message some time in the next few months; I have a couple of things in mind for mapping.

            As to a permit system, as Bill says it gets mentioned once and a while but not much more than that. I myself have certainly not offered anything like a proposal.

            So it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, as it were. I am doing a little leg work and gathering some information, then I will very likely write a column with a detailed proposal for a fee system, just to see if I can get a discussion going. Bill, I’ll have my single malt in hand as I hit “Post.”

            I have some parameters in mind but I won’t tip my hand until I get more information, including usage information that turns out to be rather difficult to pull together.


  10. Paul says:

    “I’m a bit more worried about the people who feel “shut out” of Wilderness and want to revise the guidelines in the opposite direction from what you are suggesting.”

    Bill those particular people do not “feel” shut from their particular activities they are.

    Bill, having reviewed your recommendation, let me ask specifically, what would be explicitly different by just having a Wild Forest designation on the land?

    With that said some people could and should be (feel) shut out under a Wild Forest designation like they would under your proposal.

    From this idea that Bill has laid out it seems like the consensus, in the absence of a new classification here, is to lean toward a less “wilderness” designation here

    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

      “Bill those particular people do not ‘feel’ shut from their particular activities they are.”

      With all due respect Paul, I have little patience to this line of reasoning. Snowmobilers & bicyclists are only “shut out” from Wilderness to the extent that they are surgically attached to their toy of choice.

      But in regards to the Wild Forest designation, there are two considerations that I see:

      1) Of the so-called “Six Rivers,” four of them have additional protections under the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers law. The two designated Wild Rivers (long sections of the Cedar and Hudson) by law must be managed as Wilderness anyway, including a 1/4 mile strip of land along each bank. Given that these four rivers spread out over so much of the tract, and have enjoyed this legal status for a generation, this suggests a stronger designation than Wild Forest is warranted.

      2) To the extent that some people may be pushing for motor vehicle access to the roads (including, like ADK, for the purposes of canoe access to the lakes) there are provisions in the SLMP that allow roads, but state that there should be “no material increase” in the amount of roads in Wild Forests. Therefore the bulk addition of the Finch Pruyn roads as motor vehicle routes in the Forest Preserve could result in the mandated closure of similar roads elsewhere.

      Part of DEC’s proposal for the Essex Chain was a Wild Forest designation, with a “special management area” overlay. I referred to this in my article when I said DEC was effectively trying to “manufacture” a new designation. SMAs are referred to in the SLMP, but there are no guidelines. DEC can create them, change them, or remove them almost at will; so their proposed “Essex Chain Canoe Recreation Area” may look pretty now on their conceptual maps, but it comes with no guarantee of perpetuity. The DEC giveth, the DEC taketh away.

      • Paul says:

        “2) To the extent that some people may be pushing for motor vehicle access to the roads (including, like ADK, for the purposes of canoe access to the lakes) there are provisions in the SLMP that allow roads, but state that there should be “no material increase” in the amount of roads in Wild Forests”

        Bill isn’t this relative to the amount of Wild Forest land? If it isn’t that seems crazy. But I would not be surprised.

        “With all due respect Paul, I have little patience to this line of reasoning. Snowmobilers & bicyclists are only “shut out” from Wilderness to the extent that they are surgically attached to their toy of choice.”

        Bill, patience my friend. I do neither of these things on Forest Preserve land but I can understand where they are coming from. Our toys our are hiking boots and other things theirs are a just different. They can’t do what they love on Forest Preserve land.

        There are no guarantees either way. Land that was designated as Wild Forest is often changed to Wilderness and land that is something more “restrictive” has been made into a state owned ski area as an example.

      • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

        Hi Paul,

        No, the “no material increase” provision is not proportional. It has been determined to be a hard figure, equal to the miles of roads and snowmobile trails in Wild Forests as of 1972. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember what that figure is for roads (only those owned by DEC count, not public highways) or how close we are to the cap.

        The “I have no access to Wilderness” argument is something that pops every time the W-word is even mentioned, so what you encountered is my standard response. That may be what some people think, that they don’t have access, but that doesn’t make it factually correct. Nobody has the right to do anything they want on state land. Just like life, you have to play by the rules. Therefore, like I said, I have zero patience for this line of thinking … regardless of who resents it, or why.

        • Paul says:

          Bill, face it, in many instances snowmobiles do much less damage to the environment than thousands of hiking boots in the high peaks. To each his own.

          I think it is pretty clear that the only available designation (without some kind of spot classification which apparently nobody supports) that will probably satisfy the most people on this one is a Wild Forest.

          Everybody will just to have to learn to get along.

        • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

          All right. I’ll bite. It’s in no way clear to me that Wild Forest is the best option. I’ve already provided my detailed argument, so let’s read yours. Reasons please, not opinions.

          • Paul says:

            Bill, yes sir. It is not too complicated.

            Reason 1:
            There is a need for some motorized access to these parcels (you have defined it well in your proposal).

            Reason 2:
            The best existing classification to allow motorized access is a Wild Forest designation.

            One additional thing you could add if you don’t want snowmobile access

            • Paul says:

              Sent the reply too soon. Let me finish.

              One additional thing you could do if you don’t want snowmobile access is to not designate any snowmobile trails in the parcel, not even the roads in winter. Leave this trail mileage for somewhere else.

              If you want you can also designate waterways as non-motorized as we do in some other areas.

              Make sure that it is well posted to make sure that people realize that motorized recreation is not permitted on Wild Forest land within the Adirondacks and that anyone attempting it will be fully prosecuted. Just like we would hope would happen in a Wilderness or any other area.

              • Paul says:

                One last thing. I would not spot designate an intensive use area at the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers. This will all be Wild Forest. Commercial guides will have to find some other way to deal with all their clients. There are other places to do that.

                • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

                  But your premise about Wild Forest, as stated here…

                  “Make sure that it is well posted to make sure that people realize that motorized recreation is not permitted on Wild Forest land within the Adirondacks and that anyone attempting it will be fully prosecuted.”

                  … is completely incorrect. Motorized recreation is very possible on Wild Forest lands.

                  It is true that in my plan I made some concession to motorized access, but in all cases these were in places where such use is going to occur anyway, regardless of what I think; and/or in peripheral areas that left the remote areas untouched.

                  Yes, your proposal to designate everything Wild Forest is viable, but the parts where we tell DEC not to designate roads and snowmobile trails is probably expecting too much. Nothing in the SLMP would prevent them from changing their minds in the future.

                  Therefore what I am proposing is something that would be codified within the SLMP, with a greater guarantee of permanence.

                  • Paul says:

                    “Nothing in the SLMP would prevent them from changing their minds in the future.”

                    Nothing would change that if it were a BC designation or a WF designation. They have discretion under the law. Like I said it is common to go from less restrictive to more and not uncommon to go from more to less.

                    “Motorized recreation is very possible on Wild Forest lands.”

                    Bill why do you keep insisting on this? It simply is not true. Motorized recreation off designated roads is as illegal on Wild Forest land as it is on Wilderness land.

                    • Paul says:

                      From the DEC website:

                      “[CPSLMP] A wild forest area is an area of Forest Preserve land whose character as a natural plant and animal community receives the same degree of protection under Article XIV of the Constitution as in areas classified as wildernes”

                    • Paul says:

                      Also,nothing that really amounts to motorized recreation is allowed on a DEC road in a wild forest either. Just cars and trucks for access.

                    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

                      That’s the Catskill SLMP, which is not applicable to the Adirondacks.

                      In the Adirondack SLMP, roads are a permissible facility, plain and simple. The issue is the retention of the former Finch Pruyn logging roads as public motor vehicle roads. This is what I have been referring to.

                    • Paul says:

                      Bill, Good point on the CSLMP. Do you have a good link for the ASLMP? Having trouble finding a link. I don’t imagine that the Wild Forest designation is any less strict in the Adirondack Park than it is in the Catskills?

                      Sometimes I think we do the park a disservice to try and portray the Wild Forest designation as something less than wild. People outside the park should realize that our Wild Forest areas are very “wild” and in many cases more remote and wild than our heavily traveled Wilderness areas.

                    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

                      Hi Paul,

                      The Adirondack SLMP is housed on the APA website:


                      I think the Catskill definition of a Wild Forest is probably actually a little different, but down there the state land parcels are so small that access roads are irrelevant.

                      In the Adirondacks, there is more of an interest in having the access to drive into state land, so this SLMP has provisions for interior roads.

                      It comes down to how one defines “access.” For me, I consider state land “accessible” if I can legally drive to the boundary, park, and enter without blocking traffic or trespassing on someone’s property. If I can do this, then I handle the rest on my own. If there is some attractive pond or peak that is hard to get to, then I consider it a challenge, not a setback.

                      For others, “access” means the ability to drive into state land directly to a destination.

                      I agree that there are many areas in the Wild Forests that are quite wild — which is to say, there are large patches of Wild Forests that have no motorized access, and which provide many of the same experiences as Wilderness. If I, personally, were to state that these places weren’t as well protected as they could be, I am implying that because they are in a Wild Forest, the possibility exists that DEC may someday shoose to route a snowmobile trail there. If they were part of some other classification, Backcountry or Wilderness, then that option is eliminated.

                  • Paul says:

                    Bill, that I thought it was there at the APA site I just could not find it. Thanks again.

  11. Dan Plumley says:

    Bill, Pete, All:

    Thanks for all of the good responses. First and foremost, the Adirondack Park Agency must evaluate the land and water resources for their capability to withstand use, wilderness character and potential for impact. That analysis, if undertaken diligently based on on-site knowledge of the habitats involved will help provide the level ground for any appropriate discussion for right classification options.

    Primitive classification does not automatically imply a future move towards designated wilderness. In the Catskills, the DEC has primitive bicycling corridors, for example. The APSLMP does offer some deference to limited use by mountain bicycles and jeeps-auto use, as well, in primitive. We will have to see what the APA considers historical use for certain portions of the Essex Chain of Lakes and what makes sense that can preserve the core wilderness (or possibly canoe) for the lakes.

    Adirondack Wild has no position against mountain biking, nor horse trails per se as well as certain limited motorized use restricted preferably in wild forest. The primary obligation we have is to recognize and accentuate the potential for advancing wild land values where the resources demonstrate significant vulnerability as in the core lakes area of this unit and across all state lands under Article XIV.

    I support many of Bill’s interests in his “backcountry” proposal, though I am unconvinced that a new designation is needed at this point. It is certainly an appropriate discussion for consideration when the APSLMP undergoes future review and amendment.


  12. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:


    This statement…

    “Primitive classification does not automatically imply a future move towards designated wilderness.”

    … is factually incorrect. It absolutely does imply a future move towards Wilderness, as stated plainly in the SLMP. The Catskills have their own SLMP, so let’s not cloud the issue. The ONLY exception in the Primitive designation are for those non-conforming uses that are so permanent that a Wilderness classification is probably impossible; and the ONLY “permanent” Primtive Areas that I can think of are Hitchins Pond and the islands in Lake Champlain.

    I am disappointed that you agree that the split designations are becoming an issue, and that your group seems intent to engage in a process that will be almost guaranteed to produce the result you don’t want. Adirondack Wild, I will imagine, will write a firm letter in support of a Wilderness designation. The APA will receive it and place it in a pile of similar letters from the Council and other groups. They will then designate a sliver of land along the Hudson River as Wilderness to satisfy your concerns, and then apply a different designation for the Essex Chain, thereby “threading the needle” (to borrow your own term) precisely in the way we both seem to agree isn’t the best approach.

    And I present a plan of action that would offer the best possible protection for the greatest amount of acreage, in a manner comparable to a solution being employed on federal land, and at best you seem to want to defer the discussion to the future — “when the APSLMP undergoes future review and amendment”?

    I appreciate and value your comments. But there are ideals — i.e. the desire to maximize the amount of designated Wilderness — and then there is the practical and political reality that this may not be possible in the short term, if not the long term. So to engage in a strategically weak course of action would clearly seem to be in Adirondack Wild’s best interest.

  13. Peter says:

    This debate is being framed by recreationalists. Bill serves on the oxymoronic ADK Conservation Committee. What is needed in the discussion is the perspective of true conservation. This new acquisition should be wilderness. We don’t need new categories of regulation to accommodate our little needs to paddle and ride and explore. We don’t need Bill to expand “Discover the Adirondacks.” Someone, somewhere, has to speak out for the Essex Chain of Lakes, a resource that by itself is much more valuable than our need to use it.

    • Paul says:

      Peter, Sorry but this is now a recreational issue even if it is designated as Wilderness land. If it were purely a preservation issue than someone (perhaps you?) should have bought it and preserved it like Fynch Pruyn has over the years.

  14. Gentlemen,

    It seems unwise to use the blanket label “recreationalists” as it is used above. Why label at all? We all have diverse and varied backgrounds- some in the Environmental Sciences, some in Geography, some in Land Use Planning. Some in the Sciences, Literature, Math, Art, and many other useful, helpful fields. There could be many different voices and feedback here. I have mailed a link to this article to my friends in various fields. Perhaps you can too. Varied input is always helpful.

    Teresa the Cartographer

    • Peter says:

      Recreationalist may be the wrong term. Perhaps “human” would be more encompassing. But to me, all of the discussion seems to revolve around how to access and use the land. The concept of preserving it for a itself, beyond the scope of human consumption, needs to be added as one of the voices. New York State has a strong history of conservation, something that in the last decade seems to have been lost in the constant drone of economic development, and in the constant special interest lobbying of (now can I say it?) recreationalists. So now let me ask the question. If we pulled the paddlers, the hikers, the sledders, the mountain bikers, etc. out of the mix, wouldn’t it be obvious that all of this property should slip nicely into the Wilderness category? We humans have a knack for destroying things, and we have an opportunity here to conserve an increasingly rare thing. I just hope that those in charge of this decision have the fortitude to let the voice of conservation shape their answer rather than the selfish needs of a few humans interested in their own use of the land.

      • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

        So Peter, here are some questions for you:

        Do expect to ever visit the Essex Chain of Lakes when it becomes open to the public? If so, how do you plan to get there, and what will be your motivation?

        Have you ever been to the Hudson Gorge?

        Have you been to any of the designated Wilderness Areas of the Adirondack Park?

        • Peter says:

          Thanks for the questions, and I apologize for my slightly acerbic tone with regards to the recreational agenda. As to the questions: yes, I have paddled the Hudson River Gorge. And I spend an inordinate amount of time in Wilderness areas of the park. In fact, if I’m not in the woods three hours a day, I get a bit cranky. As to the question about the Essex Chain of Lakes, I will be part of the gold rush when it opens. I will paddle them, and use the easiest method for access available. My motivation is presumably like most others: I like exploring. I like being in wild places. And I live in the wealthiest country in the world, so I am privileged enough to have the time and resources to do such things. I am precisely the person that conservation helps protect against. And I am totally willing to put my own needs aside to protect this property. Let the designation be Wilderness. Let the access be difficult. And conserve. What I find alarming is that the voice of conservation is fading when it needs to be strongest, and so we compromise over and over on the nuances of usage.

          • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

            And I agree with you more than you might think.

            But there a lot of factors in regards to the Essex Chain that may make the Wilderness designation a very uncomfortable fit here. So rather than stretching the Wilderness guidelines to the breaking point, I am suggesting that we leave Wilderness alone. Most of the Wilderness proposals that I am seeing involve things like “wild forest corridors” that would allow permanent public motor vehicle access within the protected boundaries.

            So if this is going to be the kind of Wilderness we are most likely going to get, I would rather not have it. This is my motivation.

            • Peter says:

              We are not really on the same page here. You are discussing compromise and vehicles for human access. I am advocating for restricting access to benefit nature, not humans. This does not need technocrats and cartographers conducting an intellectual exercise on how best to access this property, it needs the broad brushstroke of Wilderness. And I am not about compromise. I will reiterate that the conservationist voice needs some support. It needs it in this forum. It needs it at the DEC, and it needs it at the political level in NYS. The scary thing to me is when recreationalists, who are generally conservationists at heart, support the erosion of conservationist values. That is why I think the ADK is perhaps one of the most destructive voices in the park. What if the Conservation Committee of the ADK came out with the clear statement that there should be no easy access to the Essex Chain of Lakes. What if this same committee said that there is plenty of access to Wilderness already, all over the park? But the sad truth is that it doesn’t. And because the ADK is made up of hikers and paddlers, it’s voice is somehow associated with environmental protection. The reality is somewhat different. It dilutes a vision of conservation that was, and should be, at the heart of the Adirondack Park.

              • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:


                I share much of your point of view. For example, nature itself has inherent rights and these should be paramount in Wilderness designation. I also think that under the current set of choices available by law the Essex Chain should be classified as Wilderness.

                What I no longer share is your approach or your categorization of others. Some years ago I might have written what you wrote here, but – meaning to judge no one but myself – I have grown wiser.

                I’m not sure if you could say I had an epiphany, but it was something close to that. I was the day I realized, after reading a personal treatise by an environmentalist active in the park (who I will not name here), that the entire Adirondack park is an artifice. All of it, every part of its nature, is a matter of compromise, a construct fashioned by men and women who fought over its destiny, a history rife with accidents and eventualities and, yes, compromises of every shape and size.

                In my new realization I forever lost the romantic idea that to take the position of Nature herself is some higher ideal, beyond negotiation and the dirty, low politics of men. Without the politics of the Adirondacks there would be no Adirondacks, nothing left of this grand wilderness, this great jewel of the East.

                You may think this point of view to be cynicism or spineless pragmatism, a tragic loss of youthful ideals. But I beg to differ. I think it is entirely the opposite. The language by which the Adirondack park defines Wilderness areas, the legacy of Bob Marshall and those who followed him, this noble statement that says that wilderness is untrammeled, a place where man himself is a visitor who does not remain, is all the more noble for having been forged by political and cultural struggles, for having been achieved in a masterful compromise between a variety of positions about nature, about recreation, about the human value of getting away from mechanization, about forest management and recovery.

                So yes, we do need technocrats and cartographers… and biologists and ecologists and foresters and recreationalists and whatever names you want to use, all giving their best thoughts to the defense of wild places. We need to stop assuming that certain categories of people, classified by labels, which is itself an exquisite artifice, are positioned a priori for or against Nature. This is why I have written repeatedly against the kind of reflexive side-taking that has poisoned the hard work we must to to save the park and make it better.

                I applaud your idealism and your zealous defense of nature for its own interests. I think you are right and I support you. I will do so right up to the point that you insist that Bill or I or any of the plethora of people discussing and debating in the midst of these issues is, by definition or category, a lesser defender of wilderness than you aspire to be.


              • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:


                No we are not on the same page, but trust me, I am not that many pages removed from you.

                You have been refering to the ADK conservation committee. Our most recent meeting was held yesterday in Albany. On that committee I have a reputation for being “hardline,” partly because I have had the audacity to suggest that the club’s stance against motorized recreation in the Forest Preserve applies just as much to its own interests as it does to others. I did manage to get this officialized in the club’s conservation policy a few years ago, but recent experience has demonstrated that even this can be ignored for the sake of convenience.

                The classification of the Essex Chain was a key item on yesterday’s agenda. The club was prepared to adopt a proposal that was identical to one already advanced by Protect the Adirondacks, which you can review here: Under this proposal, there is a 39,000-acre wilderness component, but if you look real closely you’ll see that it includes provisions for road access within the protected boundaries. So essentially it is a hollow proposal, stripped of everything that makes the Wilderness designation significant.

                Before a vote was made, I did have the opportunity to make the case for the Backcountry proposal. I pointed out that with my plan I was able to protect much more acreage, and many of the other points that I made in my article here on the Almanack. I had the attention of several people, and it was precisely when people began to speak in favor of my ideas that the club’s leadership stepped in and started to cast doubts on their feasibility. The key obstacle was that I was suggesting that roads should be closed at the area’s boundaries, requiring a minimum 1.5 mile hike to reach the Essex Chain. I could cover this distance in 30 minutes, but this was the stumbling block for many of my fellow committee members. Everyone but me voted for the Wilderness proposal, which ironically would allow people to drive to within 0.25 of the nearest lake. Heaven help us if anyone has to break a sweat getting there.

                I offer these details only to show how the process works. The only organization to come out with a strong Wilderness proposal for the Essex Chain is the Adirondack Council, which you can preview at The problem with this is that it is based on a report they published more than 20 years ago, and they have not necessarily done a very good job articulating their position. Their map is overly ambitious, and parts of their proposed Wilderness boundary contains certain arbitrary elements that strongly suggests to me no one from the Council has actually spent much time in the area.

                The other groups are less interested in promoting an ideal than they are in appearing to be on the “winning” side. They want to guess what DEC and APA will do with these lands, so that when the state does whatever it is going to do, the groups can claim that they influenced the decision. The reality is that NYS has a strong governor who wants the status of the lands resolved as quickly as possible. When the big dog barks, everybody jumps.

                This is the politcal reality that we live in. For the reasons I outlined in my article, we have not been able to get a “clean” Wilderness designation in quite some time, and I see no end in site. Conservation-minded people may agree in private that some of these things do not bode well, but at the same time I have witnessed the inability to state with any kind of authority even a basic tenet of why bicycles should not be allowed in Wilderness. With all the Adirondack-based conservation groups that we have, there is no unanimity amongst them. This is not the way it always was, but it certainly is the way it is now.

                I was 22 when I “discovered” the Adirondacks, and it was the Wilderness Areas that I most fell in love with. I have spent 969 days since October 1998 exploring these places, including a bushwhack hike today up Buckhorn Mountain in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. I have made it my passion not just to explore the Forest Preserve, but to become as knowledgeable and influential in its management and stewardship as a private citizen can.

                One of the things that concerns me about the Essex Chain and Hudson Gorge is that a Wilderness classification will force group size restrictions on the existing commercial whitewater rafting outfits. These businesses will balk at attempts to restrict their numbers to no more than 15 people for a day-use party. They will feel that their livelihood is being threatened, and not simply diappear into the woodwork. They will seek the help of their elected leaders. These politicians could influence DEC to alter the Wilderness designation to accommodate their constituents, and I fear that this could permanently weaken what I love. I do not want to see this happen.

                Therefore I have come up with an alternative plan that would actually protect the land more strongly than ADK and Protect the Adirondacks (if you use motorized access and the amount of acreage as criteria) while making allowances for mountain bikes, fire towers, and group sizes — the three recurring complaints that I hear. The West Canada Lakes, Siamese Ponds, Pepperbox, and many other areas would survive legally unchanged. I am suggesting that Whitney and Hurricane Mountain be reclassified, but only because they fail to meet Wilderness guidelines.

                I realize that I have probably not changed your mind one bit, and that is probably for the best. As inflexible and idealistic as I am often accused of being, it is heartening to know there are others out there too.

                • Bill,

                  Hello there! I am glad that you wrote the above rebuttal.

                  You wrote:

                  “The key obstacle was that I was suggesting that roads should be closed at the area’s boundaries, requiring a minimum 1.5 mile hike to reach the Essex Chain. I could cover this distance in 30 minutes, but this was the stumbling block for many of my fellow committee members. Everyone but me voted for the Wilderness proposal, which ironically would allow people to drive to within 0.25 of the nearest lake. Heaven help us if anyone has to break a sweat getting there.”

                  To comment:

                  It seems one of the main issues is with how far people will have to “carry” (or possibly “roll”) their canoes on what may at that point be a foot trail on an old woods road. I talked informally with a guy at St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Floodwood last year about what was the longest/optimum distance most people will carry. He said it was between aproximately 1/4 and 1/2 mile of carry that most people consider to be an “acceptible” carry. I myself have noticed how people/usage “drops off” the further in you go, and with the difficulty of the carry- witness the relative lack of usage of Fish Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area (and the relative plenitude of peace and quiet!) But the carry up to Fish Pond is about 2 miles one way. Usage drops right off.

                  I have noticed that I have not seen hardly any people carry boats in anywhere beyond aproximately the 1 mile mark. (Bill, what have you observed?) In my several backpacks through the Siamese Ponds and the West Canada Lakes I did not encounter anyone with a boat that they had brought in. So, from strictly a land management viewpoint, there may be an optimum distance for a carry to either encourage (or discourage) the use of the resource.

                  Teresa the Cartographer

                  • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

                    Also I should respond to this comment:

                    “In my several backpacks through the Siamese Ponds and the West Canada Lakes I did not encounter anyone with a boat that they had brought in.”

                    I have had the good fortune to paddle all of the large lakes in the West Canada Lake Wilderness, a few in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, and numerous other ponds elsewhere. I am contemplating vacation plans that would see me on extended paddling trips through the interior of the West Canadas and Five Ponds regions. The longest one-way portage that I have completed was to Brooktrout Lake, a distance of about 5.5 miles.

                • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:


                  I have visted many remote ponds throughout the Adirondacks, and I frequently find rowboats stashed on the shores. Not little carbon fiber “wee lassie” canoes, but large aluminum canoes and rowboats. Someone, at some time, went to great trouble to wheel these behemoths across several miles of rugged terrain.

                  One of the most popular trails in the Adirondacks is actually the canoe carry to Lake Lila. It is only 0.3 mile long, but the average canoe party walks the trail multiple times for a single visit: one trip down with the canoe, then back up to the car, then back down to the lake with the gear, for a total of 0.9 mile.

                  I expect that the road/trail to Deer Pond would be wide and even, and very well suited to wheeled carts. If the fishing was good enough, people would be motivated to take great pains to get there.

                  There is also an existing outfitter in Newcomb who currently carts groups of people into Newcomb Lake & Camp Santanoni, including camping gear and canoes, over a distance of about 4.5 miles. This same service may be possible in the Essex Chain as well.

                  What I personally wish to avoid is the irony of needing a motorized access corridor for the benefit of a motorless recreational pursuit.

                • Peter says:

                  Thank you both for your knowledge and comments. I will remain obdurate in my own advocacy for nature. In the continuum of perspectives, I view it as critical to provide a view that will move the discussion closer to conservation. And compromise, at least on the proposed map above, allows us to somehow accept the idea of an intensive use area at the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers. To me, that is simply wrong. If that smells of unwarranted idealism, so be it. To lose the voice of idealism is dangerous, and to consistently cave to compromise (something it appears we are increasingly capable of doing) will result in just that: compromise. If the Essex Chain could speak, what would it say? And what would it want?

                  • Bill Ingersoll bill ingersoll says:

                    If it makes you feel any better, the proposed intensive Use Area at the Hudson/Indian confluence is probably not permitted anyway under a law protecting the Hudson River.

  15. Matt says:

    Bill, you clearly have a good handle on the SLMP; more so than most, and its history. Bravo. You should be commended for sticking your neck out here for scrutiny. All my comments are with the utmost respect. Your proposal is interesting and thoughtful, but I’m afraid that we really don’t need more state land designations. In government, or any regulatory environment for that matter, it’s always easier to make things more complicated, and have great intentions the whole time doing it. I’m afraid I see some of that happening here, even though you claim this will actually simplify things. I agree that revisions to the SLMP are warranted for many reasons, but to create a whole new land designation shouldn’t be one of them. You acknowledge that this new designation is an attempt to keep any Wilderness areas from being compromised with “spot zoning”, thus protecting, and in your opinion strengthening, the true definition of Wilderness. Fair enough- however, there are better regulatory tools to get at this matter in my opinion. Consider primitive bike corridors in Wilderness. I know, I know, it’s text-book spot zoning, so I guess everyone hates it, but bear with me here. OK, so, what’s the big picture- how much of this obvious compromise can we accept Park-Wide? zero miles? 10 miles? 50 miles? I don’t have an answer, but an update to the SLMP lets us nail down a hard number and have some clear guidance going forward, instead of shooting from the hip for every new UMP that comes up for review, and creating the boondoggle of speculation and circular “slipperly slope” arguments that inevitably will follow. In short, it must be reigned in. UMPs are not developed in a vacuum. The larger context of the park must be considered. In this case, a clearly defined park-wide cap on Primitive bike corridor mileage would be appropriate, and would allow for thoughtful management strategies that will ultimately keep even more places protected as Wilderness. Without the ability to use a well defined and clearly restrained management tool like a capped-mileage bike corridor, we should expect to see a whole lot more Wild Forest proposals in places that would otherwise be best defined as Wilderness. As far as complicating things on the ground? It’s really not that difficult. A lot can be accomplished with good signage, and I think everyone can understand the idea of a cap on something… Certainly our local governments do.

  16. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

    Primitive Bike Corridors are spot-zoning. I am categorically opposed to the concept. Wilderness Areas are intended to be places reserved for traditional modes of access, and I am against any scheme to bypass that.

    Besides, you don’t see the need to create a Backountry designation, but you are arguing for the PMB classification … so clearly you see the need for a new classification.

    • Paul says:

      Bill, so the idea is that “spot zoning” is okay in the BC designation but is not okay in the Wilderness designation?

      Again the simple answer here is that we already have a designation that takes care of what you both want to do?

    • Bill Ingersoll bill ingersoll says:


      Where do you see spot-zoning occuring in the Backcountry proposal? The entire point is to avoid the practice: one overarching set of guidelines that accomplishes what Wild Forest and Wilderness cannot individually.

      The “primitive bicycle corridor” designation is unique to the Catskills, and was created as a solution to a state land situation down there regarding pre-existing bicycle trails. If applied to the Adirondacks, it’s only purpose would be to add new bike trails in places where they are not currently permitted. This is the definition of spot-zoning as I understand it.

      • Matt says:

        Bill, I’m afraid you’re not presenting the most important reason behind the primitive bike corridors in the Catskills. They don’t exist solely due to the presence of pre-existing trails with a history of bike use; if this were the singular most compelling reason, a whole lot more trails in Wilderness would be open to bikes as primitive corridors, and clearly that’s not the case. The bike corridors in the Catskills exist because without them, whole bike-friendly and legal trail systems would be cut up, isolated, and significantly compromised. There was a heavy presence of mountain bike advocacy in the Catskills during development of the master plan, as you probably know. Some compromises were made, and this was one of the most critical to create a reasonable degree of consensus among all involved. Ultimately, ADK supported the plan. The circumstances in the Adirondacks are different, but the case for a few bike corridors in the Adirondacks is equally strong, if not even stronger regardless of differences in the respective master plans to date. Technically, a primitive corridor open to bikes could in be created right now in the daks without a SLMP update(since the primitive land designation already exists)- but in my humble opinion, it would be inappropriate to do such a thing without clearly defined guidance, and an associated cap in mileage park-wide(as described above in my last post), hence the need for a SLMP revision to define such a cap and move forward confidently with the unit planning process(that’s a far cry from a whole new designation).

        You state: “it’s only purpose would be to add new bike trails in places where they are not currently permitted.” This is sadly short sighted in light of the true reasoning behind the corridors. Any route that might be considered as a bike corridor would need to have a broader value to other muscle-powered trail users and backcountry travelers to be justifiable, and only rarely would this be the case. Considering what you are proposing with a whole new designation, it’s important that we all have a clear understanding of what bike corridors are really about in the first place to understand your proposal better.

        Finally, it should be noted that a few well planned and defined bike corridors means we can create MORE Wilderness protection on the Adirondack Landscape in the long run, not less, which I think is a good thing. As a dedicated mountain biker, I don’t want, nor do I believe I should have, full access to Wilderness areas, and I’m certainly not alone in this feeling. The Wild Forest areas in the park are huge, and can likely support an increase in mountain biking use in the future without unacceptable levels of impact if it’s well planned and executed. One part of making this a reality is allowing for a few key connections to be made. After pouring over all of the ideas laid out here and elsewhere, I still think the most reasonable and manageable way to accomplish this is with the primitive bike corridor strategy. to steal from Pete Nelson, this may be the “third way” that ultimately moves us all forward, and it may have taken your suggestion of another land designation to really bring it to light.