Five local towns have set forth a land-use proposal for the newly acquired Boreas Ponds Tract that would allow mountain biking and “reasonable” motorized access — an alternative to plans supported by environmentalists.
Both the towns and environmental groups have proposed classification schemes that divide the 20,758-acre tract into Wilderness, where motors and bikes are prohibited, and Wild Forest, a less-restrictive classification. The major difference is that the towns recommend that the Boreas Ponds themselves be designated Wild Forest.
Under all the plans, most people would be allowed to drive on the dirt Gulf Brook Road only as far as LaBier Flow, an impoundment on the Boreas River, the outlet of the ponds. From there, hikers would have to walk a mile or so to the ponds. Canoeists would have to paddle up the flow and then portage to the ponds.
However, the towns are proposing that two additional parking areas be established on the south shore of Boreas Ponds. One would be used by guides and their clients. The other would be used primarily by the disabled. Two spaces in the second parking area would be reserved for anyone who obtains a permit — similar to the arrangement at Essex Chain Lakes.
The plan also calls for creating two multi-use trails on old logging roads around Boreas Ponds. The inner loop, at the edge of the Wild Forest area, would be used for bicycling as well as hiking. The outer loop, in the Wilderness area, would be used by horseback riders, horse wagons, and hikers.
In addition, Gulf Brook Road would be a snowmobile trail in winter.
Ron Moore, the supervisor of North Hudson, where the Boreas Ponds are located, said the goal is to boost tourism by providing relatively easy access and by offering a variety of recreation.
The towns’ plan, he said, “provides better access for everybody — the young and the old, the physically fit and the handicapped. Everyone has a chance.”
Yet Moore also noted that most of the tract, some 10,620 acres, would be classified Wilderness. Under this plan, the state would be able to combine the High Peaks Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness, one of the goals of the environmental groups.
The state can permit motorboats on lakes classified as Wild Forest, but Moore said he opposes allowing gas motors on Boreas Ponds. “We have talked about electric motors,” he said.
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said only a Wilderness designation guarantees that Boreas Ponds will remain motor-less forever. “If it isn’t Wilderness, all bets are off for what may be permitted in the future,” he said.
The five towns — North Hudson, Newcomb, Minerva, Long Lake, and Indian Lake — bill themselves as the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub, a coalition that formed after the Nature Conservancy bought 161,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn land. Most of the land lies within the five towns, and local officials want to see it managed to the towns’ economic benefit.
The Nature Conservancy sold 65,000 acres to the state (and protected most the rest with conservation easements). Just this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the Adirondacks to extol the acquisition of Boreas Ponds, the last stage of the multi-year deal.
In some respects, the towns’ plan resembles a proposal of Protect the Adirondacks. In both cases, Gulf Brook Road would serve as a snowmobile trail and as a boundary between Wilderness and Wild Forest. However, Protect says the ponds themselves should be classified as Wilderness, which would preclude mountain biking and the extra parking areas.
The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club want to see the land on both sides of Gulf Brook Road classified as Wilderness. In this scenario, a snowmobile trail would be cut on the southern edge of the Wilderness area, more or less paralleling Blue Ridge Road, a county highway.
The three environmental groups agree that visitors should be allowed to drive as far as LaBier Flow. For now, the road remains gated, forcing people who want to visit Boreas Ponds to hike more than six miles.
Moore said the towns will lobby state officials to open the gate to allow tourists to drive at least part of the way to the ponds. “I think for the foreseeable future the gate is going to be remaining at that point,” he said.
In his visit Tuesday, Cuomo urged the Adirondack Park Agency to approve a classification scheme for the Boreas Ponds Tract as soon as possible. Moore said he hopes that decision is made within six months. He’d like to see a management plan for the tract in place next year.
Map provided by the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub.
Photo by Phil Brown of gate at start of Gulf Brook Road.