Tuesday, May 9, 2017

DEC Exploring Lodging and Dining Facilities at Boreas Ponds

Photo by Phil Brown 2016. View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds.The Adirondack Park Agency has posted its agenda and materials for its meeting this week (May 11-12th) and there is no action scheduled for the classification of Boreas Ponds or any other Forest Preserve lands. All indications show that there is little likelihood for action on the Boreas Ponds at the APA’s June meeting.

The state’s ambitious schedule announced at the time of the classification hearings at the end of 2016, where they stated a plan to have this process completed in advance of the 2017 summer season, has been abandoned. What has slowed the state to a grind is its commitment to a series of unprecedented Forest Preserve management actions to build some form of lodging and dining facility near Boreas Ponds. The exact form of this plan remains in flux, but the state leaders at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is leading this effort, remain determined to fundamentally change management of the Forest Preserve.

Phil Brown, a contributor to Adirondack Almanack and editor of Adirondack Explorer, published an article in the Times Union last week in which DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos confirmed the agency was looking at various scenarios for lodging and dining facilities at Boreas Ponds. He said they’re concepts and without formal proposals at this time. Word from the DEC is that they’re looking at scenarios based on some form of hut-to-hut style cabin(s) facility or some kind of Intensive Use Area facility that provides tent platforms or yurt-style “temporary” structures. While the details and possible scenarios vary, what’s consistent across the DEC is that it’s taking a hard look at combining some form of lodging facilities, whether a cabin or a glamping style tent platform or something else, with dining facilities, the options of which range from a central dining hall and kitchen to an area where various cooking equipment is furnished for guests.

These concepts enjoy different levels of support from within the DEC, but it appears that the legal division and Forest Preserve managers are following the directive of the Commissioner to lay out options to provide enhanced public access to the Forest Preserve without, at least for now, changing state law or the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. This has led the DEC staff to pursue novel interpretations of laws and regulations in order to facilitate the new management directive from the Commissioner.

In addition to the lodging/dining facility concept, Commissioner Seggos is also looking at classification options that retain a variety of roads for public use, including an option for a road network that encircles the Boreas Ponds.

For his part, Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to make a decision. It appears that he is retaining the final say over how, and if, the Wilderness-Wild Forest-Primitive-Intensive Use lines will be drawn. His key staffers are developing different options with lists of the respective pluses and minuses, including a legal analysis. The big question facing the Governor is how far he wants to go in changing the management of the Forest Preserve or subverting long established legal precedents for Forest Preserve management.

The Intensive Use Area option, where a small 5-acre area is created near the south end of Boreas Ponds, remains the top option. DEC staff has added to this option plans for an extensive road and bicycle trail system, which spider out from an Intensive Use area with lodging and dining facilities. Another option is to punt, whereby a 5-acre tract would remain “pending classification” while the state moves ahead with other classifications. The DEC would return to the 5-acre unclassified area at a future point once its plans were formalized. The four options that the Adirondack Park Agency took to public hearings at the end of 2016 are fallback options at this point.

The Governor is listening most intently to local government leaders who are pushing for various forms of enhanced access for the general public. They want a good deal more than retaining parts of the Gulf Brook Road as a motor vehicle road, beyond an east-west Newcomb to Minerva major new snowmobile trail, beyond CP-3 access for disabled individuals, beyond retention of the cabin at the 4 Corners, and beyond retention of the LeBiere Flow and Boreas Ponds dams.

Major new changes, such as those outlined above in a new Intensive Use Area, would require a new round of public hearings. While the public has shown up to the recent Forest Preserve hearings, the Cuomo Administration has an impeccable record at ignoring public comments. Comments for Wilderness ran 4-1 for the Essex Chain Lakes area. Over 85% of comments opposed retention of the Polaris bridge over the Hudson and construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River. Nearly 90% of comments opposed weakening of the State Land Master Plan and over 80% of comments called for Wilderness in some form around Boreas Ponds. While Boreas Ponds remains in play, the state has acted against the overwhelming majority of public comments in a string of recent major Forest Preserve management decisions.

A map of the Boreas Ponds area can be found on the Adirondack Atlas.

Photo: The view of Gothics from Boreas Ponds (by Phil Brown, 2016).


Peter Bauer

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century and Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

He lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks.




33 Responses

  1. This is no surprise. The writing has been on the wall since December 2015 when Leading E.D.G.E. (now Adirondack Hamlets2Huts) released their report commissioned by the DEC, “Conceptual Plan for a Hut-to-Hut Destination-based Trail System for the Five Towns of Long Lake, Newcomb, Indian Lake, Minerva, and North Hudson.” I’ve provided a link to the plan below for those that wish to read it. The plan outlines lodging facilities on the Boreas parcel, and discusses spot zoning Intensive Use areas to achieve this.

    Overall the idea of a hut-to-hut system in the Adirondacks is good, but with a park that includes a mixture of public and private lands there is no need to place the lodging facilities on state land. Further, when talking with proponents of this they frequently state that the structures will be some form of canvas walled tent or yurt and will be removed for a portion of the year. What they don’t mention is that in order to have a facility that sleeps more than 10 people the Department of Health requires running water. Nor do they mention how they will deal with waste at these sites. What they are proposing is not as simple as putting up a few tent platforms with canvas tents. If they opt for providing meals the entire operation gets much more complicated, and I can’t imagine any sort of non-permentant structure meeting DOH requirements for food service.

    It is also worth noting that there has not been any sort of market analysis or business plan developed for such a system in the Adirondacks.

    The plan >> http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/huttohut.pdf

    • Bruce says:

      Brendan,

      You spoke of running water and waste disposal, both valid concerns. What did the old lodge use? Did it have a well and septic system? Electricity?

      My take on the proposed Intensive Use area, is that it seems likely to be located where these concerns can be more easily addressed (closer to the road than the ponds themselves). The other option I see is restricted use by only so many people at a time.

      • I’m not certain. I assume it had all of those things. From what I have heard the proposed location for the intensive use area is south of the lodge site, closer to the four corners area. My point is that water and waste infrastructure that meets DOH requirements is not easily removed. Creating a “temporary” lodging facility that meets DOH requirements seems entirely unfeasible to me. I ran JBL for many years, so I have a bit of knowledge in this area.

        I also question the profitability and desirability of such an operation. If this location also has public road access what is the appeal? There might be some if it is part of a system of “huts”, but it is my understanding that the route proposed in the plan above is not being supported by the adjacent land owners. It would be more appealing if a substantial portion of Gulf Brook Road were closed, but that doesn’t jive with the proposed alternatives or the desires of the local towns.

        This is all based on my personal observations from running a backcountry facility for many years. I would be interested in seeing a business plan for whatever it is they are proposing. Hamlets2Huts doesn’t have one, and I’m guessing the state doesn’t either.

  2. Jim S says:

    That’s scary

  3. Charlie S says:

    “an Intensive Use area with lodging and dining facilities.”

    And who will come to clean out the cesspools? Or are they going to have drain pipes leading to the water?

  4. Scott says:

    We went from debating bicycles on the road and how much should be designated as wilderness to debating how much should be designated as intensive use area. Will Boreas Ponds become like Fish Creek Ponds next ?

    • Boreas says:

      Scott,

      It would appear Albany is not keen on debating the issue at all – or even following the law. It appears a sh!tstorm is brewing…

  5. Rob Gdyk says:

    The Finch Pruyn lodge should have never been torn down.

  6. Andrew says:

    Maybe it’s a red herring, so that if they don’t go quite this far it can be spun as a compromise and we’ll all be expected to feel relieved.

  7. Wren Hawk says:

    It is the commodification of the Adirondacks. In some ways this is precisely what people on the opposite seeming ends of the spectrum – disenfranchised residents with marginal resources and wealthy homeowners, visitors and those who make money from them – want. In the short-term, they have no need for wilderness. It is sad that Cuomo can’t see the forest preserve for the mantra of money and jobs. Tourism and second, third, fourth home economies look good in the short run but in the long run, locals lose and so especially does clean water, wilderness, and wildlife.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    The brawl begins! Let’s sink this proposal!

  9. Keith Gorgas says:

    Interesting, for sure. I have mixed feelings. The DEC does show a pattern of ignoring public comment and the law of the land. That was quite evident with the decision to destroy the Adirondack Railroad. Public comment was at least more the 3:1 in favor of restoring rail service., probably closer to 5:1. In response to the RR’s lawyers bringing that up, the DEC said that they are not bound by public opinion. We are headed into uncharted waters.
    On the other hand, those who call for total wilderness seem to ignore that all NYers pay for these lands and all should have access to them.

    • Boreas says:

      “…those who call for total wilderness seem to ignore that all NYers pay for these lands and all should have access to them.”

      No Wilderness areas restrict people – just vehicles. What seems to be ignored is that DEC can restrict vehicle usage on ANY state lands as needed. There are gates all over this state regardless of classification.

      • John Warren John Warren says:

        More than 97 percent of the Adirondack Park is within 3 miles of a road or snowmobile trail, or 2 miles of a lake where motorboats are allowed.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      In the public process, comments are often required and sought.

      The comments can be used in making decisions, but the decision does not have to mirror the content or number of comments.

      Comments rarely reflect the broader-public’s interest in a proposal.

  10. Frank says:

    In Colorado they have yurts in the Adirondacks we have lean-tos.

  11. Paul says:

    ” The big question facing the Governor is how far he wants to go in changing the management of the Forest Preserve or subverting long established legal precedents for Forest Preserve management.”

    I am not sure that in this particular case there is any subversion going on. Lets look at the facts. This is an area that already has this “extensive” road system. Its there now.

    The ASLMP (one of the relevant legal tools here) says that you should look at what sort of impacts the land can and has sustained. I don’t think that anyone can argue that this area has been damaged much by the extensive use of vehicles in there. Under even the most un-restrictive plan there would be less impact going forward (no log trucks no ATVs etc.).

    An intensive use area is a totally legitimate classification. One that people who support a Wilderness classification don’t like but it is still a totally legal option. And remember I think that even if this plan could happen at the ponds I think there would still be over ten thousand acres of new Wilderness land as part of the package.

    The other way to look at this is look at John’s Brook Lodge. You can really think of that as the same thing. It is on private land but it is smack in the middle of the HPW and its great. Does JBL stop people from going to the HPW? Not the last time I checked?

    • Boreas says:

      “I don’t think that anyone can argue that this area has been damaged much by the extensive use of vehicles in there.”

      Boy I can! In fact, I don’t believe one can make a case that this previously private/posted land was NOT damaged by logging and its use of roads. A river was dammed, a man-made lake was formed, many road culverts blocking aquatic species were installed, and MANY mature, old trees were felled – many of which were floated out on the river scouring the river bottom causing untold harm.

      JBL is an excellent example. JBL works ecologically is because people CANNOT drive to it. I believe the example you might be looking for would be the ADK Loj. It has worked well for a century, but certainly has more environmental impact – both to its immediate property and to the HPW in general. But it has parking, lean-tos, camping, lodging, food concessions, trailheads, etc., which would be more like what the administration is considering.

      The question is, which of these examples would be a better fit for Boreas Ponds? Do we want BP to reduce pressure on the northern section of the HPW by creating the same problem at the southern end? It is going to be quite a debate!

      • Paul says:

        Boreas,

        There seems to be consensus even among most environmental groups that this parcel of land is a “gem”. It is not this denuded destroyed parcel that you are describing. It has withstood all the impacts you describe and is still the beautiful parcel that we have today. Going forward no logging will occur no river drives – not that there have been any for probably a hundred years. The dam has actually created much of the beautiful ponds that are there now. I don’t see really anyone (save a few) that want to remove the dams.
        Yes it has roads and culverts, most of which will be closed to motor vehicles under even the least restrictive plans. A few miles of road (a tiny percentage of what they have been using for many years) would remain open under some plans. Again, with much lower impact use.

        Yes, good point, JBL would be a better analogy here. Or perhaps Elk Lake Lodge.

        • Boreas says:

          “A few miles of road (a tiny percentage of what they have been using for many years) would remain open under some plans. Again, with much lower impact use. ”

          Paul,

          Again, what is considered lower impact use? The logging operations ran trucks on the road and maintained good logging practices. I have no idea, but let’s say 10 trucks per day on the road proper. A few leaseholders also used the road and probably the ponds frequently. But I don’t see opening the road, forests, streams, and ponds to the general public with maybe 50-200 people/day as being lower impact. It changes the types of impacts and concentrates them on the ponds, trails, and wetlands, which are arguably more fragile than the uplands that were actually logged.

          My point is, none of this has really been given a thorough environmental impact study. I would think the APA would insist on it if the area is going to be “improved” and commercialized .

          • Paul says:

            Overall with all the roads that are being closed there will be less impact coming from that. On those miles basically none.

            On the few miles proposed to remain open you are right an impact study would be good.

            Many of these roads are/were very heavily used especially from September till closure by snow in December. Hundreds of lessees and their guests driving vehicles in and out and around and lots of ATV use. My guess is that the overall impact will be way down.

    • Gregory says:

      Was thinking the same thing of JBL and the Loj…while privately owned, they have the same net effect. If we’re going to fight one on environmental principles, why not fight the others? Particularly when they are owned by the very environmental organization fighting?

      I’ve swung a few ways on this one over the past year, but been consistently think there should be little ‘compromise’ on this. Let’s do full yurts and such for a JBL-like experience (preferably bike/walk-in) or close the whole thing to the highway.

      Trying to please everyone does not work, as no-one is happy, and everyone skips the area entirely. Essex Chain is prime example of trying to please everyone, which is wholly underperforming. My preferred option would have been to have yurts at Essex Chain and had Boreas Ponds all Wilderness, but that ship has sailed with short-sightedness.

  12. Alex says:

    So it kind of sounds like they want to re-build what they just tore down? Elk lake is right down the road. It already provides dining and rustic lodging.

    • Boreas says:

      Alex,

      Yes ELL offers all of those things, a fantastic view, and trailhead access as well! Unfortunately Albany can not claim credit for it…

  13. Bruce says:

    Gee, that last paragraph makes it sound as if the general population of NY are pretty much against anything short of Wilderness. The majority of public comments may have been for Wilderness, but what was left unsaid is who those “majority” of voices were.

    Public policy has to encompass a broad range of considerations, and I suggest that if the matter of Boreas Ponds were put to an actual statewide vote or referendum with all options presented, the majority would land in-between completely unfettered access and Wilderness.

    • Izaac Cooper says:

      Sadly we’re not like California and there’s no format for citizens to vote directly on policy agenda items. I wish our state had a better way for us to self-govern.

      That aside, I need to reiterate that this is an issue that extends beyond anthropocentric concerns. This is bigger than just doing what people want. The environment requires advocates.

  14. Paul says:

    “Do we want BP to reduce pressure on the northern section of the HPW by creating the same problem at the southern end?”

    Boreas, I question whether any arrangement at Boreas will really reduce any pressure on the norther section. You would probably have to move the town of Lake Placid to accomplish that. But lets go with it here. The other way to interpret what you say here is maybe the only way to really encourage use from a Boreas approach is to go with a plan that makes it more like ADK Loj.

    I am sure that ADK would come out in opposition to this. This could hurt their back country hotel business.

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      I am not sure they would. In my experience with making reservations either at the Loj or JBL/Cabins there is quite a waiting list. At one time the JBL winter cabins were assigned by lottery if I remember correctly. So I don’t think it would have a dramatic impact on their lodging business. It could even enhance it with people wanting to hike from BP to the Loj or JBL with the aid of a car shuttle. Who knows?

  15. Izaac Cooper says:

    As a graduate student studying the land use implications of this very tract of land, I cannot hide my dismay about the potential of turning this beautiful area into some kind of tourist hotspot. The Boreas Tract provides a perfect conservation opportunity that will ultimately be more beneficial to New York than some unsustainable economic endeavor. Our state and federal governments need to recognize that land is not there for us to manipulate and mold to our will. The earth has provided everything we have and it’s shameful to see it treated with such little respect. That’s my two cents.

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