Monday, May 22, 2017

Fight Brewing Over High Peaks Lodging Facilities

Aerial Boreas Ponds, Adirondacks, summerEnvironmental groups are alarmed by a conceptual proposal floated by the Cuomo administration to establish lodging facilities near Boreas Ponds — in an area they believe should be classified as “untrammeled” Wilderness.

The groups say they would fight any such proposal vigorously, contending that it would violate both the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and Article 14, the section of the state constitution mandating that the Forest Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest land.”

State officials have not released details of the proposal, but they have discussed it with the Park’s green groups.

Environmentalists say the idea is to designate an Intensive Use Area along a five-acre stretch of an old logging road leading to Boreas Ponds and erect semi-permanent structures such as yurts or walled tents with amenities such as cooking stoves, tables and chairs, and beds. There is even talk that the state could furnish meals. The structures would be removed part of the year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo alluded to the proposal in his State of the State Message in January, saying the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “will construct infrastructure at Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks and build trails as part of the ‘hut-to-hut’ system that links state lands to community amenities.”

In mid-April, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos described the Boreas Ponds proposal as merely conceptual. “It’s not anything that’s in front of the Adirondack Park Agency,” he told the Explorer during a visit to Lake Placid.

Seggos said the state was looking at the idea as part of a larger initiative to establish hut-to-hut hiking routes in the Adirondacks. “The Boreas property might not be appropriate for it,” he added.

North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore, whose town includes Boreas Ponds, had heard nothing about the lodging proposal when contacted by the Explorer, but he said he likes the concept.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), has little doubt that environmental groups will sue if the state tries to implement the proposal. “I don’t think we’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” Woodworth said. “This is quite a substantial departure” in the management of the Forest Preserve.

Intensive Use is one of the Adirondack Park Agency’s seven land classifications for the Forest Preserve. The designation is usually used for state campgrounds and ski areas. Several years ago, the state classified a stretch of dirt road in the Moose River Plains as Intensive Use, but that road is open to motor vehicles and its only amenities are primitive campsites similar to those found throughout the Park.

Woodworth, who is a lawyer, and others point out that the State Land Master Plan declares that Intensive Use Areas “will not be situated where they will aggravate problems on lands already subject to or threatened by overuse, such as the eastern portion of the High Peaks Wilderness.” The Boreas Ponds Tract borders the High Peaks Wilderness and may be added to it.

Kayakers portage on Gulf Pond Road on the Boreas Pond tractThe State Land Master Plan also says Intensive Use Areas “will be adjacent to or serviceable from existing public road systems or water bodies open to motorboat use.” The stretch of road in question (less than a mile from the ponds) is not open to motorists, though the state could make it so.

Environmentalists argue that the proposal also would violate Article 14. Woodworth pointed to an opinion by John Bennett Jr., the state attorney general in 1934. That year, the Conservation Department (the predecessor of DEC) wanted to build shelters and serve food in remote parts of the Forest Preserve. Bennett advised that the scheme was probably unconstitutional. “It would lessen … the solitude and wildness, which many consider lends charm to the north woods,” he wrote.

Woodworth noted that several proposals to amend Article 14 to allow cabins in the Forest Preserve have been voted down by the public over the years.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, questions whether Intensive Use Areas—anywhere in the Preserve—accord with Article 14. “Intensive Use Areas are managed within the guidelines of the State Land Master Plan,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re legal or not.”

Asked about the legal questions raised by environmentalists, Seggos told the Explorer: “Since it’s not an actual proposal, it would be premature to speculate on its legality.”

Last fall, the APA held public hearings on four classification options for the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, which the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy a year ago. Because none of the alternatives included an Intensive Use Area, environmentalists argue that the APA cannot approve the new proposal without more hearings. However, the APA is expected to vote this spring or summer on the classification—too soon, presumably, to schedule hearings and analyze feedback. One idea is to leave the proposed Intensive Use Area unclassified for the time being while making a decision on the rest of the tract.

ADK, the Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild, and Adirondack Wilderness Advocates all want Boreas Ponds and the stretch of road in question classified as motor-free Wilderness. The master plan defines Wilderness, in part, as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man—where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Local towns want Boreas Ponds and lands in the immediate vicinity classified as Wild Forest, which would allow mountain biking and greater motorized access. Even under their proposal, though, more than half of the tract would be Wilderness.

A few years ago, the state hired Leading Edge, based in Saranac Lake, to prepare a conceptual plan for hut-to-hut hiking routes between Adirondack communities. One of the proposed routes passes by Boreas Ponds. In most cases, hikers would stay at existing hotels and inns on private land, but the plan does contemplate the use of temporary lodging on the Forest Preserve. “Our directive was to think out of the box,” said Jack Drury, the co-owner of Leading Edge.

“To have the first experiment of this sort of camping in the middle of the Boreas Ponds Tract is very troublesome,” said David Gibson, a partner in Adirondack Wild.

Photos from above: Aerial view of Boreas Ponds in the summer, courtesy Nancie Battaglia, and Kayakers portage on Gulf Pond Road on the Boreas Pond tract courtesy Phil Brown.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.


Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




25 Responses

  1. Jim S says:

    I think a better idea would be upgrades to the existing network of DEC campgrounds. Lake Harris could handle some yurts and plumbing upgrades . The idea of intensive use at Boreas Ponds is something I would be willing to fight against .

  2. Scott van Laer scottvanlaer says:

    I am confused…is this being proposed by the Trump administration or Cuomo?

  3. Larry Roth says:

    Typical Cuomo – looking for something new and different to generate some buzz. Meanwhile, basic needs go unmet. Trail maintenance, more rangers, rehabbing existing camp grounds – basic stuff that’s not sexy, but necessary.

    Maybe it’s thinking outside the box, but you can’t ignore the stuff that’s already in the box. It’s the same kind of thinking that’s behind a “world-class trail” (it isn’t) for a handful of vocal locals, while vandalizing a historic tourist asset and revenue generator.

    Follow the money, and follow the political ambitions.

  4. Does it matter that of the roughly 11,000 comments submitted to the APA last year, the number of people asking for yurts at Boreas Ponds were in the single digits? No one wants this, and there is no demand. And yet Governor Cuomo would rather override the public process (which heavily favored Wilderness) and insert his own personal vision for developing the Forest Preserve–a vision that has no basis in public desire or legal reality.

    • Bruce says:

      Bill,

      At the risk of being crass, I wonder how many of those 11000 comments were from those who don’t live in the Adirondacks, and are more likely to be bringing in outside money, which after all is the point of a Boreas development and the proposed re-development of the Frontier Town site?

      Don’t get me wrong Bill, I’m not for rampant or irresponsible development, but it seems clear that something must be done to improve the economic picture in the AP. The locals living in the park don’t seem to be doing it (witness the closing of long term businesses and loss of viability of entire hamlets).

      Whatever his faults may be, I think the Governor is at least asking the right questions: “why do people come to the Adirondack Park, and how do we encourage more of it?” Not all visitors to the park are there for remote, wilderness adventures or mountain trekking, and I believe Cuomo recognizes that fact.

  5. Justin Farrell says:

    Of course Ron Moore supports the idea, but refuses to clear certain North Hudson area trailheads for winter hikers & skiers.

  6. adkcamper says:

    Didn’t the state burn down the club house that was already there?

  7. Patrick says:

    If they do it I will stay there.

  8. Boreas says:

    I am not really clear where the proponents of this plan are suggesting the ‘improvements’ be built. If it is 10-20 acres within 1 mile of the Blue Ridge Road AND the road continues to be gated at the interim point, I wouldn’t see it as a major detriment to the wetlands in the heart of the parcel. This could be linked with hut-to-hut as well as the proposed snowmobile connector. I think the key is to keep it close to the BRR and not in the interior. If they are envisioning another Elk Lake Lodge on the Ponds, I could see ELL being hurt as well as the environment.

    But as I have suggested before, I don’t know why they seem to be ignoring the option to place these facilities farther west in the MacIntyre E/W/ area parcel that is also awaiting final classification. It has a wide, paved road and even supported a village and lodging for a century until it was removed for the mining concern early in the 20th century. There is even historic rail access that could be tied into the plan (Roosevelt’s midnight ride). In addition, it is closer to a town, and easy access to the Upper Works trailhead. Yet another option may be adding these improvements in the Essex Chain area.

    If Cuomo wants to think out of the box, then maybe he needs to entertain other options as well. When one looks at all of the F-P acquisitions, I sometimes think it would be wise to view them as an entire system and not try to encourage heavy use in every parcel. Perhaps a moratorium should be placed on all classifications until the SLMP is reviewed and updated WRT a comprehensive plan for all of the former F-P lands.

  9. Paul says:

    ” “Intensive Use Areas are managed within the guidelines of the State Land Master Plan,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re legal or not.””

    So is the idea here (for example) that maybe we should get rid of all of the boat launching facilities we have in the park?

    Pretty radical.

  10. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Of course there’ll be a fight…..there’s always a fight and the winders are always the lawyers. Neil Woodworth’s a lawyer so his opinion apparently means a good deal to the like-minded folks that listen to him.

    Bear in mind though that when two “lawyers” go to Court……..generally only one wins the battle.

  11. Charlie S says:

    “Ron Moore, whose town includes Boreas Ponds, had heard nothing about the lodging proposal when contacted by the Explorer, but he said he likes the concept.”

    Shocker!

  12. Avon says:

    Developing the very most remote and wild areas via “Intensive Use” seems to me to be a no-brainer. Lawyers who sue to protect the environment, even if that really is how lawyers actually get rich, won’t have to strain too hard to show that a pristine and isolated wilderness area is the very last place the law (and the State Constitution) contemplated – or tolerate – “intensive uses.”

    Cuomo’s proposal, like his heroic victory in a whitewater canoe race over the courtly, elderly mayor of NYC, is effective at grabbing attention and even at promoting the Adirondacks he rightly loves. Let’s hope it blows over and gets forgotten just as quickly. It makes even less sense.

    I do agree with Bill Ingersoll that “No one wants this, and there is no demand.” But if you build it, they will come, unfortunately. Let’s leave Boreas to those who truly want and appreciate such a destination, and put our “intensive uses” in the new McIntryre tracts, more on the path to the High Peaks where they tromp anyway; adding a few yurts might even tidy up that scene and improve the condition of its natural setting.

    • Paul says:

      Currently it is not an “isolated wilderness area”. It’s a relative well developed parcel with an extensive road network and several dams that is currently pending classification.

      • Paul says:

        Just look at the two photos – a few man-made ponds and a wide well graded roadway. Not to isolated or wild if you ask me.

        • Bruce says:

          Paul,

          If Peter is hinting that certain provisions of the SLMP may be illegal, then we might question more than just those parts he finds discomforting.

  13. PassingonaRainyDay says:

    I would guess that so long as the place uses tents then it has a chance of being ok. Even now, tents in one area instead of scattered all over have long been aim of camping area planning.

    I have been to one such camp, way off in the middle of nowhere far far away. I got there only because I could reserve a spot and do the trip without carrying a full pack of stuff. It was seasonal, and apparently moved around a bit year-to-year. It was a far more highly controlled, attended, sort of camp than our random camp anywhere rules (or lack of rules). It’s size and reservation system limited the impact better than a regular camp site.

    So I wouldn’t dismiss it out-of-hand. It could be a good way to manage the area it is in.

  14. Todd Eastman says:

    A veritable Mar-a-Lago of the North Country…

    … championship 18-hole golf course with blackfly hazards…

  15. Deb Evans says:

    I think we need some trails built for hikers. Mostly trails follow the low ground cause they are logging Rd,snowmobile trails or deer runs. there are several areas that could be ridge walks from town to town, . Most people want some views not slogs in lowlands.look at the topos. Re gaming in forever wild lands- not going to happen. If it’s classified as wild foes -could happen. Just no money in it. Agree with earlier comment- redesign and or improve the campgrounds….I sure don’t want to be camping there-crap Rd and plumbing, 5 ft from neighbor on a lawn, next to a generator rv…uggg

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