On Saturday I went skiing on the Burn Road in the William C. Whitney Wilderness. It’s one of those ski routes that don’t require a lot of snow, ideal for early-season outings.
My ski trip was uneventful. I enjoyed a few glimpses of Little Tupper Lake through the trees, saw lots of snow fleas and several deer beds, and discovered an unusual outhouse decorated with paintings of evergreens. When the warming snow started clumping on my skis, I decided to turn around after three and a half miles.
The state bought Little Tupper Lake and surrounding lands—nearly fifteen thousand acres in all—from the Whitney family in 1997. After the purchase, there was a public debate over whether the tract should be classified as Wilderness or Wild Forest.
One of the arguments against designating the tract Wilderness—the strictest of the Forest Preserve land classifications—is that it just didn’t look like wilderness. The woods had been heavily logged and were crisscrossed with logging roads, of which the Burn Road is only one. And then there were the buildings on the shore of Little Tupper.
The anti-Wilderness folks had a point. Skiing the Burn Road is the not a breathtaking experience. The above photo of snowy evergreens shows one of the more attractive scenes from my trip. Most of the forest is skinny hardwoods. A wide road cut through a logged-over forest is a far cry from my idea of pristine wilderness.
But let’s face it: there is very little pristine wilderness in this part of world. The Forest Preserve is full of evidence of human history: abandoned woods roads, rusting logging machines, foundations of farmhouses, old orchards, even gravesites. If we were to require that Wilderness be free of all signs of the human past, we might end up with no Wilderness at all.
The aim of Wilderness regulations is not always to preserve wilderness; perhaps more often than not, it is to restore wilderness. In time, the trees will grow big, moss will cover the crumbling foundations, and nature will reclaim the old roads.
Skiing back to my car, I was cheered by the thought that in fifty or a hundred years, this wide road may be a narrow corridor passing through a forest of stately yellow birch and red spruce. Skiers of the future will thank us for restoring this place to its natural condition.
Photo of the Burn Road by Phil Brown
Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.