Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Commentary: On Leaving Behind Backcounty Boats

My neighbor came to the door last week in a fit of outrage over a new DEC regulation that made it clear that leaving your gear in the backcountry was against the rules, except in certain cases. He read about it in the Adirondack Journal, a free Denton Publications paper that appears—whether we like it or not—in our mailboxes each week. “Best pack out your boat” was the title of the “Outdoor Tales” column by Denton Managing Editor John Gereau.
Gereau is upset that he can no longer store his boat on state land. His interpretation of a previous DEC regulation (despite Gereau’s claims, we’re not talking about a “law” but an administrative regulation), which made it clear that storing “camping equipment” on state land was against the rules, conveniently did not apply to him and his gear. His boat, he apparently believes, is not gear.

I contacted DEC Region 5 spokesperson David Winchell, who sent me the wording of Part 190 of the State Land Use regulation, which after a public comment period was revised in May to make clear that no personal property should be left on state land: “No person shall erect, construct, install, maintain, store, discard or abandon any structure or any other property on State lands.” I’ve included the full reg below.

While some may have thought they had a special right the rest of us didn’t have, what Gereau calls “a time-honored tradition to leave boats and canoes on the shore of backwoods ponds,” the regulation has been clarified for them. No, folks, you can’t just leave your stuff wherever you like—even if it is hard to carry it in and out and would be more convenient for you.

And why not? If we all followed Gereau’s rules, what might be called the “convenience interpretation,” what’s to keep me from getting my buddies to help me haul my 21 foot speedboat to some back country waterway that allowed motorized boats and just leave it there? Why couldn’t I just leave my boat at the state access point—state land after all—on any lake I please? That would sure save in docking fees and be a heck of a lot more convenient for me.

There’s another argument I’d like to head off as well. What I like to call the “poor old folks” argument. Here’s how Gereau states it: “I know of many older folks who would not have the ability to get out on the water if the boat had not been there for their use.” Not only does it wrongfully label old timers as invalids, it’s also wrong in fact. There are something in the neighborhood of 2,760 individual lakes and ponds larger than a half acre in the Adirondack Park—about four percent of the total area of the park (almost a quarter million acres)—claiming you can’t get to one of them is ridiculous.

And besides, if it’s that back country (ahem, wilderness) experience that those who make the “poor old folks” excuse are after, then they should also be ardent supporters of the quiet waters movement, the major goal of which is increased opportunities to experience the back country they seek.

Here’s the full text of the revised regulation:

The specific citation is 190.8(w)

w. No person shall erect, construct, install, maintain, store, discard or abandon any structure or any other property on State lands or subsequently use such structure or property on State lands, except if the structure or property is authorized by the department or is:

1. a geocache that is labeled with the owner’s name and address and installed in a manner that does not disturb the natural conditions of the site or injure a tree;

2. a camping structure or equipment that is placed and used legally pursuant to this Part;

3. a legally placed trap or appurtenance that is placed and used during trapping season;

4. a tree stand or hunting blind that does not injure a tree, is properly marked or tagged with the owner’s name and address or valid hunting or fishing license number, and is placed and used during big game season, migratory game bird season, or turkey season; or

5. a wildlife viewing blind or stand that is placed for a duration not to exceed thirty (30) days in one location per calendar year, does not injure a tree, and is properly marked or tagged with the owner’s name and address or valid hunting or fishing license number

Other new provisions of the regulation were added regarding the use of tree stands.

190.8(x) On State lands, no person shall erect, construct, occupy or maintain any structure that is affixed to a tree by nails, screws or other means that injure or damage the tree except as otherwise authorized by the department.

and

(y) No person shall erect, construct, maintain, occupy or use any tree stand that is used, operated, accessed or reached by methods or means which injure or damage a tree on State lands, and no person shall gain access to any structure in a tree on State lands by means that injure or damage the tree.

All of the changes to the State Land Use regulation may be found on the DEC web site at: www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/2359.html Look under the heading “Recently Adopted Regulation”

The full set of Part 190 regulation may be founds at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/regs/4081.html

Photo: Motorboat on Loon Lake (by Shannon Houlihan).

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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