Monday, June 28, 2010

Wilderness on the Raquette River:Should Motorboats Be Banned?

Ah, the ideal Adirondack day: sunny, mild, few people, no bugs. These circumstances aligned the other day when I paddled from Axton Landing to Raquette Falls.

The six-mile trip up the Raquette River is one of the more popular flatwater paddles in the Adirondacks. (Click here for a description and photos.) Meandering upriver, you see lovely silver maples overhanging grassy banks, kingfishers darting across the water, common mergansers with their young in train, inlets that lead to hidden marshes.

And buoys. Lots of red and green buoys. I didn’t count them all (it was too nice a day to be bothered with that), but there must be more than a dozen between Axton and the falls.

The buoys serve as a reminder that the Raquette is open to motorboat traffic. This is the case even though the river forms the western boundary of the High Peaks Wilderness, where all motorized use is prohibited.

A few years ago, the historian Philip Terrie argued in the Adirondack Explorer that the motors should be banned from this part of the Raquette. The presence of powerboats and jet-skis, he wrote, “barbarously violates an otherwise idyllic stream.”

Terrie’s argument will carry more weight if and when the state purchases Follensby Park from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. The 14,600-acre tract lies across the river from the High Peaks Wilderness. When the Nature Conservancy bought the property in 2008, environmental activists suggested that it eventually should be added to the High Peaks Wilderness or constitute its own Wilderness Area. If this happens, this stretch of the Raquette will lie within Wilderness—a circumstance that would argue for, and perhaps compel, a prohibition on motors.

Doubtless, local officials would fight such a move. After the conservancy bought the land, Tupper Lake Mayor Mickey Desmarais said residents would be outraged if the state tries to ban motors. “That’ll be a battle,” he told the Explorer. “It’s another right you’re taking away.”

If, as expected, the state buys Follensby, we’re sure to see a debate on two related questions: Should the property be classified as Wilderness or Wild Forest (the latter would permit some motorized use)? And should the Raquette be motor-free?

The arguments for banning motorboats on the Raquette are (1) it is a wild, remote area where noisy, polluting motors are out of place and (2) there is a need in the Adirondacks for more “quiet waters” where paddlers can enjoy nature in peace.

As a paddler, I am in favor of more quiet waters. As a journalist, I understand there are two sides to every story. And I’d like to hear them both.

Should motorboats be banned on this part of the Raquette River? Weigh in.

Photo by Phil Brown: Buoy on the Raquette River.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.

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