The state owned lands of the Adirondacks are identified in the New York State Constitution as forest preserve lands and protected by the State constitution to “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Currently, there are 2.7 million acres of forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks. The Department of Environmental Conservation, under State law, has “care, custody and control” of the forest preserve lands.
Further, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, overseen by the Adirondack Park Agency, identifies the various management units of the forest preserve, assigns each of the units a land classification category and provides the guidelines for management and recreation for each classification. While there are nine lands classes, the majority of the state lands in the Adirondacks are included in one of the four classification categories below.
Wilderness – 18 forest preserve units, containing approximately 1.1 million acres of land, are classified as “Wilderness”. Recreational activities on wilderness lands and waters is limited to non-motorized recreation such as hiking, hunting, fishing, primitive camping, rock climbing, swimming, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing and kayaking. Motorized vehicles, motorized boats and mountain biking are prohibited on wilderness lands. Except in very rare cases, the only structures or facilities permitted on these lands are leantos, primitive tent sites, trails, foot bridges and pit privies.
Wild Forest – 20 forest preserve units, containing approximately 1.3 million acres of land, are classified as “Wild Forest”. A wider variety of recreational activities are allowed on the lands and waters in wild forest areas. In addition to the recreational activities allowed on wilderness lands and waters, some forms of motorized recreation are allowed with restrictions. Cars and trucks may only drive on designated roads; snowmobiles may only use designated trails and roads; mountain bikes can use any trails or roads unless prohibited by signs and some specific waters have restrictions on the horsepower of a boat’s motor, allow the use of electric motors only or may be prohibit any motors. Drive up camp sites are provided along some roadways in wild forests areas.
Primitive Areas – 11 forest preserve units larger than 1000 acres, and more than 20 corridors or other small pieces, totaling approximately 66,000 acres, are classified as “Primitive”. Primitive areas are managed the same as wilderness areas and recreational activities are restricted to those allowed on lands and waters classified as wilderness. (The tracts classified “Primitive rather than “Wilderness” because of substantial privately owned “in-holdings” or structures that don’t conform with wilderness guidelines.) The primitive corridors are typically public or private roads within a wilderness area, if it is public road, cars and trucks are allowed on them.
Canoe Area – Only one forest preserve unit, the 18,000 acre St. Regis Canoe Area, is classified as a “Canoe Area”. Canoe areas are managed as wilderness areas, with a focus on non-motorized, water-based activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Primitive camping is allowed at sites accessible only by water. Mountain biking is allowed on the administrative roads.
Intensive Use Areas – These areas are limited in size but provide facilities such as bathrooms, developed beaches, boat launches, paved roadways, and other amenities for the recreating public. There are 42 campgrounds, 25 boat launches, 6 day use areas and 2 ski centers owned by the state in the Adirondack Park. These areas provide for recreational activities like group camping (though without utility hookups), swimming, boating, picnicking, and skiing.
Conservation Easement – Currently there are more than 580,000 acres of privately owned lands in the Adirondack Park which the State owns development rights, and often public recreation rights, called “Conservation Easement Lands”. Typically, these lands are owned and/or managed by timber companies, but the ability to subdivide and build structures on these lands are prohibited or severely limited. The public recreation rights on these lands range from no public access, to access limited to specific corridors or locations, to full public recreation rights. The recreation activities on these lands can be restricted by type, location and season. Check with the Department of Environmental Conservation to learn what recreational activities are allowed on specific parcels. DEC State land regulations apply on any conservation easement land that has public recreational rights.
Other than on intensive use areas, the forest preserve lands are designed and managed to emphasize the self-sufficiency of the recreational users. When recreating on the forest preserve you must assume a high degree of responsibility for environmentally-sound use of such areas and for your own health, safety and welfare.
Be sure to know the laws and regulations governing a recreational activity before participating in that activity.
Horseback riding is allowed on roads open for public use, trails that are marked for horse use, and trails marked for skiing or snowmobiling when there is no snow or ice on the ground.
All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are prohibited on all forest preserve lands.
Recreational activities on the approximately 2.4 million acres of private lands within the Adirondack Park, not under a conservation easement, are not restricted any more than activities on private lands throughout the rest of the state. The public is prohibited from entering private lands without permission of the landowner.
Contact the Department of Environmental Conservation Lands & Forests office for more information: Region 5 – 518-897-1291 or Region 6 – 315-785-2261
This guest essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Their goal is to provide public education about the Forest Preserve and Conservation Easements with an emphasis on how to safely enjoy, share, and protect these unique lands. To learn more about AFPEP visit www.adirondackoutdoors.org.