Thursday, August 9, 2012

Adirondacks Most Remote Spot: Not That Remote

It’s been said by photographer Gary Randorf, Clarence Petty, and others, that ninety-five percent of the entire Adirondack Forest Preserve, Wilderness included, is within about five miles of  one of the more than 5,000 miles of roads  in the Adirondack Park.

That statistic has been newly confirmed by two wildlife ecologists who say they have identified the most remote  spot in New York State, located in the High Peaks Wilderness – just 5.3 miles from the nearest road, and a less than a half-mile from the popular Northville-Placid Trail.

Rebecca and Ryan Means of Florida have been on a mission to identify, travel to, and document the most remote locations in all 50 states and recently came to the Adirondacks – with daughter Skyla in tow and Adirondack Explorer writer/photographer Josh Wilson along to report – to find ours.

Through their project Remote Footprints the pair have calculated the statistics for 19 states so far, the most remote was found in Florida (17 miles from a road), the least remote in Connecticut (1.1 miles).  The average distance from a trail was just .2 miles.  Remoteness in the Adirondacks doesn’t stack up much better, says Rebecca Means. “Two factors took away from the remoteness.  The first was that there was a well used lean-to shelter within 0.75 miles of the spot and the second was that the spot was steps off of the Northville-Placid Trail.  We have nothing against trail systems and in fact celebrate this form of travel but from a qualitative sense, you don’t feel very remote when you are traveling a well-used path. ”

There was no cell phone service at the Adirondack remote spot, and no invasive species were discovered.  They hiked about 13 miles of trails to reach the location (rather than bushwack). Several times during their short stay at the remote spot they heard planes overhead before and after they began their 15-minute assessment, although they did not hear the sound of humans during their assessment period. Afterwards they discussed the nature of remoteness  “We had a great discussion about this idea while camped out in the lean-to the night before documenting the spot.  Remoteness really is a qualitative feeling,” Rebecca Means said.  “As scientists though, we want to focus on a quantitative definition that can be standardized across states, assessed remotely (i.e. using GIS data), and more importantly repeatable in the future.  We hope that in 10 years someone (us?) reassesses the remoteness of our country and compares the results to what we’ve found.”

“What shocks us most of all is that it is so darn difficult to actually get very distant from a road almost anywhere.  You have to possess advanced computer skills to even identify where remaining roadless areas are, and then, travel hundreds of miles just to get to a sufficiently large roadless area.  Many of our greatest conservation lands, themselves, are still being developed with roads.  In the end, it is all about trying to wean ourselves off of our addiction to unsustainable and un-ecofriendly fossil fuels while trying to preserve all remaining roadless areas for the benefit of wilderness seekers and wildlife,” Means wrote in a piece about the trip for her blog.

When I asked what she thought of the Adirondack Park she had this to say: “We very much enjoyed learning about the politics of the Adirondack Park and how the people of New York have created this amazing conservation area that is managed with multiple-use in mind but with multiple entity input and planning.  It is inspiring being a midst the lands and people that shaped and influenced our great Wilderness Act of 1964.”

Photo: The Cold River near Ouluska lean-to and the most remote spot in New York, not far from the hermitage of Noah John Rondeau. Photo courtesy Remote Footprints.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

28 Responses

  1. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

    I have to admit… when someone states she is “shocked” that you have to travel a long distance to find remoteness… my reaction is “duh!”

  2. Andy says:

    What about some of the portions of West Canada Creek Wilderness? I am sure many parts of it, you can much farther away from a road.

    Certainly, if you want to get away from the crowds, and see some true wilderness, I would avoid the High Peaks Wilderness are like the plague. It might be better to call the High Peaks Wilderness area the High Peaks Intensive Use Area, with all the crowds it draws.

  3. dave says:

    This doesn’t exactly line up with those who say we need to increase access (including motorized access) to Park lands so that everyone can enjoy them.

  4. Matt says:

    Any place that takes a minimum of three portages to get to is a bit remote in any paddler’s book. So, according to this study, the ADKs, even its more remote areas, only provide a false sense of remoteness. Looking forward to what the research says about the BWCAW in Minnesota.

  5. Harvey44 says:

    “Remoteness” is defined roughly as how far you are from something. In this case they defined that something as a road. Logical I guess. For my own purpose, I’d define the West Canadas or the Siamese Ponds as more remote. Cool post JW.

  6. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    As a denizen of remoteness my two cents are that distance is part of the equation to a point, after which it is not really all that relevant. Sure you need a buffer. The nature of the Adirondack wilderness allows that a quarter-mile from a road can be one heck of a buffer, and by any measure except distance completely remote.

    I’ve hiked in wild places across the country and overseas here and there as well. By any standard that I care about the Adirondacks exceed all of them in remoteness except for the interior of the Olympic Range.

    The Adks are full of remote spots, even the High Peaks which get an undeserved reputation for lacking remoteness, this typically from people who stay on trails. For example, imagine finding yourself at the base of Redfield’s south face (which by my rough calculations is more than five miles from any road except the Lake Road to Lower Ausable Lake, itself not a massive jolt of civilization). You would be as remote as it gets, trust me. No trail, a very difficult passage in any direction, utterly no sign or sound of humankind, zero chance of seeing anyone or being come-upon by anyone, completely on your own in case of trouble, and facing a substantial challenge to reacquire civilization should your endurance, compass, gps and/or sense of direction fail you. How much more remote do you want?

    Statistics are fun but I’ll stick with the experiential.

  7. Paul says:

    Interesting article. Are there any places on private land where you are more than 5 miles from a road? Or does this cover all the Adirondacks public and private.

    I did some climbing one time in the Chicago Basin in SW Colorado. We were dropped off by the “hiking train” I have described in other comments. At the drop off we were 30 miles from the nearest road. There was the RR but it was pretty cool feeling of remoteness as you watched the train steam off into the distance. We were well over 5 miles from the RR once we got to the top of several of the 14,000 foot peaks surrounding the basin. I have suggested that the Adirondack RR could supply a similar experience.

  8. Paul says:

    Without the 14,000 foot peak of course!

  9. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

    The “remotest spot” mentioned in the article matches the location identified by the Adirondack Park Agency a few years ago, and published in Adirondack Life in 2007.

    The Cold River site was remotest at 5.6 miles; a site in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness was second at 5.3 miles; and sites within the Silver Lake and West Canada Lake wilderness areas tied for third at 4.7 miles. The criteria was distance removed from the nearest motorized access–including public roads, private roads, snowmobile trails, and waterways with motorboat use.

    In addition to specific sites, the same APA map showed broader areas that were considered “remote” because they were at least 3 miles from a road (public or private) or 2 miles from a motorized waterway or snowmobile trail. The majority of these areas were in designated wilderness, but the High Peaks “core zone” spilled over into private land in only 2 places: Upper Ausable Lake and Johns Brook.

    Using the APA’s criteria, the presence of logging roads would disqualify all of the large forestry tracts. But that all comes down to how you choose to define “remote.”

  10. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    It appears that this researcher considered the long-abandoned Ward Brook Truck Trail as a road if Ouluska Lean-to was only 5.3 miles from the nearest road. I am also surprised that some place in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area isn’t further away from a road.

    As for Paul’s comment on using a train to access remote locations, unfortunately (in addition to lacking 14,000 foot peaks) there aren’t any remote areas only accessible by rail. One can drive to Lake Lila, Hitchins Pond, and the St. Regis Canoe Area. Are there any destinations that I’m missing?

    • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

      No, they would be counting the roads near Catlin Lake in Newcomb, one of which comes within a few miles of Shattuck Clearing.

  11. TiSentinel65 says:

    Distance as the crow flies does not mean a lack of solitude. I paddled the Cedar River Flow the other day. I was the only kayak on it for a few hours till I saw another canoe. It was very peaceful even though the Cedar River Limekiln Lake road may have been at the most three quarters of a mile away. There is solitude out there if you are willing to put the time into it. There are many destinations in the park that are not simple walks in the park, (No pun intended). Some can be overnight trips. Don’t be fooled by the mileage. The terrain can be a very tough slog.

  12. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    If distance from a road is the most important requirement for remoteness then it is VERY important that the base road map be as accurate as humanly possible. I wonder if private roads were included or only public. How about long closed roads?

    Regardless of their findings, any area that gives you the feeling of being the only person in the entire world is remote. Regardless of whether you are a mile or ten from the nearest roads.

    • Paul says:

      Dan, I agree distance from a road is only one (probably not to significant) measures. It is pretty much only relevant when someone has to hump in and drag you out if you get into a pinch. I think there are many quite drivable roads on private land that are not on any public maps. Use Google earth to pan over some of the lands managed for timber, or even places like Bay Pond.

      • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:


        From the article, it sounded as if distance from road was the primary measure of remoteness.

        I think you might be surprised how many of those private roads are actually in base GIS layers even though they may not appear on many maps. If aerial photographs or some other methods of remote sensing were used to create their base roads then the private vs. public road is not an issue.

        I would just maintain that a road that gets only one vehicle a year vs. one that gets hundreds of vehicles a day should not be treated equally when determining the remoteness of an area.

        • Paul says:

          I totally agree there are different kinds of roads. From my perspective when I hike in the High Peaks or other fairly well used areas I think of it as a more social thing. You see folks among the trail, you often camp fairly close, hear some folks yelling at bears in the middle of the night. When I go to a private parcel where you lock the gate behind you on the way in you feel pretty remote when you know you are alone. It may not be as pretty in some areas but often more remote “feeling”.

  13. Dan Stevens says:

    Hi all,

    Very interesting article. I got interested in this not that long ago and put together a quick GIS analysis (see link below). I used trails and roads because in my book anything right next to a well beaten trail isn’t all that “remote.” I had rail corridors in there originally but they didn’t make a difference. Technically float planes could be considered but for the sake of keeping simple I ignored that issue.

    So my most remote ADK spot… in Silver Lake Wilderness, Town of Benson (Hamilton County). Its about 3.4 miles from the closest trail and road. So thats about as far away as you can get from some way back to civilization in the Park.

    Interestingly there are only about 4 or 5 locations that are more than 3 miles from both roads and trails. It was nearly a 3-way tie for first with a location in Blue Ridge Wilderness and West Canada Lake Wilderness coming in second and third with 3.37 miles away and 3.32 miles away, respectively.

    Link to Map:

    • SwilliAm says:

      As far as remoteness from people, I would pick the area south of Sears Pond in the Tug Hill region of the state as the most remote in the state.

  14. Paul says:

    remote in the adks go climb mt. Couchsachraga and good luck to ya

  15. Ray says:

    Pasayten Wilderness in the North Cascades WA state pretty damn remote. Backpacked for 3 weeks and didn’t see a soul. Looking forward to some off trail bushwacking in the Adirondacks as well. Where do you reccomend?

  16. Ed Reese says:

    I suspect that the most remote spot and furthest from the end of any dirt road (used or not is Little Crooked Lake). If you consider how far away paved roads are-it almost tops Idaho, Central Nevada, and southwest of Yellowstone. West or east over 25 miles, north or south over 12 miles. Route 12 to the west, Route 30 to the east, Route 3 to the North, and Route 28 to the south. Overlay the West Canada Wilderness area and there is more distance between 3 and 28, than 28 and 8…

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      A quick look at Google Maps shows you to be wrong about this. Little Crooked Lake is about 5 miles from Route 3.

      John Warren

      • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

        By my measurement via Google Earth, Little Crooked Lake is about 10 miles from Route 3. But it is about 5 miles from Bear Pond Road, and about 7 from the end of Raven Lake Road.

        I have an issue with these kinds of studies, because it really depends on the definition of a road. The most remote spot as defined as distance from a PAVED road is probably radically farther than that the spot from any road (i.e. paved or dirt). This study needs to be looked at closer to determine if their identified most remote spot is in reality “the most remote spot” in the Adirondacks.

        Regardless, the more remote we can make this spot the better, so I am always for closing more roads to vehicular traffic, if possible.

  17. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to categorize a dirt road as a road if it can only be used by government officials once or twice a year…and surely there has to be places in the Five Ponds Wilderness that are way more than 5 miles away from any roads that are used. just because a dirt road exists, if it’s only used once a month, and if somebody is in the backcountry and can only drive 5 miles an hour on it to get out after a heart attack, should it count as a road?

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      “surely there has to be places in the Five Ponds Wilderness that are way more than 5 miles away from any roads that are used”

      There is not.

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