The recent announcement of the largest addition to the State Forest Preserve in 117 years in the former Finch Pruyn lands is excellent news for anyone seeking additional outdoor recreational opportunities in the Adirondacks. These new properties make over 69,000 acres of backcountry available to the public for the first time in over 150 years, including such exotic-sounding places as the Essex Chain of Lakes, OK Slip Falls and Boreas Pond.
The many new opportunities for recreational opportunities on these properties is often cited, typically including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, etc. The implication is these new areas will be highly managed for human recreation, with a plethora of trails, campsites, signs, bridges and so on. Despite all the new outdoor recreational opportunities cited, one activity always remains noticeably absent: bushwhacking.
Bushwhacking, or off-trail hiking, is navigating through natural terrestrial environments (i.e. forests, wetlands, beaver vlys, etc.) without the aid of any human-constructed roads or trails. Historically, navigating via map and compass is typical, although younger hipsters may use a handheld GPS device. Bushwhacking permits the exploration of many of the areas within the Adirondacks on their own terms, as long as they are accessible via foot travel.
The reasoning for the omission of off-trail hiking is probably due to the small number of individuals interested in this difficult activity. This is unfortunate, since bushwhacking allows for obtaining intimate knowledge of an area, something a trail never allows.
Hopefully, some of the larger conterminous parcels from the former Finch Pruyn lands can be managed for bushwhacking opportunities, with large areas left undisturbed by trails. Only these large parcels allow for extensive enough areas for multi-day trips without crossing a trail or road, and thus maintaining the feeling of extensive remoteness for which off-trail hiking provides.
The Pepperbox Wilderness is a testament of a wilderness area managed with off-trail use in primacy. The Pepperbox is one of the smaller wilderness areas at only 22,560 acres, located north of the Moshier Reservoir and Beaver River in the northwestern Adirondacks. The area contains only approximately 2 miles of foot trails, which leads to limited human use, except for hunting. And, of course, bushwhacking.
More areas similar to the Pepperbox Wilderness will increase opportunities for off-trail hiking within the Adirondack, providing a training ground for developing the skills necessary for such travel. Hopefully, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation keeps the interests of this small (and not very vocal) bushwhacking crowd in mind as it develops a management plan for these new Finch Pruyn parcels, and any other area purchased in the future.
Photo: Wetland in the central Pepperbox Wilderness Area by Dan Crane.