Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dan Crane: Managing New State Land for Bushwhacking

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.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

33 Responses

  1. Ann Melious says:

    As you say, there are relatively few people engaged in bushwhacking. Large parcels already exist in which to practice the sport. I’d like to accommodate some other interests with my tax dollars, including cross country skiers and mountain bikers. Sadly, New York State is not as large as Alaska, so bushwhackers may, indeed, have to cross a trail or two.

    • Dan Crane says:

      By the same token, there are plenty of dirt roads in the Adirondacks to accommodate mountain bikers in the summer and x-country skiers in the winter. Luckily, those two activities have plenty of advocates, while the bushwhacking community does not. Or, they are just quietly going about their business.

      Regardless, thanks for the super comment, Ann!

    • John Warren says:

      The new lands include over 200 miles of dirt roads.

      • Dan Crane says:

        I was afraid of that.

        I assume a lot of the other wilderness areas in the Adirondacks had dirt roads when they were first purchased by the State that have long grown over. So there is still hope.

        Maybe I will be able to enjoy bushwhacking these areas sometime in the future. With my walker, of course!

  2. Peter H says:

    And the six bushwhackers will replace the economic benefit of the thousands of private recreational club users…

    • Dan Crane says:

      I knew someone could not resist grousing about the economic impact of the State’s purchase.

      • Paul says:

        Grousing about an impact that may impact wether the state can afford to hold and maintain the Forest Preserve land we have is probably a good idea. Buying this isn’t cheap and holding it is even more expensive in the long run. Does it put other places like the 5 ponds (I think one of your favorites.
        ?) in danger in the future, maybe? There is a limit to what we can afford, that is just being practical.

        • Dan Crane says:

          The point of my article had nothing to do with the economic impact of the purchase, that topic has been covered ad nauseam by others who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I am. I purposely stuck to the management of the new property.

          If the argument has now shifted to the State’s difficultly affording public lands then I would urge you to write a guest article here (or in some other forum) and show us the numbers that led you to this conclusion.

          • Paul says:

            Dan, I think you missed my point. How the land is managed will have a large effect on what the economic impacts of the purchase will be so that discussion does not end when the deal is closed it is just the start.

            As far as numbers this will be a good opportunity to generate some of the numbers. Easements are a relatively new concept. There isn’t much data yet to compare that method of stewardship versus Forest Preserve acquisition. Hopefully this will be carefully monitored. As far as use types on FP land only there should be sufficient data to compare say the economic impact of Wild Forest classification with Wilderness classification. But it is still a complicated model for sure.

  3. Peter H says:

    Dan, have you looked at any maps? If you had, you would have known about the roads (the roads that DEC can’t afford to, or won’t, maintain.

    Have you considered the economics?

    • Dan Crane says:


      I looked at a few different maps. Some showed few roads, while the more detailed ones showed quite a few in some places. The ones that showed the roads were based on very old maps, so I was not sure if these roads really existed or not. As I said in another comment, roads go away over time if not maintained, so I hope the DEC does abandon most of them.

      In the case of the Finch Pruyn lands it is a done deal now, so dredging up the economic argument for these lands seems a little pointless to me. But, in general, I feel economics is not the only concern, land preservation is important too. My understanding is a good chunk of the original lands from Finch Pruyn is still being managed for timber, so why not put some of properties with high ecological and recreational potential into public ownership.

      Everyone has their own opinion about the deal, but personally, I am glad to see the Forest Preserve increase in size. Now the general public can enjoy these lands too.

  4. MudRat says:

    The Finch Pruyn purchase was quite important to many High-Peak bushwhackers (all 6), of which I am one. It opened up the eastern side of Santanoni. Twin Slide is a true ADK gem that is now legal to climb.

  5. Peter H says:

    Dan, you said, “so why not put some of properties with high ecological and recreational potential into public ownership.”

    I say because it cost too much in terms of cash., lost economic opportunity costs, reduced environmental stewardship, intentional elimination of important user groups, etc. Have you seen the figures on these statistics? Easements could accomplish so much more, with greater benefit to all of the user groups, and better stewardship of the natural resources. I hope this answers your question.

    • Dan Crane says:


      Again, as I understand it, the majority of the property WAS placed in conservation easements. Only a portion went into the State Preserve.

      When I hear all these arguments, the single issue that really pops out at me is the “intentional elimination of important user groups.” This seems like a highly provincial argument of hunting groups. These same groups had almost exclusive use of the area for many years. They can still use the area after it goes into public ownership; they just have to use it under the same rules and regulations that everyone else does.

      Regardless, it appears to me the deal is done, and no debating is going to change that. So, on to the next parcel and the next battle.

      • Paul says:

        Yes, the next parcel and the next battle. No let up. Why are a user group “eliminated” under private stewardship? Hunters are, by nature, bus hackers. The new scenario mixes the bushwackers with the hikers and paddlers and others. Dan, you can also join a club. The annual cost is about the cost of a nice backpack for most clubs.

        • Dan Crane says:

          Why would I join a hunting club when I am not a hunter? Especially, when I will be able to use the land whenever I want now that it is in public ownership. I have no problem sharing with hikers, paddlers, etc. The point of my article was that bushwhacking is usually not included in the list of users groups, and I wish it would be.

          • Paul says:

            Sorry not sure what a “bus hacker” is (iPad?).

            These clubs are really only hunting clubs in name. That was a pretty accurate description in the past. They really have evolved into what I would call recreational clubs. That would include your preferred type of recreation. For this land sure now you would not need to join a club since they will be gone but I don’t think that you should consider this a possibility on other parcels where there is good opportunities to bush-whack.

            Someone raises a good point. Any idea what the number of “users” in the bushwhacking group is? There has to be some kind of minimum threshold. They don’t have a specific “beech nut collecting” defined user group either. But I fit into that group. Dan what kind of numbers do you think you have?

  6. Paul says:

    Bushwackers don’t want to see trails.
    Paddlers don’t want to see float planes.
    Hikers don’t want to see bikers.
    Bikers don’t want to see ATVs.

    Why can’t we all just learn to get along?

    If you want to be alone BUY the land for yourself. Otherwise learn to share.

  7. Jim says:

    This deal is loosing thousands of bushwackers (hunters).
    Hunting clubs kicked out and forced to tear down their camps, and NYS is still beyond broke with pension obligations it can never meet.
    Spending beyond your means is the new norm I suppose.

  8. Ann Melious says:

    The purchase is history. On to the management decisions.

    • Paul says:

      This all should have been analyzed and determined prior to the purchase. If the state didn’t do this then their was no logic behind the transaction. Everyone was talking about the impacts of this transactions you don’t really know the impacts till you make those decisions. That is unfortunate for everyone involved.

    • Dan Crane says:

      As far as the classifications go, and based entirely off the map, a good starting point is to go with the same classifications as any adjacent properties. The MacIntyre Tracts and the Boreas Pond tract can be merged with the High Peaks Wilderness, while the Essex Chain and OK Slip tracts merge with the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest (unless the State plans to make the Essex Chain area into a Primitive Area with an emphasis on canoeing). The Benson Road Tract merges with the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, and all the little properties merging into the same management area as the adjacent properties unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise.

  9. Peter H says:

    John, the local towns have been informed that if they want to attract tourism dollars to their area, then the marketing of that is left up to them.

    • John Warren says:

      Peter, every town in the Adirondacks is a part of more than one funded tourism marketing effort, if you lived here you’d know that. Your claim otherwise is just more misinformation.

  10. Peter H says:

    John, why is your tone always so caustic?