Friday, January 25, 2013

Phil Brown: Mountain Bikes and Wilderness

essex map croppedGenerally, I regard the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan as a sound document, but when it comes to mountain bikes I have some qualms. It seems to pit environmentalists against bikers, and the bikers I know consider themselves environmentalists.

I thought of this while reviewing the state’s proposals for the classification and management of the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending that bikers be allowed to ride on a network of dirt roads in the Essex Chain of Lakes area and on the access road to the Boreas Ponds Tract (known as Gulf Brook Road).

This would be legal if—as DEC proposes—the lands are classified Wild Forest. It would be illegal if the lands are classified Wilderness, the strongest land protection under the master plan.

As noted in my previous article, environmental groups want the Essex Chain region classified Wilderness. This would require closing the roads to bicycles as well as motor vehicles.

As to Gulf Brook Road, the environmentalists are split. The Adirondack Council wants it closed and classified Wilderness. The Adirondack Mountain Club and Protect the Adirondacks are satisfied with DEC’s plan to classify it Wild Forest and keep much of it open so hikers and paddlers will have easier access to Boreas Ponds. DEC envisions that the road also will be used by bikers.

My guess is that bikers would enjoy the Essex Chain area more. From the DEC map, it looks like they would be able to ride on more than fifteen miles of old roads that wind among various lakes, including a big loop around the Essex Chain itself. Unlike Gulf Brook Road, these routes would not be open to motor vehicles. They would double as hiking trails.

Since these are roads, I assume that they can withstand the impact of bike tires as well as footfalls. This would be true whether the land is classified Wilderness or Wild Forest. Nevertheless, bikes will be banned if the environmentalists have their way and the area becomes Wilderness. So if you’re a mountain biker, you’re forced to choose between pursuing your sport or advocating for the strongest environmental protection of the land.

The State Land Master Plan does not explain why mountain bikes are banned in Wilderness Areas, but I suppose it’s largely for aesthetic reasons: they leave tracks, they go fast. I understand why many people think bikes don’t belong in a place “untrammeled by man.” On most days, I’m one of those people. But the Park’s Wilderness Areas have a number of graded, hard-packed roads that see little foot traffic and seem ideal for biking. I’m thinking, for example, of the logging roads near Little Tupper Lake and the gated road that skirts Lake Lila. What would be the harm of cycling on these roads?

I don’t think bikes should be allowed everywhere. Obviously, we don’t want bikers churning through wetlands or barreling down the  High Peaks. But perhaps they should be allowed on certain designated trails in Wilderness—those that are little used by hikers and that can withstand the extra abuse. In most cases, we’re talking about old roads. In other cases, a short trail through a Wilderness Area might provide useful connection between trails in Wild Forest Areas.

I’m not ready to advocate that the State Land Master Plan be changed, but it’s worth discussing. The sport of mountain biking has grown considerably since the plan was written. If the document were amended, we might see more support for Wilderness.

Illustration: Detail of DEC map showing trails near Essex Chain of Lakes that would be open to mountain bikers.






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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.

78 Responses

  1. Cindy says:

    I don’t come to the Adirondacks much anymore because I love to mountain bike and frankly there’s so few trails I prefer Colorado, Utah, Arizona and other states who understand and invest in awesome wilderness trails.

  2. a says:

    Mountain Bikes should be banned from wilderness areas, as they are contrary to all wilderness virtues — they are fast, they do damage to trails, and chew up terrain.

    Wildenress areas are defined as:

    “A wilderness area, in contrast with
    those areas where man and his own works
    dominate the landscape, is an area where
    the earth and its community of life are
    untrammeled by man–where man himself
    is a visitor who does not remain. ”

    There are wild forest areas out there for mountain bikes. They can ride on snowmobile trails or roads there. They don’t belong in the woods, and certainly not in the most sensitive of areas — wilderness.

    If mountain bikers want more places to ride, they should advocate for turning more wilderness areas into wild forest area, rather then weakening the definition of wilderness.

  3. Phil Brown says:

    That’s a thoughtful response. Yes, allowing bikes in Wilderness Areas is, in a sense, weakening the definition of Wilderness. But I’d rather see that than a reclassification of Wild Forest Areas to accommodate bikes. Mind you, if bikes were allowed in Wilderness, I would want it done a very selective basis. Not all Wilderness is “sensitive.” The gravel roads in the Whitney Wilderness, for example, are not sensitive. I’m simply asking whether, in certain select places, mountain biking is compatible with Wilderness.

  4. Bill Ingersoll says:


    Remember that the State Land Master Plan’s definition of wilderness is directly derived from the 1964 Wilderness Act, which was written largely by Howard Zahniser (who owned a camp in Bakers Mills, near Gore Mountain), who was in turn inspired by people like Bob Marshall. The story of how the modern concept of designated wilderness was developed is very well documented, and it is all very accessible to anyone who wishes to learn about it.

    Basically, the real intent was less about preserving pristine landscapes than it was about maintaining opportunities for primitive (or “traditional”) recreation. Bob Marshall is famous locally for proposing several large wilderness areas here in the Adirondacks, most notably the one near Cranberry Lake that the Adirondack Council suggests should now be named for him. When Marshall made his proposal in the 1930s, that region was already logged, burned, and bisected by a major railroad. He knew this firsthand, because he executed several long hikes there during his summer camp days. So when he proposed this for a wilderness classification, he was less concerned about preserving a place untouched by man than he was about preserving a place where people could continue to walk long distances without encountering any modern contrivances.

    For Bob Marshall specifically, the best book to read about his concept of wilderness is a book he published in the 1930s called “The People’s Forest,” in which he covers a broad range of ideas about public land management. Wilderness is just one passage out of many, but it’s absolutely clear his focus was on recreation. Such places should be huge, with a minimum of 200,000 acres (“people want to do more than just stroll into the woods and squat”), and they should be free of modern contraptions, including just about any vehicle with a wheel. His intent was to set aside areas where people could continue to practice primitive camp craft, which he strongly felt was being threatened by the encroachments of the twentieth century. Mountain bikes were specifically mentioned as non-traditional modes of travel that should be banned from wilderness. Marshall of course died young, but he was instrumental in the designation of the first wilderness areas in the western national forests and Indian tribal lands … decades before the passage of the Wilderness Act.

    Marshall’s ideas on wilderness were also shared by Aldo Leopold (of “land ethic” fame), Sigurd Olson, and a host of other writers whose books remain entertaining and thoughtful reads.

    So when the SLMP was first issued in 1972, the authors were simply codifying at the state level certain policies that had already been worked out over the previous 50 years on federal land. The SLMP is actually more lenient when it comes to wheeled vehicles, because wagons and carts are allowed here but banned in federal wilderness. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the regulations specifically point out that wheeled coolers are considered non-conforming.

    Therefore the issue of bikes in wilderness has nothing to do with trail damage, but with the fundamental reasons why the areas were designated wilderness in the first place. To start allowing new activities is to effectively re-purpose these areas that were intended to be havens from certain aspects of modernity.

    For anyone who has taken the time to learn this history, the question becomes not about whether we need to start monkeying with the concept of wilderness, but whether there should be other options besides wilderness in the land management toolbox. The SLMP provides for a number of state land classifications, but only two — Wilderness and Wild Forest — are applicable on a large scale. The others, such as Primitive, Canoe, and Historical, have narrower definitions and are therefore useful only in specific situations. So when the state acquires a large tract with a network of gravel roads, there are only two viable classification options: one that allows snowmobiles, bikes, fire towers, and roads, and one that allows none of the above. Either/ or.

    So what we should be asking is not how to amend wilderness, but whether we need a third option. I would suggest that we have a clear need for a “semi-primitive non-motorized” classification in the Adirondacks, given the nature of many of the land classification actions of the last decade. The APA and DEC have been struggling with the notion of maintaining popular non-conforming structures/activities in places where there is a simultaneous desire to expand the wilderness boundaries. The solution so far has been to spot zone or gerrymander the wilderness boundaries to accommodate everyone — a solution that really accomplishes nothing. Hurricane Mountain is a good example.

    This third major land classification should allow things like bikes and fire towers, but carry some of the politcal clout and “sexiness” that wilderness enjoys. It should be applied to many of the more recent land acquisitions, particularly the ones that geographically stand apart from other wilderness areas and feature a network of abandoned logging roads — like the Essex Chain, like Whitney Park. Classify these tracts under the new designation, and leave the older wilderness areas alone.

    I would suggest that this new designation be called “Backcountry Areas,” as in the “Hudson Gorge Backcountry Area” or the “William C. Whitney Backcountry Area.” I see the need for this third category, but no one other than myself talking about it.

    • Matt says:

      I, for one, am very happy to hear you talking about some kind of “third category” Bill, and I’m an active mountain biker, backcountry traveller, and an unapologetic Wilderness lover too. I appreciate your brief history of the Wilderness classification. I think Phil recognizes that Wilderness advocates have more to gain by bringing bikers into the fold in a thoughtful way than cutting them out as just a negative non-conforming use. Primitive corridors is an interesting strategy, but the devil is in the details, as always. We have to respect and uphold the experience that Wilderness visitors are seeking, but we should be supporting mtn. biking as a popular and very beneficial recreational opportunity in the park too, so it only makes sense to proactively pursue these management goals together. Just lumping bikes in with motorized uses is not exactly the most balanced management strategy. This is some forward thinking, and it’s a breath of fresh air, in my opinion. I hope this conversation continues in a positive and respectful way. Thanks.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Bill, thanks for the historical perspective. As you may know, I collected Marshall’s Adirondack writings in a book, “Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks.” As is evident from an article he wrote for “High Spots,” he was not opposed to accommodating a variety of recreational uses in the Preserve. He was very concerned that certain areas be set aside as true wilderness, without trails even. Other parts of the Preserve might have some trails; still others a lot of trails. He advocates doing more to encourage skiing and horseback riding in the Preserve. He does not mention bikes, which is not surprising, because probably few people, if any, were taking bikes into the woods in those days. However, I believe he would have thought that there is a place for mountain bikes in the Preserve.

      The question is whether there are places in Wilderness Areas that are appropriate for bikes. You think not but suggest a third category, between Wilderness and Wild Forest, that would permit bikes but not motorized vehicles. To play devil’s advocate (again, I have not made up my mind), this seems unnecessary and needlessly cumbersome.

      Let’s take my example of the logging roads near Little Tupper Lake. As Tony Goodwin notes, these hold little appeal for hikers. So allowing bikes on these roads will not lead to user conflicts. The roads are gravel, so they can withstand the abuse of bikes. Granting these premises, permitting biking on these roads would bother no one and cause no ecological damage. Indeed, biking may be the best use of these roads, which are now largely unused. Yet the State Land Master Plan does not permit the flexibility to allow bikes here. If we follow your suggestion, we’d have to reclassify the whole Wilderness Area “Backcountry” to allow bikes just on these roads or else spot-zone, which I know you oppose. There may be Wilderness Areas where just one trail is suitable for biking. Again, we would have to reclassify the whole area just for one trail. It’s more practical to just give DEC the flexibility to allow bikes on certain trails in Wilderness. The department could draft criteria, but basically what I have in mind are hardened roads where user conflicts would be minimal or non-existent.

      If bikers don’t bother hikers or damage the resource, what is the objection?

      • Bill Ingersoll says:


        Again, I direct you to Bob Marshall’s “The People’s Forests,” published in 1933 (my copy was reissued by the University of Iowa in 2002), which was not included in your own compilation of his writings. He certainly does advocate for a wide range of recreational uses, including developed campgrounds. But for all of these uses there were categories, so that the guidelines for how each should be managed were clear.

        In his book, Marshall gave this proposed definition (pp 177-179):

        “‘Wilderness Areas’ are regions which contain no permanent inhabitants, possess no means of mechanical conveyance, and are sufficiently spacious for a person to spend at least a week of active travel in them without crossing his own tracks. The dominant attributes of such areas are: first, that visitors to them have to depend exclusively on their own efforts for survivial; and second, that they preserve as nearly as possible the essential features of a primitive environment. This means that all roads, settlements, and power transportation are barred. But trails and temporary shelters, features such as were common long before the advent of the white race, are entirely permissible. … Their function, however, is not to make possible contact with the virgin forest but rather to make it possible to retire completely from the modes of transportation and living conditions of the twentieth century.”

        So note the phrase “mechanical conveyance,” as opposed to motorized, and his overall emphasis on modes of transportation.

        But wilderness was just one entry in an array of classifications that he proposed, which included “superlative areas,” “primeval areas,” “roadside areas,” “outing areas,” and campgrounds. So while he believed in a wide range of recreational uses of public land, he was fussiest about wilderness recreation and believed in a zoning system to ensure that each of the other forms also had its place.

        In regards to the Whitney Wilderness and its old roads, tell me something I don’t know. I am probably one of the few people not in DEC employ who has walked all of them, and I wholeheartedly agree that (a) in their current state they are not the most scenic hiking trails and that (b) bike usage would cause these trails no physical harm. When I first hiked there in 1998 — days after it opened to the public — the roads were still in such good shape that I could easily have driven my 1988 Ford Escort down them, if I had the key to the gate. I am happy to report that they have roughened somewhat in the 15 years since.

        But my reaction to Whitney is not to adjust the wilderness classification to suit this property, but that the property was mis-classified back in 2000, when the William C. Whitney Wilderness was first created. But because the state only had those 2 viable options — Wild Forest and Wilderness — they chose the one that met most of the goals they were trying to achieve, even though it wasn’t necessarily the best fit.

        If you went to a clothing store to buy a shirt, and the only sizes available were small and large — but you wore a medium — then you would come out of that store looking a little silly.

        My proposed Backcountry Area designation would contain the same size and motorless requirements as Wilderness, but it would be a more tailored fit for these newer land purchases where previous uses resulted in substantial road networks. This extensive modification of the property would have to be the defining feature. And with a new classification to define, we would have the leeway to throw in other topics generally frowned upon in Wilderness: fire towers, grandfathered floatplane access where it already exists, amenities for the disabled, for instance.

        Off the top of my head, I would suggest that the following existing and future tracts would be suitable Backcountry Areas, **in their entirety**:

        1) The proposed Hudson Gorge Wilderness (including the Essex Chain)
        2) Hurricane Mountain Wilderness (to resolve the fire tower spot-zoning issue)
        3) St. Regis Canoe Area, with special provisions for the DEC fish hatchery’s stocking program
        4) William C. Whitney Wilderness, including all of Little Tupper and Lake Lila
        5) Tongue Mountain Range, which exhibits some wilderness qualities but lacks remoteness
        6) Round Lake Wilderness
        7) And possibly distinct portions of the Ferris Lake and Wilcox Lake Wild Forests

        All other existing Wilderness Areas would retain their classification, unchanged, regardless of the nature of a minority of its trails. The purpose of a Wilderness is to meet it on its own terms. Bike owners who choose not to visit a Wilderness because of this are making a personal choice. You know as well as I that these people are perfectly free to use these lands legally if they want to. Nothing prevents them from entering a Wilderness. Ten years ago you published an editorial I wrote called “Machines have no rights,” and if you substitute “ATV” with any other inanimate outdoor toy my argument remains unchanged.

        What you are suggesting is to update the Wilderness definition to reflect changes in public sentiment. For instance, maybe Bob Marshall & Co. thought bikes were modern mechanical devices that had no place in Wilderness, but that was 1933. Here it is 80 years later, Bob Marshall is dead and buried, and bikes have been around so long now that no one thinks twice about them. So we add a clause to the SLMP that says bikes are A-OK.

        By this argument, you are saying that society’s relationship to Wilderness is mutable and needs to be updated periodically. As the technology in our daily lives becomes more sophisticated, something as relatively “primitive” as a bicycle now seems to perfectly fit in a place set aside for “primitive recreation.” So whereas Bob Marshall and the other founding members of the Wilderness Society were judging “primitiveness” by 19th century standards, we now judge it by 20th century standards. In the year 2113 wilderness stewards will happily install “primitive” cell phone stations on treetops, because that technology is so 21st century as to seem like it came from the Stone Age.

        So is this the discussion we need to have? Is wildness relative to culture, or is wildness a benchmark from which culture is slowly wandering away?

        If wildness is relative, then each generation now and henceforth will renegotiate its relationship to it. The wilderness that we preserved in 1972 will not be *quite* the same in 2072, because the people of that year will likely see the “wild” part of “forever wild” differently than we do. I’ll turn 98 that year, so it’s not likely I’ll be backpacking or canoeing very much then.

        If wildness is a benchmark from which society is creeping away, then we need to desperately hold onto what wilderness we have and be thankful to the prior generations who had the foresight to preserve it for us. As our daily dependence on technology increases, the contrast with a primitive environment will become that much more distinct and meaningful if we leave the permitted activities to remain unchanged and we do not allow ourselves to renegotiate the terms of our own access.

        I actually see the wisdom in both approaches. But if we start meddling with the wilderness definition now, then we are foreclosing on the second possibility. Therefore creating a new Backcountry designation allows us to update our relationship with nature in some areas, while still preserving the old ways in the “historic” wilderness areas.

        To answer your final question — If bikers don’t bother hikers or damage the resource, what is the objection? — I can only say distinctions between user groups are silly, because they suggest that we are all defined by the toys we play with. A bike owner can dismount his bike and enjoy the wilderness the same as everyone else. A hiker can ride a trail where such use is permitted. What on earth is lost? Who is being barred from state land? Are we all feeling so entitled that we now feel the need to demand our own terms of access? Hiking is the one activity that anyone with two feet can do, and yet the people who do it are being accused of hogging all the best trails?

        I said it before, but I’ll say it again:

        All users have equal access to state land, but most limit themselves by personal taste. It’s a little like going to a Thai restaurant and feeling indignant because they don’t serve Italian food; I don’t like Thai food and therefore feel excluded. So it’s the restaurant’s fault? Of course not. If I like Italian food more than I like Thai food, then logically I should go to an Italian restaurant. I should not be whining that the Thai restaurant is excluding me.

        With bikes in the Forest Preserve, the current policy essentially ties them to almost the same fate as snowmobiles, since the majority of bike trails are also snowmobile trails. I wholeheartedly agree that this approach is incorrect. What I am suggesting is that rather than changing the “historic” wilderness areas to adapt to 21st century tastes, we instead create a “new class” of wilderness. Rather than being restricted to pre-approved corridors, bike riders would have free reign over entire motorless trail networks.

    • Teresa DeSantis says:

      Bill, thanks for your keen thoughts. I have what may seem to be a strange question- what is your take on the State’s “Canoe Area” classification? Ie. is this a true seperate classification? In the St. Regis Canoe Area, it seems to be. But in the above, for the Essex Chain, it is almost as if the State is using the “Canoe Area” as an overlay zone on top of the Wild Forest. (Note in the map, the white hatching of the new Canoe Area over the green Wild Forest area. A true seperate designation vs. an overlay zone are different things from a planner’s point of view. Thoughts?? Teresa the Cartographer

      • Bill Ingersoll says:


        The SLMP does indeed recognize “Canoe Area” as a distinct classification. However, you may have noticed there is only one designated Canoe Area, which you seem to know well.

        If you go back to 1970, just prior to the creation of the SLMP, St. Regis was proposed for Wilderness, and there was no talk of Canoe Areas. However, DEC operates a fishery just on the edge of the area, and that fishery was using motor vehicles to stock the interior ponds with fish. Therefore the first SLMP in 1972 created a Canoe Area designation that was distinct from Wilderness. The public would have non-motorized access, but the state could still drive in on a network of truck trails. Later, the SLMP was amended to also allow bikes on those same truck trails.

        In theory the Canoe Area designation could be used in areas other than St. Regis, but the state has declined to do so. It would NOT solve the issue of bike access because as I said, in Canoe Areas bike access is restricted to truck trails. So if the Essex Chain was made a Canoe Area, DEC would have to designate a network of truck trails that no one really wants just to accommodate bike access.

        So what I am suggesting is that the Canoe Area designation be replaced with something new, a “Backcountry Area” designation that could not only be applied to St. Regis and the Essex Chain, but to a wider range of terrain as well.

        The DEC’s current “canoe recreation area” proposal is just an overlay, as you observed. This would be an administrative action that comes with no real guidance in the SLMP. It could be reveresed or changed with something as simple as a unit management plan amendment. So long as their plans for this “recreation area” does not conflict with the underlying Wild Forest designation, they could do whatever the public lets them get away with. Frankly it’s not a horrible idea, but carries no legal weight.

  5. Tony Goodwin says:

    As I have commented elsewhere, I agree with the wild forest classification for the Essex Chain. And I don’t think mountain bikers, as environmentalists, should be concerned that this “weakens” the protection of the land as it is still Forest Preserve – land that is already more closely restricted than most other public land. As for the William C. Whitney Area, I wrote a letter regarding the pending classification that strongly favored wild forest designation so that those gravel roads could be used by bikes. The waters could have remained motorless, but the roads have little to attract hikers or backpackers, so there would not likely be any user conflict between the two uses.

  6. WrenHawk says:

    And what about horses in wilderness areas Phil, Bill and others? There are a small number of dedicated riders using roads to access state lands and riding along old lumber roads on private lands where we have permission. The Adirondacks could make a wonderful venue for competitive endurance and trail riding – both organized sports with dedicated followings. I’m always surprised by how little information is out there for equestrians interested in backcountry and wilderness riding. The Cold River System is an amazing trail system but finding much information about it is quite a challenge. Certainly, hooves can chop up trails, but horses aren’t legally supposed to use exclusively human footpaths and most riders won’t put their horses in poor footing situations. They can bushwhack in some areas and then share trails and roads with mountain bikes and motorized vehicles. So they aren’t “modern” and do blend in well with the quiet access to wilderness that many crave, but they can do damage to trails (though in my experience the rocky substrate in most of the areas I ride doesn’t yield much to an unshod hoof), and non-local horses may also bring in seeds from grasses not endemic to the Park…though not more than free ranging wild bird species and this can be tempered. So, where do horses fit? Is it an untapped recreational activity and sport consistent with Park values or no?

    • Charles Tastensen says:

      Would the horse riders be required to clean up and carry out the waste their animals produce? It would not be favorable to have dung flung up off one’s tires onto one’s back or onto the rider behind.

      • WrenHawk says:

        Since horse dung is biodegradable and solid in form, I don’t think this poses a problem. I assume bicyclists would go around a puddle (to reduce damage to a trail if for no other reason), so going around horse droppings that would likely not be greatly in evidence seems do-able. But I don’t mean to be flippant. Too many droppings could be undesirable for some users but it is likely unreasonable to expect riders to dismount, clean and carry…I guess one could dismount and move waste to the side of an all-purpose or shared trail whenever practicable.

  7. Teresa DeSantis says:

    Hello! Bill Ingersoll writes about the possibility of a third classification perhaps bridging the gap between the “Wilderness”, and “Wild Forest designations.” Bill, I have been thinking about this too. Is everybody aware of the revisions that have been made in the management of the St Regis Canoe Area- specifically the 5 mile long former road/trail to Fish Pond? Speaking with a DEC backcountry steward this summer about this area, it seems that roughly 90% of backcountry users get no farther than St. Regis Pond- very few actually get all the way up to Fish Pond. Relatively recently, the state opened up access to Fish Pond on the old road to mountain bikes, but suprisingly also to horses and horse carts! I thought this was really sort of an interesting twist. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is what has recently happened. I have observed that the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest as sort of experimental areas for policy implementation.
    Go figure. I spend much of my free time there as a cartographer, doing data collection with handheld GPS, for improved maps of the area. Perhaps there could be a third classification that could embrace the goals of “Wilderness” with some of the spirit of users that is found in the “Wild Forests.” As a cartographer, I try to see all the sides of the usage issue. Thoughts??

  8. Dick Carlson says:

    Hey Phil – There are probably still a hundred or more miles of road like trails in the Adirondack on State Designated Wilderness. Most of these are very appropriate for bicycle use. The road into Moose Pond near Santanoni is Wilderness and I have seen horses drag a travel trailer into that road during hunting season. It is interesting that this is a permitted use – but if the kids came into “camp” they couldn’t use their bikes. Even in Wild Forest bicycle use is restricted to “where allowed” in the Master Plan. The whole bicycle use issues should be revisited with the idea to blend the use into appropriate trails.

    As to “Wilderness” in Federal lands, Livestock grazing is currently permitted in thirty-two units of the national park system and, under the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act, is not restricted in any area on the basis of its status as designated wilderness.

  9. M.P. Heller says:

    I have said before I don’t like pitting one set of users against another. I really don’t. There are jerks and great people in every group. ATV riders get the worst of it and folks portray them as cowboys out to ruin the environment. Definately not so. Some people in that group give riders a bad name for sure, but some people who backpack are just as nazty and will deficate in front of a lean-to. So the finger pointing is basically a bunch of crap. Everyone needs to be invited to the table and given a chance to contribute and ultimately become stewards.

    Thank you Phil for giving a voice to the bikers. Along with the ATV riders and the Equestrians, the bikers get a undeserved bad reputation. Now, if we could all agree to start supporting one another a bit more than just one article written by an informed individual like Phil, we would all be moving towards getting everybody what they want and making this a better place for all to live and/or play.

    For the record, I am a backpacker and camper for the most part. I also hunt, fish, trap (sometimes), own a large boat, and have been known to dayhike for the purpose of peakbagging. I own a mountain bike, but haven’t ridden it in many years, I used to own snowmobiles, but got out of that as my interests changed and winters produced less snow. I have an ATV here which I use to plow and yank a stump with from time to time. I still have my paddles but sold my kayak. I support all users who wish to do so in a responsible and legal manner. I would like to see some meaningful change happen so that all users can feel like equals and therefore want to help one another rather than compete with one another.

    Rant over.

  10. Bill Ingersoll says:

    ” I have said before I don’t like pitting one set of users against another. I really don’t.”

    Well OK, we all learned to share in Kindergarten. But the underlying assumption in this POV is that we as people are defined and categorized by the toys we own. People who own bikes are bikers, and if bikes are disallowed within a certain land classification, then so is an entire group of people. Banning the object bans the person, according to this argument.

    Sorry, but this I cannot accept. A bike owner who elects not to visit a place where bikes are not allowed is making a personal choice; nothing actually forbids him from visiting the wilderness other than his own personal preferences. He is still free to visit the wilderness by foot, snowshoe, ski, canoe, kayak, or horseback if he so chooses. There is no civic obligation to accommodate all possible public uses on all public lands.

    Therefore all users have equal access to state land, but most limit themselves by personal taste. It’s a little like going to a Thai restaurant and feeling indignant because they don’t serve Italian food; I don’t like Thai food and therefore feel excluded. So it’s the restaurant’s fault? Of course not. If I like Italian food more than I like Thai food, then logically I should go to an Italian restaurant. I should not be whining that the Thai restaurant is excluding me.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Bill, you can do so much better than that. I generally have a lot of respect for your writings and comments on other folks writings, but this is actually a prime example of the circuitous logic that is often used to prop up only one end of a discussion. Its a bit disingenuous to use your Thai restaurant analogy. If you don’t like Thai, you get up and leave and go to a different place. You don’t get that choice when all the restaurants are Thai. THATS what this discussion is about. Making sure there are burger joints, Italian places, French places, steak houses, and seafood shacks too, not just Thai everywhere you look. (To beat the piss out of your analogy)

      Nobody is saying build a snowmobile and ATV trail up Marcy. At least I am pretty certain thats not whats on the table. A little more respect and accomodation for other users besides the huge hiking lobby would be nice though. Like I said, I’m a backpacker first, but why should the whole damn park be set aside for me? Can’t my biker, snomobiler, paddler, and ATV’er buddies have a little slice too, or is sharing like we learned in Kindergarten too juvenile a concept for everyone?

  11. Curt Austin says:

    I reject all arguments based on parsing existing rules or deeply examining the meaning of a particular word. I imagine myself walking along a road in the woods and encountering people on bikes. Well, I don’t much like walking on roads, but sometimes I have to. I imagine myself riding a bike along a road in the woods. I think of why I might want to be doing either – lots of reasons. I remind myself that I should be reasonably tolerant of why other people are doing what they’re doing – I shouldn’t let little things bother me.

    Conclusion: let people ride unless it makes some place crowded, or messy, or noisy. Gonzo MTB stuff – none of that, please. Change our rules to reflect what we want. i think I’d like a rule that reduced the noise involved in taking this sensible approach!

  12. Paul says:

    “I’m not ready to advocate that the State Land Master Plan be changed, but it’s worth discussing. The sport of mountain biking has grown considerably since the plan was written. If the document were amended, we might see more support for Wilderness.”

    I guess you could say the same for snowmobiles?

    “Mountain Bikes should be banned from wilderness areas, as they are contrary to all wilderness virtues — they are fast, they do damage to trails, and chew up terrain.”

    Hiking (especially at the levels we have in adirondack wilderness areas) does damage to the trails and chews up terrain. But yes more slowly.

  13. Phil Brown says:

    Paul, a snowmobile is a motorized vehicle. A case can be made for bikes in the Wilderness: they are quiet, non-polluting, muscle-powered, and don’t go 50 mph.

    • Paul says:

      True. Mechanized – motorized? Slippery slope? I love watching bikers top 60 miles per hour on a good decent.

  14. Paul says:

    True. Mechanized – motorized? Slippery slope? I love watching bikers top 60 miles per hour on a good decent.

  15. Paul says:

    Sorry double click!

  16. TiSentinel65 says:

    Phil, is it conceivable that you will be able to bike from Indian Lake (Chain Lakes Rd.) to Newcomb (Goodnow Flow Rd.) I have not heard the details, but , I believe a snowmobile trail is to follow somewhere through the Gooley Club lands. It seems to me that it would only be logical to route the bike path along this same route.

    • Teresa DeSantis says:

      TiSentinel65: That is an interesting comment/observation about the possibility of mountain bikes being able to transit between Indian Lake and Newcomb on a proposed snowmobile trail. Does anyone have more information on this? I imagine that would mean leaving the bridge across the Cedar River intact. Any more information would be helpful. Teresa the Cartographer

    • Phil Brown says:

      Ti, from the Chain of Lakes Road you’d have to cross Wilderness to get to the Wild Forest, under this plan. Thus bikes would not be allowed to do this.

      • Matt says:

        Cindy, I’m sorry to hear that. I mtn. bike too and deeply love the daks, but the activity has been marginalized and widely misunderstood in our neck of the woods(read several comments below). You are 100% correct that we are not investing in great trails that bikers would love in the Adirondacks. Part of the problem is the assumption by many non-bikers that we would only want to ride on flat dirt roads that are considered low value for much else, they already exist, so they’re perfect, right? As well intentioned as this sentiment may seem to be, it’s really a disservice to good mountain biking. You know, and I know, that mountain bikers love great trails more than anything else, and few bikers will take much interest in riding feature-less old dirt roads for their own sake. Abandoning many of them isn’t going to break my heart, that’s for sure!
        A local volunteer group in the Wilmington/Placid/Saranac Lake area(Barkeater Trails Alliance) has been actively building and maintaining trails that mtn. bikers are actually excited about(legally!) and folks are starting to notice. Some are easy, some are challenging, some have features, some actually have views(imagine that, mountain bikers, just like everyone else who love and wants to experience wild places, want a view!), the trails are built to last, and happen to be a boatload of fun to ride and share. So please don’t write us off just yet, because we’re only scratching the surface of what the daks really has to offer for mountain biking, and so far, it’s amazing!

        • Matt says:

          hey! that comment is for Cindy at the top!!! I guess I’m better in the woods than I am on these newfangled computer things… sorry about that

  17. I wish media outlets would use the words “cyclists” and “bicyclists” when referring to people who travel on two wheels by pedaling. And use “biker” when talking about a person or persons who choose to travel on motorcycles, machines fueled by gasoline, not human muscles.

    • Matt says:

      Wait, but what about someone pedaling a bicycle and making their best vocal impression of motor noises like a motorcycle? What do we call that? (ha ha) 😉

  18. Pete Nelson says:

    This a fabulous set of comments and, connected with Dan Crane’s piece, is motivating me to write a Dispatch next week. Bill, you hit multiple issues squarely on the head. I like the idea of a new classification a lot and I plan to take it up.

    My comment here today is to support Bill in his subtle yet basic insight that we demonize people based upon equipment and we shouldn’t. It is offensive and unnecessarily divisive to cast aspersions upon ATVers, equestrians, cyclists, hikers and snowmobilers. It’s the equipment and the effects of its use we should judge, not the person who chooses to use it. An irresponsible backpacker is just as bad as an irresponsible snowmobiler. Everyone in my family has heard me declare multiple times that if I actually ever catch a hiker dumping litter or garbage in the Adirondack back country (I haven’t yet) I will forget that I don’t like to beat people senseless with branches.

    Bill attempts an analogy: cyclists who want to be in a Wilderness area can switch to boots or go elsewhere; people who don’t like Thai food (not my kind of people, by the way, Thai food is awesome) can stomach it on its terms or go to an Italian restaurant. Like all analogies this has limits but it’s pretty good. Yet M.P. Heller doesn’t like it. He says “You don’t get that choice when all the restaurants are Thai. THATS what this discussion is about.”

    No, M.P., it isn’t. I’ve been all over the park and I’m pretty sure that every form of outdoor recreation conceived by the mind of man is available within the blue line. It just isn’t necessarily convenient. You know what’s convenient if you want food choices? A food court. No thank you to that. Convenience is not the holy grail here. No one wants the Adirondacks to be a recreational food court.

    And outside the blue line? I once again caution against the myopia that only considering a local perspective brings. Most of the United States is paved over, host to a parade of mechanical devices carrying people to a never-ending phalanx of fast food joints, chain restaurants and mega stores with crappy food courts.

    Let’s be very careful to cherish what wilderness we have left. In the big picture it’s hardly a drop in the bucket any more.

    • Matt says:

      Well put, Pete! There is good reason that mtn. bikers in the daks aren’t screaming about being totally closed out of Wilderness areas- by and large, mtn. bikers here respect Wilderness and the limitations, and typically wouldn’t want any part of the over-used, poorly graded, muddy and eroded trails that are an unfortunate characteristic of some Wilderness areas, so what’s the point? The real issue is that occasionally Wilderness creates a recreational access barrier that detracts far more from the recreational value to be realized than is made up by the intrinsic value of remoteness, inaccessiblity and solitude that would be compromised in a particular trail corridor. This is always the question of balance with any proposed trail access, regardless of the particular use it may receive. There should be a thoughtful management tool to address this for bikes that doesn’t just open up everything indiscriminately, or send us down the slippery slope towards motorized use that every Wilderness Advocate is guaranteed to be worked up about right now. I would suggest a park-wide capped mileage on primitive corridors through Wilderness that are open to bikes. OK, you might be asking, so how much? how many miles are we talking here? That’s the real question, in my opinion, and quite frankly, I really don’t think it’s that much in the grand scheme of things, and appropriately planned, It’s not going to impact the Adirondack Wilderness experience that I fully agree we must protect and cherish, and I happen to regularly seek out myself. I’d envision it being a whole heck of a lot less than the snowmobile mileage in Wild Forest areas, and furthermore,the Wilderness advocates in the 70s didn’t want any snowmobile mileage in Wild Forest in the first place either, so it’s safe to expect that any bike mileage in Wilderness is certain to be unwelcome, and require some kind of compromise to come to fruition. I think my suggestion is a reasonable compromise that we can work from, and I think Bill’s comments above indicate some thoughtful ideas as well, which is very encouraging.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Pete your feedback smacks of an elitism that is so common in the Park these days. That self propelled people somehow have the right to a louder voice, that wilderness classifications are the only answer to our problems, that anyone who see things differently than you is part of thee problem. Thats fine, and you are entitled to feel that way. Just don’t complain when your input is marginalized by folks who possess the ability to see the big picture.

      • Pete Nelson says:


        Normally I wouldn’t feel an immediate need to respond to someone who mischaracterizes my point of view, but 90% of the problem we have here is this kind of personal side-taking and labeling, which is a depressing waste of time and detrimental to making any progress.

        Did you actually read my comments? Let’s see.

        In the first paragraph I stated my interest in further land classifications and agreement with Bill on his comments. That is exactly because I think that the Wilderness classification is too restrictive to find and allow a balance for certain activities. Therefore I clearly indicated that in fact I think Wilderness classification is not only answer to our problems despite your flip comment.

        So was my interest in broader classification where the charge of elitism comes from? Wait, no, that can’t be it, that doesn’t any make sense…

        Then it must have been when I said we should not judge people, whether ATVers or hikers, because they choose to do the activities they do. That must be it! No, that doesn’t make sense either…


        I got it! It’s when I suggested that a local-only view forgets the reality in the world at large, a world that hardly features a balanced representation of wild lands and hardly restricts options for all sorts of recreational activity. You got me there. That broad embrace of more people and a larger, more democratic view of these issues certainly demonstrates both a horrifying elitism and a complete inability to grasp the big picture.

        Tell you what: since we’re throwing around examples of elitism let me toss out my own proposal: people who see the park only from their own narrow world, only from what freedoms they want or can get; people with sort-of a mega-consumer mindset. That kind of mindset has done wonders for the thousands of miles of strip malls outside the park.

        Or better yet, how about we lose these tiresome labels and stop trying so hard to misunderstand each other.

  19. Ti Sentinel65 says:

    Phil, Is the land you talk about already classified wilderness?, or is it proposed? I think maybe a corridor could be established on the dirt road from Chain Lakes road going north. Has anybody proposed such a route? It just makes more sense to me to use the already existing resources rather than make new ones. I believe this is the way the Gooley Club accessed their land from Indian Lake. I’m not sure of that though.

  20. Phil Brown says:

    Ti, it is only proposed at this point. A Wild Forest or Primitive corridor passing through Wilderness is legally permissible, I believe, but rarely done.

  21. Phil says:

    As a member of the Gooley Club who has been up on those roads for many years I can attest those roads are excellent for biking. My kids and others have been biking up there and more than one member has done their hunting from one. It is a great way to see a lot of wildlife without disturbing them. I have read a lot of the comments and I think people who push the wilderness agenda don’t realize that we are losing youth at a rapid rate in regards to the love of the outdoors. There is not one family in 10,000 who could go back into third lake and camp for a week after those roads and culverts are removed. The beavers would have that four mile hike turned into six and every shore flooded. The more people that get to enjoy the area and learn from it the better. Family time with children is a competion with sports,school and social events not to mention the electronics that have consumed them. Those children are the voters and the taxpayers of the future and if their only contact with the outdoors is a video on youtube they will be not bother to protect it.

  22. Dave Gibson says:

    Appreciating Bill Ingersoll’s significant contributions, and Pete Nelson’s, particularly, but all comments spring from Phil’s provocative piece, so thanks Phil !
    Several existing state land classifications are possible and may make sense within the Essex Chain part of the Forest Preserve that would allow a variety of public recreational opportunities, but which would also adhere to the “paramount” responsibilities of the state to protect the natural resources of the area. Adirondack Wild will be exploring those.

  23. Gary Thomann says:

    I have said this many times – mountain bikes are not designed to ride on roads, either old roads or gravel roads. They are designed to ride on trails. A good rider can easily ride over a 12 inch log, handle rocks of the same size, squeeze through gaps only inches wide and navigate sharp turns in singletrack trails. That is the fun in riding a mountain bike, just like it is fun on skis to do a slope at your upper level, a rock climb that stretches you to the limit, or a hard free-cell game on your computer.

    In addition, a mountain bike is not comfortable when ridden on roads. The single hand position quickly gets tiring and the upright position puts a lot of weight on your butt, which quickly becomes sore. A better choice is a cyclo-cross bike, the road bike geometry and handlebars are more comfortable.

    There, having ranted and raved, I do agree that many people purchase inexpensive mountain bikes to ride on roads, and have great fun doing so. I would say, however, that they are riding recreationally but not mountain biking.

    The worry about mountain bike causing trail damage is really a non issue, I don’t believe they cause more than other users. Except for the far northern portion of the park, I think I have ridden every trail in the Wild Forest(WF) areas in the park. Doing so I have not seen a single instance of trail damage done by a bike. The problems of the trails in the park, at least the Wild Forest classified areas, are drainage, ATV’s and snowmobiles. These problems dwarf anything a mountain bike can do.

    Several readers have expressed concern about bikes going fast. This usually occurs because the trail/road is not properly designed for riding. For mountain biking, a well designed trail is narrow, has many turns and short sight distances. The result is that the riders go at about the same speed as the other users, so there are few conflicts. As a demonstration of what I have said in this and the preceding paragraph, we have a 4.25 mile mountain bike trail on a 135 acre farm outside Troy. Occasionally we have time trial races on it. The time record, set by two pro riders, is just under 30 minutes, or an average speed of about 8 mi/hr. The normal rider probably goes about 6 mi/hr. Those speeds cause few problems. My rough estimate is that riders have done 5000 laps on the trail. It does show some wear, but nothing disastrous. Of course it gets regular maintenance and was designed to avoid drainage problems.

    The discussion here about land classification and the SLMP is very informative. As mentioned, the prohibition of bikes in the Wilderness is really just an accident. Unfortunately, the SLMP is epoxied into the state constitution, and it would take a constitutional convention to change it. For various reasons, that is just not going to happen. So we are stuck with it. One bad thing the prohibition does is restrict mountain biking to the southern part of the park, since that is where the big Wild Forest areas are. The other is that causes most of the mountain bike riding to be on snowmobile trails, which are generally a wet disaster in the summer. That really diminishes the popularity of mountain biking in the park. There are some good trails – my favorites are the hiking trails in the Lake George Wild Forest, on which snowmobiles are not allowed.

    The discussion about a classification between Wilderness and Wild Forest is certainly good, I believe it is being Backcountry. However, I worry that the land classifications are specified in the SLMP, and again a change would require a state convention.

    So, as a mountain biker, what would my wish be for the classification of the Essex lakes area. I have not ridden the roads there, but have examined them on the aerial photography. They look pretty “road like,” and I doubt they add any mountain bike opportunity to the park. So I don’t care too much one way or the other. If it would be possible to construct some good mountain bike trails in the parcel then I would be for the Wild Forest classification (a properly designed mountain bike trail would also be a good hiking trail). Leaving that aside, my decision would probably be based on snowmobile access (have I mentioned I hate snowmobiles). If the land was classified Wild Forest and snowmobiles were allowed in I would be hesitant to support the WF classification. If it could be classified WF but snowmobiles were not allowed that would have my support. At least there would be some riding opportunities, even if they were not what I call mountain biking.

    There is another possibility about the roads. If the land was classified WF and the roads were allowed to degrade to the point where a jeep could barely drive on them, they would become great for bike riding. That would be sweet, and would have my enthusiastic support!

    My original park mountain bike guide, which had 25 rides in it, went out of print a few years ago. I have updated it and it now has like 37 rides. It is now available free as a pdf document at Download and ride. I also want all the state and park agencies to know about it, please tell all your friends.

    • Charles Tastensen says:

      Thank you Gary. I’ll be sure to take advantage of some of your rides. And I’d be lucky to maintain 8 mph on my MTB!

    • Nature says:

      So will the real Mountain biker please stand up? I have read here (from two posters) that mountain bikers do not like dirt roads. I realize that many riders like single track but does anyone like double track (essentially dirt roads)? while there is plenty of nice single track out west, there are also a lot of old mining roads and forest service roads that a lot of people mountain bike on. Does anyone do this in the east? I am not familiar with the roads in the Essex Chain area but wouldn’t these make good family friendly rides? would they make long distance rides possible (riding from Indian Lake to Newcomb was mentioned above)? Would anyone want to ride this far? Would these roads make good trunk trails leading to single track loops? If not, then no one needs to worry about reclassifying the Whitney Wilderness, or some of the other proposals mentioned above.

      • Charles Tastensen says:

        I’m not sure who can define what a “real” MTBer is. The sport has split into so many genres today. Downhill, All Mountain and Cross Country to name a few. I can speak for myself though. I’m a 45 yr old father of 3 young children. I’ve been an avid cyclist my entire life and avid MTBer since 1989. Single track is the preferred trail of choice for me. Double track will do for a winter fatbike ride or to do a family ride with the wife and kids because of its lack of challenge but for riders of intermediate skill and above, it’s single track or nothing. The more turns and obstacles you can navigate through and over along with an abundance of elevation changes, the better. We’re not looking to tear up trails, terrorize hikers, litter, cause fires or “go 60mph on a decent(sic)”. We’re just looking to challenge ourselves, to improve our skills, to increase our fitness, and have an enjoyable experience in the beautiful outdoors while doing so. Many riders, including myself, practice Trail Advocacy and belong to organizations such as SMBA, whose members improve and maintain the 20+ mile network of trails on which we ride on in Saratoga Springs. This work prevents erosion and instills a sense of pride and community amongst those involved as well as educating fellow riders in the area of trail sustenance. I’m not sure if this fits the definition of “Gonzo”, as I don’t believe Hunter was a cyclist 😉 but this is the way many and more choose how to spend their time outdoors and judgmental attitudes based on ignorance have no place in discussions on how best to use land which was purchased with hikers, canoeists, birders, as well as cyclist’s tax dollars.

      • Matt says:

        This is like asking: “Will all the real skiers please stand up”
        The activity is just too diverse to nail down easily.

  24. Jan Hansen says:

    Anyone who has hiked in the High Peaks area knows what the effect of millions of footsteps do to trail surfaces. I rarely hike those areas due to the crowding and generally poor trail conditions. Mountain bike riders do have an impact on trails, however, riding a bike on a road is not going to damage it. There shouldn’t be the same impact on those roads and areas simply because there won’t be the same numbers of users in those areas
    Mountain bikers would and do bring a positive economic effects to the Adirondacks. Look at the annual Black Fly Challenge as an example.
    With the exception of snowmobiles, I can see banning motorized vehicles. The Essex Chain of Lakes area should be kept open for Mt bike use as well as the Boreas Ponds access area. This just makes good sense. Economic and otherwise.

  25. Mike says:

    I can tell there is only one real mountain biker in this chain of comments. We have almost no interest in dirt/stone/gravel roads. Nor do we have any interest in most of the worn out hiking trails already in place in the Dacks. We would have interest in developing some of the Wild Forest areas for joint use bike/hike trails similar to what has been started in the Wilmington region. For better or worse, truth is the Dacks have little appeal in the growing sport of mountain biking. We take our mountain biking money to destinations in VT, PA, and elsewhere. It’s a great sport for getting a few more of our ever-fattening youth outside. And it’s a shame that a park larger than several of our largest national parks put together can’t support a great, growing, and arguably necessary outside sport like mountain biking.

  26. Paul says:

    “And it’s a shame that a park larger than several of our largest national parks put together can’t support a great, growing, and arguably necessary outside sport like mountain biking.”

    This is an excellent point. If we continue to focus on hiking as the key activity for the park in the future (most designations are going from “something” to Wilderness almost never in any other direction) it will be a great place to hike but not any kind of economic engine as some describe.

  27. Larry McGory says:

    I don’t particularly enjoy riding a bike on backcountry trails – I’d much rather be on foot or ski – a bike moves too fast to really appreciate the place you’re in. However, I do on occasion like to take my bike into the backcountry to get myself to a starting point for hiking that I couldn’t otherwise make in a day trip. I could picture designating certain trails in Wilderness areas as access trails where a bike could be used to get one to a starting point deeper into the wilderness. I dislike rutted trails as much as anyone, but many of these approach routes are on old roads and tracks and can withstand the small amount of bike traffic that would result.

  28. Phil Brown says:

    Mike, as the originator of this thread I admit that I am not a mountain biker. I get that avid cyclists are not interested in riding on old woods roads, but I think many people, such as those with kids, would be.If a family were staying in Long Lake, say, the trail networks near the Essex Chain and Little Tupper would be destinations that could be promoted by tourism officials.Ideally, the Park would offer a broad range of mountain-bike opportunities, ranging from gravel roads to gnarly single-track.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:


      Bottom line to my long statements above:

      Your proposal is based on an incorrect assumption about the philosophy behind designated Wilderness, as summarized in these statements:

      “The State Land Master Plan does not explain why mountain bikes are banned in Wilderness Areas, but I suppose it’s largely for aesthetic reasons: they leave tracks, they go fast.”


      ” … a snowmobile is a motorized vehicle. A case can be made for bikes in the Wilderness: they are quiet, non-polluting, muscle-powered, and don’t go 50 mph.”

      According to this line of reasoning, activities are permitted (or not permitted) in Wilderness based on their perceived environmental impact. A muscle-powered sport that keeps under some arbitrary speed threshold is compatible with other Wilderness activities, such as hiking and skiing, whereas other forms of access are disqualified because of tailpipes and potential speeds.

      The problem is that when the Wilderness designation was conceived and developed, the primary criteria for recreational activities was NOT environmental impact. The intent was to preserve places where people could engage in traditional forms of access, not necessarily ones that left no footprints (or hoofprints). If Lewis and Clark had bicycled their way to the Pacific Ocean, then the situation might be different. But in early Wilderness literature you see time and again references to the fear that modernity would eclipse the arts of paddling, skiing, horsepacking, etc. if sufficient spaces weren’t left preserved so that these activities could be pursued without competition from “mechanized access.” This line of reasoning is well documented in a wealth of literature from Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” all the way up to the writings of Howard Zahniser. I consider this basic information that anyone with a serious interest in wilderness management and philosphy can easily access and enjoy. I had a voracious appetite for it myself when I first took an interest in the outdoors.

      Therefore as simple and benign as your proposal seems, it would involve a fundamental shift in the guiding philosophies behind Wilderness. Instead of preserving opportunities for traditional recreation, we are now measuring decibels and the width of tire tacks to determine if an activity is acceptable or not. This would be completely missing the point.

      Which is not to say that biking is a “bad” activity, just that it definitively fails to meet Wilderness criteria. If there is a substantial public desire for bike access in a motorless setting, then I maintain that the best solution is to create a new land classification that reflects this reasoning and provides clear guidance on how human activities should be managed in such areas in the future.

      • Pete Nelson says:

        Bill: I look forward to taking up this additional classification idea myself.

        But a challenge for now: the statements by Phil you quoted sound to me as though he is not making a false assumption, but in fact working from the same idea of wilderness as the people who developed the designation. He did, after all, use the word “aesthetic.” If the intent was to preserve traditional forms of access surely this is a matter of aesthetics, not some arbitrary imperative to ape previous behaviors. I don’t eschew GPS because I want to imitate Old Mountain Phelps; I eschew it because it violates my wilderness aesthetic, and I think for very defendable reasons.

        To make an example of Bob Marshall, he was obviously motivated by aesthetics.

        If we accept the idea of a wilderness aesthetic then your use of the word “traditional” is a little troubling. I can think of all kinds of differences between Bob Marshall’s “traditional” way of going into the woods and today’s way that violates his traditions but meets or improves any reasonable wilderness aesthetic. Two obvious examples are Bob’s regular use of fires, verboten these days in the High Peaks for excellent reasons, and bear canisters.

        In other words, the aesthetic is a moving and evolving thing and cannot be judged based upon what is traditional. Whether mountain bikes violate that aesthetic is debatable and not, I think , definitive.

        • Bill Ingersoll says:

          You’re implying a vagueness behind the wilderness concept where none exists.

          The point I’m making is that from a recreational point of view, the original writers & thinkers **explicitly** referred to “modes of travel” multiple times. This was the defining element of what made Wilderness recreation distinct from all others. There was nothing left to doubt about what “modes of travel” were acceptable, and which were not. They extolled the traditional activities, feared the “modern” and the “mechanical.” And this line of thinking can be traced all the way forward to the 1964 Wilderness Act and the SLMP. It’s all there in writing. Read the sources that I have cited. I am not opinionating — I am summarizing the well documented historical record of why Wilderness is the way it is today. None of this happened by accident.

          It is quite probable that all of these early writers would have been dismayed to learn that in 2013 it would be possible (and quite easy) to place a phone call from a mountain summit; but they never anticipated this scenario, never wrote about it, and therefore neither the Wilderness Act nor the SLMP address the topic of wireless communication. Some people might find the use of electronics in the backcountry objectionable on aesthetic, others won’t even think twice about it. That’s the type of subject that could be argued ad nauseum, because there is no firm guidance, and it all comes down to personal opinion.

          But since bicycles are a “mode of travel,” it is factually incorrect statement that they might have been banned for aesthetic reasons. Bikes are not allowed in Wilderness because Wilderness is intended for traditional modes of transportation.

  29. Charlie says:

    Jan Hansen says:
    “Mountain bike riders do have an impact on trails, however, riding a bike on a road is not going to damage it.”

    Mountain bikes,or any bikes,do a lot of damage in woods as i have bore witness to.I’m not anti biking as much as i’m pro preservation.If bikes start utilizing trails in the Adirondacks there will be damage.

  30. Peter says:

    It’s interesting to note the basic assumptions that are made in this thread about wilderness and nature. Consistently, it’s about human access, and human use: for snow mobilers, hikers, paddlers, Mountain bikers, ATVers, etc. And every time I read such things, I am thankful for Wilderness Classification, the State Constitution, and the original vision of the founders of the Adirondack Park.

    It’s not all about us. We don’t need to “enjoy” it more. We don’t need “easier access.” We don’t need to be everywhere on the planet. Lakes and ponds don’t have to be accessible to be lakes and ponds. There is roughly three million acres of private land and untold tracts of Wild Forest for us to access because we live in an era that has the abundance to give us the apparent need to go out and play.

    From my own perspective, the more wilderness the better. The more places without access the better. Imagine Lake George without a house on it, the Cascade Lakes without Route 73, the Saranacs without the litter of shoreline houses. But right now the current mantra seems to be about economic development. Hopefully, it will swing back towards conservation in the upcoming years, and I hope that those in charge can take the responsible approach and protect these new properties for the next 1000+ years from all of our perceived needs to “enjoy” them more.

  31. Frank says:

    All this talk lately about promoting tourism but you don’t want to have trails for people who want to come. Doesn’t that seem odd to anyone else ?

    • Paul says:

      Frank, the idea of promoting tourism is to convince local folks that putting the land into the states hands is a good idea. Once it is there all bets are off. Welocome to the Adirondacks.

  32. Phil Brown says:

    Bill, Marshall and like-minded conservationists were concerned primarily about the encroachment of roads and motor vehicles into the wilderness. The sport of mountain biking as we know it didn’t exist, so I don’t think it was on their radar. What is “mechanical”? Does it include horse-drawn wagons? If so, why are they allowed but not bicycles? As I have said, I am not advocating for bikes in Wilderness, but I think it’s worth talking about. If they do no damage and don’t bother hikers, the only objection seems to be that they would violate a notion of Wilderness developed before mountain biking had developed. Should we ban them simply because they were not “traditional” in the time of Lewis and Clark? If you go back far enough, horses were not traditional in America either.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      At the federal level, yes, wagons are banned. So are canoe carts, wheeled coolers, and hang gliders, for that matter.

      Wagons are allowed in the Adirondacks under the SLMP because they were “traditionally” being used in certain areas, such as the western High Peaks and Siamese Ponds, before the SLMP ever existed. Out west, they use pack strings to accomplish much the same purpose.

      And if you need to ask what is “mechanical”…

      All I’m saying is that yes, while we could argue whether some modern backcountry conveniences like GPS units, cell phones, plastic skis, ultralight canoes, internal frame packs, freeze-dried dinners, and Gore-Tex hiking boots place pressures on the Wilderness resource that were never dreamed of in 1930 …

      … the topic you have broached falls under the one category for which there is a clear provenance. Your argument depends on a vagary in the history of designated Wilderness that does not exist. **Read the sources that I have cited.** Maybe mountain biking as a sport wasn’t much of a wilderness threat in 1930, but bicycles certainly existed, and were in fact very common. So were abandoned logging roads, upon which the bikes of the day could’ve been ridden.

      Therefore when bicycle use was addressed in the SLMP, it was almost certainly not a decision that was picked out of a hat. If you can produce an early APA staff member who can cite a different line of reasoning behind why bikes are not allowed in Wilderness, well then that will be an interesting bit of information to ponder. But until then — and with all due respect — your proposal hinges on an opinion of the SLMP that does not seem to be supported by the historical record. Therefore, carrying out your proposal would result in a fundamental shift of what a designated Wilderness is intended to be.

      Which gets back to my comments above about whether the “wild” part of “wilderness” is relative to culture. So are you suggesting that each generation should have the right to renegotiate what “wilderness” is? That it was unfair for Bob Marshall (as a scapegoat) to impose on us a ban on mountain bikes? What was good for his generation isn’t working for us? Or do you think that if we were to allow bicycles in wilderness now, then that would be it — the book would be closed, the SLMP engraved in stone, the question forever settled? Just curious.

      • Pete Nelson says:


        Now you are getting to the hard part: is the definition of wilderness relative to culture? I wrote a whole series of Dispatches some months ago on this very question: what we mean by wilderness, whether there it was possible to agree upon a definition.

        My own view is that while it would be folly to say that there is one absolute, objective definition of wilderness, it is equally folly to say that it is entirely subjective. To suggest that it is merely a matter of opinion is a cop out. Philosophically – and practically – I think we can say that there are essential things about wilderness. We don’t need to adopt either extreme. Just as there are essential things about democracy or essential things about a soufflé, there are essential things about wilderness.

        Further, I think people would agree on most of those essentials. In fact I happen to think that the 1964 definition is very good on that basis. Therefore while the definition of wilderness will adapt over time, it is hardly necessary to “renegotiate” the whole thing (interesting word you chose).

        The issue then becomes what is essential. Is the idea of “untrammeled” essential? I think it is. Is the absence of electronic devices essential? I don’t like them but I think not. Is the absence of motorized vehicles essential? I should hope so.

        The pertinent question in this posting and all the comments is whether a restriction in favor of “traditional modes of travel” is essential and if so whether bicycles fail to make the cut because they are not traditional?

        I don’t doubt you are expert in your sources – I have not read “The People’s Forest.” But I have read Marshall extensively as well as Leopold and others and it is unquestionable that they supported a wilderness aesthetic intrinsic to wild places themselves. As to man’s place in it, it is clear to me that Marshall had what I might describe as a “primitive man” aesthetic, that “traditional ways of doing things” was for him an idea deeply resonant with the primitive, with ancient calls, with long history of people in the frontier, with the romance – in a broad sense – of human beings the wild. No wonder anything with a wheel bothered him. Yet these aesthetics go far beyond mere questions of recreation, as does that 1964 definition.

        So while we honor Marshall and more importantly honor the vision of protecting what is essential about wilderness, I continue to think that “traditional modes of transportation” is a tough place to argue that something essential is being protected. In 1930 downhill skis were all but unknown in the Adirondacks. They could hardly be called a traditional mode of transportation. A pair of skis and poles are decidedly mechanical. Downhill skiing can cause damage. Downhill skiers move fast. Would we ban downhill skis from the Adirondacks? Or would we say they make the cut because – with all due respect – Bob Marshall was focused on wheels and therefore that’s what is essential about the definition?

        • Bill Ingersoll says:


          Well, actually, I got to that question several posts ago.

          It’s wonderfull that you’ve been blogging on this subject, but nothing that has been discussed here is a new concept. You’re dealing in opinion, but this really a question about a certain specie of public policy called the Wilderness Area. Let’s not draw in an off-subject issue like downhill skiing, because Gore and Whiteface were both specifically authorized by the state constitution; and at any rate I’ve already pointed out that speed and impact were NOT the criteria being considered for Wilderness. If you are going to challenge me posts, I would appreciate if you would at least read them. 😉

          In the Adirondacks, the Wilderness Area became a tangible policy in the first State Land Master Plan in 1972, but before that it existed as a proposal in several study commissions dating back to the 1950s — predating the federal law. From the beginning, the ban on BOTH motorized AND mechanized transportation was a key aspect. And as I mentioned, the reasoning behind this can be traced all the way back to the people — National Forest Service professionals — who first advanced the Wilderness idea in the 1920s and 1930s.

          So my point is, your perfectly valid opinions notwithstanding, the policy on bikes in Wilderness was not the result of a coin toss. It is just that, part of a policy with a clear lineage of discussion, debate, and public input going back decades. If this is incompatible with anyone’s notion of Wilderness being a squishy, undefinable concept, I don’t know what to say. The reality is that as far as the Adirondacks are concerned, Wilderness has a very clear definition that takes up over 6 pages of the current edition of the SLMP. So while you’re telling me about this being a “tough place to argue,” I can tell you that “All terrain bicycles” is a subject that warrants its own heading within this legal definition of Wilderness, for the reasons I’ve already outlined.

          • Pete Nelson says:


            Just a couple clarifications.

            Me pointing out that you are getting to the hard part – what we mean by wilderness – has nothing to whether or not you got to it several posts ago. Despite your smiley face I have read and reread (and very much enjoyed) all your posts, Bill. It’s still the hard part, as you very well lay out a few comments down.

            Just to be clear my mention of downhill skiing was not about Whiteface or Gore, but about skiing in the back country. Nor was my mention of speed or impact meant to be ignorant of what you already said but rather a comparison to what is debated about bicycles. Whether one claims that debate has anything to do with the definition of wilderness or not, whether one thinks it should be germane or not, it is in real terms of the discussions about mountain biking.

            The one thing I find a little bit disingenuous about your commentary is your claim that human impact has nothing to do with the definition Marshall and others created. To the contrary human impact was a cornerstone. Here’s Marshall: “For me, and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.” This sentence, as representative of him as any, has the wilderness aesthetic, the primitive man aesthetic and the desire to escape the mechanistic world all at once. They are inseparable. None of what he desires is possible regardless of questions of mechanization if the human impact on an area destroys his independence, his solitude and his “undefiled panoramas.” I don’t know how human impact can be subservient to modes of recreation as “traditional.”

            In any case I agree with you on the larger questions right down the line. I think you are right that the Wilderness designation is being treated more as something to get around than to cherish. I agree that the various compromises and exceptions eat away at the margins. I think a different level of classification, as expansive as that of wilderness but allowing other forms of recreation and/or certain structures, is a fabulous idea.

  33. Phil Brown says:

    Bill, again, playing devil’s advocate, I am simply arguing that there may be places in our designated Wilderness Areas that may be appropriate for bicycles–places that could withstand the abuse and where cyclists would not disturb hikers. Your point is that conservationists of the early to mid-20th century would not approve. Does that end the discussion?

    • Bill Ingersoll says:


      And likewise, playing devil’s advocate, I am suggesting that your question is simplifying the issue. There are no places in designated Wilderness Areas appropriate for bicycles, because by the definition handed down to us the two are mutually exclusive. Trail suitability is irrelevant. If the area has been designated Wilderness, then the management goal is to promote “primtive” recreation via non-mechanized forms of access. This question was settled long ago.

      So what you are really asking, when placed within the context of the history I outlined above, is whether we want to change part of how Wilderness is defined.

      I appreciate the back-and-forth and intend nothing personal by my rebuttals. It’s all in the sake of a healthy discussion … and it’s rare that I pass up one on the nature of Wilderness.

      And if I may tout my own credentials: I have served on the conservation committees of two of the major Adirondack advocacy groups (I still actively serve one one); I have been acknowledged by name in at least 2 UMPs; I have been invited to several meetings with DEC and APA staff regarding state land management issues, including one in Ray Brook that I arranged to formally introduce my Cotton Lake proposal; I was told by an APA staffer that the designation of the Little Moose Mountain Wilderness in 2010 was partly my fault (long story, that); when I submit an opinion letter to a regional publication, I often get op-ed placement; and, yes, I’ve produced a few books on wilderness recreation.

      None of which makes me an authority by any means, but I at least like to humor myself that I have some cedibility on this kind of subject matter.

      Thank you.

  34. Phil says:

    Bill, I know your credentials. You are as knowledgeable as anyone to speak to these matters, as you have demonstrated here. I concede that Bob Marshall et alia would not be in favor of allowing bikes in a designated Wilderness. Still, it’s worth asking whether the anti-bike rule has to be so rigid. If you approach the question from a Utilitarian perspective–what action will produce the greatest pleasure for our miserable species–I would argue that allowing bikes in places where they would not damage the environment and where they would not bother hikers is something that could give many people pleasure while harming no one, except perhaps those who might be offended in an abstract way by a change in policy. I don’t think it would require a change in the definition of Wilderness, as it appears in the SLMP. but it would require a change in the guidelines for managing Wilderness. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say the change in policy is tantamount to a change in the definition. If no one is harmed by the change in definition and if the environment is not harmed, and if the change may benefit many people and the economy, what is the argument against the change–besides the fact that it goes against tradition? All I am doing is asking that question. In some of your comments, I get the impression you think I have taken sides. I have not, but I do think cyclists of today deserve as much of a hearing as the conservationists of yesterday.

  35. Al says:

    Bill, would you be so kind as to explain the legal and practical differences between your proposed new classification and the current (underused?) “Primitive” classification? (or is it simply a matter of how Primitive is currently applied?)

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      Basically, “primitive” is intended to be one of two things:

      (1) a temporary designation for a parcel of land that will someday be reclassified as Wilderness, once some lingering non-conforming use (such as a private ROW) is no longer needed; or

      (2) a parcel that has some Wilderness characteristics, but may be too small, or contain some structure that will probably never be removed.

      My issue with it is that ot comes with no solid guidance. There are numerous small Primitive Areas, but no two are alike. Some you can bike, some you can drive, some you can do neither.

      Also, the name “Primitive” is a little too abstract I think.

      The name “Backcountry” is a little catchier I think, and like “Wilderness” it sounds like an area I would want to explore. State officials get praised whenever they designate Wilderness Areas, so the new designation would have to be set up with similar panache.

      My personal thoughts on what should be included in Backcountry Areas:

      1) Bike access to all suitable trails.

      2) Fire towers — preferably without communication equipment attached.

      3) Float planes where they already legally go.

      4) Snowmobiles — none. The new Finch Pruyn lands were laid out so snowmobile corridors could be routed along the periphery, so there should be no impact here.

      5) Roads/motorized access — none. But CP3 access for the disabled might be worth investigating; this is the permit program that currently allows motorized access to certain Wild Forest trails. My understanding is that many of the existing facilities are underutilized.

      6) Horses — they are allowed in Wilderness, so they would be perfectly acceptable here.

      7) Size — at least 10,000 contiguous acres, the same as Wilderness. These should be sizeable areas that also preserve natural landscapes and opportunities for solitude, but with more latitude when it comes to recreational use. This latitude will be enabled by the road networks left over from the past logging activities.

      These are just some ideas, some of which could no doubt be improved as the details are hashed out.

      • Al says:

        Bill, thank you for the explanation.

        I appreciate your idea of creating a “Backcountry” (BC) classification, and yes it does sound more attractive than primitive. So the main advantage would be constitutional protection of the tract of land vs. UMP management objectives (more uniform and robust protections).

        Perhaps you can comment on the logistics of it. Wouldn’t a new classification require reopening SLMP and/or a constitutional amendment? Would that process make it impossible/impractical to apply BC classification to Essex tract due to time constraints on classifying new acquisitions & length and complexity of creating new BC classification?
        Can the state (APA & DEC) apply a Primitive
        designation to a larger tract (like Essex Chain) to preserve MTB access or would they have to use “Canoe” or Wild Forest?
        Do you think (the inevitable) opposition of reclassifying a Wilderness area (such as Whitney) to a less restrictive Backcountry could be a major obstacle?

        • Bill Ingersoll says:


          All of the Forest Preserve is protected by the state constitution, so that regardless of the designation none of it can be logged, sold, etc.

          The SLMP is additional to the “forever wild” clause and does not require an amendment. It is “owned” by the Adirondack Park Agency, and is approved by the governor.

          The process to create a new Backcountry designation would be identical to the one that Phil suggested, changing the definition of Wilderness to allow bicycle use. The APA would have to begin a revision process, a proposed text would be issued for review, there would be a public comment period, and of course lots of debate.

          With a new classification we would of course need to pinpoint exactly what would be included, and then it would applied to actual tracts of land. Eventually maps would need to be updated.

          Changing the Wilderness guidelines would still require a SLMP revision and involve the same steps, except for the map amendments.

          SLMP revisions do not occur often; the last time was 1987. It has been updated a few times to reflect land acquisitions, but the meat of the document has not changed in 25 years.

          The Primitive and Canoe designations wouldn’t work for the Essex Chain; Primitive is intended for lands that will eventually be promoted to Wilderness, and in Canoe Areas bikes can only be used on truck trails.

          The DEC’s proposal is to use a mishmash of Wilderness, Wild Forest, and a “special management area” to effectively manufacture a hybrid designation. In my opinion this would be very confusing for most visitors because the allowable activities would change depending on which of the three designations you happened to be standing in. “Special management areas” are essentially a “wild card” that doesn’t really carry any specific guidance, and DEC has been using them for a variety of purposes.

          Do I think there would be opposition to creating a new designation, or applying to places like Whitney? Of course! Nothing ever comes easy in the Adirondacks, and I suspect the conservation groups would be wary of any changes to the SLMP. On the other hand, this could also be an opportunity for someone to make a legacy statement, to leave a mark on the Adirondack map in a way that hasn’t been possible in over 40 years.

          Reclassifying Whitney from Wilderness to Backountry might be seen as a “demotion,” which would seem to contradict my statements from last night about not wanting to roll back Forest Preserve safeguards. However, with the Essex Chain and the Hudson Gorge there is also some adjacent Wild Forest lands that could easily be included — and this would be a “promotion.” It would be possible to implement the Backcountry designation in a parkwide package that included some Wilderness additions as well, so that overall there would be a net benefit to the Forest Preserve.

          But all of this is quite ambitious. I guess the first step is to broach the idea with the APA, and then see what support there would be for it.

  36. Bill Ingersoll says:


    It’s not so much that I think you’ve taken sides, as it is that I’m concerned the editor of the Adirondack Explorer doesn’t see the harm behind the question.

    You’re framing the issue at its simplest level, almost as a straw vote on who does or does not like bikes. I agree 100% that biking is a benign sport and should have a place in the Forest Preserve. But the motivation that a person would have to bike an old logging road is to get somewhere faster and with less effort. I know, because the people I know personally who are most in favor of bike access — who practically see it as their right — give me these very same reasons.

    However, this is completely at odds with the conditions that Wilderness is intended to provide. The ban on motorized AND mechanized transportation has been an integral part of the Wilderness definition even as far back as the study commission reports that led up to the SLMP.

    As far as your hypothetical situation:

    “For the sake of argument, though, let’s say the change in policy is tantamount to a change in the definition. If no one is harmed by the change in definition and if the environment is not harmed, and if the change may benefit many people and the economy, what is the argument against the change–besides the fact that it goes against tradition?”

    I thought I had already addressed this, that built into this situation is the assumption that “wildness” is relative. As society’s comfort with technology increases, the definition of “primitive recreation” is dragged forward with it. The underlying assumption behind Wilderness recreation is changed from non-motorized/non-mechanical (with opportunities for solitude) to pleasing the most amount of people without offending anyone, as well as to what extent a recreational device “leaves a trace.” Rhetorically your question may seem very basic, but this doesn’t change the fact that allowing bikes would be a policy shift — one that is completely unnecessary, because I have yet to meet someone who could pedal a bike but couldn’t go for a walk.

    Again I will refer you to Marshall and Leopold, the same books I already mentioned. Both authors recognized that Wilderness would NOT have mass appeal. You are asking whether it should. I am troubled by that, because it gets at the heart at why I love Wilderness, why I choose to live so near it, why I have spent 965 days of the last 14 years of my life (yes, I keep count) within the designated Wilderness Areas of the Adirondack Park. It does not have mass appeal, it exists for its own sake, and god is it gorgeous. Anyone who is motivated can enjoy any of the experiences that I have enjoyed. Why fix something that’s not broken?

    At the very least, from a policy persepctive, I would advocate that our state Wilderness should never be held to any less of a standard — or to a different standard — than the Federal law, although yes there are already some subtle differences. New York was the leader in Wilderness preservation and served as the inspiration for the Wilderness Act.

    Which is why I suggest that it would be a much bolder and more definitive action to create the new Backcountry designation and apply it to the places where clearly the Wilderness designation isn’t the best fit. In my opinion these are the places I listed above. In addition to bikes we could clear up a few lingering issues about fire towers and whatnot.

    Because I see the alternative suggestion — the one implied in your question — as almost unspeakable. If you read the history of the Adirondacks, and especially the part from 1885 forward, it is a story of a people taking control of a special region and gradually **increasing** its wildness. First the Forest Preserve is created, then it is given constitutional protection. The commission put in charge of the Preserve daydreams about being able to log it, only to be replaced by a one-term governor (who also happened to be a forester) with the stronger Conservation Department. Legal challenges to the Preserve’s status for the most part only serve to strengthen its protection. Amendments to the constitution are kept narrow in focus. The Preserve is expanded, from just a few thousand acres at its inception to millions of acres within a couple generations. Recreational abuses such as tent platforms are eliminated. It is zoned in such a way that slightly less than half of it falls within the highly esteemed Wilderness classification, far above any other state in the crowded Northeast.

    Now enter the current generation of stewards, which at times strike as being far too complacent with this rich legacy that we have inhereted, too unimpressed with the courage and foresight it took to get us here, and a little too eager to be the first generation in the history of the Park to **roll back** more Forest Preserve safeguards than are implemented.

    For instance, whereas fire towers were once seen as derelicts, they are now symbols of nostalgia. State land staffers at the APA were steamrolled a couple years over the Hurricane Mountain issue. We now have the Swiss cheese solution in effect there, which I am supposed to believe is innovation at work. Ditto for a couple other sites.

    One of the major conservation groups wants the state to sell 200 acres of the Jay Mountain Wilderness to a mining company, and the executive director of this organization assures the membership the money is too good to pass up — ten times the assessed value.

    Another of the major groups puts forth a Wilderness proposal for the Essex Chain that comes complete with interior road access. So I guess all that stuff we heard before about “no material increase” was just hooplah, huh?

    The APA designates a Wild Forest corridor through a Wilderness Area without the opportunity for public comment, and in fact contrary to the plan that was previously put forth for review. It does garner a few negative comments that add up to a “meh”.

    More Wilderness acreage is designated than really qualifies. Someone (me) has to point out to the APA when they propose to add Hitchins Pond to the Five Ponds Wilderness that their own SLMP makes the best argument anyone could make why this should never happen. Still, every Wilderness designation from the last 13 years, at least, carries with it some exception — usually a corridor of some kind — which should suggest that the land in question probably should be classified something else. How many people realize, for instance, that both Lake Lila and Little Tupper Lake have riparian rights that allow certain private individuals to operate motorboats on these “motorless” lakes?

    Anyway, what I see in all of these examples is a pattern that people feel constrained by policies that a previous generation of conservationists considered a proud achievement, and have been looking for inventive ways to get around them, if not flatly ignore them. I should emphasize that my focus is state land issues, and that I realize not all policies are perfect and many could be improved.

    But when the editor of a major regional magazine suggests easing a long-standing component of the Wilderness designation as an **improvement** that might make more people happy, I can’t help but be alarmed. Why? Because it tells me that people aren’t taking all this seriously anymore, that we enjoy all of these safeguards only until they get in the way of our weekend plans.

  37. Phil says:

    Bill, I am suggesting nothing, merely posing questions. I don’t think this is anything to be alarmed about. I take it you would be fine with classifying the Little Tupper area Backcountry and allowing bikes on certain trails. The other alternative is to relax Wilderness guidelines to allow bikes on trails where warranted. The practical consequences apparently would be the same: bikes on old logging roads that now see little use. However, if the Backcountry classification is less restrictive in other ways, the land would be less protected under your scenario. The up side is that the Wilderness definition is preserved.

    Anyway, I don’t expect DEC or APA will adopt either proposal soon, and besides the avid bikers have no interest in logging roads. So here’s to the status quo. I appreciate your historical analysis.

  38. Bill Ingersoll says:

    Yes, I would much prefer to reclassify Whitney than to relax anything. I’ve spent many days exploring that tract, and as much as I love it I have always thought that it was more than Wild Forest but less than Wilderness. I have been looking at aerial photographs of the Essex Chain property, and I see many of the same qualities.

    As for bike riders, I’ve seen the comments above too. I guess some are content with the type of trails found up in Wilmington (which could probably be replicated in lots of other Wild Forests, if there was really that much demand) and there are others like the ones I know, who would jump at the opportunity to bike Whitney or the Essex Chain. For the second group it’s all about access.

    • Teresa DeSantis says:

      To Bill Ingersoll and also Pete Nelson,

      Hello guys! Did you want to make a map with your ideas on it- re reclassification and such? I’ve got enough information now to make an outline map of the whole kit- and kaboodle- you could draw out your ideas, and maybe we can get the Almanack to post them, and then we can all discuss. Something to that effect. I can make it look really nice and presentable. Let me know if you guys are interested.

      Teresa the Cartographer

    • Matt says:

      There is a tremendous amount of demand for more high quality singletrack mountain biking opportunities, and there has been for many years(especially like what is in Wilmington)- look into it if you are even the least bit skeptical about that statement. We are missing a huge opportunity every day we don’t take mountain biking seriously and support it. Our communities need it, the forest preserve can support it, our screen-addicted youth desperately need it, DEC supports it, and I think the political will exists to make it a reality if we can all collectively decide to take some action on the matter instead of getting bogged down with the dead-horse issue(not personal, Phil!) of where it can and can’t be! We know it absolutely can be in Wild Forest, and it needs to be supported there. Huge numbers of New Yorkers and others stand to greatly benefit from more high quality, and interconnected, mountain biking trails in the Adirondacks. It is one of the most popular activities in America, and one of the fastest growing- I’m not exaggerating. This debate over Wilderness access is a distant second to folks discussing how we can get serious about supporting and managing the activity in the places where it IS allowed in the daks. No fault to Phil, it’s a good question and it’s great to debate and all, and we get to talk about Wilderness and all the classic books and all that fun stuff(I’ve read them too, good reads, enjoyed them all) but in the meantime, we are still not effectively managing our forest preserve lands in a way that supports mountain biking as the tremendously popular, positive, and low-impact outdoor pursuit that it is! It’s here to stay, and right now we should be asking ourselves how we can make it the best it can possibly be in the context of the Adirondack Park as it currently exists.
      As for the future, Good luck with the “Backcountry” designation idea.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:


        All I can say from firsthand knowledge is that the people I know who want bike access the most in the Adirondack Forest Preserve are the type of people who would look at a network of logging roads on state land and start daydreaming about all the ponds they could get to much faster on bikes. These individuals are Baby Boomers, all in their late 50s and early 60s, and they see bikes as a way of extending their outdoor pursuits as they age. Their primary interest is access, not riding. Trails like the Wilmington system would be of no use, because they loop through the woods without a destination. The people I know want to go somewhere!

        I offer this not to perpetuate an argument or rebut your statements, but just to suggest that there are multiple reasons why someone would want to ride on state land.

        As far as the Wilmington trails go, my understanding is that they exist because of a groundswell of not just local support, but local usage as well. I am aware of no legal roadblocks that would prevent such trail systems being developed in places like Old Forge or Speculator or Raquette Lake or any other town with ample Wild Forest lands nearby.

        • Matt says:

          You are correct that simply access to a compelling feature is one part of the draw, but it’s much much more than that. Another much larger draw is the pure joy of riding on fun singletrack trails. In this sense, the activity follows the usage pattern of Nordic Skiing, where you can go to a destination with lots of looped trails, and have a great time just skiing around, enjoying the area and the expereince that the trail provides. There is also the longer distance touring aspect, which is where something like the Jackrabbit trail comes into play. What if we had a long distance “touring” singletrack trail for bikers, not unlike the Jackrabbit, that connected multiple great trail networks? That would be a tremendously compelling feature for mountain bikers. I rode my mountain bike probably 75 times last year, almost all locally in the High Peaks region, and never once did I worry about where I was actually going- there is seldom a distict destination. Esentially, I went out and rode around in circles, and it was an absolute joy, as funny as that might sound, and That is what all the other mountain bikers I encountered were doing as well! With very few exceptions, they were all having a great time, I’m happy to report!

  39. Paul says:

    I think that a horse drawn wagon is legal in a Wilderness area. So that is okay but a bike is not??

    One comment above about a bike kicking up a little horse poo… You would never see a comment like that out west!

  40. Rider says:

    All this talk about unused gravel roads being to place where mountain bike are to fit in is just nonsense. This is like saying that the only place that is appropriate for a hiker to walk is on a paved side walk. The whole purpose to going out for a mountain bike is the same as going for a hike, a trail run, a peak ascent or a multi day backing or canoe trip. Its to get out in nature enjoy the scenery, the people you are with and meet along the way, and yes push your own abilities a little further. As a mountain biker and having lived all over the country this always come down to one issue. Established user groups really just don’t want to share the resource. The arguments about what is appropriate levels of user impact in the forest is also untruthful. Is my ride on the trail anywhere near as impactful as a horse with steel horse shoe and the dung they leave. Or how about the camper/hiker who is sleeping out in the forest introducing human food and waste, is that less impactful? Next lets talk about the level of technology introduced by bike vs all the other gear used by other groups. Skis, boats, tents, high tech synthetic clothing, oar locks, paddles, titanium cook wear, plastic plates and bowls, food packaging, cooking fuel. All these things make it possible and comfortable to support modern human travel through the forest. If people really want to improve the condition in wild areas there are better ways of doing it. Lessen the availability of parking areas, set up a permitting program like there is for river runners on the Colorado or Green rivers, Set up scheduled times when various activities are allowed. Now theses suggestions will not be supported by any one including me But what is really going on is just land grab by established groups trying shut out other users they don’t like.

  41. Bill Miner says:

    A couple years ago I was hunting in Downerville State Forest when I came across several hard packed switch backed trails heavily festooned with bright colored ribbons and flags. I thought that I had come across some abandoned festival trappings. It was just bicyclists who felt that they could just take over. What happened to leave nothing behind? My feeling of peaceful remoteness – if only an illusion, was shattered. My experience left me knowing that I would not return.

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