Sunday, February 22, 2015

What Is The ‘Great South Woods’?

Great South Woods AdirondacksIt is not a tourism campaign, or a new branding effort, or a marketing scheme.

It is not the southern portion of St. Lawrence County portrayed by author Peter O’Shea. Nor is it somewhere deep in the Smoky Mountains, or in the longleaf pine forests of Florida and Georgia.

It is the first step of a new effort to take a fresh look at recreation in the Adirondack Park.

What we are calling the Great South Woods is over two million acres – about one-third of the entire Adirondack Park – south of Routes 28 and 28N, west of the Northway (I-87) and Route 9, and north and east of the Blue Line.

It’s a region where two of every three acres is state land; where there are nearly seven square miles of Forest Preserve for every mile of foot trail; and where many recreation points of interest – such as summits, waterfalls, and remote ponds, to name a few – are accessible only by bushwhacking. It is home to very popular roadside camping areas in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, and some of the most heavily traveled snowmobile trails in the North Country. It’s one of five segments of the Adirondack Park – ‘complexes’ where large-scale recreation planning will take place.

What is large-scale planning? It starts with a holistic look at the entire landscape and everything that’s there: ecosystems, human communities, land and water trails, transportation infrastructure, lodgings, tourist destinations, land use classifications, invasive species, zoning regulations, etc. We do this with computer-based maps, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which enable us to consider the ‘big picture’ in a variety of ways and at different scales – local, regional, statewide, etc. By zooming in and out, and adding different layers of information to our maps, with a few mouse clicks we can envision the ‘big picture’ in countless ways.

Land planners and resource managers have been using GIS to aid their work for decades. Like any computing technology however, it’s only as good as the information you put in, and we need better information.

In the Great South Woods, we want to learn how to improve and diversify recreation opportunities, in ways that make better connections between our Forest Preserve and our local communities, and that ensure the protection of natural ecosystems and wild character. To achieve this goal, we have to first shore-up our knowledge of what’s out there. We can’t hope to be holistic if we are missing large amounts of information.

After nearly a decade of providing GIS support for DEC unit management, SUNY-ESF is now facilitating a public process to pull together the information needed for this regional planning effort.

To this end, we are holding a series of workshops around the region, in partnership with the Adirondack Community-based Tourism and Lodging System (ACTLS), led by Jack Drury and Dr. Joe Dadey of Leading E.D.G.E. We held the first of these Great South Woods workshops in Piseco in January.

Our future workshops include:

  • Feb 25th in Old Forge, at the Old Forge Community Library, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
  • March 2nd in Long Lake, at the Long Lake Central School, 6 to 8 pm
  • March 9th in North Creek, at the Tannery Pond Community Center, 6 to 8 pm
  • March 16th in Northville, at the Northville Central School, 6 to 8 pm

To each of these workshops, we bring dozens of large, colorful, and detailed paper maps and ask people to draw on them. The maps are designed for this purpose. Collectively portraying the entire Great South Woods at various scales, our maps include the current trails and other recreation assets from DEC’s database. The maps are a good starting point, but our goal is a much more fleshed-out map and a much more complete GIS inventory for planning and decision-making. Before drawing on the maps, we ask everyone to consider two basic questions:

What exists on the ground but is missing from our maps? This includes trails or recreation assets that might not be part of DEC’s inventory, but we are also seeking input on the locations of ‘recreation destinations’, including natural, cultural, and historic points of interest. In addition to the public, we are gathering data from Forest Rangers as well.

What would you like to see be improved or developed? All ideas are welcome, but we are most interested in ideas that improve access to the Forest Preserve, serve to connect communities and lodgings with recreation networks, and are reasonably consistent with the natural, cultural, and regulatory settings where they occur. Every idea put on our maps will be added to our GIS, but not all will come to fruition. We ask everyone to be creative, but also to be practical.

At the workshops, participants pick up pencils, markers, and sticky notes, and work in small groups around a set of maps, supported by a facilitator and note-taker. We have an easy-to-follow system for providing input and ideas on the maps, so we can efficiently bring them into our GIS for analysis. We are also working to schedule focused info-gathering sessions with our dedicated Forest Rangers, both active and retired, to make sure their encyclopedic knowledge makes it into our planning process.

This is our current phase of work in the Great South Woods. After gathering this information, our ESF team will shift gears to an intensive period of data crunching and mapping. Next, we’ll collaborate with our partners at DEC, APA and ACTLS to generate – and literally ‘map out’ – a draft portfolio of large-scale recreation planning ideas and options. We will then share these with the public to gather additional feedback on priorities, which will inform a set of recommendations for DEC.

I hope you’ll consider joining our Great South Woods effort by attending a workshop, or by sending your ideas (and maps if you have them) to

We’ll work to keep everyone updated as this effort moves forward.

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Dr. Colin Beier is an Associate Professor of Ecology in the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management at SUNY ESF. Dr. Beier is a member of ESF's Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb and an Affiliate Fellow of the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Among other projects in the Adirondack and Northern Forest regions, he leads the SUNY ESF team on the Great South Woods Complex Planning project, funded by NYSDEC.

6 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    i’m looking forward to a much more comprehensive map of the many unmarked trails and places of interest in the Great South Woods… this is a great idea that i hope comes to full fruition.

  2. Jim Leach says:

    Would you be open to reconsidering the name “Great South Woods”? As a lifelong upstate New Yorker I’ve been going north all my life to get to the Adirondacks. If the Great South Woods are to be in the Adirondacks, where are the Catskills?

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Thank you for your informational piece and leadership of this project. As an individual and as Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, I look forward to participating in an upcoming workshop. A quick reaction to your piece: Most folks reading your essay may view access as entirely about hiking, biking, skiing, or gunning an engine. For me, it’s not 100% about getting to any destination on the ground. For example, one can “access” “the great south woods” or any part of our whole Park via community visitor centers which also connect people to their Park through their imaginations. Recreation ought not to be simply about moving people into and out of lovely country, but about building receptivity into the human mind (Aldo Leopold). Let’s think at these workshops as much about the villages, hamlets and towns and what’s there to build that receptivity – for the physically able and less than able – as we do about physical access via trails, etc. Again, thank you for stimulating.

  4. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Love the concept, but we still have to work on a better name for the place. Thought Jerry Jenkins “Adirondack Atlas” might suggest something based on the forestation or geological formations, but I’m afraid I didn’t come up with anything-

  5. adkDreamer says:

    Dr. Beier –

    Great! It is about time for the ‘not-Lake-Placid-or-Keene-Valley’ portion of the Adirondacks to get it’s just deserves. But no, shhhh! Let’s keep it our little secret. I agree and my friends have told me about the wonderful places to camp in that vast forgotten section of the Adirondacks. Oh and my vote is for that name, the ‘Great South Woods’ of the Adirondack Park.

  6. Wally says:

    To folks in the St. Lawrence River Valley, particularly those just in the Potsdam/Canton area, the Adirondacks have long been the “great south woods.” There is a large rock on the road just north of Higley Flow State Park known as Sunday Rock, because south of it were the wilds of the mountains where Sunday was said not to exist. More at

    So I wonder about the name. But I like the idea and agree with Dave Gibson above.

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