Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Groups Seek Expansion Of High Peaks Wilderness

boreas pondsEight environmental groups are urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to dramatically expand the High Peaks Wilderness once the state purchases Boreas Ponds from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.

At 203,526 acres, the High Peaks Wilderness already is by far the largest Wilderness Area in the Adirondack Park. Under the environmentalists’ proposal, it would grow to more than 280,000 acres, making it larger than Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado or Mount Rainer National Park in Washington.

“It would give the highest level of environmental protection to the most sensitive lands the state possesses,” John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, told Adirondack Almanack. “The state’s tallest mountains, wildest rivers, and most sensitive wildlife habitat are located in this relatively compact area.”

The council was one of the eight groups that sent a letter to Cuomo on Monday. The others were the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Advocates of New York, and New York League of Conservation Voters.

On its own initiative, the Adirondack Council has launched a media campaign, called Be Wild NY, in support of the High Peaks proposal.

Protect the Adirondacks, one of the Park’s major green groups, did not sign the letter to Cuomo. Peter Bauer, the executive director, said Protect disagrees with parts of the proposal.

The purchase of the 22,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract – located on the southern edge of the High Peaks Wilderness – will be the last acquisition in a multi-year deal with the Nature Conservancy to add 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn timberlands to the Forest Preserve. The state is expected to acquire the tract by the end of the fiscal year (March 31), if not sooner.

McIntyre-TractsThe eight groups want most of the Boreas Ponds Tract added to the High Peaks Wilderness, along with most of two other tracts purchased from the Nature Conservancy, MacIntyre East and MacIntyre West; part of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest; and a few other pieces of state land. They also recommend combining the 45,000-acre Dix Mountain Wilderness and the High Peaks Wilderness – which Sheehan said would streamline management of the lands.

Protect the Adirondacks and the other groups differ on the future of a dam that impounds the Boreas Ponds. In their letter to Cuomo, the groups advocated maintaining the dam to preserve “a special brook trout fishery, and a remarkable paddling destination.”

Boreas-classification-map-hi-resBauer questioned the appropriateness of maintaining the dam in a Wilderness Area, which is supposed to be largely free of manmade structures. He noted that most dams in the High Peaks Wilderness have been removed or allowed to deteriorate. He expressed skepticism that the Boreas Ponds dam is needed to protect trout. He also said people would still be able to paddle on the ponds if the dam is removed.

“We think there should be a real conversation about whether there should be dams in a Wilderness Area,” Bauer said.

The conversation, he said, should include a smaller dam on LaBiere Flow, a still-water section of the Boreas River, the outlet of Boreas Ponds.

LaBiere Flow lies about five miles up a dirt road from the nearest highway and about a mile from Boreas Ponds. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering keeping the road open as far as LaBiere Flow. From there, people could paddle up the flow and then portage to Boreas Ponds. Hikers could walk to the ponds along the closed portion of the road. In DEC’s scenario, the thoroughfare (known as Gulf Brook Road) would serve as the boundary between Wilderness, where no motorized use is allowed, and Wild Forest, where regulations are less strict.

Sheehan said the Adirondack Council and the other seven groups agree that the parking area should be at LaBiere Flow. However, they want the Wilderness Area extended south of Gulf Brook Road as far as a proposed snowmobile trail that would connect North Hudson and Newcomb. Since the road would then cut through the Wilderness Area, it would be designated a Primitive Corridor to accommodate motorized traffic.

“We want to maximize Wilderness as much as possible,” Sheehan said.

Boreas Ponds Wilderness PRoposal MapBauer thinks this is a bad idea. Protect recommends making the road the Wilderness boundary and using it as part of the snowmobile route connecting the two communities. This would reduce the number of trees that would need to be cut for the snowmobile trail.

Some wilderness advocates, including Bill Ingersoll, publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, contend that all or most of Gulf Brook Road should be closed to vehicles. This would require people to hike five or six miles to reach Boreas Ponds.

Bauer said Protect does agree with the other groups that most of the Boreas Ponds Tract and other former Finch lands in the vicinity should be added to the High Peaks Wilderness. He also said “it’s worth taking a look” at combining the Dix Mountain and the High Peaks Wilderness Areas.

The eight groups also are calling for the removal of a wooden lodge that Finch, Pruyn built overlooking Boreas Ponds.

Photo of Boreas Ponds above by Phil Brown; map showing the McIntyre Tracts (which were purchased this year) and the Boreas Ponds Tract by Nancy Bernstein; DEC 2013 conceptual recreation plan for the Boreas Ponds Tract; and map of the latest proposal provided by the Adirondack Council.

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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.

16 Responses

  1. Penn Hoyt says:

    Ah yes, let’s get that fence around an even great part of the park and keep more people out!

    • Boreas says:


      You do realize this area has been off limits to the public as long as F-P has owned it? It is finally being opened up.

  2. Paul says:

    It totally makes sense to add these tracts to the HP Wilderness.

  3. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Penn Hoyt is on target!

    Once again the Adirondack Almanac serves as Phil Brown & Company’s personal mouthpiece for Wilderness…Wilderness…Wilderness…..blah, blah, blah.

    Half of the so-called “wilderness” in the ADK’s was once home to lodges, even “hotels” way back in and roadways that have long ago been obscured as the forest returns, etc.

    We’ve got more than enough “wilderness”!

    Thank you

  4. Chuck Parker says:

    In response to “Boreas” above I would like to say real access requires real accessibility I contend that more individuals had better accessibility to the recently acquired public lands when they were privately owned than what is offered today. The state owned lands in the Adirondack Park is seriously out of balance when it comes to sound conservation management of lands and wildlife.

    • Boreas says:


      A agree with the access situation. 30 years ago when I was an active hiker, we had to detour miles around some of these holdings to reach the peaks. F-P had to do his because the leaseholders were adamant about not letting hikers on “their” leased land. This animosity existed for decades. Perhaps if the leaseholders would have been been more considerate of hikers and allowed a ROW trail through their lands to allow hikers access to public lands beyond their land, there would be more people sympathetic to their loss. Now everyone is on the same playing field and has equal access to the area.

  5. SLMPdefender says:

    Well said Boreas! The public will GAIN access, where the parcel was only open to leaseholders that paid serious amounts of money to be on the land. The average person who cannot afford a lease will now get to enjoy this magnificent place.

    Look at the ADK loj. High visitation. They have a parking lot nestled In the high peaks wilderness and look at how they’re doing. The garden in Keene valley… Look at how they’re doing there too! If we need to hold a referendum on the relationship between wilderness, access, and regional visitation that supports the local economy, look at one of those parking lots on a Saturday!

    What do the hikers/ skiers/ paddlers do after a day in the woods? Go into town for a big meal and a drink, shopping, and a place to lay their tired-selves down.

    The good ‘ole boys want their ATV playground and then have the gall to blame enviro groups for their economic woes. The vast majority of the public travels to the adirondack park because the park has something they can’t find at home: quiet. The residents of the park should remain cognizant that their ability to access wild places is special in this day and age, and not to be taken for granted.

    Kudos to the enviro groups for standing tall in the face of an effort that will likely lead to an onslaught of thuggery, bad mouthing, and intimidation by the 50 or so people that want to ride their motorized toys in this magnificent gem.

  6. Solo Pete says:

    I have to agree on this one. Add it to the High Peaks Wilderness and expand the gem NY holds.

  7. Phil Brown says:

    The Adirondack Council has launched an ad campaign, called Be Wild NY, in support of the High Peaks proposal. I added this fact to the article above.

  8. Tom Payne says:

    The “Good Ole Boys”. That’s funny! The Environmental lobby who are colluding behind closed doors with the NYSDEC and the APA. Now there is the “Good Ole Boy ” system of Albany.

  9. Paul says:

    Looking more closely at this proposal why make it controversial by adding in a section of the WF (and I assume closing the snowmobile trail there)? Why not just add the new stuff to the HPW and leave the rest as it is?

  10. common sense says:

    I hope all take a look at DEC history on “maintenance” of dams in wilderness areas, although both dams will last a long time before they begin to degrade their steel and concrete structures will make repairs/replacement in wilderness impossible. If users want the dams to stay they should push for a designation that will allow mechanized maintenance or they should push for wilderness and removal.

  11. Peter says:

    What a great addition to the High Peaks wilderness. Hope the state does the right thing and follows this plan.

  12. Let me start by saying I’m in favor of this wilderness proposal and think the road access should be very, very limited. Wilderness areas that have easy road access are currently trashed and overrun enough for us to appreciate that when wilderness ceases to look like wilderness people quit treating it as such. If I read correctly there would be a long walk from one’s car to gain access to this proposed wilderness. This long walk has been pointed to as restricting access to an elite few who are able-bodied, skilled and lucky enough to have the time for it. So be it. If a two hour walk is all it takes to discourage people then ship ’em up to the High Peaks!!


    More seriously, it would be a very sad state of affairs in this era of deteriorating values to consider as “elites” people who devote time to maintaining their health and fitness throughout their lives and who choose to acquire certain outdoor skills to go with that hard-won health. Additionally, I truly hope that no one considers it too scandalous if an area becomes designated as wilderness but it is remote enough that one actually has to plan sleeping in it for at least one night in order to visit it.

  13. Charlie S says:

    Tim-Brunswick says: “We’ve got more than enough “wilderness”!”

    Surely you jest Tim!

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