The High Peaks Wilderness already is by far the largest Wilderness Area in the Park, but the Adirondack Council and seven other environmental groups are urging the state to add 80,000 acres, expanding it to 284,000 acres.
Enlarging the Wilderness Area “will place New York State and the Adirondack Park in a position of national leadership for creation and maintenance of Wilderness lands equal to any in the Continental United States,” Peter Paine and William Kissel declared in a joint letter. The council intends to use the letter in its campaign for the Wilderness proposal and sent a copy to Adirondack Almanack on Friday.
Paine served on the state commission that led to the creation of the APA in 1971. He later served on the APA board from its inception until 1991 and was the principal author of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which governs the regulation of the state-owned Forest Preserve. Kissel was the APA’s first counsel and was a member of its board from 1999 to 2005.
As part of the proposal, the APA would classify as Wilderness most of the 20,500-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, which the state is expected to buy from the Nature Conservancy before the end of March. Other lands recently purchased from the conservancy also would be added to the Wilderness Area. In addition, the groups are proposing that the Dix Mountain Wilderness be incorporated into the High Peaks Wilderness.
Perhaps the most controversial piece of the proposal is the Boreas Ponds classification. The Wilderness designation does not allow the use of motors or bicycles. Under the proposal, people would be allowed to drive up a dirt lane, known as Gulf Brook Road, to LaBiere Flow, about a mile from the ponds. From there they’d have to hike or portage to the ponds.
Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said the local towns would prefer to see much of the tract given a less-strict classification – such as Wild Forest or Primitive – that would allow the use of bicycles on old logging roads near Boreas Ponds and provide “reasonable” motorized access to the ponds. He said the towns also want to keep a lodge at the ponds that environmental groups want to see removed.
Protect the Adirondacks, one of the Park’s major environmental groups, also objects to portions of the plan – especially a proposal to classify Gulf Brook Road as a Primitive Corridor to enable the public to drive on it. Peter Bauer, Protect’s executive director, contends this is a misuse of the Primitive classification and weakens Forest Preserve protections.
Bauer said that the road should serve as the boundary between Wilderness and Wild Forest. Since the road would be in Wild Forest, the public could drive on it to LaBiere Flow. This would create a smaller Wilderness Area, but Bauer believes this plan is more consistent with the State Land Master Plan.
“It’s vitally important for the future of the Forest Preserve and public recreational management that we keep public motor-vehicle use in Wild Forest Areas,” he said. “It would be a grave mistake and create many serious long-term problems if we allow motorized recreation beyond Wild Forest Areas and into Primitive and Wilderness Areas.”
In their letter, Paine and Kissell say the proposal by the council and the other groups does conform to the State Land Master Plan. “A Primitive Area giving road access along the Gulf Brook Road to LaBiere Flow south of the Boreas Ponds themselves would permit road access to the Boreas Ponds area but preserve the integrity of the larger Wilderness,” they wrote.
“We strongly encourage Governor Cuomo to adopt the recommendations for this expanded High Peaks Wilderness acquisition and classification,” the letter states.
CORRECTION: William Kissel’s surname was misspelled in the original version of this article.
Photo of Boreas Ponds by Phil Brown.