Protect the Adirondacks has released a proposal to expand Wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park by over 36,500 acres. This includes Wilderness classification for much of The Nature Conservancy/former Finch, Pruyn and Company lands that border the High Peaks Wilderness and the creation of a new West Stony Creek Wilderness area in the southern Adirondacks.
This would be the biggest expansion of Wilderness in the Adirondacks since Governor Pataki acted in 2000 to establish the 20,000-acre William C. Whitney Wilderness area, which included upgrading of the 7,500-acre Lake Lila Primitive Area to Wilderness, and expanded both the Five Ponds Wilderness and Pepperbox Wilderness by over 21,000 acres.
Ours is a realistic proposal that provides Wilderness classification and protection for the most important natural resource areas of the land involved. It also aims to facilitate motorized access for limited roads open to the public and snowmobiles. We make a good faith effort at providing a workable and realistic classification and management that complies with the law, protects natural resources, and meets the objectives of many different interests.
Last year, the State purchased the 5,800-acre MacIntyre West tract from The Nature Conservancy, which includes the flanks of Santanoni Mountain. PROTECT’s classification proposal also includes a smaller 1,100-acre tract purchased by the State previously that borders this tract. Both tracts should be classified as Wilderness and added to the High Peaks Wilderness. There is very little controversy about this. These lands are largely high elevation and are not sought as places for motorized access. These lands will improve public access and consolidate a large wild area along the Santanoni Range.
Also last year, the State purchased the 6,200-acre MacIntyre East tract. This tract includes seven miles of the beautiful and winding Opalescent River and five miles of the Hudson River. This tract is more complicated due to neighboring conservation easement lands and the Sanford Lake Railroad. PROTECT’s proposal calls for Wilderness classification of 4,500 acres in the north, using the Opalescent River and LeClair Brook as the Wilderness boundaries. We call for 1,700 acres along the Hudson River to be classified as Wild Forest. On this tract, the Hudson River is intermingled between the railroad and the Tahawus Road and is not practical for Wilderness classification. This purchase has provided terrific new public access for paddling on both the Opalescent and Hudson Rivers and greatly improved access to some of the High Peaks.
Note that some local government leaders have called for the entirety of both MacIntyre tracts to be classified as Wild Forest.
The 21,500-acre Boreas Ponds tract will be purchased by the State in the next few months. The Boreas Ponds has ranked high on the State’s acquisition lists for decades. This tract includes the two Boreas Ponds, the dammed LeBiere Flow area, a corporate retreat compound, and other smaller ponds. This tract has more than 50 miles of dirt roads with the Gulf Brook Road being the main artery that runs east-west through the southern section of the tract and runs all the way to the Blue Ridge Road. These lands border High Peaks Wilderness to the north and west and Wild Forest in the south. A large section also borders the Blue Ridge Road. The tract also borders the Elk Lake Reserve on the east, which is protected by conservation easement. The Elk Lake Reserve generously gifted the Casey Brook tract to the State as part of its easement deal and this tract is the land bridge that allows the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness areas to be combined. (We do not support keeping the Finch corporate compound on the Boreas Ponds. These buildings have no historic or architectural value and should be torn down and the lands reforested.)
PROTECT’s position is that over 13,000 acres around the Boreas Ponds should be classified as Wilderness and added to the High Peaks Wilderness. We support classification of 8,300 acres along the Gulf Brook Road and the Blue Ridge Highway as Wild Forest. We have chosen to set the Wilderness boundary at the Gulf Brook Road for three reasons.
First, we envision a Lake Lila style access to the Boreas Ponds that starts at the LeBiere Flow and support public motor vehicle use on the Gulf Brook Road to a point within a close carry to the flow to facilitate public access. PROTECT has long taken the position that public motor vehicle roads should be in Wild Forest areas where state law allows various motor vehicle use on the Forest Preserve. PROTECT supports classification of 8,300 acres along the Gulf Brook Road and the Blue Ridge Road as Wild Forest. There is already a large tract of Wild Forest along the Blue Ridge Road.
Second, we’re realists and know that the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are working to route a new community connector snowmobile trail from Newcomb/Minerva to North Hudson. Whereas there are conservation easement lands that could be utilized at the North Hudson end of this trail, the Newcomb end needs to cut through trailless Wild Forest areas, or even under one option through the north end of the Hoffman Notch Wilderness, or routed largely along the Gulf Brook Road.
By using existing roads and newly purchased and recently logged Forest Preserve lands for a snowmobile trail we seek to limit the overall impact to the Forest Preserve. This will involve very little major snowmobile trail construction, whereas if the Gulf Brook Road is unavailable because it’s closed as classified as Wilderness, tens of thousands of trees will need to be cut as a new 9-12 foot trail is built through miles of trailless parts of the Forest Preserve.
Third, the other option to provide public motor vehicle access to a canoe launch for the Boreas Ponds at LeBiere Flow is to designate the Gulf Brook Road as a Primitive corridor (as proposed by other groups). This is simply another case of Forest Preserve “spot zoning,” a procedure that has vexed recent Forest Preserve classifications. If we retain the Gulf Brook Road as a Primitive corridor, then how is it different from the Crane Pond Road? These are both roads deep inside Wilderness areas for people to drive on to access various recreational opportunities.
Furthermore, the APA and DEC are seeking major changes right now to the management of Primitive areas to allow bicycle use and maintenance with motor vehicles by the DEC. This is what a slippery slope looks like. The APA is expected to act in March to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP) and it’s highly likely that changes will be made for all 39,000 acres of Primitive areas. Once DEC maintenance with motor vehicles is allowed, then it’s a short slide downslope to public motor vehicle use in Primitive areas. Primitive lands are supposed to be managed as Wilderness. If the APA amends the APSLMP, we will be watching the transformation of 39,000 acres of Forest Preserve managed essentially as Wilderness to Forest Preserve managed essentially as Wild Forest.
We do not see the maintenance of the LeBiere Flow dam and the Boreas Ponds dam as a major issue. If the State wants to maintain these dams and incur those costs, we won’t stand in their way. The LeBiere Flow dam needs work now. We note that three other dams in the High Peaks Wilderness have all been allowed to breach in recent years, at Duck Hole, Flowed Lands, and Marcy Dam. The dams are irrelevant to protection of the important Brook Trout fishery in the Boreas Ponds and its tributaries.
Local governments have called for the entire Boreas Ponds tract to be classified as Wild Forest and all roads in the tract to be kept open.
Two years ago the State also purchased another 8,500 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Company lands from the Nature Conservancy. These are scattered mostly in small tracts across the lower half of the Adirondack Park. PROTECT has called for classification of 3,000 acres of newly purchased lands in the mountains above Northville as Wilderness and for reclassification of a trailless 9,000-acre tract in the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest area as Wilderness to create a new 12,000-acre West Stony Creek Wilderness area. For the other 5,500 acres of scattered tracts we support Wild Forest classification.
PROTECT’s proposal seeks to protect the most important natural resources on the lands in question, providing various interests with their most important objectives whether more Wilderness or a snowmobile trail, fully complies with existing laws without creating bad long-term precedents from bent and twisted laws or spot zoning. Here are the important components of a workable framework:
1. Classification of 13,000 acres around the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness and incorporation of these lands into the High Peaks Wilderness.
2. Classification of over 11,000 acres in the MacIntyre East and West tracts as Wilderness and incorporation of these lands into the High Peaks Wilderness.
3. Classification of 1,700 acres along the Hudson River where it parallels the Tahawus Road and Sanford Lake Railroad as Wild Forest.
4. Classification of the Gulf Brook Road as Wild Forest to provide Lake Lila-style public access to the Boreas Ponds, where the public can drive within a short portage of a canoe launch.
5. Classification of the Gulf Brook Road as Wild Forest to provide for its use as a vital link in a new snowmobile trail that connects Newcomb and North Hudson.
6. These classifications would keep public recreational motor vehicle use in Wild Forest areas where these uses are allowed. It is important for coherent and rational Forest Preserve management that motorized uses are kept in Wild Forest areas.
7. These classifications would allow for combining the High Peaks Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness into one 275,000-acre Wilderness area by supporting Wilderness classification for the Casey Brook tract, which is the land bridge between the two areas.
8. These classifications would greatly minimize the amount of trees needed to be cut on the Forest Preserve for a new snowmobile trail connection from Newcomb/Minerva to North Hudson by thousands, if not tens of thousands.
9. These classifications would keep a new snowmobile trail out of the Hoffman Notch Wilderness area.
10. These classifications would create a new West Stony Creek Wilderness Area in the southern Adirondacks from a trailless part of the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest and newly purchased lands.
PROTECT’s proposal is a pragmatic approach that balances a range of competing interests, accommodates a number of recreational uses with the minimum amount of terrain alteration and negative impacts, and protects the most important natural resource areas on the Forest Preserve.
Boreas Ponds Dam photo by Carl Heilman/Wild Visions, Inc. courtesy of the Adirondack Council.