Wednesday, January 27, 2016

PROTECT Advocates for 36,500 Acres of New Wilderness Lands

Boreas Ponds Dam aerial photo by Carl HeilmanProtect 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.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

31 Responses

  1. Boreasfisher says:

    If we’re going to have snowmobiles tearing through the quiet backcountry, which I deeply regret, I guess this is the best way to do accommodate everyone and provide maximum protection of the public resources. Seems pretty sensible to me.

  2. Marco says:

    I think I might limit fishing opportunities to one trout killed per day, but that’s just me. Other than that, I believe this is a good compromise plan and takes a lot of pressure off the DEC and other areas. It is pretty clear that while a good search and rescue system is in place, it is not formalized nor planned in conjunction with the creation of these areas.

    Yes, we need some trail maintenance, but single vehicular use trails WITHIN 15 MILES OF ROAD OR ANOTHER SUCH TRAIL needs to be legally mandated. This should allow the needed access to the DEC to perform needed trail maintenance, with a possible 7.5mi hike, on the trails. NO NEW TRAILS should be allowed, except as deemed necessary to meet the above criteria. Clearly, if a 5′ ATV can navigate these trails, then someone will decide they are roads. A clear distinction of roads and the proposed maintenance trails needs to be made, they are never to be used for motorized traffic. Unlike natural trails that are subject to change, these new trails will become almost permanent (like many logging roads throughout the ADK’s) for allowing the DEC to perform trail maintenance, only. And, incidentally becoming the search and rescue operations to occur through out the park in an emergency. And increase their budget to allow maintenance: vehicles, tools, and manpower.

    Other use, ie human powered vehicles, can be allowed on a case by case basis. Some of these would act as “feeders,” allowing major populations into the area, soon destroying the somewhat fragile ecosystems, yet allowing other ecosystems to be maintained adequately… As you say.

    Lets stop and think this through, clearly more debate is needed before running this down my gullet. Ha, hey, I forgot, this is an ADK proposal by ADKers. I know I sound like an old politician.

    Those mentioned are only a couple instances of where things can go wrong where “Forever Wild” is concerned. And, it may not be feasible to do more than simply lump the lands together into existing areas. Can we afford an increase to the APA’s and/or DEC’s existing budget in these difficult times? Must we? What are the Alternatives? Anyway, like I say, it sounds good, but the devil is in the details and I agree that it could be a very slippery slope he leads me.

  3. Bruce says:

    I’m not going into tearing apart details, but the overall proposal has a good feel to it. It offers something for most users and no, it doesn’t please everyone.

    Based on what I’ve read on these pages in the last year or so, I keep getting this feeling that those who don’t want motorized use of the back country feel they should be able to go anywhere they like and be free of motors. If one doesn’t like roads and motorized trails then one doesn’t need to go near them.

    Realistically there’s room for everyone…share the resource.

    • John Warren says:

      Bruce, you seem to have the wrong impression about what people who advocate for motorless areas are concerned about. Nowhere in the Adirondacks is farther than about 5 miles from a road, nearly all of the Adirondacks is within about 3 miles from a road – this does not take into account the motorized waters, most of the large waters in the park are motorized. Add the extensive snowmobile trail system and the distance from motors shrinks much more.

      There are very few places left to find natural quiet.

  4. Paul says:

    The Adirondacks has far more places to find quiet than it has ever had. Tens of thousands of acres of Wilderness land alone has been added over the last several decades. The park is much wilder and well protected and open to the public than ever in its history. 41,000 acres in one fell swoop mentioned by Peter above.

  5. Charlie S says:

    “…and just when you have, that yellow airplane flies overhead.”

    I like your sarcastic wit Peter. I’m with John. There’s too few places to go to get away from people whose souls are vexed or the sound of their contrivances.To me the Adirondacks is the place to go to escape the neurosis that ever permeates this shallow society.It’s too bad we’re willing to give up so much for whatever the rash reasons. It’s a sad state of affairs the way we go about our business.

    • Peter D says:

      Charlie – I was, perhaps, being a little sarcastic. Like you, I crave opportunities only possible in true Wilderness settings. I think that, unfortunately, the concepts of restoration and renewal are undervalued by a great many people. I sympathize with folks who desperately want to find some sort of miracle economic solution for the north country and I get that our high quality natural resources are a popular draw, but slowly and continuously degrading them is short sighted at best. Of course there should be places./opportunities for everyone – but we ain’t making any more backcountry and we should always err on the side of caution when we decide to “manage” it.

  6. Boreas says:

    Vehicles don’t need to be noisy – many are even designed to be loud. Much can be done to limit sound pollution, but no one has the cojones to implement and enforce sound level limits within the Park, state, or nation. Instead we must hike 10 miles into a wilderness area to attempt to get away from it.

    • John Warren says:

      The problem is, you can not hike ten miles into a wilderness area – that place does not exist. The most remote place in the Adirondacks is about 5.2 miles from a road.

      • Boreas says:

        Well, that kinda depends on the route and destination. If you are saying as the crow flies, then I would agree – one can’t get more than 5.2 miles from the source of the din. Coughsacraga (sp?) always seemed pretty remote to me since there was never any traffic on the old truck roads. That may well have changed since it has been over 30 years since I visited that peak. Allen used to be quite a haul, but won’t be soon.

        • John Warren says:

          You can make a circuitous route but since noise pollution travels as the crow flies, that’s the right measure to use.

          It turns out that when two scientists did the math on this and went to the most remote spot in New York State, it was very near the Northville Placid Trail. In the short time they were in the spot, more than one plane flew overhead.

          Just FYI, the summit of Couchsachraga Peak is less than 3.5 miles from Santanoni Drive; Allen is 4.2 miles from the old Finch Guest Lodge on Boreas Ponds – there are unpaved roads that are much closer, but those may be closed (or they may not, DEC may want to provide hunting access like it did in the Essex Chain by opening those roads seasonally).

          • Boreas says:

            I remember once in the early 80’s while peacefully sitting on one of the peaks overlooking the Ausable Lakes, suddenly two A-10 Warthogs (probably from Griffiss AFB) came cruising through below me about 100 feet off the deck. They looked like they were going just over their stall speed. They made 2 passes and were gone. While these maneuvers were quite entertaining, they certainly weren’t peaceful – in more ways than one. I believe this would be frowned upon nowadays.

            • John Warren says:

              It might be frowned upon, but I hear a lot of stories exactly like that and I’ve seen some low fly-overs at my house that scare the hell out of me – and I have some experience with low flying aircraft.

              There is a map of training flyover routes they are supposed to use at the APA website.

              • Paul says:

                It is pretty scary when they are that low since they are moving so fast that they just seem to appear out of nowhere. I saw some jets practicing along route 458 near Santa Clara one summer. Following the road just above the trees (or at least it seemed like that), you could see the pilots in the cockpit. One time just after 9-11 were were in a hunting cabin near the same area at night all lights out and a helicopter came in so close that it was shaking the building. They hovered a bit and then took off. I assume they must have seen our heart signature and were making sure we were not bin laden.

              • Bruce says:


                I know what you mean about scaring the hell out of you. I was driving along a country road with the windows down near where I lived in NC when I heard this sound, which was covering me up. I instinctively looked for the train I was about to get creamed by, but there were no tracks. When they went over my car, I saw it was two A-10’s down on the deck from Pope AFB at Ft. Bragg. They are intense!

                Another instance, I heard this low-flying helicopter near my house that wasn’t just passing over, but stayed close. When I went out, this helicopter had a 40′ long gang saw hanging underneath, trimming trees along hard to get at mountainside power line routes through the woods.

  7. ADKerDon says:

    All wilderness must be restricted to above 3,000 feet elevation. That is plenty for those hikers who hate sharing. All lands and waters 3,000 feet and below must be classified Wild Forest and open to all the people, especially our wounded veterans, disabled, elderly, and others less than physically fit. Motorized access, horses, bikes, etc. must be allowed for recreation on all these lands. End this discrimination and prejudice by eco-freaks and open these state lands to all the people.

    • Boreas says:


      Why the 3000 foot mark? I thought you were a proponent of getting rid of all wilderness, abolishing the preserve and opening the Park for all?

    • Dan says:

      Wow…..why don’t you just go and join the felons in eastern Oregon. Your ideas are about as intelligent as theirs….

    • TrailOgre says:

      Actually it is shared and open to all people …..anyone can access any State Land at anytime ..
      no one is shut out….you can WALK into the woods anywhere on State land….(and you can camp on almost any state land as long as you are 150 ft from water, a road or trail) you don’t even have to be fit ………

      MOtorized access only takes away from all the other users experiences…………

    • Marco says:

      I think Mr. ADKerDon is a little out of touch with reality. I often hike the NPT, which is supposed to be one of the remotest spots in the ADK’s. Every night for a week I spent with other people in a lean-to. Sometimes two other groups. Six or seven people in a lean-to is not what I really enjoy. Sleeping room for doctors, lawyers, nurses, students, and other “common” people are tight. This is in the remotest areas of New York and well below 3000ft.
      If anything, we need more restrictions on population in the back county by simply making access to ponds and lakes at least a mile. No, we do not need more roads to supply Handicapped access. We have a few. They remain, basically, unused. Even in the car camping sites, the DEC camp grounds, they are unused for the most part.

      C’mon. Everyone has some sort of mobility restriction or age restriction. I met a woman 70+ years old just a little ways from Mt. Marcy. No comment to her identity. She was age restricted as far as mobility is concerned. No. Mr. ADKerDon is out of touch with the people and areas of the park. He needs to study up on the demographics a bit more. Just because he thinks that everyone is 100% fit in the back country is wrong, or, he has a strange idea of “fit.” Veterans with limbs missing and/or damaged are never told to stay away, but yes, it does take a bit more effort. Even non-vets with limbs missing do OK in the park.
      I ask you, if you were in a wheel chair, wouldn’t you like a good drink of water? This is what keeping the ADK’s wild means at the bottom line. Fresh water is perhaps the most important item produced by the ADK’s. NO. No more people in the ADK’s. Restrict them by difficulty, many will just avoid the area because it is hard to access. Good. It should be hard. Maybe harder than what it is today, maybe not. But, the reality of good clean water for much of the state means more, I think, than having city people traipse around the ADK’s. Do not fall into the trap of saying it is only a little damaged as they clear roads, make parking areas and bulldoze pathways into the ADK’s. Look at history and learn from past mistakes before suggesting we ignore them.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    This is an entirely reasonable proposal. The rationals for determining classifications are well described and avoid the issues tied to “spot zoning” as has been suggested under other proposals and apparently the new normal being utilized by the APA and the DEC. Political pressure should not impact constitutional mandates regarding the Forest Preserve.

    The Adirondack Park is an exceptional area, without its special land management designations and zoning it would look like dump…

    • Bruce says:


      The only real complaint I have with Mr. Bauer’s proposal is banning bicycle use on interior roads which supported heavy traffic (logging trucks and equipment.) Bicycles emit no pollution and no more noise than hikers. Not everyone rides an MTB and likes splashing through wet places. Regulations can restrict their use to these roads, and the roads can be closed in the wet season.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Bikes are extremely difficult to regulate and regardless of claims otherwise, produce impacts to soils that require near constant maintenance.

        By calling for bike use on interior roads means that you are accepting that those roads should be maintained as roads into the planned future rather than being properly abandoned and letting nature take its course.

        • Bruce says:

          Yes, I agree MTB use on soft or wet trails can do extensive damage, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

          When hikers advocate cutting new trails, building bridges, boardwalks, campsites and lean-tos in Wilderness areas so they can get to and stay at the best parts more efficiently, is it not altering (damaging) the resource? I submit that cruiser-style bicycle use on existing, dry, hard gravel roads causes less damage. Maintenance would be minimal, because it would not have to be to motor vehicle standards, meaning the vegetation can close in on both sides leaving a 6 to 8′ hard trail for bicycles and skiers.

          I also don’t believe regulating bicycle use is any more difficult than managing other user groups. Just as hikers will go off trail and make their own way (causing herd paths and more damage), MTB riders will go off road because they don’t like hard, relatively smooth trails or roads There are more cruising-style riders than MTB trail users, but mountain bikers get all the press, and the notoriety.

          • Todd Eastman says:

            Roads have a tremendous impact on water quality standards and alter the natural surface flows in a way that hiking trails cannot match. Active decommissioning of abandoned logging and service roads takes significant planning and expense. Just letting old roads revert to nature is not restorative…

          • Todd Eastman says:

            “There are more cruising-style riders than MTB trail users, but mountain bikers get all the press, and the notoriety.”

            Among the AARP members there are more cruisers, in the larger population MTB is huge and many of their renegade trail building activities are a bane of land managers throughout the nation…

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