Thursday, April 14, 2016

State Buys Boreas Ponds, Completing Finch, Pruyn Deal

Boreas-600x343The state has purchased the 20,760-acre Boreas Ponds Tract on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness, the final phase in a multi-year deal to acquire 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.

One of the natural gems of the former Finch property, Boreas Ponds is expected to become a destination of paddlers, hikers, and backpackers. The waterway offers breathtaking views of the High Peaks, including Mount Marcy, the state’s tallest summit, and much of the Great Range.

The state paid $14.5 million for the tract, according to a deed filed April 5 in the Essex County clerk’s office.

The state has yet to announce the sale, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation refused to answer questions about how public access will be managed. In the past, DEC has suggested that the public will be allowed to drive to within a mile or so of the ponds via a dirt road. A source told the Almanack that the road to the ponds is gated (and probably will remain so for the duration of mud season) and that the ponds are still frozen.

The Nature Conservancy confirmed the sale after the Almanack broke the story. Its news release linked to a video of Boreas Ponds. The conservancy’s website also offers breathtaking photos of Boreas Ponds.

The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres of the Finch, Pruyn lands in 2007. It later sold 89,000 acres to a Danish pension fund. The state owns a conservation easement on these lands that permits logging but prohibits subdivision and development.

In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would purchase, in stages, 65,000 acres for the Forest Preserve, including the Essex Chain Lakes, OK Slip Falls, parts of the Hudson Gorge, and Boreas Ponds. The other properties have already been acquired.

“We are grateful to Governor Cuomo and his team for recognizing that investing in nature is an investment in New York’s future. From providing cost-effective natural water filtration and carbon storage to bolstering the tourism economy, protecting these forests and waters is an investment that will produce very big returns. We look forward to continuing to work with the state and Adirondack communities,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy.

DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency now will have to decide how to manage and classify the Boreas Ponds Tract — decisions sure to be controversial.

Environmentalists want most of the tract added to the High Peaks Wilderness, whereas local officials favor a Wild Forest classification. The main difference between Wilderness and Wild Forest is that motorized uses and bicycling are banned in Wilderness Areas.

The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) are sponsoring a petition drive dubbed Be Wild NY to persuade the Cuomo administration to add to the High Peaks Wilderness not only the bulk of the Boreas Ponds Tract, but also the Dix Mountain Wilderness and some smaller parcels of former Finch, Pruyn lands. If this is done, the High Peaks Wilderness, already the largest Wilderness Area in the Adirondack Park, would grow to roughly 280,000 acres from 204,000 acres.

But North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore, whose town includes Boreas Ponds, told the Adirondack Explorer last fall that he wants the tract classified as Wild Forest to facilitate public access and maximize its recreational potential. For example, he wants people to be allowed to bicycle on old logging roads in the area.

“We’re not looking to destroy the environment,” he said. “We’re looking to use an existing infrastructure of roads. We want as many people to enjoy the area as possible.”

Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, maintains that the Wilderness classification will attract a variety of outdoor enthusiasts, including hikers, paddlers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers, and boost the local economy. He added that the tract could serve as a new gateway to the popular High Peaks Wilderness.

Controversy also has arisen over the status of Gulf Brook Road, a former logging road that leads to Boreas Ponds. Environmentalist groups agree that much of the road should be left open to allow the public to drive as far as LaBiere Flow, an impounded section of the Boreas River about a mile from Boreas Ponds. From there hikers could walk and canoeists could paddle and portage to the ponds.

Some wilderness advocates, such as Bill Ingersoll, publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, maintain that the road should be closed. This would require people to hike about seven miles to get to the ponds. In contrast, Moore contends that the public should be able to drive beyond LaBiere Flow to within three-quarters of a mile of Boreas Ponds. The disabled, he said, should be able to drive to within a quarter-mile of the ponds.

Gulf Brook Road also figures in a disagreement among environmentalists over where to draw the line between Wilderness and Wild Forest.

Protect the Adirondacks contends that Gulf Brook Road is the logical boundary. Under this scenario, it would also serve as a snowmobile trail in winter connecting North Hudson and Newcomb.

The council, ADK, and Adirondack Wild favor a plan that would extend the Wilderness boundary south of Gulf Brook almost to Blue Ridge Road, a major county highway. The snowmobile trail would then be cut between Blue Ridge Road and the Wilderness Area.

The hitch with this plan is that Gulf Brook Road would then penetrate the Wilderness Area. In order to allow people to drive to LaBiere Flow, the road would be classified as a Primitive Corridor.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, contends that creating a Primitive Corridor would weaken the protections for Wilderness in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. “If we’re going to have a motorized road, it should be in a Wild Forest Area,” he told the Explorer last fall. He also said that using the road for the snowmobile trail would obviate the cutting of thousands of trees.

Janeway counters that the Be Wild NY plan maximizes the amount of land to be classified as Wilderness and that state regulations would limit the number of trees cut for the snowmobile trail.

Other issues are whether a lodge on the south shore of Boreas Ponds, built by Finch, Pruyn as a corporate retreat, should be removed and whether a concrete dam at the foot of the ponds should maintained.

Photo of Boreas Ponds by Phil Brown

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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.

35 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    How much more money does this mean in property taxes to the towns? The holding costs for this land will be quite high.

  2. Paul says:

    Almost 700 per acre. That seems well above the going market price for timberland?

    • Phil Brown says:

      What is the market price for a lake with a pristine view of the Great Range?

      • Alex B. says:

        Well put! I was thinking what a steal 15million is for this piece of land.

      • Paul says:

        If the state actually pays the right market price or lower then they can use the money to maintain the land, something they don’t seem to even consider in their budget. The tax rate we as state taxpayers also have to cover would be lower. The money you save can be used to buy other property since the state doesn’t seem to be slowing down in that regard.

  3. Charlie S says:

    “local officials favor a Wild Forest classification.”

    That’s because local officials are capitalists and always have dollar amounts on their mind. Deja Vu all over again.

  4. Charlie S says:

    “the public should be able to drive beyond LaBiere Flow to within three-quarters of a mile of Boreas Ponds. ”

    Wherever the public has access to pollution follows. And disease.

    • Bruce says:

      Charlie S,

      I’m curious Charlie, I take by your comment that any access by the public brings in pollution to which I would agree, or are you suggesting certain user groups don’t bring it in? I think the disease angle is a bit thin unless you consider pollution a disease, I can’t argue with that.

      • scottvanlaer says:

        The environmental impact, from simply the amount of users to litter, to invasive species decreases with distance from the trailhead or access point. Calling it a wilderness but allowing motor vehicle access to an “interior” trailhead is the functional equivalent of classifying it as wild forest.

  5. SLMPdefender says:

    So often, the tax contribution gets overlooked in the conversation. As private land, this likely had a property tax deduction through a conservation easement. Now, the state will pay at least the fully assessed value in the land. On top of that, a new wilderness destination will offer a similar situation to that of the adirondack loj… Packed parking lots! The question is, will the communities in the area do the right thing for their constituents by supporting wilderness and spending their time on marketing rather than spending all of their time fighting the wilderness proposals?

  6. Phil Brown says:

    The article has been updated with a quote from the Nature Conservancy.

  7. Neiil says:

    Even if hikers can drive the 7 mile road to Boreas Ponds, as they can do now to the Loj, there aren’t many High Peaks for them to hike from Boreas Pond. With the Loj I suspect it’s the attraction of the High Peaks and completing the 46 list that keeps the parking lot busy. Turn that 15 minute drive into a 2-3 hour road walk and I don’t think there will be much of an economic boom. At least not from hikers. There is the North River Range but there are no trails and the bushwhacking to summits with restricted views is some of the toughest in the region.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      Why should the distance users have to hike or maximizing the number of users be of primary concern for classification criteria? The state has had to make many, many similar decisions over the past 100 years. We could easily have parking areas at Duck Hole, Shattuck, Marcy Dam, Flowed lands. Remote trailheads have little economic impact on the a community, because, hello, they are not near the community. The Loj is an example where the amenities, which should be provided by the communities in the theoretical Adirondack model, sprung up around a trailhead far removed from the community. If you drive down a road with Forest Preserve on both sides for miles, the ability of entrepreneurs to capitalize on the use is lost because there is no private land. The state doesn’t build national park type facilities here so the entire function of interpretive education and commingled capitalism is lost. The Adirondacks is already the host of hundreds of these type of lost opportunity trailheads. Is there a better example than the Coreys rd trailheads? Lets not make another. Keep the access point near community and main roads regardless of what you classify it.

      • Cranberry Bill says:

        The attraction of the Adirondacks is that they are wild, but so many people just want to drive there. That is like wanting a job where you don’t have to go to work.

      • Bruce says:


        Let’s assume access is where an interior road meets the public road. Are you in favor of constructing amenities for the limited number of folks who would be able to take advantage of the hike in, such as hiking trails, campsites, lean-tos, along with whatever bridges and boardwalks might be required? Or do you favor hikers using the roads, and the land as it is?

        I understand these things are allowed in Wilderness and Primitive areas, but should they be when interior roads are already there?

        • scottvanlaer says:

          In general, I believe we are building to many trails but without a greater knowledge of the land I can’t specifically comment on where trails, lean-to should or should not go.

  8. Phil Brown says:

    Updated again: We’re told Gulf Brook Road is gated and no doubt will remain so for the duration of mud season. We’re also told the ponds are still frozen. We also added a link to some stellar shots of the property on TNC’s website.

    • Noah says:

      What are the odds it will be open to the public this summer? Would love to get up there.

      • Phil Brown says:

        I expect it will be open by then. So far, DEC has not answered questions about plans for public access. It is now owned by the state. Usually, that means the public has a right to visit the land. I have tried to find out if there’s any reason the public cannot visit the area now, but I have not heard back from DEC.

  9. Davis says:

    Sounds like a great deal to me. Considering what is happening to privately held forestland, particularly outside the Park, I say thank you Mr. Cuomo and to all that have helped make this happen. Let’s move on to strengthen the protection of this asset and where necessary, protect the modest amount of remaining acreage that is truly deserving of state purchase or easement consideration. There will always be naysayers, but it isn’t their day.

  10. Smitty says:

    Hooray for Cuomo! I can’t wait to carry my Hornbeck boat, affectionately named the Smitty Gamp, one mile in to Boreas ponds. But not seven miles thank you. This is a great opportunity for compromise that’s a win for everyone. I hope it doesn’t devolve into another big fight.

    • Bruce says:


      Unless I’m sadly mistaken, if vehicular access is not granted to within that mile or closer to the ponds, ending at a parking area and trailhead, there are going to be complaints from almost all user groups. Like Neiil said, how many folks are going to spend 2 to 3 hours hiking to a pond for a few hours enjoyment, only to hike 2 to 3 hours back? You know what will happen, the hikers will want a lakeside campsite established with the requisite lean-to and pit toilet.

      I don’t know how heavy your Hornbeck is, but in 1887 Nessmuck carried the Sairy Gamp some 13 miles over the Brown’s Tract Road from Moose River settlement to Fulton Chain because he was afraid it would get bashed to death on the buckboard carrying the rest of his stuff.

      • troutstalker says:

        Nessmuk didn’t carry the Sairy Gamp on that section, he was sick and a guide carried it! I think carrying my 1995 Wilderness Chesapeake kayak in is part of the adventure! Why are people so lazy today? I ‘m 68 years young and still searching for adventure, I want to know what is around the next bend! Keep it protected and pristine. Make people earn their rewards with sweat and exercise!

      • Boreas says:

        I agree. I would like to see the road open to a parking area 1-1.5 miles from the lake, with a lockable gate that could be opened by DEC or with a code for people with mobility issues for close access to the lake via car.

        • Paul says:

          1 mile is a pretty long carry especially if you have kids with you, you can’t put them in a Hornbeck with you. 7 miles is a non-starter.

  11. says:

    What determines the price NYS pays for land in the Adirondack Park? They seem to pay more per acre for large lots than small lots. It started with the Webb purchase back in 1896.

  12. Pete Biesemeyer says:

    A seven mile hike, one way, is long. One would either need to carry overnight gear or get there just in time to turn around and hike out again.

    The benefits to the local economy versus the impact on the environment are valid considerations. No one needs to do a study of the effects of keeping the public out, because that’s the way it is already. The scientific approach would be to do an experiment; allow access as the ADK recommends. That would provide data for a good before-and-after comparison. After two or three years there should be enough information for an informed decision.

    If it turns out that the costs outweigh the benefits, then limit access as necessary. Otherwise keep it open, in which case it will be (in Bill McKibben’s words) “the Ausable Lakes for the rest of us!”

  13. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Let the games begin!

  14. Dan'L says:

    A parking area near LaBiere Flow is a more likely and practical launching pad for both foot and water traffic. If realized, it should not require a mile-long carry, but rather a portage at the dam between the Flow and the ponds.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Bruce says: “Charlie S, I’m curious Charlie, I take by your comment that any access by the public brings in pollution to which I would agree, or are you suggesting certain user groups don’t bring it in? I think the disease angle is a bit thin unless you consider pollution a disease, I can’t argue with that.”

    I’m curious too Bruce…curiosity burns in me. Any access is what I meant. Disease!
    I suppose disorder would have been a more appropriate word to use since what i was thinking when I imposed ‘disease’ was how things change once man arrives.

  16. Larry Miller says:

    Will information about access to the ponds for paddlers be available?

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