Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Commentary: A Vision For A ‘High Peaks South’ Gateway

Paddling on Boreas Ponds as guest of The Nature ConservancyOne of the biggest Adirondack issues of the year will be the debate over how to classify the Boreas Ponds Tract.  Anyone who has paid attention to land-use squabbles in the Adirondacks for the last fifty years can describe the lineups on either side just as well as I can: recreation, access and the welfare of local communities on one side and wilderness preservation, aesthetics, non-mechanized travel and ecological protection on the other.

But what if this debate is false, predicated on outdated ideas and a fading history?  What if adherence to this old narrative is detrimental to the natural world and to the residents of the Adirondacks in equal measure?   Suppose instead that Wilderness protection and the welfare of local communities is in fact a synergy ripe with opportunity?  Lots of evidence from across the country tells us what ought to make sense looking at how Lake Placid, Keene and Keene Valley thrive: proximity to grand wilderness is an economic asset, and the grander and better protected it is, the more valuable the asset.

A recent study by Clarkson University attempted to make that very point.  The study showed a strong statistical correlation between higher property values and proximity to areas classified as Wilderness.  This result in itself is not enough to make a compelling argument, as property prices do not necessarily translate to economic benefit for residents.  However, there is much more evidence than just the Clarkson study.  Headwaters Economics has been studying the relationship between local economies and federally protected Wilderness lands out West for years.  Their research has consistently shown that counties with or near protected federal public lands support faster rates of job growth and higher levels of per capita income.  Those are much stronger parameters and they make a powerful argument for the economic benefits of Wilderness.

The strongest evidence, at least as concerns the High Peaks Wilderness Area specifically, comes right from within the Park.  A comprehensive destination marketing study conducted for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), the leading marketing organization in the Adirondacks, showed that it was Lake Placid’s proximity to High Peaks Wilderness recreation (specifically hiking) and not its Olympic cachet, that was responsible for its thriving tourist economy.   Other evidence supports similar benefits to Keene and Keene Valley.

Add it up and it becomes clear that none of this is about roads, motorized recreation or any of the red herrings surrounding “access.”  It’s about grand, wild areas that take hiking, climbing, camping and paddling to visit.  The Adirondack Loj trail head does not feature the kind of access favored by some for the Boreas Tract and the Garden trailhead is downright inconvenient.  No matter: both are used beyond capacity.

So what does this say about the debate over classifying the Boreas Ponds Tract?  Here is a specific idea for how the communities near Boreas can benefit .

First, the Boreas Tract needs to become part of the High Peaks Wilderness.  I’m on record as favoring a true Wilderness classification with Gulf Brook Road closed at the gate.  If ever a parcel acquired by the State deserved Wilderness protection it’s Boreas, and short of spot zoning strategies that are anathema to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, Wilderness classification will not allow of the road for other than a foot, ski or horse trail.  That’s okay: as the aforementioned evidence shows us, that kind of access is not needed.

Think for a moment of the traffic that Lake Placid and the Keene Valley get for High Peaks adventure.  Think also of the drive it takes to get to any of those trail heads from outside of the Park.  Now imagine a “High Peaks South Gateway” facility right at Interstate 87’s Exit 29, at the Blue Ridge Road in North Hudson.  This is the location of the former Frontier Town, a large, abandoned property which is mostly owned by Essex County.  It’s a perfect location for a comprehensive tourist facility.

Imagine that visitors driving the Northway would see signage directing them to this primary access point for the High Peaks Wilderness.  Upon exiting they would find a broad collection of amenities, along with ample parking and access to the community connector trail.  The Boreas Ponds Tract and hiking access to the High Peaks would be ten minutes away.

Imagine a High Peaks Wilderness Welcome Center located there, jointly sponsored by the major Adirondack environmental groups.  It would have information and displays on the environmental, recreational, cultural and historical assets of the High Peaks Wilderness and the Adirondack Park.  An outing planning service would be available to help visitors make the most of their desire to explore the High Peaks.  Educational materials would provide a wealth of information on different topics including safety, back country etiquette, how to help protect the Park, local communities and regional history.  The Welcome Center would present the High Peaks as a grand wilderness, on a par with and marketed like the National Parks.

Other amenities for visitors would include a gas station (already there), restaurant, motel, outfitter, and guide service.  All of these businesses would share a High Peaks Wilderness identity and theme.  The outfitter and guide service would function as resources for the Welcome Center’s outing planning service.

The heart of the “High Peaks South Gateway” would be state-of-the-art transportation network that would support green travel, eco-tourism, guided trips, exploration of historical sites and every kind of recreational activity there is.  Electric shuttle buses would run a regular route schedule along the Blue Ridge Road to several destinations: the Boreas Tract trail heads, featuring everything from short hikes with stunning vistas to the Ponds, to through trails into the heart of the High Peaks from two different directions; Elk Lake, a private jewel and a perfect destination fro eco-tourism; Tahawus, where the Adirondac Historic district would be featured as never before; the Essex Chain, for paddling and bicycling; and Santanoni, another eco-tourist destination waiting to happen.  EV charging stations would keep the shuttle buses operating but also be available to visitors with plug-in vehicles.  Last but not last, a fleet of electric cars, inclduing self-driving cars, would be available to take visitors to any destination within a hundred miles with a few taps of a smart phone, at a cost far less than a traditional rental car.  This would be a crucial asset, since transportation has always been a challenging constraint in the appeal of the Adirondacks, and the geographical size and population density in the Park will never allow any kind of traditional mass transit to be feasible.

The transportation network I describe may sound like fantasy, but all of it except the self-driving feature is feasible right now, and at considerably less cost than most people realize.  The self-driving feature is two years out, maybe less.

Everything about this idea fits with modern demographics and travel trends.  It fits perfectly with the desire for people to experience true Wilderness but from a base of operations that offers what they need.  It fits perfectly with the burgeoning eco-tourism industry.  It promises a convenient proximity to major urban centers unequaled in the region save for Lake George.  Finally, it offers a rich economic opportunity for North Hudson and Newcomb while promoting and protecting Wilderness.

Nothing about this idea fits with or supports the usual debate between Wilderness preservation and recreation.  Let Boreas be what it should be.  People will seek its Wilderness out, especially with such a convenient access point and amenities.  Current High Peaks usage numbers, which show heavy overuse of many High Peaks trail heads, support a market for it.  Relieving the pressure on Adirondac Loj and the Garden would be a good thing.

So why not investigate the possibilities?  Towns ought to get on board with something like this.  Environmental groups ought to  get on board with something like this.  “Pie in the sky,” some will say.  They’re wrong: work to look at the feasibility of these ideas will be happening; some is already.  So stay tuned: I’m optimistic that the old debate has a real chance to change.  If so, it’s about time.

Photo: View of the High Peaks from Boreas Ponds (courtesy David Gibson, Adirondack Wild).

Related Stories

Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

59 Responses

  1. Greg M. says:

    I wonder if comparing access to the high peaks via Blue Ridge Rd vs the Loj or Garden is even remotely fair? Quick straight-line distances to Marcy from each is:

    1.) Loj – 5.2 miles
    2.) Upper Works – 6.2 miles
    3.) Garden – 7.5 miles
    4.) Boreas (Blue Ridge Rd): 11.1 miles

    It doesn’t change much for the better for any other “major” mountains except for Allen, and even that would require driving in a good way to the ponds to be worthwhile. I personally can’t see an appreciable number of people picking the hike in from Boreas without a road in to the lower dam, there just is not enough time in most people’s schedules to add 10+ miles round-trip to a hike. Given that distance, most would opt to “bag another peak”.

    I view Boreas tract much like the western high peaks wilderness area. An important buffer zone. It’s economic impact will be similar to that of the essex chain, lots of buzz without substance.

    Personally, I say keep the road open to the lower dam, and close it in 20-50 years if it makes sense to do so.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Greetings all, I’ve been out of town, just getting to the comments. Thanks to all.

      First, a comment on the Clarkson study. I join a number of critics in questioning the validity of the study. The study presents an analysis using hedonic pricing to look at the link between property values and proximity to Adirondack State land (hedonic pricing uses regression to estimate the effects of different characteristics on the value of a property including its location to various amenities and services). I’m not a researcher in the field but I do teach college statistics and I find the methodology sound. However the relationship between property values and economic benefit is too complicated to draw conclusions other than the correlation that the study finds is worth further investigation. Furthermore, the unexplored correlation between land classified as Wilderness and grand, lovely places near which people with money might want to live is anecdotally strong and suggests that the appeal of the land may be the reason for the property values, not its classification per se. That said, I support the conclusions of the study for other reasons, most notably the additional evidence that Headwaters Economics has been exploring for years.

      On to some specific responses.

      Greg (and others):

      Your point is taken in terms of distances – there will always be folks going to trail heads that start them closer to Marcy. But it ignores two important factors: one, only the Upper Works trail head (with Flowed Lands) has a mid-distance destination with the knock-out appeal as a camping/staging area, namely the Boreas Ponds; second, the Boreas Tract has destinations on the tract that in and of themselves will draw a lot of people. The Ponds are one, of course, but Boreas mountain, Ragged Mountain South, the knob south of North River Mountain and the summit of North River Mountain itself have spectacular vistas. Also, the High Peaks Gateway would serve more than just Boreas – including Upper Works, which is second-closest trail head. Finally, we will be proposing a new trail to Boreas Ponds that cuts the distance to them in half. Who are “we?” Stay tuned.

      Curt (and others):

      From both an ecological and aesthetic standpoint, the differences between Wilderness and Wild Forest are inarguable. That’s why the classifications (and Federal Wilderness designation also) exist. The question whether the “average” visitor can tell the difference is irrelevant, despite any slightly mocking suggestion to the contrary. Ask a real ecologist if the differences matter; we have one on our team. Besides, my argument is that Boreas deserves maximum protection because it is as special a parcel of land as exists in the Park. The ecological truth of this aside, a couple visits will suffice to demonstrate that fact.


      Establishing a gateway at Frontier Town does not entail closing the road. The two things are clearly unrelated. I wrote a separate column arguing for closing the road, justified by the conditions of the tract itself.

      Paul (and others):

      The proposed High Peaks South Gateway would serve Boreas, Upper Works, Essex Chain, Santanoni, Lake Harris, Newcomb ESF, etc. Name a type of recreation we didn't just cover.

      Todd and Peter D:

      I don't for a minute think the argument for classifying land Wilderness should be that it benefits the economy. I think the argument for classifying land Wilderness is to protect it, period. I’m for classifying Boreas Wilderness, period. My claim, and the point of the article, is simply that those who think it's Wilderness versus the economy are wrong, that we fail both the land and the economy when we hew to that old, tired argument.

      Finally, on the transportation issue that was raised in some of the later comments, I’m not just trying to think out of the box. Transportation is one of the most challenging issues in the Park. It prevents many people from having the freedom to go where they would, or even visiting at all. It is thus also a privilege/class/poverty/diversity issue. It also forces wasteful driving and contributes to pollution and climate change.

      The Park’s geography severely limits the potential for any traditional public transportation, which causes great inconvenience and/or expense for people who live here, not just visitors. But at last technology is catching up to the dream of a powerful, autonomous, distributed and green transport model. Whether at Frontier Town or elsewhere, it is a solution to the indigenous transportation problems here that I intend to pursue vigorously.

  2. Curt Austin says:

    Imagine a restaurant that serves a lot of people who hike into a remote lake with beautiful views. Some carry their canoes. Then the access point is moved, adding several miles of walking on a road. You are arguing that the restaurant will get more business. Those that go anyway will order pie, but I don’t think this will make up for those who decide to go elsewhere.

    While Route 73 is both thriving and has access to Wilderness wilderness, Route 28N has even more Wilderness wilderness but is not thriving. It hardly matters to the patrons of the restaurant, since Wilderness wilderness, Primitive wilderness and Wild Forest wilderness all look the same. They may learn of the distinctions between Wilderness wilderness, Primitive wilderness and Wild Forest wilderness only when they are forced to walk on a road – something they can do anywhere.

    To be a serious Adirondack Environmentalist, you have to be very serious about the differences between Wilderness wilderness, Primitive wilderness and Wild Forest wilderness. I guess I’ll never be one, even though I very much enjoy the simple pleasures of simple wilderness.

    • Peter D says:

      Curt – I am sure that you are just as serious an Adirondack Environmentalist as I am. Designated Wilderness is important to me, but I would never pass on an opportunity to talk to somebody with logical counter-views to verify my own thoughts. I guess a fundamental starting point is “who/what” Wilderness serves. If economic/anthropocentric concerns are primary, the Wilderness concept is difficult to advance (though I think the “restorative” argument is solid) but if folks can be open minded about the ecological (why many don’t think this encompasses human existence escapes me) than I think it’s easier to follow preservationist lines. At the end of the day, compromise would work – if we could get folks to be reasonable.

      I, personally, would be very happy to have fewer acres of true BIG W wilderness, provided it was managed (oxymoron if ever there was one) strictly as such.

  3. Paul says:

    Pete, have you been out on Lake Placid recently on a warm summer day? Those people are not there for a wilderness experience. They are there to cruise, water ski, wake board, wave surf…..

    As far as the Boreas Ponds go Wilderness – Wild Forest either way it won’t really have much of an impact.

    The Adirondacks already has enough visitors – the key is to get them to spend more money.

    • AG says:

      “The Adirondacks already has enough visitors – the key is to get them to spend more money.”

      I tend to agree… In fact when you get too many visitors it no longer can be pristine because humans ALWAYS cause an impact on the environment. If it was up to me the ADK’s would be closer to a wildlife safari. I can hike and paddle in many places (even if they aren’t as beautiful). I want to be able to see things I can’t – close to home.

  4. It seems to me that to make fair comparison to Lake Placid you’d have to close the Loj Rd. and move all the ADK facilities to the Plains of Abraham. I think developing an entry point at the old Frontier Town site is a good idea for shifting High Peaks traffic but I fail to see why that must entail closing the Gulf Brook Rd. or how doing so would be a benefit to a new entry point. I suspect it would have the opposite effect.

  5. Paul says:

    These other places are not going to have the draw that the High Peaks have. Some have a view of the high peaks. But in the end the High Peaks is where people want to be when it comes to hiking. No matter how accessible you make a place that can’t make it into something they want to visit. We are seeing this with the Essex Chain sounds like it wasn’t the panacea that some had thought.

    • Boreas says:


      I tend to disagree that a BPW would not have the draw the HPW has. In terms of overall numbers of visitors, you are likely correct. But many people, including myself, would be more attracted to an area simply because it ISN’T the HPW. Not everyone likes crowds and elevation. Many prefer solitude at a quiet lake gazing at peaks. Solitude is the attraction. Leave the road open and the solitude is gone. Just my $0.02.

      • Paul says:

        I agree if you have a 6 mile carry or hike to the ponds you will have plenty of solitude in there.

        Personally I have found lots of days of solitude in places like the St. Regis ponds (including many many days where I was the only boat on the water) and there you can find places where you can park right next to the pond and it is basically managed just the same as a Wilderness designation.

      • Paul says:

        Boreas, The HPW draws in hundreds of thousands of hikers each season, including many from the Saranac Lake / Lake Placid area that are just day hikers. We see a place like the BPW draw anything close to that and I would be really surprised. We definitely are not in agreement on that point.

        • Boreas says:


          I agree. I think my second sentence above addressed that. I would hope it never attracts as many people as the HPW.

  6. Dan'L says:

    I think in the minds of the “average” hiker/tourist that there is little difference between Wilderness and Wild Forest. Many use the term “Wilderness” as a generalization with no reference or thought to classification. So, when they come to a place like Lake Placid, or even Lake George or Old Forge for that matter, they consider the surrounding countryside as Wilderness, the Mountains, the Forest and likewise. That’s why parking areas at places like Rondax Mountain and those on the shores of Lake George (Tongue, Buck, etc..) are just as busy as the Garden, if not busier.

    I agree with the above comment about access to Allen, but I think the attraction for most to Boreas will be paddlers, photographers, hunters (including small game) and new hiking opportunities and will not be realized without sufficient access.

  7. Adkmike says:

    With the closed road, people will use the Upper Works trail head instead. Let the mountain club run the lodge at the ponds, leave boats there for people to use from a dock. This will draw people.

    • Paul says:

      Yes, a 6 mile carry is not going to be utilized by too many paddlers, even with an electric bus taking you and your hornbeck to the trail head. If you think about it there are tons of 6 mile carries to some pretty cool ponds all over the Adirondacks, you are lucky if you find a handful of people that will do something like that each season. I have done some of that kind of stuff and it is an adventure to say the least.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    Funny discussing Wilderness in the sense of something that needs to draw lots of people…

    • Boreas says:

      Can’t agree more. It seems to be viewed as a natural resource that needs to be exploited to have any value.

      • Peter D says:

        Thus my comments above about “perspective”. I find it unfortunate that the non-human/economic values of Wilderness that we fought so hard to have recognized have all but been swept aside in the name of potential/alleged prosperity.

        • AG says:

          Yeah I don’t think ecologically people understand how important the ADK’s Wilderness are regardless of tourism. The waterways it feeds – the bird species it protects… Maybe most importantly in this day and age – the amount of carbon that it absorbs from the atmosphere. If we could find ways (which many are trying like “Algonquin to Adirondacks”) to better facilitate wildlife travel from different regions – other habitats would benefit even more by the Adirondack Wilderness.

    • Paul says:

      I don’t think it is funny. People who live and want to make a decent living in the Adirondacks have only so much to work with. It doesn’t necessarily need to draw lots of people but it needs to draw some who are willing to spend money and grow the economy.

      • Boreas says:

        Hikers, skiers, and cyclists don’t spend money? I think the Noonmark and Mountaineer in Keene Valley would disagree. It all depends on if and how the area is promoted.

        • Paul says:

          Boreas, who said they don’t?

          My point here is basically the same as yours. The “wilderness” however you want to look at it is what the area has as part of its economic draw.

          You would have to do a comparison but if you wanted to compare the winter users of the HPW (Wilderness classification) and what they spent on the local economy with the winter users of Whiteface Mountain (Intensive use classification) my guess is that the latter had a much much larger economic impact. HPW would beat Whiteface in the summer, over the entire year WF probably wins.

          • Boreas says:

            “… it needs to draw some who are willing to spend money and grow the economy.”

            This will happen – road or no road. Peter D was talking about why there needs to be net revenue for a wilderness to be worthwhile.

  9. Charlie S says:

    Todd Eastman says: ‘Funny discussing Wilderness in the sense of something that needs to draw lots of people…”

    We equate people with money Todd. People are seen as a source of revenue we like them to come and spend their money so that the coffers can be filled.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      I clearly understand the dilemma regarding Wilderness. The Adirondacks are a first stop for many along a life of celebrating and loving wild places. I hope that the agencies and the NFPs with assistance from the public can develop a forward thinking management policy for adapting Wilderness to a set of needs even larger than that conceived by Bob Marshall, Howard Zahniser, and Paul Schafer, among many more.

      Getting the public into the woods should be a state and national priority. The wilder those woods, the better. Management will need to reflect a balance between solitude and critical mass based on “reasonable” carrying capacity of the land and the proper infrastructure to achieve this balance.

  10. Charlie S says:

    Sort of along the lines of what Paul said: “The Adirondacks already has enough visitors – the key is to get them to spend more money.”

  11. Justin Farrell says:

    Just want to share that from what I’ve been reading & viewing on other social media websites & chatting with fellow Adirondack friends, the lack of public motorized access has in no way detered many people from visiting the Boreas Ponds & beyond over the past several weeks, including a recent report of a full parking area near the first gate over the holiday weekend. Obviously, using a motor to get there has been proven to be unnecessary for many people thus far, and it should probably stay that way.

    • Hope says:

      I personally have not been there yet but some very active friends were there recently and they biked in. I asked their impression and opinion of the trip. ” it’s a brutal, long, boring, steep road until you get in there and then it’s fabulous. There is no way I would haul a canoe in there. The hike would be more boring than the bike.”
      I’m thinking e-bike towing a boat trailer. Will e-bikes be permitted? Horse drawn wagon like Santanoni?

      I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to Access to HPW from Lake Placid unless you close the Lodge Road and access from Rt73.

      I think having a HPW interpretive center is a great idea but I’d bring it in closer to trail start. More like the VICs but specifically oriented toward the southern HPW.

      • Boreas says:


        A small, quiet, seasonal shuttle bus towing a canoe trailer would be a good compromise. This would be similar to what they do for private visitors at St. Huberts to access the lakes and their boathouse. But I am skeptical that a compromise can be reached in this political climate.

        Perhaps with the BP acquisition, the Newcomb VIC would become a reasonable regional education center as was its original intention. It was a shame NYS gave them up. I forget who owns that one now – SU ESF?

        • Paul says:

          The “shuttle bus” could operate there with a Wild Forest Classification, that is a compromise. Good luck getting the Wilderness classification folks to agree.

          On one end of the extremes is the Wilderness classification on the other end is the Intensive Use classification. Wild Forest is in the middle closer to the Wilderness end.

          • Boreas says:

            I doubt either group would agree. When was the last time a compromise was reached between these groups? Same with Rail/Trail.

            • Paul says:

              Many people including the local towns in the area have already said that they would like to see a Wild Forest classification. So one “group” is already agreed to what really is the compromise position here.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks for the reply.
        “Brutal, long, boring, & steep” was certainly not my impression when I backpacked in a couple months ago.
        Even though I’m in favor of a Wilderness classification for the entire tract, I’m not against allowing public motorized access up to the second gate at 3.25 miles along Gulf Brook Rd.
        I too would like to return in the near future to bike in, as I was thinking that the steady gentle uphill grade on the way in would make for a fun & rewarding ride out.

  12. Adkcamper says:

    As someone who recently visited Boreas Ponds (this past holiday weekend), I found it curious the DEC hasn’t put in a trail head register. It seems at the very least they could begin collecting usage data. Although I’d suggest they may want to collect data on how people are accessing the Ponds as well. At best, it was a 50/50 mix of hikers to bikers, but I’d estimate more people were mountain biking in than hiking in.

  13. Boreas says:

    As I have mentioned in previous posts, Albany expects DEC staff to maintain their functions regardless of how thin they stretch them with more acquisitions. Most trailheads that I frequent, the kiosks have either been destroyed, the register is missing, or no paper has been added for years. But I assume they will eventually get around to putting one up since the destinations are so remote. Whether it ever gets checked would be another question.

    • Paul says:

      The ones in remote locations, if replaced, will probably just get wrecked again. There is a lot of animosity toward the state in many of these places. That seems to just be getting worse as they acquire more and more land for the Forest Preserve. That system is so ridiculously antiquated anyway. Sign in sheets? Give me a break, they should try moving into this century.

    • John Warren says:


      If this is indeed true, you should contact the Forest Ranger supervisor for the area and report this. It sounds like someone is not doing their job, not that they are stretched thin.

      • Paul says:

        John, I have seen this around registers near the Santa Clara Tract where you can access the East Branch of the St. Regis River. They put in a new register and it just gets vandalized (entries like “Joe Blow from St. Regis Falls – I am going in to check on my pot plants” (which actually might be true!)) or ripped off again and again. Sooner or later I think they just give up. Some of the same issues we have seen with gates over the years. It has become an almost impossible task as now a ranger like the one that patrols an area like that comes in an learns today he or she has tens of thousands of more acres to patrol, in areas where there are very few people.

      • Boreas says:


        I used to, but nothing happened, so I stopped. These are typically places like Ausable Marsh and Wickham Marsh that don’t get a lot of attention and are fairly low risk. But it makes a bad statement to visitors from out of the area. Kinda like dirty bathrooms and potholes that never go away.

  14. Paul says:

    Getting back (or to) Pete’s plan. Is transportation really an issue? If it is why are the HPW trail-heads around Lake Placid and Keene so busy (“heavy overuse”)? It seems like if they really wanted to go to these new trail-heads they just don’t have to drive as far as Placid or Keene?

    • Boreas says:

      My take was that Pete sees parking and trailhead congestion and overcrowding possibly being relieved by shuttles, ride sharing, and shuttles for through-hikes, skis, etc. The north side could use a similar approach to minimize the need for personal cars to access the trailheads. Some National Parks have been toying with this for a while now. The “gateway” could also be serviced by buses from cities connected to the Northway – whether from the north or south.

      I don’t know how feasible the plan would be, but it doesn’t hurt to think out of the box.

  15. Alex B. says:

    This article couldn’t be more right.

  16. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

    I’ve always thought that instead of two primary VICs intended to interpret the entire park in broad generalities, there should be multiple smaller VICs spread out across the entire region. Each would help educate visitors about the natural and human histories of the local area, explaining why each part of the park is distinct from all others. Most towns in the Adirondacks do have “visitor centers,” but all they’re good for is handing out brochures; none interpret the natural significance of the region or help match potential explorers with appropriate trails.

    Most of the US national parks I’ve visited (and a few national forests too) excel at that kind of thing. Often it just entails having a uniformed park employee sitting at a desk to help explain rules and regulations, suggest trails, issue permits, rent bear canisters, and sell maps. As a tourist who may be completely unfamiliar with the terrain, and can be reassuring to have that interaction at the start of a backpacking vacation. And it puts a face to the park service, too.

    Of course, national parks collect entrance fees and permit fees, so there is a revenue stream to help fund those visitor centers.

    North Hudson would certainly be an excellent choice for a “High Peaks Visitor Center,” especially in light of the abundant available space adjacent to Northway Exit 29. I’d guess that a third of all traffic heading to the High Peaks passes through North Hudson. Exit 30 gets far and away more traffic, but there is no building space there because it’s surrounded by state land.

    There was indeed a proposal in the 1999 High Peaks UMP to build a ranger station at the entrance to South Meadow Lane, replacing the one at Marcy Dam as I recall. This station would provide a brick-and-mortar DEC presence near the most popular High Peaks trailhead. Obviously nothing ever came of that idea, and I haven’t even heard it discussed in a very long time.

    Recreational use of the High Peaks, Dix Mountain, and Giant Mountain wilderness areas have continued to grow since 1999, although no one knows the usage figures anymore because the data contained in the trailhead register books hasn’t been tabulated since god-knows-when. It was at about 140,000 people a year in 1999, a number that was regarded as alarmingly high at the time, although I have no doubt that today’s usage levels are now much higher.

    And the majority of those people hiking in the High Peaks will never have an encounter with a DEC employee. On my most recent hike in that area, I passed one guy wearing a DEC shirt on the trail between Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake. I assumed he was one of the interior caretakers, but our interaction was no more substantial than exchanging a couple “good mornings” as we walked by each other.

    Surely, I see a need for an increased DEC presence in the High Peaks, on par with what you normally encounter in many of the national parks. And North Hudson would be an ideal location for what could be one of several ranger stations / visitor centers surrounding the wilderness. Another good location would be Marcy Field near Keene Valley.

    As for the park-and-ride concept, this is already happening on a smaller scale at the Garden. I wouldn’t hold out for the fleet of electric vehicles, but North Hudson is strategically located to provide regular shuttle service to both the Rte 73 and 28N corridors, including the trailheads at Chapel Pond, Cascade Lakes, Elk Lake, and Upper Works, among others.

    On the plus side, this would allow hikers to plan more interesting trips if it was possible to be dropped off at one trailhead and picked up at another. It would help disperse users and alleviate the crowded parking conditions at the popular trailheads.

    On the down side, the people with a tendency to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the terrain would be left in a bind if they exited the woods long after the last shuttle came and went, stranding them miles from their car. Also, there is the legitimate question of whether providing this convenient shuttle service might make the area even more appealing and therefore contribute to a further increase in annual user numbers–exacerbating one of the issues that land managers should be trying to address.

    In the short term, however, I do see potential for such a facility at North Hudson.

    • Bill’s comment brings to mind that fact that while the state continues to expand its holdings in the park, it also continues to underfund ranger staffing, trail maintenance, etc. for the HPW. I have to wonder what would be the impact on its wild character to close the Gulf Brook Rd. without expanding funding for trail maintenance and additional staff.

      • Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

        It would cost money to maintain the road annually and then patrol it. Less money to close it and manage it as a trail.

      • Boreas says:

        It always seems to be easier for the State to acquire land than to maintain and patrol it. It is basic politics. Maintenance and staffing are usually annual budget issues that are rife with political shenanigans.

        • James Bullard says:

          I am somewhat bemused by the response that it would be expensive to maintain the road in a discussion of creating a new gateway point with all sorts of facilities including electric buses. The road already exists. All that other stuff doesn’t. In my world it is more cost effective to work with what you have than what you wish you had.

  17. Pete, we don’t disagree on the Frontier Town gateway idea. I think that is a good idea (albeit a bit pie-in-the-sky). Where we disagree is on closing the Gulf Brook Rd. The Boreas Ponds Tract is already wild, but you would prefer that it be even more wild than it is. To me, the road is a historical fact and I fear that to the extent we make these purchases more difficult for people to visit, the less support there will be for future expansion of the state land within the park. Getting people into the woods is not simply about money and expanding the local economy (although it can do that). It is also about educating people through contact with wild places and fostering an appreciation and support for keeping them wild. Again we aren’t debating whether to keep the Tract wild or develop it. We are debating ‘how wild should it be?’ and in that context I think keeping the road open is a fair option that balances public access to public land and maintaining wild lands. The “Forever Wild” clause does not demand pristine wilderness. It leaves the definition of how “wild” it should be to us. I think it requires balance.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Maintaining a road that allows more people to more easily get into the remote areas makes for bigger costs over time. The maintenance of the road is part of those costs as are the higher levels of staffing and backcountry infrastructure maintenance.

      Sounds like there are several possible alternatives that could play out thus eliminating the current perceived needs for keeping the road…

      … roads are the antithesis of Wilderness and should not just be abandoned when no longer required, but seriously removed to restore habitat and water functions.

      • Hope says:

        I guess it depends on whether or not the dam will be maintained. No dam maintenance will eventually result in no Boreas ponds. Maybe that is the end desired.

        • That’s a thought. To be true wilderness they should tear out the dam and let it revert to whatever stream is natural. Of course, that would negate any need for a new gateway from the south since the main attraction would be gone. It would just become a longer walk to get to the HPW.

          • Boreas says:


            While BPW would certainly be a significant part of the envisioned the Southern Gateway, it would only be one part. I don’t see it as the MAIN attraction. Pete’s vision could still include Schroon Lake, Hudson River, Long Lake, Santanoni, Upper Works, Elk Lake easements/Dix Wilderness, Vanderwhacker, and even St. Huberts and Keene Valley/Garden trailheads. Most are places where parking is becoming more troublesome, ameneties are lacking (except KV) and through hikes could be encouraged by a shuttle system.

        • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

          Removing the dam would not eliminate the Ponds.

        • Boreas says:


          Another thing to consider about Pete’s vision of a Southern Gateway is not only to look at what has been added by the BPW, but future improvements that could be made. Mostly what I am thinking about would be to cut new trails specifically for through hikes (and bikes in areas that would allow them) linking areas that have traditionally been long out & back overnight hikes and ski trips. These could link up with trails in adjoining Wilderness areas and easements such as Elk Lake and Ausable Lakes/Club.

          I feel being able to enable long through hikes accessed by shuttles would ultimately relieve some of the hiking pressure in the HPW and thus access points in the north. Over the last 30 years, calls to get people to use ADK opportunities other than HPW have largely gone unheeded because of lack of planning, support infrastructure, and private forestry lands blocking access. Now that many of these private forestry lands have been acquired by the state, much of the problem is being eliminated. Diverting visitors to southern attractions should help spread out much of the backcountry usage and consequently potential income from these visitors.

          Pete, I like your thinking.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          Nuke the dam! It is a scar on the landscape and getting rid of it now would eliminate worries about the road and save scads of maintenance $$$.

          As for activities, this area may be well positioned as a winter travel area as the relative gentleness and abundant snow could make it a paradise for skiers and snowshoers not wanting to deal with the Disneyland flavor of the Eastern High Peaks. The terrain is superb for gentler touring.

          • Boreas says:


            Excellent point about the terrain. It would be good if side trails could be cut at points along the road to wetlands or other areas of interest – similar to the Lake Road into the Ausable Lakes . That way it may make skiing the road into BP a little more interesting.

            • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

              Note what I wrote above to Greg. I and a group of others have been exploring the Boreas Tract, bushwhacking to various destinations over the past few weeks. It was previously my impression that folks were focusing on the Ponds to the exclusion of multiple places in Boreas that were also tremendous amenities. That impression, which I got from explorations many years ago, has been confirmed. There are lots of worthwhile short-to-medium destinations on the tract, many of them higher-elevation routes with views. For example, few perspectives in the Adirondacks show Marcy in its full vertical prominence as well as those from from the Boreas Tract. Ragged Mountain South delivers a terrific vista of the central Adirondacks as well as a corridor along Boreas Mountain right up the valley towards Nippletop. Those are just two of them. Through-trails to Panther Gorge and Hanging Spear Falls/Flowed Lands are no-brainers.

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!