Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bill Ingersoll: The Case For A Wild Boreas Tract

labier-flowWhen I began to explore the Adirondack Forest Preserve as a young adult in the 1990s, the Wilderness and Wild Forest areas had already been established two decades before my arrival. Furthermore, the discussion of which activities and which facilities should be permitted in each state land category had occurred several years before I was born. I never had any say in how the State Land Master Plan was developed; for the first twenty-one years of my life I had no clue it even existed.

But when I finally did discover the remotest recesses of the Adirondack Park, it felt like an epiphany: a light switch had been flipped on, and a part of myself I had not previously known (but always suspected) was now illuminated. Wilderness travel was immediately agreeable to me. It was an immersive experience that engaged my mind and challenged my body; the slow pace and rough edges existed in direct contrast to everyday life, a tonic to suburban normalcy. “Wilderness” was not an abstract concept after all, but a tangible reality into which I could disappear for two days every week.

And from the beginning I was keenly aware that the existence of all this Wilderness so close to my home was no accident. I was a beneficiary of the hard-won battles fought by wilderness advocates many years before me. I suspected that when those people had spoken of preserving open spaces for future generations, it was someone like me they had had in mind.

Before long I became committed to doing my part to carry this tradition of wilderness preservation forward. Therefore it was only natural that I would become a founding member, along with Pete Nelson and Brendan Wiltse, of a group called Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, which we conceived in May as a vehicle for promoting the knowledge and expansion of the park’s wildest places. This new entity is perhaps best described as an ad hoc committee at the moment, focused on the goal of seeing a strong Wilderness classification applied to the Boreas Ponds Tract, but who knows what it could become in the future?

The late preservationist Paul Schaefer was spurred into action half a century ago by proposals to dam the South Branch Moose River at Higley and Panther mountains, either of which would have turned a remote forest into a pointless reservoir. As I recall the story, one of the projects was more or less a done deal when Schaefer became involved. Nevertheless, he poured much of his time and energy into a movement to prevent the dam from being built—not only prevailing against steep political odds, but seeing the effort through to a constitutional amendment several years later, effectively removing the possibility of future flood control dams being built in the Forest Preserve.

Today, my generation has Gulf Brook Road as its rallying cry. It may seem like cheap hyperbole (sprinkled with a dose of narcissism) to compare the current situation at Boreas Ponds to the heroic efforts of Paul Schaefer, but consider this: before we formed Adirondack Wilderness Advocates this summer no one was seriously discussing a true wilderness proposal for this tract, one that saw the ponds as a remote destination rather than the setting for a trailhead. Even the major green groups were pushing for road access most of the way to the ponds, all as part of an up-front compromise package intended to please as many parties as possible. It was as if the wilderness community had aged and become more technology-dependent in recent years, and less concerned about the preservation of remoteness as it had been in the past.

Given the recent experiences with the Essex Chain acquisition, in which spot zoning and floatplane-only campsites were key parts of the final outcome, a wilderness classification at Boreas seemed doubtful. We appeared to be on a trend away from wilderness preservation in the Adirondacks, moving instead toward the increased mechanization of the outdoors.

But then the Boreas Ponds Tract opened to the public this past spring, and something odd happened: the gate at the beginning of Gulf Brook Road remained closed for several months. I visited Boreas Ponds the weekend of July Fourth and trailhead parking was at a premium, despite the long walking distance to the ponds. And when the gate to the road later opened in time for Labor Day, the new parking area fell far short of what the older groups had been calling for—ironically causing some Forest Preserve advocates to express their dismay that the road had not been opened far enough into the backcountry.

Pete, Brendan, and I formed Adirondack Wilderness Advocates in part to reclaim the wilderness narrative, which is at risk of being lost in discussions about trailhead parking lots and the preferred length of canoe carries. We’ve gotten so hung up on the details that we’re losing sight of the bigger picture. It’s time to reset the conversation.

Wilderness Until Proven Otherwise

Dick BoothI was reminded recently of the memo issued by outgoing Adirondack Park Agency member Richard Booth earlier this summer. “The SLMP creates a very strong presumption in favor of a Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe classification for any new, large-acreage Forest Preserve acquisition that contains special resource values,” he wrote. “That presumption is especially strong for large newly acquired tracts that contain significant water resources.”

He was, of course, speaking in anticipation of the upcoming classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract. Hearings are already being scheduled for later this fall; the outcome will determine the long-term management guidelines for not only this acquisition, but also a host of others across the Adirondack Park.

The generation that created the APA and authored the SLMP more than forty years ago envisioned an apolitical classification process in which newly acquired state lands would be analyzed and assessed based on their physical and biological merits. “If there is a unifying theme to the classification system,” the original 1972 edition of the SLMP stated, “it is that the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park should be paramount.” Human recreation was a secondary priority, one that “should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the resources … are not degraded.”

The SLMP never intended that the entire Forest Preserve should become Wilderness, but it certainly did identify Wilderness as the highest level of protection that could be afforded to any section of state land. What exactly was being protected? Most lands above 2500 feet in elevation, low-lying swamps and marshes, as well as rivers and lakes—specifically, those places not suited to handle large volumes of people.

The master plan also identified intangible or “psychological” aspects that needed to be protected, such as the sense of remoteness and solitude found in the areas that were far from motor vehicle roads. Like the flora on an alpine summit, these traits could be easily lost by mismanagement and poor planning. Prior to the creation of the SLMP there was no guidance on the location of access roads, jeep trails, and snowmobile trails, for instance. The old Conservation Department had been in the habit of allowing motorized access in the Forest Preserve just about anywhere, without thought as to how these developments impacted the perceived wildness of the backcountry.

The SLMP did not ban motorized recreation outright, but it did introduce the concept that motors were appropriate in some places and highly intrusive in others. The people with a heavy dependence on motor vehicles had far different expectations of what an outdoor experience should be compared to those who preferred to travel by foot. The SLMP attempted to resolve this inherent conflict by segregating the two forms of access into their respective land classifications.

The original SLMP did not try to comingle these competing interests with artful spot zoning techniques. Nor did it split hairs on how far any one truck trail or forest access road could extend before it threatened the integrity of the surrounding wilderness. Either the road conformed to its assigned land classification, or it did not. It was truly that simple.

This explains why I have been so disappointed with the quality of the discussion about Gulf Brook Road so far. For some reason it has been limited to an analysis of how well it will serve as a canoe carry. The term “reasonable access” has been bandied about more than once by the advocacy groups who want to see most of the road opened to motor vehicles. “Reasonable access” in this context is code for a paddler’s parking area, which some people want to see located at a strategic point close enough that a retired paddler might reach Boreas Ponds without much difficulty, but far enough away to keep some sense of seclusion once they get there.

As far as many people are concerned, this is all that the upcoming classification will be about: where to put the parking lot. But I find the hypocrisy behind this argument intolerable, because the underlying conceit behind “reasonable access” is that motorized access is good when it lets in the “right” kind of people—in this case, paddlers—but is bad when it lets in too many of the “wrong” people, the ones who might hoot and holler and destroy the illusion that Boreas Ponds is a remote and secluded place. In other words, motorized access is wonderful when it benefits you, but it is an obscenity to be litigated when it benefits the other guy more.

Limiting the discussion on how these new state lands should be managed to only its impact on canoe access can cause people to have an overly simplistic view of what is at stake. What should be a rational, policy-driven planning decision has been reduced to what I call the “Goldilocks Narrative”: either the portage (rhymes with porridge) will be too long, too short, or just right. This turns people like me into another fairytale character. Whenever I bring up the proposal to close the entire road to motor vehicles, what people see in their minds is the Big Bad Wilderness Advocate huffing, puffing, and threatening to blow their canoe carry into a seven-mile slog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut gauging the proper length of a canoe carry is not what state planning is about, fundamentally. One of the intents of the SLMP is to preserve as much Wilderness in the Adirondacks as possible, in all the places where it exists or can be restored. In his 2016 memo, Mr. Booth wrote:

“…the general purposes of the Master Plan … suggest strongly what the Agency should generally do when large acreages of newly acquired Forest Preserve lands are classified: i.e., wherever possible those lands with special resource values should be classified as Wilderness; AND when that is not possible, those lands should be classified as Primitive or Canoe; AND only when that is clearly shown not to be possible, should those lands be classified as Wild Forest.”

If you subscribe to this interpretation of the SLMP’s mandate, then any large tract of newly acquired Forest Preserve should be regarded as Wilderness until proven otherwise. That is to say, rather than wilderness advocates such as myself making the case for why Boreas Ponds should be protected, the burden of proof should fall on the other team. The people who would prefer to see access roads and snowmobile trails should be the ones demonstrating why this tract fails to meet certain criteria and cannot be classified Wilderness: it is bisected by a permanent public highway; the tract is a checkerboard of private inholdings; there is a wollastonite mine that is required to sustain local employment; Boreas Ponds must be a Wild Forest.

But if the tract has none of these disqualifying features, then the bias for classification must be Wilderness, because that is the only outcome that will satisfy the resource preservation goals written into the SLMP.

What Exactly Are We Protecting?

Does Gulf Brook Road serve a practical function that requires it to be retained indefinitely, for reasons that are beyond DEC’s control? In this case, no, there will be no special use reservations once the hunting leases expire. Does the road exist in a “frontcountry” setting, close to a large community, where it might be helpful in dispersing large volumes of people? Or is it an intrusion with a quantifiable impact on a sensitive resource, and therefore must be closed? It cannot be these last two things simultaneously, and I see no validity in the argument that the ponds can be Wilderness and the road Wild Forest, thus splitting the difference. Despite what we’ve been told, it doesn’t work that way.

If you are advocating that Boreas Ponds should be protected as Wilderness, then what you are implying is that this waterway is a sensitive resource that might suffer from the impacts of large numbers of people. The fishery might decline, the shoreline might get trampled, people might start cutting live trees for the lack of available firewood. These are the types of impacts that the Wilderness classification was intended to mitigate, and does mitigate in most cases except the High Peaks.

This protection is achieved by banning mechanical forms of access; if it takes a little more time and effort to get someplace, then human visitation is likely to be lighter, a little more dispersed. Going there takes more thought and planning, especially when the destination is remote.

But when you intentionally place a public parking area in close proximity to the center of a wild area, you are undermining that protection. In the case of Boreas Ponds, all that you would really be accomplishing by placing your trailhead somewhere near LaBier Flow is a ban on motorboats. The merit of your Wilderness designation becomes little more than a ploy to enhance your paddling experience—i.e., if there are no outboards present it will be easier for you to focus on the loons.

Ironically, if this is your minimal goal, you do not need a Wilderness designation to achieve it. Let’s assume for a moment that the entire Boreas Ponds Tract was designated Wild Forest. Bikes are in, and you can drive as close to the water was you want. Even so, the SLMP explicitly forecloses the option of opening boat ramps for one basic reason: facilities for trailered boats are only allowed on lakes greater than 1,000 acres in size. At a mere 320 acres, Boreas Ponds is much too small. The worst that DEC could do is install a fishing access site, at which people could only launch what they’re willing to carry down a short access path.

So it comes down to a question of what exactly it is that we want to protect, now that we are facing the decision of how to classify this new property. Are we most interested in establishing a multi-use recreation area based on a network of former logging roads? We already did that over at the Essex Chain, to mixed reviews. What about the terrific paddling opportunities at LaBier Flow and Boreas Ponds? Response: How is this opportunity any more special than the existing ones at nearby Elk Lake, Sanford Lake, Henderson Lake, Cheney Pond, and County Line Flow? It seems to me like we already have the paddling opportunities covered in this part of the Adirondacks.

My question is why are we assuming that this acquisition should be managed as a paddling destination? Boreas Ponds is an isolated body of water with no connecting paddle routes of merit. LaBier Flow is minuscule, only a fraction of the Boreas River is navigable, and so in this regard I’d say that the paddling options here are interesting, but very limited. Certainly, Boreas Ponds fails to meet the SLMP criteria for a Canoe Area designation, for the simple reason that you would not apply such a classification to a single pond. We can also rule out a Primitive Area designation, since there will be no non-conforming uses beyond anyone’s control after the lease camps are removed in 2018.

Boreas Ponds is essentially a large wetland, with marshy shores and broad patches of dead timber. If it were not for the views of the High Peaks, public interest in exploring this place by canoe would be much less enthusiastic. The physical reality is that this is a 320-acre flow located at the heart of 20,758 acres of forest. It is not the next Lake Lila; there are no sand beaches, there is no Shingle Shanty Brook or Frederica Mountain, and there are only a handful of camping opportunities.

This is not to say that paddling Boreas would not be rewarding—I am looking forward to trying it soon myself—but in this age of wheeled pushcarts and carbon fiber hulls, the difficulties of portaging a canoe along the entire length of Gulf Brook Road have been grossly exaggerated. And if portaging a canoe over this distance is not for everyone, then so what? Is a remote wilderness pond any less enjoyable if all you do is hike to its shoreline and enjoy its tranquility from land?

The Appeal of Remoteness

Therefore compromising the wilderness values of the entire tract for the sake of this one destination would be the epitome of poor planning. Every mile of Gulf Brook Road that remains open to motor vehicles reduces the remoteness of Boreas Ponds, as well as its level of protection. Mechanical access reduces not only the size of the protected area, but also the quality of the wilderness experience once you get there. The further the road penetrates, the further one would have to travel into the backcountry to escape its influence.

remote-areasIf the road never existed, Boreas Ponds would be among the remotest places in the Adirondacks. Think along the lines of the Cold River or the West Canada Lakes, two of the remotest places in the Adirondack Park. Rather than places devoid of people, these are destinations that are revered among backpackers. Humans are a curious species. Activities in which we invest personal effort—whether it be something that we create with our hands or a place that we reach with our own two feet—affect us far more personally than any passive experience ever has. We are at our best when we rise up to meet a challenge and overcome it. Exerting effort to get someplace is an accomplishment, in a way that driving a car will never be.

There are roads throughout the Adirondacks, ranging from public highways to seasonal forest access roads, and the vast majority of the Forest Preserve is no more than three miles from at least one of these corridors. This is a vast wealth of recreational opportunity for the people who cannot travel long distances on foot, or do not want to.

Remoteness is a much rarer resource in this technological age, and in this crowded part of the continent. It does not exist in the Finger Lakes, for instance, or out on Long Island; it’s not even easy to find in the Catskills, not on this scale. If we cannot summon the will to preserve it at a place like Boreas Ponds, then our commitment to wilderness preservation in the Adirondacks is truly waning.

The other risk with opening the gate on Gulf Brook Road comes not with paddlers, but with peak baggers seeking new routes into the mountains. If you draw a circle with an eight-mile radius around the summit of Mount Marcy, you will find within that range the trailheads at Heart Lake, Elk Lake, and Tahawus. The Heart Lake trailhead has become so busy that DEC announced it will be actively turning away latecomers this fall, once the parking area is filled to capacity.

marcy-map-2You will also notice that Boreas Ponds and LaBier Flow fall within this same circle. It is therefore reasonable to conjecture that once people discover the connections with the trail to Panther Gorge, these ponds could face the same problems currently seen at Marcy Dam and Lake Colden. Remember, the closer the parking area is to Boreas Ponds, the closer it will also be to the High Peaks. People coming for a Sunday afternoon paddle might find it difficult to find a place to park, and they too might be turned away.

Doing More than the Minimum

Gulf Brook Road will serve no utilitarian purpose once all of the remaining exclusive leases come to an end in 2018. If it is left open to automobiles, snowmobiles, and other forms of mechanized transport it will be an intrusion into the largest new Wilderness candidate that we’re likely to see in a while.

This is not a discussion about “manufacturing” wilderness as some critics might say. I have walked this tract several times, and while it was certainly logged and otherwise modified by human activities, it was hardly raped. This is more about restoring wilderness conditions to the land after a century of private ownership. Most of the forest seems to be in very good condition, a few recent cuts notwithstanding. Even with the hunting-club leases, human use of the land has been light as far as I can tell, mostly limited to the areas near the camps. The road will grow in over time—a process that would occur faster if we ripped up the gravel surface first. Culverts should be removed to make the streams friendlier to fish movement.

The specter of motorized access is a looming and immediate threat to the wild and remote character of the land, however. It is a threat that should be vigorously opposed, because in my opinion it is one that can be defeated. DEC has already handed us an interim management plan that is several degrees wilder than what the larger advocacy groups had lobbied for. To me, this says that the door is open, that Wilderness is an option. What we need to do now is muster the collective will to make it happen.

The long-term management plan for Boreas Ponds should not be about preserving the minimum—doing the least we can do lest some segment of the population becomes offended. If we feel strongly that the remoteness and quiet beauty of the Boreas Ponds Tract is a precious asset that should be preserved for the benefit of current and future generations, then let’s make the strongest effort that we can put forth. Let’s move the wilderness narrative forward, not backward.

Photos: LaBier Flow by Phil Brown; Dick Booth by Mike Lynch; kayakers on Gulf Brook Road by Phil Brown. Maps provided by Adirondack Wilderness Advocates.

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Bill Ingersoll is the chairman of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, formed in 2016 to speak on behalf of the wilderness character of the Forest Preserve. He has hiked and backpacked in wildernesses across America, but feels most at home in the grand forests of the Adirondacks. He is the publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebook series, and his articles and photos have appeared in Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Sports & Fitness, and Adirondack Life magazines. You will find him exploring the North Country with his dog Bella in all four seasons, by trail, snowshoe, and canoe.

90 Responses

  1. Geogymn says:

    Good article Bill! Let future generations be thankful for your wilderness advocacy today.

  2. Scott says:

    Very well written. I agree with your writing but there is one point that you don’t seem to follow through with: Gulf Brook Road is a major man made non conforming feature for “Wilderness” that under SLMP language seems to technically prevent wilderness designation and therefore seems to suggest “Primitive” is technically the more appropriate designation per SLMP.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      You refer in passing to “SLMP Language.” It’s a good idea to read the SLMP because it fundamentally negates your point. It’s not just you either: the idea that an area with roads or other non-conforming features cannot and/or should not be Wilderness is a common refrain on these pages and throughout the land use debate. It may be a convenient argument for some, but it is absolutely wrong.

      The State Land Master Plan is designed to protect – and recover – Wilderness areas, which is exactly what is called for with Boreas. The Primitive Classification is Exhibit A. It was never intended to apply to tracts that were otherwise appropriate for Wilderness classification but had non-conforming features. It was specifically intended to apply to tracts that were appropriate for Wilderness classification but had non-conforming features that could not be removed on a timely basis. It pains me no end that so many people either don’t get that difference, or willfully ignore it.

      Furthermore, the primary intent of the Primitive Classification was to be temporary: eventually the non-conforming features were to be removed and the tracts reclassified as Wilderness. In other words, recovery of Wilderness is built in to the SLMP’s very plan.

      Every Wilderness area in the Park has benefited from this plan, since every Wilderness area has had to have non-conforming structures removed, specifically roads. Under your logic no area in the Adirondacks would ever have been classified as Wilderness, on the basis of preexisting roads alone.

      Roads have never been a show-stopper. Roads can be left to be reclaimed by Nature over time. They can be scarified to hasten the process. They can be left to shrink to foot trails. They can be removed entirely. Adirondack Wilderness Advocates proposes allowing Gulf Brook Road to revert to a foot and horse trail, uses that are fully supported by a Wilderness classification.

      • Scott says:

        Well, I have read and re-read the SLMP and even sat in a presentation and discussed SLMP issues with DEC head Lands & Forests from Albany, so I know the language you mention. I agree with all that you wrote in your reply except one thing. It has always been my understanding that per SLMP when you have a major non conforming feature it is properly designated Primitive classification to protect it thoroughly with the goal of eventual future redisgnation to Wilderness classification when appropriate. I do not recall SLMP suggesting you start with Wilderness classification when you have such major non conforming features. It seems that in your reply you basically wrote the same thing I just said but have a different conclusion. I have suggested In the past that for roads in areas to be designated Wilderness, the proper course of action is to use machinery to scarify and seed the road so it reverts to a natural state quickly. Thanks for your time in this matter.

        • scottvanlaer says:

          Not sure if you have been on the road but it’s not as significant as was present at Whitney. It’s pretty narrow except on the curves. It would look like the Marcy dam truck trail in a matter of years, sort of does now but it’s side cut better.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      I believe the Boreas tract is more “pristine” than any current portion of the High Peaks Wilderness at the time it was added to the Forest Preserve. There were hundreds of miles of roads in the High Peaks. Many are indiscernible today The “road” should simply become a trail.

  3. John Sullivan says:

    I’m with you, Bill, but with a caveat: it not about you, or me, or our enjoyment of being in wilderness. It’s about there being wilderness, at all. We can build amusement parks anywhere; let’s not do it on the Boreas tract.

  4. Joe Hansen says:

    Thank you for such a well thought out and written essay! I agree with your proposals completely. The fact that a well built road exists does not diminish the Boreas Ponds’ beauty or the abundance of its wildlife. The area has been gently used by the previous owners, no camp fire rings with trash, no litter and few informal foot trails. The proximity to Allen Mountain and the Great Range make this special place vulnerable to rapid degradation if access is too guickly gained by motor vehicles.

  5. Justin Farrell says:

    Great piece, Bill!

  6. terry says:

    If you would like to see the culverts removed to make it friendlier to fish movements are you proposing to remove the dam that creates the ponds?

    • scottvanlaer says:

      The dam at the flow is very odd to me, seems to serve no purpose even for recreation. Can someone comment more on the history of that impoundment? Willie Janeway made the comment that Trout may benefit from the main dam providing deeper waters in a warming climate. I don’t know the veracity of that statement. It also appears as though the water level is higher now than it was say 20 years ago? I believe work was done on the dam approximately that long ago. Perhaps something with direct knowledge can provide more information.

      • terry says:

        The dam was most likely but only for recreation. To make a pond that the people that used the lodge could fish in.
        While it would certainly benefit any fish living in the man made pond both now and in a warming future, it would be detrimental to any fish in the river below it.

      • Boreas says:

        With virtually unlimited access to the Ponds, any existing fish species could soon be in danger of both overfishing and invasive, non-native fish being introduced. Even with limited access, I feel the only way to preserve any remaining native fish would be to gradually lower the pond level and eventually remove most, if not all of the dam.

      • I would need to see data but I question the benefit of the ponds to trout. 1) The wetland complex likely contributes large amounts of organic matter which would result in low dissolved oxygen in the cold bottom waters, 2) the dams block fish passage, 3) they are spill over dams releasing warm water to the Boreas River.

        Large wetland complexes keep water temperature cool and steady while also providing organic matter to invertebrate populations (fish food). Removing the dams may expand the wetland complex while also opening fish passage. This would greatly benefit the fish in the Boreas River.

        Having a bathymetric map of the ponds, as well as temperature and dissolved oxygen data, would allow for a better informed analysis on the pros and cons of removing the dams in regards to protecting our native cold water fish. Hopefully DEC is collecting these data.

  7. scottvanlaer says:

    Thank you guys for taking a stand when the others would not. The Peatland complex within the Boreas tract is an incredibly important and rare ecosystem. It is the largest and highest (elevation) Peatland complex in the Adirondacks and possibly in the North East. The issue of motor vehicle access into the pond is so much bigger than us and how far we have to drag a boat. Let’s protect this ecosystem by keeping cars out. I am glad you referenced Paul Schaefer. I have thought a lot about him, what he would do and what he would think. It’s unfortunate that the existing green groups are now really only about lobbying for recreational access under the banner of environmentalism.

  8. Marco says:

    I agree, too. Well said.

  9. Twin Rivers says:

    Bottom line – there will be a big push for ALL the “roads” to be open to motors. We need everyone who values Wilderness to attend hearings and write letters or we risk a Wild Forest classification around the ponds. Let’s put energy into getting people involved and engaged and in calling for a big new Wilderness area which ALL “green groups” and vocal individuals here agree on. I would hate for the debate over the boundary (Gulf Brook Rd) to confuse and discourage people who would otherwise be willing to get involved and support Wilderness.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      It will functionally be a Wild Forest if an interior trailhead is created at the pond or flow. Wilderness classification meaningless at that point. The very very few mountain bikers that would peddle around the ponds would be insignificant to the impact of a 6 mile road placing many many more close to the more sensitive parts of the Peatland complex.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      The issue, Diane, is that the Adirondack Council (et al) has issued a proposal that is too unpalatable for the audience you’re trying to attract. The hook of your campaign is all this new wilderness you want to “save.” Great. But then people look at your map and see that goddam road piercing right into the heart of the area, and the reaction is “Where’s the beef?”

      So if the Council is really interested in building coalitions and creating a united pro-wilderness front, then dump the road proposal and let’s pretend it never happened. Maybe then we’ll have something to talk about. If we want wilderness, then let’s talk about wilderness, not roads and snowmobile trails.

  10. Bruce says:

    If the tract is to be Wilderness, let’s go a step further in preserving and protecting Boreas Ponds. Since the roads are already there, let’s dispense with cutting trails and installing associated bridges, boardwalks and lean-tos. A short-cut trail between the road and ponds has already been proposed in an earlier discussion.

    While the SLMP allows these things in Wilderness areas, it’s certainly not a requirement. Here’s a chance for potential real wilderness.

    I fully understand the fact that trails and these other things can have a limiting factor on where people go, but there’s no logical reason the roads can’t serve the same purpose. Bushwhacking and herd paths will happen in some places, trail or no.

  11. Rob Gdyk says:

    Bill- it certainly is time to reset the conversation. Therefore, while your vehicle is focused on the goal of seeing a strong Wilderness classification applied to the Boreas Ponds Tract, I’ll be using a MAPPWD permit to drive my vehicle the entire length of Gulf Brook Road. Did you forget about people with disabilities when you said the road will serve no utilitarian purpose once all of the remaining exclusive leases come to an end in 2018?

    • Boreas says:


      Ever try Elk Lake Lodge next door? A lot of nice access there – and you don’t have to mess with the gate. Very similar views and a lot of water. Plus food & lodging!! I recommend it.

      • Rob Gdyk says:

        I typically won’t patronize establishments that are not disabled veteran friendly. From my prior experiences, Elk Lake Lodge is not.

        • Dave says:

          Are you saying that they not friendly to veterans? Not friendly to people with disabilities? Or, specifically not friendly to the combination in some way?

          • Rob Gdyk says:

            I’m saying they weren’t particularly attentive to my needs, being a disabled veteran in comparison to other establishments such as The Hedges in Blue Mountain Lake for instance.

            • Dave says:

              You avoided the question. You specifically state the problem they had with you was because you are a “disabled veteran.”

              So what I am asking is, were they not attentive to your needs as someone with a disability? Or did your veteran status somehow play into the way they treated you?

              • Rob Gdyk says:

                Probably the later, since my son is active military and they didn’t particularly treat him with open arms either. In all fairness though, a few other establishments have not been particularly friendly regardless of boasting they are AAA Four-Diamond, “Exceptional.”

                • Boreas says:


                  Sorry to hear of your experience there. I don’t stay there for the service, but rather the access they provide with their canoes, boats, and trails. Perhaps a letter to the local BBB copied to Elk Lake Lodge and VA would keep this from happening in the future. I may not return as well – I’m not a fan of discrimination.

                  • Bob Meyer says:

                    I agree wholeheartedly with Boreas on this.
                    Let the business and the BBB know of your unsatisfactory experience.

                  • Dave says:

                    Goodness. Let’s not let a single internet comment… telling only one side of a story (without any specifics, and from someone who says they have this problem elsewhere as well)… taint a local business.

                    • 1885 says:

                      FYI the manager at Elk Lake Lodge is a vet (10th Mountain). Let him know of any issues and they will most likely be fixed ASAP. Could just be a staffer issue.

  12. Boreas says:

    Great piece Bill. Hopefully some people in Albany will read it.

    Go AWA!

  13. The question which seems unanswered here and in similar writings on this subject is for whom is the wilderness being preserved? Is it only for DEC personnel, or the able bodied, or other? Until I understand the answer, I’m not sure what to think. And no amount of justification, as in this article, answers much of anything,
    Is it essentially off limits to all or most to preserve it? If not accessible to most, what is the value to them? If we allow expanded usage, can a wilderness be preserved and at what level of use?
    How do we frame what we are trying to accomplish, and is that answer possible?

    • scottvanlaer says:

      “If not accessible to most, what is the value to them?” I think this question cuts to the issue. Many people only see their dominion over land be it for recreation or resource consumption. How does one address this educationally and convincingly? I would like to see much over our Forest Preserve managed or not managed perhaps, for ecological integrity. Most people I think have diminished concerned for this and are about the recreational use. So my answer would be we are preserving the Wilderness for the Wilderness. Is that not an adequate answer?

      • Pete Nelson says:

        That’s an adequate answer, Scott.

        Another hike soon? Pete

      • der Hund says:

        Would the wilderness be better preserved if no one used it? Even hikers? What you really want is wilderness preserved to the extent it allows what you like, but no use beyond that. An incredibly selfish approach.

        • Alan Vieters says:

          Call me selfish I would like to see a wilderness designation. That’s seems most appropriate given tracts ecological attributes. Want to call me any other names or would you like to debate on the facts Mr. Trump?

          • Bob Meyer says:

            Please, we just saw the circus of the 1st presidential debate. let us debate this issue without personal attacks and with respect for all participants.
            thank you .

    • Boreas says:

      “The question which seems unanswered here…for whom is the wilderness being preserved?”

      Wilderness should not be preserved for humans. It should be preserved for Nature, of which we are a part.

      How much of the current US is wilderness – especially in the east? Precious little. Many states have none. Lucky for us, NYS at least tries to increase wilderness acreage when it can. In another state a parcel like this would have simply been sold to developers.

  14. Jan Hansen says:

    The Ponds should not be heavily used. I didn’t believe this until I actually visited.I was wrong. It is a beautiful, quiet place. Yes it was logged, yes there is one road which is very well built and it will be a while before it goes back to “nature”.
    Walking in on Gulf Brook Road for a couple of hours and then seeing LaBier Flow and then walking over to the shore of the Ponds is a wonderful thing. It takes your breath away. It is quiet. Motor vehicle use and associated crowds will not improve it.
    Wonderful article Bill.

  15. Deb says:

    It’s interesting we want wilderness but it is ok to build a national hiking trail thru wilderness!

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Hi Deb,
      Just to be clear, a “Wilderness” classification would be the highest level of Forest Preserve protection available under the current NYSDEC management plans, whether roads or trails currently exist or not, or if future trails are cut & become officially marked.

  16. Pete Klein says:

    If you want a wilderness experience, simply go off trail in any of the state owned lands.
    You can have more of a wilderness experience in wild forest than in wilderness if you go off trail.
    In fact, you can often have more of a wilderness experience in just about any wild forest than you can ever have in the High Peaks Wilderness because there are fewer people to put up with in most wild forest areas than there are in the High Peaks Wilderness.

    • drdirt says:

      thank you, Mr Klein .,.,., this article is well thought out, but in the end, as you say, all the forest preserve is wilderness.
      just follow any stream for awhile and you will feel the remoteness and peace!!!

      • scottvanlaer says:

        The existential Wilderness is different than the legal Wilderness. It’s not just about feeling solitude it’s about appropriate use and resource protection.

  17. Bob Meyer says:

    “Either the road conformed to its assigned land classification, or it did not. It was truly that simple.”
    I wish it were, but it’s not that simple.
    In theory, wilderness for its own sake is a most worthy goal, but what if YOU could no longer get there to experience it?
    As I’ve mentioned to Pete Nelson, at 71 and realizing my somewhat diminished physical limits, I’m conflicted in my viewpoint. Selfish, sure, but aren’t we all in some way?

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Have you ever read “The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty” by Christopher Angus?
      If Clarence Petty was still alive today it’d be interesting to hear his thoughts on all of this.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        I have indeed read Clarence Petty’s book.
        Truly a hero of the Park and of mine.
        It would indeed be interesting to have his take on this issue
        He was a very deep thinker that is right up there with Bob Marshall, Jim Goodwin, Paul Shaefer other titans of (Adirondack) wilderness preservation.
        Im honestly of two minds on this issue. On one hand I gravitate to the “pure” ideal of wilderness…. does the impoundment that created the Boreas Ponds preclude it from being true wilderness?….on the other admittedly selfish hand I want to be able to get there in the years ahead when I might not be able to walk the distance.

        • Pete Nelson says:


          Thanks for the great chat, by the way.

          So: if I could no longer get there I wouldn’t care. I probably can’t get to the summit of Denali any more, I always wanted to. Oh well. Wilderness for Wilderness’ sake is the only justification, that’s where the grand argument is, right? For children, grandchildren, Nature itself… we have to preserve what we can.

          That said, at ninety I’ll hire guides to get me to my land. We should promote and support the guiding profession.


        • Justin Farrell says:

          “I have indeed read Clarence Petty’s book.
          Truly a hero of the Park and of mine.
          It would indeed be interesting to have his take on this issue
          He was a very deep thinker that is right up there with Bob Marshall, Jim Goodwin, Paul Shaefer other titans of (Adirondack) wilderness preservation.”

          Who knows, perhaps many years from now people might be able to say the same about guys like Bill Ingersoll.

          • Bill Ingersoll says:

            Umm, thanks Justin… but now I’m going to have to buy myself some new hats, because the old ones fit a little too snugly.

            • Justin Farrell says:

              No, your Phillies hat fits just fine on you, Bill. Thanks again for all that you (& your friends & colleagues) do! It is greatly appreciated by many of us who still believe in a “wilderness” aspect for the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

            • Bob Meyer says:

              Not to make you buy even newer hats by i concur with Justin! 🙂

  18. Todd Eastman says:

    Wilderness provides the highest levels of ecosystem services…

    … cleaner water, better soils, naturally evolving plant species, and regionally suitable animals; these are priceless functions…

  19. Lorraine Duvall says:

    I find the effort to form Adirondack Wilderness Advocates laudable, but the onus of this article revolves around access.- in Bill’s case, access for those who can walk and hike a great distance. Should true wilderness be devoid of any access by people? Then we need to fence off the complete Boreas parcel, including foot traffic.
    My take is that humans are an integral part of wilderness. What that means is what I’d like to see discussed.
    I agree with his statement that “We are at our best when we rise up to meet a challenge and overcome it.” Please Bill, do not assume we all have the same challenges.

    • Boreas says:

      “Should true wilderness be devoid of any access by people?”

      People – no, motorized vehicles – yes. No motor vehicle has ever been born in the wilderness.

      • Bob Rainville says:

        Currently, very, very few humans are born in the wilderness. We voluntarily removed ourselves from that many generations ago. So if birthright is the litmus test for access, then we do not belong any more. That is why we now wrestle with this concept (or that is even a concept at all). And in voluntary removal from wilderness we removed ourselves from the processes of our basic existence: the costs of existence (food/shelter/transport/energy), the fragility of existence (birth, life & death) and the interconnectedness of it all (all things depend on the other, whether we have “discovered” it or not). We now despise our adaptive success, yet still depend on them. That’s the irony. Need wilderness, save the trees, save the animals, save the “environment”, yet live in homes made of wood, brick, plastic. Save the forest here, yet the wood for my home came from over there. Consume, consume, consume in our daily lives, yet visit the wilderness on weekends and claim “I get it, you don’t”. We must ban one type of technological item that we deem incompatible with wilderness, but allow or ignore others that we benefit from.
        So intellectual, yet we’re clueless.

        • Bob Meyer says:

          so very interesting; all the comments.
          intellectual, legal, political, emotional, philosophical….
          the Gulf Brook Rd. issue is truly stirring the pot of discourse.
          i, for one, welcome the debate and hope it leads to a better understanding of and maybe consensus about the action[s] needed for the betterment of the forest preserve and the people [residents and visitors] of the wonderful Adirondack Park.

          • Bob Rainville says:

            And in fairness to Boreas, he may not have meant “born in the wilderness” literally.
            But many here do believe we (humans/humanity) are separate from “nature” and so my comments will stand.
            I think these folks watch shows like Ancient Aliens or some other nonsense…again a case where our brains are sometimes our liability; we can eloquently rationalize anything.

            • Bill Ingersoll says:

              This is all the more interesting because the original comment by Boreas, whoever s/he is in real life, was “No motor vehicle has ever been born in the wilderness,” not “humans are not born in the wilderness.” So I’m not sure what the point is of this digression.

              Machines are contraptions that human built to conquer nature. But the species Homo sapiens was indeed born in the wilderness. We have existed on this planet for 100,000 years, with several other hominids thriving for millions of years before us. Civilization as we know it has only been around for a few thousand years, a mere fraction of that time.

              For all those eons before we learned to raise crops and build cities, we humans existed as wilderness creatures, living, hunting, and dying by natural cycles. One of our immediate forbears, Homo erectus, thrived for 1.7 million years without constructing anything more complicated than a stone axe.

              We’ve certainly come a long way since then, but many of us still heed the call to return to our mother, if only for 48 hours at a time. It may just be recreation now, but the wilderness is still very much part of who we are.

              • Bob Rainville says:

                Although I find the word “wilderness” overused and somewhat meaningless, I agree that we need more of “it” or places more like “it”. Always have.
                But we need to pay homage to our past so we understand the present situation. There’s much more to it than just crying “more wilderness”. Just as there’s more to it than saying “more jobs, more access, more more more”.
                Perhaps that’s the problem….”more”. Everyone wants more of everything.

              • Bob Rainville says:

                “Machines are contraptions that humans built to conquer nature”…that statement doesn’t sit well with me. Not factual…opinion. You must be able to come up with at least a handful of instances where a machine was not built for the purpose of conquering wilderness. Obviously many were made for “conquering”…but all of them?

    • Alan Vieters says:

      Humans are not an integral part of wilderness. The very definition of wilderness contradicts you statement…You do realize this?

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Respectfully, It’s not about “true wilderness” as you & many others here seem to keep repeating over & over again. It’s about applying the highest level of Forest Preserve protection to this unique area of the Adirondack Park that is currently available to the NYSDEC under the SLMP.

      • Bruce says:


        Actually, Wilderness may be the highest level of protection, but certain constructions are allowed, and at least one advocate of the Wilderness designation has already suggested a trail be cut between Gulf Bridge Rd and the Ponds to cut down the distance for hikers. Good roads are already there, it seems highly questionable not to use them instead of making a new trail.

        • Justin Farrell says:

          Fair enough, Bruce.
          Thanks for the reply.
          I for one am not against anything in AWA proposal other than the construction of 2 lean-tos at Boreas Ponds. I think a connector trail to Wolf Pond & to Panther Gorge would definitely enhance the backpacking opportunities in this area, regardless of the outcome of the road.

          • Bruce says:


            I’m not against trails in Wilderness areas, they have a purpose.

            Another side of the coin was illustrated in a previous discussion when someone had mentioned climbing to the top of I believe North River mountain to see a great view. In the next breath, he suggested we need a trail up there. If we’re talking about Wilderness, why not leave some of it truly wild for the more adventurous folks to get to on their own. He got there, others can too.

            • Justin Farrell says:

              Ok cool thanks again Bruce. That’s all fine by me. New trails or no new trails & only Gulf Brook road as the access I’m still in favor a Wilderness classification.

  20. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Same old…same old……wilderness, wilderness and by golly…. more wilderness. We just can’t get enough!

    There is already an abundance of “wilderness” classified tracts of Forest Preserve and heaven forbid the rest of us folks should actually expect better access to State Land. Thankfully NYS DEC has finally started to listen and took the right step with Essex Chain Lakes tract. It was a compromise to satisfy everyone, but naturally the wilderness advocates were not…….oh well.

    • There is over 100,000 more acres of Wild Forest in the Adirondacks than Wilderness. The park is also cross-crossed with roads. 50% of the land is within a half-mile of a road, 80% is within a mile. Classifying Boreas as Wilderness offer the opportunity to preserve on of the Adirondacks most remote places.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Hi Tim:

      In honor of the big debate tonight, what’s that Reagan line? “There you go again.”

      Do you, you know, go anywhere outside the Park? See a lot of Wilderness everywhere, do you? Does a tour of the highways and byways of America produce a lot of Wilderness experiences? Because me, I get strip mall experiences and mass cultivation experiences and roads roads roads and stuff like that. But apparently we all have to get ours, even if it means cutting roads wherever the heck. How selfless we are!

      In the grand scheme – that is, globally – protected Wilderness is precious. That’s inarguable, unless irrational posturing counts as argument. The Adirondack Forest Preserve is now the largest contiguous temperate deciduous forest remaining on Earth. That my friend is a sobering and scary statement. I say we have a responsibility to protect it as best we can.

      As to Essex chain, what an astonishing success for champions of access that one is! Overwhelmed with use! Or not. You know, maybe the access argument is off base, maybe it’s not so much a matter of roads and classification after all. Me, I think it’s about amenities, such as a robust set of businesses at Frontier Town to support recreationalists of all kinds. How about lets have grand Wilderness AND amenities! It works for Placid, it works for Keene. With a jewel like Boreas (and Upper Works down the road and even Essex too) it can work for North Hudson.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Same old…same old comment from Tim.

    • Tom Carvajal says:

      Tim if you don’t like the idea of preserving the “wilderness” then I’m sure the city is calling your name… This is the Adirondack Park, it was created to preserve the wilderness and should continue to do that.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Hi Tom,
        I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Brunswick, which is just outside of Troy, but Tim’s constant anti-wilderness posts are not at all surprising. Brunswick is nice countryside that is just outside the city.

      • Bob Rainville says:

        I’m not an expert in the minutiae and history of the park, but from my understanding it was created to preserve “wilderness” while allowing for existing residents and towns/villiages to remain and remain viable. A truly unique experiment indeed with the inherent difficulties associated in balancing these sometimes antagonistic concepts. Your comment potentially adds fuel to the stereotypical “locals vs outsiders” fire (even if you/he are not “locals”), particularly if you do not live and make a living here. The park was not created to solely “preserve wilderness”. And obviously it’s goal was not to create booming metropolises.
        My wife, who is Canadian, was surprised at the nature of the Adk Park. “If they want to preserve it as true wilderness, then why doesn’t the Government make it a park/preserve?” In her eyes it was a quixotic task, fraught with potential idealistic polarization and constant “bickering”.

  21. Charlie S says:

    Very well thought out Bill! One comment you say struck me:

    Every mile of Gulf Brook Road that remains open to motor vehicles reduces the remoteness of Boreas Ponds, as well as its level of protection. Mechanical access reduces not only the size of the protected area, but also the quality of the wilderness experience once you get there. The further the road penetrates, the further one would have to travel into the backcountry to escape its influence.”

    I visited Boreas Ponds this morning and must say this is a haven and two halves. From the Blue Ridge Road on Gulf Brook Road to where we parked was 3.2 miles. The road was steep and rock-strewn in many areas…had to drive slow so as not to rupture the gas tank. There was only one car at the trailhead when we arrived prior to 8 AM.It took less than an hour and one-half to slow walk from the trailhead to the pond which we guestimated to be about a three mile walk.

    Not long after we first arrived a man walked up with a fishing pole and cast his line in the water. Then a canoe with an electric motor came in from the north end of the pond…a small motor with minimal noise at best. I was surprised to know motors were allowed on that water.
    Twenty minutes later a middle-aged couple from Queensbury wheeled their two kayaks back in to the pond there were no complaints from them about the distance,they said it was easy.

    What magnificent views of Marcy,Algonquin,Dix… Heard a loon before we arrived at the ponds. A kingfisher flew low over the water and landed on a limb on the first peninsula that juts out on the east end.All in all it was the perfect walk and we wouldn’t have wanted the parking to be any closer. If we would have had to walk from the first gate near Blue Ridge Road it would have been a heck of a hike and I can see where this would be difficult for many. The parking near the trailhead (where it is now) is perfect.Any closer would be a detriment to those of us who like remoteness.

  22. common sense says:

    The wilderness designation truly makes sense when you peel back all the political layers and the selfish need. If we can make another “Cold River Country” in our lifetimes we should be proud of our accomplishment. Bill has proposed exactly what the other green groups wanted, but failed to propose hoping a compromise upfront would help ease the deal struck between gov and the mighty five towns.

  23. Tom Carvajal says:

    Keep the Boreas Ponds WILD! Anyone who has ever hiked into Pharaoh Lake knows what this could become, another backpacking paradise. And think about how overpopulated to High Peaks Region is getting, this could help thin that population with backpackers.

  24. Geogymn says:

    Methinks a quote from Aldo Leopold might be relevant ;

    ” Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      One of my favorite quotes, and it hints at an aspect of the current discussion that has been bothering me for a while.

      Previous generations of advocates were perfectly comfortable with the idea that wilderness recreation skewed toward the younger side of the spectrum–not just “kids” in their twenties, but anyone in their prime. The outdoor life was rugged, it was vigorous, it was physically challenging. That’s why people enjoyed it, because it was completely different from everyday life. Wilderness travel was about more than just admiring the pretty scenery; it was about engaging with the landscape, disappearing into it for a time.

      And this segues into another favorite (and relevant) Leopold quote:

      “There are those who decry wilderness sports as ‘undemocratic’ because the recreational carrying capacity of a wilderness is small, as compared with a golf links or a tourist camp. The basic error in such argument is that it applies the philosophy of mass-production to what is intended to counteract mass-production. The value of recreation is not a matter of ciphers. Recreation is valuable in proportion to the intensity of its experiences, and to the degree to which it [I]differs from[/I] and [I]contrasts with[/I] workaday life. By these criteria, mechanized outings are at best a milk-and-water affair.”

  25. Michael Hall says:

    Thank you Bill for your efforts!

  26. Neil Luckhurst says:

    Wow! That is an excellent piece Bill! I wish I could write that well.

    Other than those who read this web site, who will read it?

  27. Bill Ingersoll says:

    Thanks. I’m sure it’s been read by a wide audience, so the question now is whether any of it registered. According to rumor we may have an actual state proposal to react to as early as next week, so until then I guess we’ll be in watch-and-wait mode.

    In the meantime anyone who is interested in following us can do so at these sites:

  28. Paul says:

    One of the major approaches to the great range is via a road that has vehicular traffic. The road into the ausable lakes on AMR property (remember the old green hiker bus?). That road goes right to the boathouse on the lake. You could almost throw a rock from rainbow falls to the road if you had a good arm. All that land near the road once you get in the woods is as much “wilderness” as anywhere. Here in Boreas you are not talking about having a road anywhere near as close as there. I know some will say wait that road is private. There is still plenty of vehicular traffic on it, it is basically the same thing. The road will not impact the wilderness character of the ponds themselves. In fact you could have left the lodge there (for people to stay in and keep their poo in a septic system instead of all over the woods like we have seen in some of these other posts) and it wouldn’t be much different than the clubs boathouse on the lake. Big difference is that the public could have used it. Under these circumstances Boreas might attract a good number of users and take some of the pressure off other parts of the HPW. But it is too late for any of that. Too bad.

    • Taras says:


      Some will say the Lake Road is private because … it is. Even the club members don’t drive it; they are shuttled by the green bus.

      “Plenty of vehicular traffic” depends on your definition of “plenty”. Traffic consists of the green bus and (far less frequently) maintenance workers in a pickup truck (snowmobile in winter). That’s far less than if club members (or the general public) were permitted to drive to Lower Ausable Lake.

      “All that land near the road … is as much ‘wilderness’ as anywhere”. I understand your point but that’s not the Forest Preserve’s definition of Wilderness. The AMR is more like a Wild Forest area.

      BTW, you’re being quite surgical by choosing the AMR’s *road* for comparison. For the general public, the rest of the property is covered by restrictions that are more stringent than the Eastern High Peaks! It’s private land and you can’t camp, go off-trail, hunt, fish, swim, rock-climb, go boating, or bring a pet. Even if you and I could drive the Lake Road, all we could do is look out onto the lake. Imagine if *that* was the proposal for Boreas Ponds! 😉

  29. Paul Weinstein says:


    I want buy another copy of Discover the Southern Adirondacks for my newly married friends, Lawrence and Kadi Palmedo, but I can’t get to your website to buy it. How can I get your signed copy with best wishes to them from you?

    -Paul Weinstein

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