Thursday, September 15, 2016

Boreas Ponds Interim Access Plan Criticized

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome Forest Preserve advocates are concerned that the state’s decision to allow people to ride mountain bikes to Boreas Ponds under an interim-access plan could become the permanent policy for the newly acquired Boreas Ponds Tract.

Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, and David Gibson, a partner in Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, criticized this and other aspects of the interim plan released by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in late August.

The interim plan allows the public to drive 3.2 miles up the dirt Gulf Brook Road. From there, people can hike or bicycle the remaining 3.6 miles to the ponds.

Forest Preserve advocacy groups support a Wilderness classification for Boreas Ponds and the lands around it. Bicycles are not allowed in Wilderness Areas.

The fear is that if bicycling becomes an established use, state officials will be reluctant to adopt a classification that prohibits it.

“The rules say they shouldn’t be doing anything that biases or predetermines future decisions,” Janeway told Adirondack Almanack last week.

Adirondack Wild raised the same objection in a letter this week to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Authorizing public bicycling on the entire Gulf Brook Road and all the way to Boreas Dam establishes patterns of mechanized use that, contrary to your intent, will foreclose options for or at a minimum build in bias against eventual Wilderness classification.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen DEC released the interim plan on August 31, it declared that it “does not have any bearing on the future land classification of the tract currently in development and does not prejudge what access and uses will be allowed in the future.”

North Hudson, where Boreas Ponds is located, and other local towns are urging the state to open all of Gulf Brook Road as well as some other old logging roads to bicycles.

Built for logging trucks, Gulf Brook Road seems capable of withstanding bicycle traffic, but Janeway said allowing people to bicycle to the ponds would diminish the wilderness experience.

“Part of wilderness is the solitude and the amount of effort to get there,” Janeway remarked.

Nevertheless, the council backs a proposal that would allow the public to drive 5.7 miles up Gulf Brook Road to LaBier Flow, an impoundment of the Boreas River. No cars or bikes would be allowed beyond the flow, but from there the ponds can be reached by an easy mile hike.

Why not close the entire road? A new group, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, has proposed just that. Under this plan, people would have to hike 6.8 miles to get to the ponds.

Janeway conceded that “the wilderness purist in all of us can be attracted to that,” but he said the proposal backed by the council and a number of other groups seeks to strike a balance between wilderness protection and recreational access. For example, closing the entire road would make the ponds inaccessible to all but the most determined paddlers.

Bill Ingersoll, one of the founders of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, contends that the interim plan is unlikely to satisfy bicyclists or paddlers.

“The older paddlers, who seem to be most in favor of road access, will find that the length of the carry [3.6 miles] is too long. Bikers will find the requirement to stick to the one approved route to be a baffling restriction,” he said.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, agreed that 3.6 miles is too long a carry for most people (though it can be shortened a half-mile by paddling across LaBier Flow). “If you’re going to allow reasonable recreational access, you wouldn’t leave the parking that far from the ponds. That’s still too much of a distance for most users of canoes and kayaks,” he said.

Woodworth also called “perplexing” the decision to allow bicyclists to ride to the dam at Boreas Ponds. “If the goal is to preserve a wilderness setting, you wouldn’t allow mountain biking all the way to the dam,” he said.

Unlike Janeway and Gibson, though, Woodworth does not believe the interim plan will influence future decisions about the long-term management of the tract. “I’m not sure it means a heck of a lot for the eventual classification,” he said.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdirondack Wild also criticized the interim plan for opening the first 3.2 miles of Gulf Brook Road to motor vehicles. Since motor vehicles are prohibited in Wilderness Areas, Adirondack Wild argues that the road should have remained closed to vehicles until the state decided where to draw the Wilderness boundary.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, believes the interim plan is a preview of DEC’s plans for the Boreas Ponds Tract. “By allowing motor vehicles to use the first 3.2 miles of the Gulf Brook Road and mountain bikes to ride to the Boreas Ponds dam, the state is clearly fleshing out its eventual designs,” he said. “Mountain biking and motor vehicles are uses confined to Wild Forest Areas. It appears we may be seeing a Wilderness-Wild Forest boundary emerging.”

North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore said he is generally pleased with the interim-access plan. “Obviously, I would have liked to see [vehicle] access to LaBier Flow. That being said, we are 3.2 miles in. We’re hoping for closer access in the future,” he said.

Moore supports allowing bicycles to ride to Boreas Ponds and on old logging roads that loop around the ponds. “I’m happy that as a start we have bicycling to the ponds,” he remarked.

He also wants the state to allow horse and wagons to use other logging roads that circle the ponds in a larger loop.

Another criticism of the interim plan is that many of “53 miles of roads” it refers to have not been maintained in years and have been reclaimed by nature. “Thus, the characterization of the Boreas tract as having ‘supported a significant amount of mechanized and motor vehicle use prior to acquisition’ is inaccurate and unsupported,” Adirondack Wild said in its letter to Seggos.

The state bought the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract from the Nature Conservancy in April. It was the last piece in a deal to acquire 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands from the conservancy.

Environmental groups want the ponds and most of the tract added to the High Peaks Wilderness. The Adirondack Park Agency will soon begin deliberating on the classification of the tract. After that, DEC will write a management plan, which the APA must approve.

Click on the link below to read Adirondack Wild’s letter to Seggos.


Photos by Phil Brown. Top: A bicyclist passes LaBier Flow on Gulf Brook Road. Middle: The new parking area on Gulf Brook Road. Bottom: Checking the map on an old woods road on the Boreas Ponds Tract.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

50 Responses

  1. Larry says:

    Whatever access is permitted when the final plans are drawn will have minimal impact on the area compared to what it has endured in the past.
    I would certainly aim for maximum access with minimum impact.
    The rest of the input will come from those proponents who have special interests. The “keep out the (fill in the blank)” and the “Permit the (fill in the blank)”
    From a layman’s reading, the study of the ecology of the area reports surprisingly little adverse impact so let’s use what is there in the way of access roads, as long as they are in good condition, while keeping a close eye on the effects of usage. Adjustments can always be made.

    • Boreas says:


      “I would certainly aim for maximum access with minimum impact.” Hmm – these seem to be at odds – can you be more specific as to how this would be accomplished? Damage from previous full scale logging operations doesn’t set the bar too high.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      “Keep out the (fill in the blank)”…,
      – Bicycle costume wearing weanies. 😉

      “Permit the (fill in the blank)”
      – Heavily overused areas

      “I would certainly aim for maximum access with minimum impact”
      – Now that’s funny!

      “while keeping a close eye on the effects of usage. Adjustments can be made.”
      – Agreed! Obviously the area has been getting lots of use over the past 4+ months. Hopefully a fair compromise can be be worked out. I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I’m fully in favor of a wilderness classification, however I’m not against this current plan of allowing motorized access up to the second gate at 3.2 miles. – Justin

    • scottvanlaer says:

      I am not convinced your initial statement is true. If there is an interior trailhead, autos driving 5-7 miles into the High Peaks Complex that is a significant impact. I am not sure that will be lower impact than the stewardship of the timber companies. I believe it’s debatable.

      • Joe says:

        Really? Debatable? All those big trucks left full of logs removed from the forest. The logging done with large heavy machines all over the woods. I am confident any and all the recreation ideas discussed will have a lower impact than that.

      • Will says:

        Really? Timber harvesting with heavy equipment and large log truck traffic might be lower impact than some of the recreation access ideas being discussed? I can’t imagine how that could be true. Recreation activity does not remove the forest. Biking to visit the ponds and the views isn’t even likely to include putting a boat int he ponds.

  2. Jim S. says:

    The biggest draw for the Adirondacks is wilderness. Local people seem to be the loudest voices for mechanized access. If the idea is to draw people from far and away bicycle and motorized travel to the ponds will make it far far less appealing.

  3. Bill Ingersoll says:

    It’s an odd day when leaders of some Forest Preserve advocacy groups are upset that a road is not opened far enough to motor vehicles…

  4. How much mo says:

    Mr. Janeway is reported to be saying, “The fear is that if bicycling becomes an established use, state officials will be reluctant to adopt a classification that prohibits it.” “The rules say they shouldn’t be doing anything that biases or predetermines future decisions,” Janeway told Adirondack Almanack last week. (Wouldn’t there be a bias if the opposite decision of no bicycling was in place now.)
    Do you really think that bicycling would adversely affect roads that were designed for tractor trailers carrying a load of logs. Must be some mean threads on those bike tires. What is the pressure per square inch of a human foot print versus two bike tires.
    I bet it is a good guess that the reclamation of roads by nature is not as advanced as this article would lead you to believe.
    How much money was given by the state to the ADK Mountain Club to maintain their trails (1 Million? – 2 Million?) to care for their trail and promote their memberships access? Their trails are on a much more sensitive terrain.
    Then there is the issue real access, fair and equitable, for all regardless of age or ability.
    Maybe these lands as they exist now better fits the wild forest classification than it fits a true wilderness classification.

  5. Marco says:

    Until a final decision is made, the current management *plan* is a compromise between local people, tourism, statewide groups, and government. I am not happy with the road. I have seen, in several areas, how nature invariably reclaims roads if they are unmaintained. It takes time. One of the great sadness’s I have about this plan is that everyone wants it NOW. Logging damage, roads, impoundments, etc are all repaired if left alone. Closing even half of road means the closed half *will* revert to it’s natural state…in 20, 50 or even 100 years. Take the long view and celebrate a victory. For now, let the bikers use it, in 20 years they won’t want to if the terrain reverts. And re-evaluate every ten years for a century.

    • Jim S. says:

      I believe that mountain bikers aren’t interested in the road the way it is now. They would like it much more if it reverted. The people riding in now are mostly interested in getting to the ponds faster and easier.

  6. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Everybody seems to agree that the area has been heavily logged, withstood activity by people and mechanized heavy equipment for the past 100 years or so. Yet it is still so unique/beautiful that it must be now locked up as “Wilderness”, which will limit both mechanized access and access on foot to only physically fit folks??

    Gimme a break…..let the bikers in, move the barriers to less than 1.50 miles from the scenic areas and give ALL of us New Yorkers access to “OUR” Adirondacks!

    There is more than enough Wilderness already.

  7. scottvanlaer says:

    “Part of wilderness is the solitude and the amount of effort to get there,” Janeway remarked. This coming from the leader of a group proposing an interior trailhead and opening up a 5-6 mile road through the “wilderness”. I am not sure if this is simply a contradictory statement or just outright hypocrisy.

  8. Bruce says:

    I find it interesting when people make statements like, “making it all Wilderness will make it more appealing”. People don’t come to the Adirondacks just because there is wilderness. If they did, there would be far more use of wilderness areas that don’t get the crowds or have the cache of the the high peaks. People want their wilderness equipped with some amenities.

    To say that if Boreas Ponds were closed to all but foot traffic, it would draw more visitors is ingenuous, at best. In spite of the good roads, hikers want their trail shortcuts…that’s an amenity.

    • Jim S. says:

      Hikers do not want shortcut trails, they don’t enjoy walking on roads. Boreas Ponds is a draw for hikers. People who are drawn to the Adirondacks for something other than wilderness won’t be that interested in visiting the ponds in great numbers. The amount of people that came and hiked the entire length of the road tells of the hikers interest.

      • Jim S. says:

        Mountain bikers don’t like roads either.

        • Paul says:

          The one in the picture apparently does.

        • Jan Hansen says:

          Jim S, don’t generalize. There are all sorts of folks who ride so called mountain bikes who would happily ride that road into the Boreas Ponds.

          • Jim S. says:

            Of course there are exceptions. Most people who ride mountain bikes like single track action. Very similar to hiking trails. Roads are nice for people who don’t use mountain bikes for what they were designed for. I love biking, but a mountain bike on a gravel road is boring. My sincere belief is if the Boreas Ponds are supposed to draw people to the Newcomb area it will not be mountain biking on a flat stone road.

            • Paul says:

              Most people who ride mountain bikes just ride them around town.

              • Jim S. says:

                Most people who travel to the Adirondacks to ride mountain bikes don’t . I believe that NYS made these land acquisitions to draw more people to the north country (I feel it should be to protect more of the place) . The only reason I can see to allow biking here is to get to the ponds easier.

                • Boreas says:

                  Biking and riding horses are among the numerous activities local authorities wanted with the parcel.

                  • Jim S. says:

                    I don’t have knowledge of the horse riding people, but I am sure mountain biking won’t be a draw to Boreas Ponds. Locals might like biking for 2 or 3 miles, but if your vacationing with mountain bikes Wilmington is the place to go.Boreas Ponds with a wilderness designation attached to the HPW and the other new acquisitions could be a world wide draw. Sell to its unique strengths

                    • Boreas says:


                      You don’t need to convince me. It is the local authorities that are pushing those activities to generate revenue.

                    • Mark says:

                      I agree with you Jim S. As a mountain biker I drive about 1.5 hours to ride the Flume Trails and the Hardy Road (Beaver Brook) trail system, but I would not drive that far to ride a flat road. One problem is the local officials have no idea what mountain bikers, as opposed to people who ride mountain bikes, really want. If any of them bothered to look at the Kingdom Trails in our neighbor to the east they might get a clue.

                    • Boreas says:


                      In their defense, I don’t think they were really looking at making it a world-class MB area since building a back-country trail network was probably going to be a non-starter. I believe they were thinking ‘What can an area with heavy logging roads be used for?’. Bike riding, horse riding, etc.. Certainly road bikes could not be used on them, but hybrid, fat tire, and mountain bikes could.

    • John Warren says:

      Actually, tourism studies show year after year that people do in fact come to the Adirondacks mostly for wilderness.

      • Paul says:

        John, don’t these studies show that folks come for “hiking” (the number one activity with some others high on the list as well) not necessarily for wilderness specifically?

        • John Warren says:

          They overwhelming come to hike in a wilderness area. The most popular destination in the Adirondacks is, by far, the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

          • Paul says:

            John, this second sentence isn’t accurate. Whiteface mountain alone has about 120,000 skiers per year and about 100,000 summer users annually. 220,000 per year. According to the 1999 UMP for the HPW the estimated number of visitors was about 140,000. Use is way up like stories here had covered but not up enough to top White face. These numbers are based on the UMP and the 2014 annual report for WF. Check them out.

  9. Paul says:

    One part of a comment above is spot on. Why would treating the parcel like a Wild Forest (allowing biking, road etc.) influence the decision on how to classify? Would treating it like a Wilderness (not allowing the bikes, road etc.) influence the decision? Of course not. Neither one is or would.

    • Boreas says:


      Perhaps a potential for bias in the process? I didn’t really get that part either.

      • Paul says:

        They are also claiming that this is some type of preview for what is to be decided later? On that point this does look like a pretty serious parking area that they have put a lot of (what looks like) new crusher run into. You either take that cost off the UMP budget if this is where the road will end or add a line for hauling it all out of there and putting it farther down the road one way or the other!

        • Boreas says:

          It could always be left there and used for winter parking if they shut that gate in winter. Or overflow parking…

        • Justin Farrell says:

          Just wanted to add that they are also in the process of doing a lot of clearing & excavating work at the first gate near Blue Ridge Rd.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Paul, the environmental groups argue that there is a difference. If you treat an area like Wild Forest, you open it up to recreational uses that are not allowed in Wilderness. So if you later classify it as Wilderness, you will have to bar a use that has been enjoyed by visitors. That’s not the case if you treat an area like Wilderness prior to classification.

      • Paul says:

        Are those uses barred in an area that is yet to be classified?

        • Phil Brown says:

          They can be. DEC did not open the road to bikes until issuing the interim access plan. Now bikes are allowed. If the road is later classified as Wilderness, they will be prohibited. That is the point the environmentalists are making. Likewise, the whole road had been closed before the interim plan was issued. Now vehicles are allowed to drive 3.2 miles up the road. If the whole road is later closed, as some advocate, that use will be taken away.

          • Paul says:

            Okay. So it sounds like the default from the start is basically treating the areas as you would under a wilderness classification. In that case those that want a less restrictive classification are the ones who should be complaining. It sounds like any new tract at least at first gets a preview as a wilderness parcel. At least as far as how the access is managed. Maybe here they just want to give the Wild Forest supporters a partial preview as well. If you want to test drive the wilderness classification just get far away from the road (as is easy to do on 20,000 acres where only a few miles of road is open). Like others have said here before most places in the Adirondacks are relatively close to a road and there is lots of quite wilderness to be found. Like I have said before sound doesn’t travel farther in this part of the Adirondacks.

  10. Jan Hansen says:

    What I am worried about with easy access to the Boreas Ponds is the inconsiderate people who may drive into the Ponds, drop their coffee cups, etc all over the place, leave tissues on the ground and worse.
    A few weeks ago when we were there I saw bottle caps on the ground near the dam. We camped in the woods after a paddle across the ponds and I found an old glass Coke bottle (70’s vintage) near where we camped. There is logging trash here and there that is being swallowed by the woods slowly, the place does not need concentrated bits of trash at the prettiest views deposited by slobs.

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Actually, tourism studies show year after year that people do in fact come to the Adirondacks mostly for wilderness.”

    That’s why I go there! Solitude! These people who go in large groups or seek out heavily used areas….extroverts. Carl Jung,in his book ‘Psychological Types’ said this: “Introverts are drawn toward the inner world of thought and feeling,extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”

    According to Jung’s definition I am an introvert. …a quiet person in a loudmouth world.

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What I am worried about with easy access to the Boreas Ponds is the inconsiderate people who may drive into the Ponds, drop their coffee cups, etc all over the place, leave tissues on the ground and worse.”

    The easier access the more people Jan…..the more problems,more pollution.ABC!

  13. John DiGiacomo says:

    I may be in the minority, but I fully support the DEC in the interim position they have taken. Since this tract has been open I have hiked, mountain biked and paddled on the property and based on my experiences my initial position, prior to visiting the property, has changed,
    By adopting the interim plan, the DEC will be afforded the opportunity to make a decision, on multi-use, based on facts not individual biases on what a wilderness experience is.
    Based on my experiences this acquisition has provided the people of New York with a unique opportunity to enjoy an outdoor experience in many different ways. As I mentioned earlier, I have enjoyed the property in all three ways and each outdoor experience was a little different.
    The one concern I do have and it was not mentioned in this article is the one mile stretch where horses will be on the same trail with mountain bikers and canoe carts. The potential for the horses getting spooked could pose a hazard.

    • How much mo says:

      Nice comments John. As a previous horse owner if a horse will spook by a mountain bike or a canoe carrier, to where he can’t be controlled then that horse has no business being on a state trial system. Where trails are open for public use they should be multi use when ever possible.

      • John DiGiacomo says:

        By no means was I suggesting not allowing horses, as I am in favor of everyone enjoying the trails. However, I had previously lived near a multi use trail system and several years ago a horseback rider was seriously injured when a biker came around a curve from the opposite direction and spooked the horse.

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