Tuesday, September 6, 2016

With Road Open To Vehicles, Boreas Ponds Sees More Visitors

When I lugged my boat more than six miles to paddle Boreas Ponds in early June, I saw exactly no one. That wasn’t the case this past Labor Day weekend.

Evidently, more people are willing to visit the ponds now that the state has opened up the first 3.2 miles of Gulf Brook Road to motor vehicles.

When my girlfriend Carol and I arrived at the new parking lot on Sunday morning, there were already seven other cars. We biked to Boreas Ponds, as allowed under an interim-access plan released last week, and then hiked for several miles on old logging roads in the vicinity of the ponds.

On our bike ride, we saw a group with two canoes hoofing it to Boreas Ponds, another couple riding mountain bikes, a man putting in a canoe at LaBier Flow, and a couple wheeling two kayaks back to the parking lot.

The couple — Geoff Day and Emily VanDerVeeken of Syracuse — had camped out the night before. They saw four or five others on the water the day before.

“We just wanted to check it out. We were planning the trip before they opened the road,” Day said.

The state opened part of Gulf Brook Road last week. Until then, hikers had to walk the full length of the road — 6.8 miles — to get to Boreas Ponds. Paddlers could cut off a half-mile or so by putting in and traversing LaBier Flow, an impoundment of the Boreas River (though the paddlers we saw this weekend who were wheeling their boats found it easier to skip the flow).

Mountain bikers are allowed to ride only as far as the dam at Boreas Ponds, 3.6 miles from the parking lot. The ride is easy on a hardened dirt road, with a few small hills. At the dam, you are rewarded with a view of the High Peaks.

Once at the ponds, Carol and I ditched our bikes and hiked up an old logging road on the east side of the ponds. The road offers no views of the ponds, but the walking is easy and mostly in the shade.

At 1.8 miles from the dam we came to a junction and turned left. This road offered occasional views of the North River Mountains and led us past the Boreas River, where it flows under a culvert into the northern tip of Boreas Ponds.

It was near the Boreas that we ran into three Forty-Sixers — George Sloan, Suzanne Lance, and her brother, Phil Lance. Suzanne, a former editor of the Forty-Sixer magazine, said she planned to write a blog about their hike.

“This is pristine wilderness, and we need to keep it this way,” she remarked.

Carol and I continued up the road in search of White Lily Pond, which lies about three-quarters of a mile northwest of Boreas Ponds. Our topo map suggested we’d find it soon after reaching an intersection of two logging roads. As it turned out, the facts on the ground did not quite square with the map. We never found the pond — though I figured out later that we came tantalizingly close.

On Monday, I returned to Boreas Ponds on my own and managed to find White Lily Pond as well as the headwater pond of the Boreas River. Both are worthwhile destinations for anyone hiking in the area. I’ll post a description of these hikes on the Almanack in the near future.

Incidentally, there were five cars in the parking lot when I got there Monday morning. On my bike ride to the ponds, I passed two guys wheeling a canoe and a day hiker with a fishing rod. I also met a kayaker coming out after spending three days at Boreas Ponds. I asked him if he was able to find a good place to camp.

“I just had a hammock,” he said. “No way you’d be able to put a tent in there.” The woods are thick.

Take his comment as a warning. Although Boreas Ponds is getting more use, the state has yet to put in amenities such as campsites, trail markers, and signage. Probably little of this work will be done until a management plan is approved. Meanwhile, you’re pretty much on your own. In my next article, I hope to give hikers advice on navigating the network of unmarked logging roads.

Top photo: Carol Fox with bike at LaBier Flow (and paddler on the water). Bottom photo: the new parking area on Gulf Brook Road. Both photos taken by Phil Brown.



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

39 Responses

  1. Justin Farrell says:

    “The state opened part of Gulf Brook Road last week.”

    When I arrived at 7:30am Friday morning the gate was still locked.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Edit… From what a friend told me (whom was also there this past weekend), at least one of the current lease holders was not informed of the change, and unknowingly locked in a few vehicles on Friday morning. That must have been why the gate was locked upon my arrival. No worries though, as I plan to return in a couple weeks.

    • Phil Brown says:

      I heard the gate was locked Thursday as well. At any rate, it was open this weekend.

  2. Bill Ingersoll says:

    The place was pretty busy on Independence Day weekend, too, when the first gate was still closed and everyone had to trek the entire length of the road. I was there for a 3-day backpacking trip that weekend, and the original parking lot was filled past capacity; one guy in my group parked down by the highway, and we had to jockey our vehicles a bit to make sure everyone at the trailhead that morning had room to park.

    By Monday afternoon, when we left, there was a vehicle waiting to take one of our spots.

    We encountered several bicycling parties that Saturday, including one group of overnighters. (At the time people were assuming that the lack of signage at the trailhead meant bikes were permitted.) On Sunday we hiked the loop all the way around Boreas Ponds, with White Lily as our ultimate destination. We saw nothing but moose tracks there, but as we circled past the Boreas dam on our way back to our campsite we met up with a solo day hiker. He told us he had seen Boreas the previous day from one of the High Peaks (Haystack?), heard other hikers talking about it, and decided to check it out for himself. Monday was quiet until about noon, when we encountered two other hiking parties on their way in; one couple appeared to have overnight packs, although with ultralight packs it can sometimes be difficult to tell. When we reached the gate there was a third couple (in their late 50s I’d guess) rigging up a canoe cart with the intent to camp overnight. There were actually more cars than we could account for at the trailhead, so we theorized that there were people on Ragged Mountain that we hadn’t encountered.

    Photos from that adventure can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/174787549212124/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1174283565929179

    So I would hazard a guess that holiday weekends influence the number of visitors as much as the location of the gate. If the destination is worth reaching, people will find the motivation and the wherewithal to go there.

    I have plans to return to Boreas Ponds on Columbus Day weekend, and I am interested to see what conditions look like then.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      And wasn’t your previous visit on a weekday in June–at the height of black fly season? Those are the data points you’re using to draw your conclusions: a day when you might have had a High Peak summit to yourself, and a major summer holiday?

    • Phil Brown says:

      Yes, the holiday weekend may have contributed to the number of people I saw, but it’s safe to say the easier access was a draw for many people.

      You say you saw several bicyclists on your trip. Well, that’s in part because riding a mountain bike 7 miles to the ponds is not that big a deal. That’s easy access.

      I note that you saw only one paddling party. I saw three the first day (one with two canoes) and two the second day. On the first day, one paddler said he saw four or five other parties on the water the previous day.

      • Phil Brown says:

        I would just add that early Sunday evening, as I was biking out, I saw a woman on a bike pedaling in and a man walking in. Neither looked prepared to spend the night. I doubt either would have started that late if they faced a 14-mile round trip from the Boreas Road.

        I’m not saying easier access is good or bad. But it is sure to lead to more visitors, regardless of the explanation for the numbers I witnessed.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:

        And what’s the big deal about the number of paddlers? No one else counts as importantly to you?

        • Phil Brown says:

          Not what I am saying. Just making the obvious point that Boreas Ponds will see more paddlers if the 6.8-mile portage is cut in half.

          • Bill Ingersoll says:

            But who cares? Why is the number of paddlers so important to you? If people are going there by land-based methods, isn’t that sufficient? The tract has been enjoyed by the public since the purchase was announced. Why are you so preoccupied with the number of paddlers?

            This isn’t the first time you’ve written about this subject. There is an obvious pattern. I assume you wouldn’t write about the West Canada Lakes that way, about how “arduous” the canoe carry is.

            • Phil Brown says:

              Why do you assume the number of paddlers is important to me? I merely reported that I saw a number of paddlers and suggested they were drawn in part by the shorter carry. Nowhere did I say this was a good or a bad thing.

              • Bill Ingersoll says:

                I make the assumption because you keep bringing the subject up yourself. I made the observation earlier tonight that I saw lots of activity on the Fourth of July, but you specifically pointed out I only saw one canoe, for instance, whereas you saw several. The number of canoes at Boreas clearly makes a difference to you.

                The article that you wrote about your June visit came to this conclusion:

                “It will be up to DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency to decide where to draw the line against motorized use. Whatever they decide, Boreas Ponds will remain a spectacular place to paddle. The only question is how many people you’ll have to share the water with.”

                It’s been a recurring theme throughout your coverage of Boreas Ponds, ever since that event with the governor a few years back. You haven’t been able to describe this place in any other terms except your assessment of its paddling qualities, or the difficulty of the portage. The very headline of this article is an outright attempt to vindicate your earlier theory that the gate was keeping paddlers away.

                This isn’t necessarily Bill Ingersoll the wilderness advocate speaking; I know full well what my biases are. This is Bill Ingersoll the long-time reader of the Almanack/Explorer, wondering how an experienced editor can have such a well-developed slant and not even realize it.

                • Phil Brown says:

                  The status of the road and the relative accessibility of Boreas Ponds, especially to paddlers, is a major question facing DEC regarding management of the tract. If the road is closed, hikers will still be able to get there with a longish but easy walk. All but hard-core paddlers would be discouraged. Because I point this out you assume I want the road open for the sake of paddlers. That’s akin to shooting the messenger, In my articles, incidentally, I also have reported on your position that the road should be closed.

                  • Bill Ingersoll says:

                    I am making no assumption about what you think of the road. I am only pointing out that you are repeatedly assuming the crux of the classification decision will be to what extent people want to portage. Your coverage of Boreas Ponds is simplifying the issue into a Goldilocks narrative: either the portage (rhymes with porridge) will be too long, too short, or just right. And while yes, I’m grateful that you do include other viewpoints, I’m concerned that the people like me are being cast as the Big Bad Wilderness Advocates who are about to huff and puff and turn your canoe carry into a 7-mile slog.

                    Your reply above reiterates my impression that you’re overly preoccupied with canoe access. In fact the classification will be an APA decision (with DEC input), and the SLMP says nothing about the preferred length of a canoe carry being the determining factor.

                    In the article describing your June visit, I took particular note of the way you chose Lake Lila as the comparative model for how Boreas Ponds could be managed. You did not, however, proceed to consider other equally valid models–i.e., other similar ponds/lakes with terms of access completely different from Lila. The one that I am drawn to is Cedar Lakes: an enlarged pond with a plural name, formally accessed by a road, now a remote wilderness destination and one of the highlights of the NP Trail.

                    But to be certain, I think the premise of the current article is false and perhaps even misleading. As I said earlier in this exchange, you are comparing a midweek visit in bug season to Labor Day weekend, and making the unsupportable conclusion that the newly opened gate was the main factor in visitation levels. When I offered the observation that July 4th was also busy, you singled out the difference in the number of canoes as if it were a meaningful distinction. I simply cannot see the basis of why such an assumption should be so important.

                    We’ve had a long working relationship, and there have been a number of times over the years where you’ve pushed me to be a better writer. Now I’m returning the favor. My own particular interest in Boreas Ponds aside, I think the coverage of this event could be less like an office betting pool about the final location of the gate, and more of a critical analysis of whether established guidelines are being obeyed by public agencies without undue political influence.

                    Otherwise, cheers! I’m looking forward to delving into the latest Explorer.

                    • Phil Brown says:

                      Not sure what more I can add. I admit that the Lake Lila comparison is not the only one that can be drawn, and the Cedar Lakes one is equally valid. I have another piece that should be on the Almanack this week that focuses on hiking in the Boreas Ponds area.

    • Boreasfisher says:

      Wow! Thanks for sharing the pictures of your hike. Absolutely beautiful…

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    Judging from the reports of the amount of people there this past weekend, I’m sure glad I changed my plans when I arrived to a locked gate.

  4. Tanner says:

    Wait a minute. You are standing on a road, in an area laced with a road system, near a dam, where the river passes under a culvert, and Suzanne Lance says “This is pristine wilderness…” am I the only one who gets the irony of that scene?

    • Bernie says:

      I’m with you. I biked in on Sunday and wasn’t impressed. Sure, the ride was nice and there is a single great view but with no wilderness feel at all. Walking further along a road with no views didn’t do much for me. I won’t be back until there is a horse and carriage business that will bring in my kayak so I can enjoy the ponds and/or there is a trail or fisherman paths along the ponds.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      I got a chuckle out of that too.

    • Bob Rainville says:

      No, you’re not alone on that assessment. “Wilderness” almost has no meaning. It’s overused and when uttered, is on par with other questionable post-modern type utterances. Lots of emotion invested in the word. “Wilderness is whatever I perceive it to be and free of anything I imagine it would be free of as I escape my comfortable, modern, neurotic, manic life…” Offended if anything I perceive as “non-wilderness” enters my mind or field of view. Museum wilderness: safe with trails and signs and rangers and managers and our little (or not so little) gadgets and rules and fees and post-rescue analytics and certifications and certified people with certified skills certifying and assessing and bickering over who is more prepared and worthy of entering the museum. Wilderness is serious business kids. Heavy. I’m worthy, you are not…I get it, you don’t…I belong here, you not so much.
      Most really don’t want true, free, deep, unimproved/untouched wilderness as it would require skills that are distasteful or offensive to most (hunting/fishing/foraging/bushcraft) and require strong self-sufficiency (nobody is going to bail you out and nobody to blame). Most love and rely on stuff (some use “stuff” as a badge of membership) rather than skill. I used to see this often (not always, thank you) in the sea kayaking crowd. Lots of $$$ spent on stuff for “self-rescue”. Offer to teach basic rolling or combat rolling or bracing and there would be moments of glassy-eyed gaze.
      We are in love with and fight over the notion of wilderness. The notion.
      Rant over. Back to work.

      • Jim S. says:

        Museum wilderness is a wonderful thing. It is the best we can hope for in this technology driven world. It is good to see nature left alone as much as possible. I bet the rant could continue.

        • Bob Rainville says:

          I suppose it is in some way when compared to the typical lifestyle (not sure I’d call it wonderful though). Relativity I guess. Still is a refuge and thus a necessity to many.
          Most of my time outdoors is spent far from wilderness (northern ADK’s)…lots of time in wild forest and the like. Very remote areas. More solitude and signs of an ‘alive forest’ than I usually experience in ‘wilderness’. And this is in spite of all the boogeymen: ATV’s, mountain bikes, snow machines, hunters, logging roads, etc. These land designations really blow my mind…and people get really, really hung up on them. Although intentions are usually good, it brings out some of the ugly in people. Us/them, hierarchies and all the mental fixations.

          I swear I’m not normally curmudgeony (is that a word? if not, I’m making it one)…I just get drawn in on human behavior too easily.

          • Jim S. says:

            Maybe a curmudgeon but you’re essentially correct about perceived wilderness. I clamor for wilderness for the protection it gives. Real wilderness may happen if the forest were left alone for a few centuries.

  5. Bruce says:

    “This is pristine wilderness, and we need to keep it this way,” she remarked.

    Yeah, she’s going to blog about it and tell everyone; that’s sure to help it stay pristine, just like overuse in the high peaks.

  6. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Wonderful…now more people will actually get to see and enjoy our Adirondacks. There’s more than enough “Wilderness” areas locked up and inaccessible to the majority of the population who cannot hike with a pack five miles in, etc. and/or portage a canoe.

    My hats off to NYS DEC on this one and I hope they keep it coming!

    • Boreas says:


      Visitors still have to do those things under the new interim plan, but it is a little less than 5 miles now. The road still isn’t open all of the way, and one still must backpack and portage. Not to mention find a parking spot at the flow…

    • Taras says:

      This past holiday weekend, your assertion was disproved by a *very* large number of hikers visiting the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness area. They walked far more than five miles, with packs, in a Wilderness area. I saw people of all shapes, sizes and ages ascending Marcy (minimally, a ~15 mile round-trip).

      The idea that Wilderness locks people out is demonstrably false. Given a desirable destination, it attracts people regardless of the walking distance.

      • Phil Brown says:

        My common-sense point is that more people will visit Boreas Ponds if the hike or carry is 3.6 miles than if the hike or carry is 6.8 miles. This is not the same as denying that people will hike long distances to enjoy wilderness. Generally, the easier access is, the more likely a destination will get accessed. Witness the dozens of cars lining the highway at the trailheads for Cascade and Giant every weekend. Those are two of the most accessible High Peaks. Just because I make this common-sense point does not mean I am in favor of easy access to Boreas Ponds. There may be good reasons for making the ponds difficult to access–for instance, to protect the natural resources. But if we are to follow your logic, distance is irrelevant and the ponds will be overrun anyway.

        • Boreas says:


          I don’t think we should really be trying to draw any conclusions in these first few months – the data set just isn’t statistically valid yet and is basically hearsay. BP is still a shiny toy being investigated by many who have heard the hype and any type of usage a big variable. Only time will tell how many will return and what the usage will eventually settle in to be. Hopefully the interim plan will stay in effect long enough to fully evaluate it before a final decision is made.

  7. Neil says:

    I think the importance of “wilderness” lies in the official designation of a “wilderness zone”. That designation restricts access, development and exploitation. I understand that everyone’s idea of wilderness is a bit different. Having the designation, which governs development would lend (hopefully) some consistency to the term’s use and application.

    I can drive from Montreal to the Adirondacks, do a 12-hour bushwhack in the Sawtooth Range and drive home again that same evening. In spite of that kind of easy access, the Sawtooth Range feels like wilderness to me.

  8. Mariposa says:

    On our first trip in a couple of months ago, I noticed some asbestos-cement culverts that had been replaced and the pipes dumped in several locations by the side of Gulf Brook logging road. Called DEC alerting them to the situation and to get them to remove the old culvert piping. Anyone notice whether they have been removed?

  9. Mike says:

    The back and forth between Phil and Bill is very instructive. As Phil makes very clear, he is very troubled by the fact that there are in his opinion, too many paddlers. He would prefer it if access was considerably more restricted, as he knows that not so many of us could make the 6 mile walk in with our watercraft. Other than themselves, they really don’t want anyone else to enjoy the state lands, otherwise why would he be concerned with too many paddlers? After all isn’t that the point of the state purchasing it? So the public can have some reasonable degree of access to appreciate, experience and enjoy the resource their state has purchased? When classifications restrict access to the degree that the average person cannot access a parcel of land , or body of water, folks like Phil get their wish. It’s not about protecting the environment, if that was the case then better it was still in private lands when no one went there. That’s their usual straw man. Phil and others like him, want the state to own it, and therefore all the taxpayers to pay for it, but then restrict the access to the degree that only the hardiest and therefore a very select few can access it.

    • Phil Brown says:

      I think you have Phil and Bill confused. I have not stated a position in the debate.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Respectfully, Why not include a little more personal opinion & thoughts in your writing instead of only reporting facts?

    • Boreas says:

      Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose a large parcel the same size of BP became available to the state. It bordered several other wilderness areas and this parcel was primarily forested with a few streams and marshes. It has no roads, trails, or beautiful vistas. Just a nice big piece of wilderness to add a missing piece to the greater wilderness south of the HPW. No one can easily access it other than from the Blue Ridge road. It would simply expand the existing wilderness area.

      Should the State not buy it because it has no easy automobile access to its interior? Would the new wilderness-only parcel have no value to taxpayers? Should purchasing wilderness land be DEPENDENT on automobile access? Is there no value in wilderness for the sake of wilderness?

      The only difference here is that there is a small, picturesque pond with a road to it. Why would the purchase of this potential wilderness parcel be dependent on auto access to the center of it? It is a bargain whether the road is opened or closed. The state buys many small parcels that have essentially no auto access. I believe some are even landlocked without a bordering road.

      I think making this an argument simply between BP access and non-access is missing the overall question – What is the best way to protect the new resource? Full auto access, restricted auto access, or no auto access? I tend to think restricted auto access like we have at the moment is probably the best compromise available. Perhaps we all should really take a look at what the other person is saying in this discussion and not just make it an either/or decision based on ideology. Compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    • Neil Luckhurst says:

      On various social media platforms one often sees the tactic being used here. Ie. First one speculates as to what someone else is thinking. Then those same speculations are used as a base to launch one’s argument. This is akin to playing chess against one’s self. You can’t lose!

      I speculate that unless one is afflicted or aged only motivation and putting in the time are what separate the “very select few” from the “average” person. Being in decent enough shape to pull a canoe cart up (and back down) that road is readily available to the average person if they put in the time. I would find the 3.6 miles boring but I doubt it’s that hard physically if you go at an easy enough pace, say 2 hours. Start early, go slow and steady, finish late!

  10. Maggie says:

    Were is the trailhead located?

    • Boreas says:


      It is easy to miss. It is along the Blue Ridge road. If I remember correctly, if you are coming from the east, it is the first “road” on the right past the entrance to Elk Lake Lodge. Taking this road, just drive to the barrier near LaBier Flow where there is some parking available. I don’t know if the road will be plowed through the winter.

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