The Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy has taken the unusual step of entering into the debate over the classification of the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, which it sold to the state this year.
In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the conservancy recommends that 11,500 acres be classified Wilderness, the most restrictive designation, and 9,030 acres be classified Wild Forest, which allows some motorized use. The adjacent 1,587-acre Casey Brook Tract also would be classified Wilderness.
Among other things, the tract’s classification will determine how close visitors will be allowed to drive to Boreas Ponds and whether they will be allowed to ride mountain bikes on old logging roads around the ponds.
The Nature Conservancy’s is the fifth formal classification proposal released by organizations with a stake in the outcome. It is nearly identical to the proposal of Protect the Adirondacks. Protect’s proposal, in turn, is similar in most respects to a proposal endorsed by a coalition of environmental groups called BeWildNY. These three proposals differ greatly from those offered by a coalition of local towns, called Access the Adirondacks, and by Adirondack Wilderness Advocates.
The Adirondack Park Agency plans to hold hearings on the classification question this fall. The agency’s staff is expected to release its proposed classification options as early as this week. Eventually, the APA will make a decision, which then must be approved by the governor.
TNC usually does not get involved in public disputes over the classification and management of lands it sells the state. It made an exception in this case: “Given the level of public interest in the classification of the Boreas tract, and the variety of proposals that have been publicly circulated, we wish to express our views,” wrote Mike Carr, the chapter’s executive director, in the letter to Cuomo.
The state bought the Boreas Pond Tract in April as part of a multi-year deal to acquire 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn timberlands from the Nature Conservancy. The conservancy had purchased Finch, Pruyn’s lands in 2007.
Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett told Adirondack Almanack that the conservancy is in a unique position to offer recommendations as it has studied and managed the property for years and engaged in dialogue with local officials, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders. “We wanted to put in writing what we’ve been talking about for the last nine years,” she remarked.
A major bone of contention in classification debate is the fate of Gulf Brook Road, a former logging road. The 6.8-mile dirt thoroughfare leads from County Route 84 (also known as the Boreas Road or Blue Ridge Road) to the south shore of Boreas Ponds (There’s a general map of the area at Adirondack Atlas).
Carr recommends that people be allowed to drive 5.7 miles on the road, as far as LaBier Flow, an impoundment of the Boreas River. The road and the land south and east of it would be Wild Forest and the land north of it would be Wilderness — including the ponds themselves.
“We urge the state to preserve the opportunity for a true wilderness experience without diminishing it with motorized access of any kind to the Boreas Ponds,” Carr said.
Carr suggests that the state build a wheelchair-accessible trail from a parking area near LaBier Flow to Boreas Ponds. “We believe that motorized access to that point is important to create a balanced opportunity for public recreation that will draw more people into the area, which is important to community prosperity, without adversely impacting the wilderness experience of visiting the ponds,” he said.
Under the state’s interim access plan, people are allowed to drive only 3.2 miles up Gulf Brook Road. They can then ride mountain bikes to Boreas Ponds but no farther. Under TNC’s proposal, no bicycles would be allowed beyond the parking lot at LaBier Flow.
Like TNC, Protect the Adirondacks and BeWildNY advocate making Gulf Brook Road the boundary between Wild Forest and Wilderness and opening the road to motor vehicles as far as LaBier Flow. These groups also agree that bicyclists should not be allowed to ride to the ponds.
Protect and BeWildNY disagree on the location of a snowmobile route that would connect North Hudson to Newcomb and Minerva. Protect wants the route to follow Gulf Brook Road (but not all the way to the ponds). BeWildNY wants the route to run farther south, close to County Route 84. TNC agrees with Protect, saying the road offers the “least-cost path” and “the most optimal route.”
Peter Bauer, Protect’s executive director, said he is pleased that TNC has set forth a proposal similar to the one released by Protect earlier this year. He said BeWildNY’s plan would necessitate the cutting of thousands of trees. “We think the trail should be built in a way that has the least impact on the Forest Preserve,” he said.
Willie Janeway, the executive director of the Adirondack Council, has disputed that BeWildNY’s proposal would require extensive tree cutting, saying the route could follow old logging roads.
Janeway and Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said they are pleased that under TNC’s proposal, Boreas Ponds and the land in the immediate vicinity would remain motor free. Both the council and ADK are part of the BeWild NY coalition.
“I’m quite pleased with the proposal,” Woodworth said. “They hit on many of the points that BeWildNY is trying to hit.”
In particular, Woodworth praised TNC for supporting “reasonable access” to Boreas Ponds by permitting people to drive to LaBier Flow. From the flow, people would be able to reach the ponds by a mile-long walk. Paddlers would have the option of paddling up the flow and then portaging to the ponds.
North Hudson, where Boreas Ponds is located, and four nearby towns are pushing a proposal that would allow electric motorboats on the ponds and snowmobiles and mountain bikes on old logging roads around the ponds. Although most people would be able to drive only as far as LaBier Flow, the disabled, guides and their clients, and anyone with a special permit would be allowed to drive all the way to the ponds. Under their proposal, the ponds and land in the vicinity would be Wild Forest.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates formed this year to push for closing all of Gulf Brook Road. Of the five proposals, its calls for the most Wilderness. Bill Ingersoll, one of the group’s founders, recently defended the proposal on the Almanack. After TNC released its letter, Ingersoll criticized the conservancy for supporting motorized use on Gulf Brook Road.
“Boreas Ponds, located far from the nearest public highway, is the best and only chance to create something we haven’t done in decades: set aside a true northeastern Wilderness on a scale that Bob Marshall once dreamed about, a place with a sense of remoteness that rivals the Cold River country and the West Canada Lakes. Remoteness cannot exist where motor vehicle access is present,” he told the Almanack in an email.
“We are unlikely to see another such opportunity again, for the simple reason that large, unencumbered properties such as the Boreas Ponds Tract are not dime-a-dozen. It would be a lack of foresight if our society failed to seize that opportunity now,” he said.
Map provided by the Nature Conservancy. Photo by Phil Brown: White Lily Pond on the Boreas Ponds Tract.