Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nature Conservancy Favors Wilderness For Boreas Ponds

tnc-mapThe 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.

White Lily Pond. Photo by Phil BrownA 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.


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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.

49 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    I don’t understand why “guides and their clients” would be allowed motorized access to the ponds in this plan. I can understand it if their clients are disabled, but otherwise, I don’t get it. Seems similar to me to floatplane access on other ponds/lakes. If you don’t want to hike it, just hire a guide? Anyone else have a problem with this?

    • Boreas says:

      Oh, duh… I misread. It is the local towns that are suggesting this, not TNC. But I still don’t agree with it.

  2. Justin Farrell says:

    Funny…When this area first opened to the public, I ran into a gentleman from TNC driving in as I was hiking out from Boreas Ponds, and he commented to me that he was happy to see someone that was not afraid to hike the entire length of the road. He even went on to add that he hopes that area becomes wilderness, and was also nice enough to pass along some helpful information about the area.
    But to be perfectly honest, I’m so burnt out on this subject that I don’t even care anymore. I’ll be there for a 3rd time soon, and then I’ll be all set with this area. My hope is that the ecosystem & wildness of this area will be protected under New York’s highest forest preservation laws for many generations to come, but with so many people crying for easier acces than 3.5 miles along a well graded road, and allowing motor vehicles to within a mile of Broeas Ponds, I have nothing left to contribute to these discussions anymore.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Stop whining and keep your opinions on management options pouring in!

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Yeah you’re right, sorry.
        Just frustrated after reading this recommendation from TNC, but was lead to believe something different back in early May.

        • Boreas says:

          I feel your pain… But TNC just stopped logging the place, so I guess I wasn’t too surprised by their recommendation. I think it is fair, but not what I would have expected from them. The article didn’t mention their thoughts on the dam. Any word about that?

  3. Craig says:

    With a 1 mile walk to the ponds, relatively short hikes to the high peaks (once the trail system is completed), and shorter driving from points south, Boreas Ponds will become the “new Marcy Dam.” Will the moose continue to visit this location once there are hundreds of people/day visiting? Better build a really big parking lot.

  4. Joe Hansen says:

    Makes me feel that much better about my support for TNC.

  5. Phil Brown says:

    Just added a response from Bill Ingersoll of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates.

  6. Dennis says:

    TNC and others support opening the first six miles of Gulf Brook Road to motorized vehicle use to within about one mile of the ponds. Sure, that will make access significantly easier. But what about oversight and enforcement? Is that an unrelated issue? The following numbers are from the DEC’s Forest Ranger Division Fact Sheet for 2015. I’m assuming that there hasn’t been some huge 2016 increase in these numbers.
    > 106 Forest Rangers
    > 4,892,632 total acres of DEC administered lands
    > Rangers spent 44% of their time on State Land Patrol and Enforcement (the rest on fire management, training and admin)

    Thus, on a full-time equivalent basis, there are 47 rangers (44% of 106) out on patrol, an average of one ranger per 104 thousand acres of DEC administered lands. What am I missing? Vast stretches of forest and minimal ranger coverage? Shouldn’t the issue of oversight and enforcement resources be an integral (and driving) element of any rule-making process that will influence the level of public use of public lands?

    With respect the many recommendations regarding Boreas Ponds, I don’t recall seeing even a mention of oversight and enforcement, much less meaningful consideration. We can see what’s been happening in the High Peaks and elsewhere. Officially designating an area as “Wilderness” is not enough. As the Boreas Ponds classification process unfolds and progresses, we should demand that oversight and enforcement be at the very forefront of the discussion.

    • Greg M. says:

      Based on that logic, if number of Rangers were quadrupled, then wouldn’t the whole tract be wild forrest?

      The discussion of enforcement should dictate if we purchase a property, not its classification. The classification will last generations, current staffing is largely irrelevant.

      • Dennis says:

        I fully agree that enforcement discussions should dictate IF a property is purchased. I don’t agree though that enforcement is irrelevant to classification. Decisions like motor vehicle access on Gulf Brook Road will largely determine the volume of people that visit the tract and the resulting impact on the environment. Isn’t limited enforcement a factor to be considered in arriving at final decisions like that?

        Opening up 6 miles of the road, in the absence of adequate enforcement and oversight, increases the likelihood that what’s happening in the High Peaks will eventually unfold in the Boreas Ponds tract. My view is that decisions on 1) purchase, 2) classification, and 3) oversight and enforcement are critically interdependent.

        I simply hope that at some point, the participants in these apparently independent decision processes step back, look at the bigger picture, and better coordinate and integrate them. Like many, I’m all for Wilderness classification for Boreas. But that would be a somewhat hollow victory if enforcement isn’t actively and concurrently addressed. Maybe Boreas could be a step in that direction.

        • scottvanlaer says:

          Of course it should play a role in classification as well as the location of the trailhead! Secluded, dead end roads to state land experience greater degradation and more illegal activity than those along major roads or with a front country presence regardless if that state land is wilderness or wild forest.

    • Boreas says:


      I was able to understand your point, and I think it is a valid one.

  7. Alan Vieters says:

    Wow, TNC hardly recommending wilderness….sad day. They were my favorite group until this. Serious question. All these enviro I groups are making recommendations that seem like compromise positions rather that what you would think they would really want and what the science and common sense would suggest would be a environmental position. What is the back story or back room story?

    • Boreas says:


      I think they are simply trying to make everyone happy. Try as they might, it ain’t gonna work. Only AWA seems to be championing for Wilderness.

      • Paul says:

        Under this proposal 11,500 acres would be classified as wilderness that is enough land that if it were stand alone it could be its own new wilderness area. The classification system is based on things like what sorts of impacts the area can take. As we know here the land has been logged and has many miles of roads and apparently (according to even the environmental groups) the tract is a gem. So keeping this one small stretch of road open for cars (no more log trucks necessary) I fail to see how that could be a detrimental impact. No one really knows this land and what is there and what it could withstand better than the TNC, So their recommendation should carry a bit of weight.

        • More vehicles equals more impact.

          I suspect the road will also be resurfaced and widened if it is open all the way to LaBier Flow. Currently the road is rough and in most parts it would be a tough squeeze to get two vehicles past one another.

  8. Paul says:

    Phil, under this proposal it looks like (with the right water conditions) you could paddle all the way to the ponds from the road? What is the “portage”? Thanks.

    • Phil Brown says:

      If you paddle up the flow, you’d still have a portage of a half-mile or so.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks I checked it out on Google maps it looks like it gets pretty “dry” as you approach the pond! So basically with this proposal you are talking about having a pretty reasonable carry. The whole of the ponds is in the land added to the HPW. With this proposal you basically have to hike or paddle to get into the Wilderness part. The road is plenty far enough away from the ponds if you are looking for quiet. I think the title here of the article is appropriate.

  9. Charlie S says:

    Dennis says: “TNC and others support opening the first six miles of Gulf Brook Road to motorized vehicle use to within about one mile of the ponds.”

    One mile is way too close. This is only a 20 minute walk. They may as well offer shuttle service to the shores of Boreas Pond.

  10. Dan says:

    Easy on TNC. If weren’t for them this land wouldn’t be headed for fee purchase in the first place.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Then they endorse a recommendation to allow an easy 15-20 walk to a body of water that has seen relatively few people since forever. Interesting.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        *15-20 minute walk*

        • Dan says:

          What I’m saying is that it would’ve been very easy for TNC to keep this in Conservation Easement, let the hunt club/leases continue and keep the public out, period. Given their in-field folks have spent more time in there than anyone their opinions on how it should be classified/managed should account for something regardless of how it fits it into anyone else’s scheme, including my own. Because they’ve taken a position, they can’t win either way.

  11. Paul says:

    My guess is that this is exactly what will happen. Like it or not it is the middle ground between the extremes. Funny that they would weigh in. Seems like it could create some perception issues for any other later transactions between the state and the TNC. Are there any pre-conditions with regard to classification for these transactions? For example (not that they would) if they wanted to could the state classify all the land as intensive use and open an RV park at Boreas? Does TNC have any assurances that something like that would not happen or are they just hoping it would not?

  12. Justin Farrell says:

    “Like it or not it is the middle ground between the extremes.”

    1 mile opposed to 7 miles is the middle ground?
    That’s also very Interesting.
    I would think the current gate located about mid-way along Gulf Brook Rd would be…. Nevermind!

    • Paul says:

      One extreme is leaving lots more of the existing roads open. Even 7 miles is a tiny fraction of what could be open if the state wanted to do it. The “extremes” being considered are already ones that favor closing almost all the roads on the property.

  13. Justin Farrell says:

    …Then again, why would anyone even consider the current second gate as an acceptable compromise, especially when reputable journalists covering this acquisition (like Mr. B) failed to even bother to mention the existence of the second gate long before it became this so called temporary interm parking area.
    I even asked Mr. B why he didn’t bother to mention the existence of the second gate in his writings prior to his report about the current interm parking area, and his response to me was “What is so significant about the second gate?”
    Am I the only one that finds this strange, or am I missing something?

    • Boreas says:


      I can’t explain it, but then I can’t explain the stance a lot of these groups are taking. “Strange days indeed…”

    • Phil Brown says:

      Justin, I don’t get your obsession with the second gate and my failure to include it in my early stories. In some of my stories, I did quote Dave Gibson as saying the parking area perhaps should be somewhere short of LaBier Flow, but he was speaking in general terms. He did not have the second gate or any specific location in mind. None of the advocacy groups pushed for a parking area at the second gate. In fact, none of them is even now. I reported accurately on the proposals that were out there. Those proposals did not include the second gate. So it’s no mystery that the second gate was not mentioned in my stories.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks Phil,
        You also never bothered to mention the existence of the second gate & its adjacent clearings in your early trip reports to the area. I just think that if there had been a little more discussion about it early on, perhaps some people may have had another perspective to consider. When I walked the road back in early May, the first thing that came to my mind when I arrived at the second was that it might make for a decent parking area. Apparently the DEC thought the same, but it’s a shame that it wasn’t really talked about until after it happened.
        – Justin

        • Phil Brown says:

          There are numerous clearings along Gulf Brook Road where a parking area could be established. I don’t know why you think the one at the second gate is the best place. If DEC was looking to establish a temporary parking area, on the other hand, it makes sense to do it where there is a gate. That doesn’t mean it’s the best location for a permanent parking area.

          • Justin Farrell says:

            It also makes sense that wherever the permanent boundary for motorized access ends up being it should be where there’s a gate. One that already exists with ample parking space & located about midway along the road I think is certainly worth noting & discussing, especially when people & organizations will be trying to find an acceptable compromise & balance between recreational access & forest preservation, and not just implying a very vague idea of “Somewhere short of LaBier Flow”. I’m sure there are many people out there who had already formed their opinions on where motorized access should end, but yet were completely unaware that the second gate even existed before the DEC made it the current interim parking area. It’s all water under the bridge at this point anyway. We’ll see where it goes from here. Sorry for ranting. Thanks again for the reply.
            – Justin

  14. Geogymn says:

    ” To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”
    Aldo Leopold

    Some how, some way the defenders of wilderness must convey the essential value of a road less expanse to those who fail to see from what their pleasure is derived.

    • Boreas says:


      Political will for preservation seems to be cyclical. In the late 19th and early 20th century there was some aberrant political enlightenment that produced most of what we have today. This enlightenment didn’t come from only from grass-roots authors and voters, but from elected politicians with the future in mind. National Parks and the ADK Park were formed.

      Depression and war put preservation on the back burner. The 70s saw a bit of resurgence with the EPA, but even that has been dying a slow death in Washington. 100 Leopolds and Muirs would have little effect on today’s legislators who are more concerned with their re-election than serving the greater good. People have become complacent.

      • Paul says:


        This comment flies totally in the face of the fact that here in the Adirondacks we have been adding large tracts of land to the Forest Preserve recently. Preserving more and more land. Just look at this one acquisition here. You make it sound like we are going in the other direction. Maybe in other places but not here. This isn’t a debate about preservation in general it is really just about whether or not a small stretch dirt road is left (yes left – not built, and as we close a vast network of roads) to make access to the area a little bit easier. You make it sound like the fate of the wilderness movement lies with this decision. I think you are overdoing it – just a tad.

        • Joe says:

          The land is already preserved under state ownership now. Only months ago it was still being actively logged. So this is a big step already taken. All this noise about classification details is just that, noise. It isn’t worth getting too worked up about as it is a small area in a very large Park. What is decided it will not matter much. Be aware that, in part, all the noise is simply a fund raising opportunity for the ever growing number of advocacy groups. The fate of wilderness and the fate of the Park is not wrapped up in this issue.

          • Jim S. says:

            Was it still being logged after TNC took over stewardship?

            • Boreas says:

              Jim S.,

              From what I have read, areas continued to be logged while TNC owned it. But I don’t see that as a mark against them. They did buy forestry land after all – why not continue logging to help pay for the acquisition until the state took it over? Overall, TNC does a good job and has helped keep large parcels from being bought by developers and I commend them for their work.

              • Jim S. says:

                I like the work they do all over the globe. I was a bit surprised that they allowed logging, but I understand and am happy they do what they do for wilderness.

                • Paul says:

                  Why would you be surprised that an environmental group would practice sustainable logging? I would think that most groups like this should support renewable things like this? This area is beautiful and it has been logged for over a hundred years and is still beautiful. Point proven.

        • Boreas says:


          I wasn’t speaking about the Adirondack Park. I was speaking in generalities. If I gave that impression, it wasn’t my intention.

          • Paul says:

            Sorry. Since you mentioned the Adirondack park specifically in your comment I assumed it was at least a partial reference to the Adirondacks.

            Do you see some erosion of efforts to protect land in the Adirondacks? It seems like generally in your comments that maybe you don’t think enough is being done here. To me it seems like the facts on the ground (and the statistics) don’t bear that out? Here specifically we are talking about a parcel where we have closed down almost all of the roads. Tore down a lodge, are in the process of removing many other structures from the property and have placed all of it into the Forest Preserve with the constitutional protections that affords it. The rest of this is all just smoke and mirrors.

            • Boreas says:


              I can’t really say because the classification hasn’t been finalized. This is an unusual case because of the sheer size of the parcel and the nature of the land and a man-made pond within its boundaries. If the dam is removed, it will be one type of area. If the dam stays it will continue to be a pond and will likely attract more users.

              To me, most of the argument depends on the status of the dam – not roads or parking areas. If the dam is removed, will there really be a need for a road?

        • scottvanlaer says:

          We are clearly in a time, for whatever reason, where wilderness has lost it’s appeal, even among those groups who once fought to define it, legally, and then protect it. Here in the Adirondacks, just 25 years ago the state worked to close dead end roads into wilderness areas as they were non conforming, like Crane Pond. Today even the green groups that once championed the cause of wilderness are now pushing to create a road into wilderness even if they only get to see wilderness printed on signs on one side of the road. Look at all the groups part of the #BeWildNY coalition, the wilderness society is part of it! I am sure many people are happy about the movement away from wilderness. I don’t know how you haven’t noticed this shift as it’s been tectonic in nature and you seem to read and comment more on these forums than any body else.

        • Geogymn says:

          What is wrong with less roads? Don’t you think we have enough roads? Roads are being built everywhere, everyday. So what if we eliminate one seven mile stretch. What is the worst that can happen? Quiet? Solitude? A biotic that will try to convalescence? A place where a person might feel as an equal in the environment instead of above it? Yes why not try to preserve more land, at least whilst we can. It is only a matter of time and circumstance before any large resource is but a memory.
          We can build roads and enjoy the last fleeting taste of wildness or we can preserve it for future generations. We may not be remembered for our actions today but hopefully some future day, someone, will be walking in a deep, cool, quiet forest and think to himself, ” boy, someone did something right.”

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