My favorite activity is paddling quiet waters. I cherish the experiences I’ve had on the lakes, rivers, and ponds in Adirondacks, including canoeing on the Boreas Ponds. I think the spectacular view of the high-rising peaks to the north is unmatched.
I also believe that reasonable access to these waters is in the best interest of the public, while minimizing harm to the environment. However, the definition of reasonable access and minimizing harm varies among the stakeholders, primarily centered on the use of the existing Gulf Brook Road – a 6.8 mile gravel road from Boreas or Blue Ridge Road (County Route 84) to the ponds.
A couple of weeks ago I drove up Gulf Brook Road for 3.2 miles as allowed by the state’s interim access plan, which is 2.5 miles from the ponds. I wanted to orient myself to the access issues raised in the many articles in the media, including the Adirondack Almanack. I parked my car at the parking lot, skirted the stop sign, and walked about a half-mile toward the ponds. Looking at the trail register I saw the names of two friends who had been to the ponds recently, and decided to email them, asking how they experienced the 2.5-mile carry on the road and the ponds.
Marcy Neville wrote: “I biked with a friend on a beautiful Sunday and had lunch at the former lodge. It was spectacular, quiet and peaceful. If you could drive to the Flow or to the ponds I think there would need to be some serious patrolling & management to keep this place from being overused. Access would need to be limited. Distance seems to be the most efficient way.”
Marcy made a good point about the need for management of the lands and waters, adding, “I would support better access to Boreas if DEC had the staff to educate people and patrol it.”
John Davis wrote: “In contrast to some of my friends, I do favor closing the roads in the Boreas Ponds tract, and I don’t mind having to walk a few miles to get to the ponds. Already, in my few short visits to Boreas, I have seen loons, herons, Wood Ducks, kingfishers, many Moose tracks, a Fisher, and four River Otters! I think these creatures will appreciate us keeping Boreas Ponds quiet and peaceful.”
I was on my way to a retreat the day I took this detour up the Gulf Brook Road toward the ponds. Twelve us from around the country spent the weekend at the Masten House on Henderson Lake including visitors from Philadelphia, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and New York City. My love for the Adirondacks was confirmed as the visitors marveled at the lush vegetation, the autumn colors, and the rain. Yes, the rain. A man from Santa Fe stood outside reveling in the rain washing over his face, feeling starved for such an experience in the dry desert back home.
The weekend retreat was a Philosopher’s Camp sponsored by the SUNY College of Environmental Forestry’s Newcomb Campus. Saturday’s seminar centered on the ancient Indian epic the Bhagavad Gita. I was intrigued to know that Henry David Thoreau was drawn to the central teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, believing that the discipline of living in nature was a path toward self-knowledge and spiritual realization. He spent over two years in a cabin near Walden Pond, later inspiring the book Walden, or Life in the Woods, based on transcendentalist philosophy.
The quiet waters of the Adirondacks serve as my Walden Pond. I’ve been attracted for years to the part of the Adirondacks near Newcomb, south of the High Peaks and west of the Northway. The serene lakes and ponds offer spectacular views of the mountains – specifically Henderson Lake and the Essex Chain Lakes – and more recently the Boreas Ponds. The private Elk Lake, just east of the Boreas Ponds, is also a jewel, available to those staying at the Elk Lake Lodge.
The Saturday afternoon at the retreat some of us went for a paddle on Henderson Lake. Local guide David Olbert had wheeled canoes for our use the quarter mile on an old logging road to the put-in.
Being glad to see him at the launch site, I asked, “Could you help us get into the Boreas Ponds sometime?” He eagerly responded that he had bought some bought some bike trailers, and planned to offer a service to take paddler’s canoes and kayaks into the ponds.
“But I don’t know if I can walk the five miles round trip,” I said.
“Oh, can you ride a bike? We have mountain bikes for rent.”
“That’s a possibility,” I replied, silently wishing that the road would be open closer to the ponds.
I’m supporting the proposals offered by Protect the Adirondacks (I’m on the Board) and The Nature Conservancy. Both organizations recommend that people be allowed to drive up the road for 5.7 miles to an impoundment of the Boreas River, called the LaBier Flow. Boats could then be paddled up the Flow to the Boreas Ponds (if there was enough water), or portage on the road for a mile. The roads past LaBier Flow would be closed to motor vehicles.
As previous owners and stewards of the lands over the last decade, Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, wrote to Governor Andrew Cuomo, “Boreas Ponds offers to the world compelling wilderness values… 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. Our classification recommendation achieves this in a way that would ensure that visitors have a genuine wilderness experience without making it such a difficult place to reach that only a small number of people can experience it.”
While I respect those who are calling for reclamation and protection of the Boreas Pond Tract by closing the Gulf Brook Road at Blue Ridge Road, I feel that the level of difficulty of a seven mile walk to access the ponds places an undue burden on the majority of residents and visitors. Confronting the one-mile portage will be enough of a challenge. The grandeur of these wilderness waters is a gift that needs to be shared.
Editor’s Note: The first public hearings to provide the public an opportunity to express their opinions on how the Boreas Ponds Tract is managed will be held at 7 pm, Wednesday, November 9, at the Adirondack Park Agency in Ray Brook. You can read more about the various proposals for the Boreas Ponds here.
Photos: Stop Sign on Gulf Brook Road, courtesy Lorraine Duvall, and Boreas Ponds on the 1970 report cover for the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondack Park.