Recently there was an article by Phil Brown on the Boreas Ponds in the Adirondack Alamanck outlining the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) support for a wilderness classification. After reading the article, I thought it best to visit the Boreas Ponds Tract, and research the letter written to Governor Andrew Cuomo by Mike Carr, who was then TNC’s Executive Director.
The visit to the Boreas Ponds was my first since TNC sold the property to the State of New York in April. In fact it was my first visit since Finch, Pruyn owned the property. I believe Finch was an excellent steward of the Boreas Ponds Tract, which they owned for over 100 years. It was a working forest and their show place for those doing business with Finch, Pruyn. To that end, the company built a lodge that also served as a kind of conference center with a beautiful stone fireplace and spacious accommodations. This was torn down according to the agreement between the owner (TNC) and the buyer (New York State).
The letter by Mr. Carr to Governor Cuomo outlines the position of The Nature Conservancy very well. In addition to giving the Governor a broad but succinct history of Finch stewardship, and the almost decade of The Nature Conservancy stewardship of the property, it offers some suggestions on how the Boreas Ponds property should be used in the future.
The letter recommends that the APA establish two two major land classifications with Gulf Brook Road being the dividing point. The first, approximately 11.500 acres, including the lands surrounding the ponds, plus the adjoining 1,587-acre Casey Brook tract, to connect to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness areas, would be designated Wilderness. Approximately 9,030 acres extending to the Blue Ridge Road to the south and Elk Lake Road to the east would be designated Wild Forest (see the map here).
TNC’s letter offers a number of reasons for this recommendation. There are paragraphs explaining the extensive collaboration of The Nature Conservancy with several stakeholder communities. In addition there are paragraphs dealing with the unique wilderness values of this large mixed deciduous forest.
One section of the letter stands-out for me because it includes a topic near and dear to my heart. I had a friend who wanted to gain to the Essex Chain area several years ago. He had a disability that would not allow him to carry his canoe close enough to gain access to the Essex Chain of Lakes. Sadly he passed away before the disability access trail to that area was completed.
In the case of the Boreas Ponds, TNC considered the issue of universal access in its letter to the Governor, and I believe their perspective needs further emphasis. To quote from Mr. Carr’s letter to the Governor,
“An access trail that meanders through the forests and offers views and discoveries along the way could become the primary access for users of varying abilities (e.g. walking, manual or electric wheelchair). Built to specific width, grade and side slope, this trail would be the pathway between the Wild Forest and Wilderness. It would allow visitors to park in an accessible lot in the vicinity of LaBier flow, leave their vehicles (or bicycles) behind and then progress forward into a natural area, far from any major roads and entirely free of motors…”
In fact, The Nature Conservancy has already surveyed and designed the access trail it refers to. The proposed trail would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
As a member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee to the APA and DEC, and as a member of the ADK Conservation Committee, I urge the Adirondack Park Agency to follow the recommendations presented by The Nature Conservancy as outlined by Mr. Carr in his letter to the Governor.
I would encourage all parties involved with this momentous decision to take a step back and breath deeply, and think carefully about disability access to the ponds. Those with disabilities, including the aging population of outdoor enthusiasts, are a body of stakeholders in the decision making process. Their needs deserve close consideration as solutions are crafted.
A friend of mine once said that if there is true compromise in any negations, each party comes away not having gained all that they wanted, and is a little dissatisfied, but they can live with what they have gained, and are thus satisfied.
Photos: View of Boreas Ponds and High Peaks; and Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) members in the Adirondacks (photos by Mike Prescott).