Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Map of Adirondack Remoteness and Boreas Ponds

Several years ago the Adirondack Park Agency mapped all the “Remote Areas” in the Park—those lying at least three miles from a road and at least two miles from any lake where motorboats are allowed. Less than 3 percent of the Park meets those criteria.

A caption states that the map “indicates the truly remote areas of the Adirondack Park are relatively small and therefore a precious resource.” They are the dark areas shown on the accompanying map.

Given the region’s network of roads, there aren’t many opportunities left to create new Remote Areas in the Park.

Boreas Ponds is one of them.

Recently, I dug up a copy of the map and traced a circle with the Boreas Ponds dam at its center and a radius of three miles based on the map’s scale. The results, though not surprising, are worth noting, given the controversy over the pending land-use classification of the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract:

First, and most obvious, none of the classification options proposed by the APA would meet the critieria. Under all four, state officials would be allowed to drive to the ponds to maintain the dam at the foot of Boreas Ponds. Also, the proposals evidently anticipate that the public would be allowed to drive at least partway to the ponds along a former logging road known as Gulf Brook Road.

Nor would the proposals of most environmental groups satisfy the criteria. BeWildNY, a coalition of eight organizations, supports allowing the public to drive to within a mile of Boreas Ponds. Protect the Adirondacks, though not a part of the coalition, favors this as well.

Some people have suggested that the public be allowed to drive only as far as a parking area built last year under an interim access plan. People had to walk 3.6 miles from there to reach the ponds. As the crow flies, however, the parking area falls within three miles of the ponds. So that fails as well.

As it turns out, Boreas Ponds would meet the criteria only if all or most of the tract is classified motor-free Wilderness. This is what two organizations, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates and Adirondack Wild, are proposing.

I’m not suggesting that the Remote Area criteria (adopted from the U.S. Forest Service) should decide the classification question, but they are something to take into consideration. There won’t be many more opportunities like this.

As reported earlier, there is substantial public support for making all or nearly all of the tract Wilderness. Adirondack Wilderness Advocates reviewed the 11,000 comments received by the APA and concluded that 37 percent supported classifying the entire tract Wilderness. In all, 84 percent supported either AWA’s or BeWildNY’s proposal, according to the organization.

Incidentally, Bob Marshall, one of the original Forty-Sixers, saw roads as the biggest threat to wilderness. In 1936, he and a colleague compiled a list of the largest roadless areas in the United States. It included three tracts in the Adirondacks: the High Peaks, West Canada, and Five Ponds regions, all three of which are now designated Wilderness—with a capital W—by the APA.

The interiors of all three regions are among the bigger Remote Areas identified by the APA. Other substantial Remote Areas exist in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area and Silver Lake Wilderness Area. Smaller remote parcels can be found in other Wilderness Areas.

Also in 1936, Marshall penned an article (published posthumously) lamenting the construction of the Calkins Creek truck trail in what is now the western High Peaks Wilderness, contending that the road wrecked the sense of remoteness he experienced as a young man. “The Cold River drainage is no longer a whole world where one can live the splendid life of the primeval,” he wrote.

Marshall’s love of primeval places led him to found the Wilderness Society, which later hired Howard Zahniser, who went on to author the Wilderness Act of 1964. The APA’s definition of Wilderness is drawn from that law.



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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.

33 Responses

  1. Tyler says:

    This is exactly the article and the picture New Yorkers need to show Governor Cuomo. Wilderness is incredibly rare, and the APA must follow the SLMP’s inclination to classify large, remote additions to the Forest Preserve as Wilderness. As remote areas continue to be compromised elsewhere, the Adirondacks can be the greatest vestige of wildness remaining in the eastern United States. BeWildNY needs to re-think their marginalized approach and do what Bob Marshall would have nobly done – support Wilderness before it disappears. Is the APA willing to do what’s right? They have a chance to prove they didn’t host 8 public hearings for show by listening to what 84% of the commenters want – stronger wilderness protection for the Boreas Ponds Tract, with 43% of those individuals calling for total Wilderness at this last remote parcel.

  2. Bill Ingersoll says:

    There was a later, corrected version of this map that showed more remoteness in the Cold River area, identifying the area around the Seward and Ouluska lean-tos as not only the remotest place in the High Peaks, but in the entire Adirondack Park. If memory serves, it was published on the back page of the 2007 Annual Guide edition of Adirondack Life.

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    Great article, Phil.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Queue the “There’s already enough Wilderness” troll comments.

  4. Boreas says:

    Good article Phil. Keep them coming!

  5. Geogymn says:

    Great article!

  6. scottvanlaer says:

    This is precisely why the limited options presented by the APA and offered for public comment were inadequate.

  7. Ryan Finnigan says:

    I never knew this map even existed. Thank you kindly for the accompanying article.

  8. Carmine says:

    Thank you for the article and map. Clears up the picture for the small amount of remoteness available in not only the Adirondacks but also all of NYS.

  9. M.P. Heller says:

    When you get an idea for the other large remote wilderness tracts that exist within the park besides the high peaks, you can begin to compare the areas in terms of use and management. Afterall, resource protection is what lies at the root of preservation and conservation efforts in the first place.

    Once you have begun to explore the differences between the use impacts of the High Peaks versus an area like Siamese Ponds, Ouluska Pass, or the Pepperbox it is easy to begin to understand the need for good UMP’s that are updated regularly and reflect the various different needs that the different areas posses. These UMP’s need adequate funding if they are going to be implemented properly and that means staffing and maintenance money. Too often the discussion, especially lately, gets bogged down in the mires of land classification. Land classification is definitely an important consideration of the final management plan that is put in place, but it’s that UMP itself that is often the most important part.

    Today we are faced with a High Peaks Wilderness Area that has a Wilderness classification, but through an outdated and underfunded UMP has lost much of its Wilderness identity. We are continuing to lose the battle of resource protection through preservation to useage. Every year the situation degrades a little more.

    Remoteness as a metric of desirability obviously has its limitations. It is a good indicator of where one might feasibly find what it was that Bob Marshall was talking about or what Thoreau saw at Walden. It also has the potential to be loved to death like we are seeing in the High Peaks without vigilant management practices.

    Remoteness and Wilderness are great. Often the two go hand in hand. If the UMP isn’t up to snuff and enforced, it’s all an exercise in futility. It just becomes some other ordinary outdoors place that takes awhile to get to because it isn’t near anything else.

  10. Scott says:

    That map and the concept behind it are great but their definition of road only includes roads that prohibit motorized use. There are old roads in some of those areas. If Boreas Ponds had no road there would be no argument about it becoming wilderness. These debates only get heated when the acquisition has major improved roads and some people just can’t picture a road like that being called wilderness. As I keep saying, they need to rip and disc and seed these roads in wilderness areas.

    • scottvanlaer says:

      Do you know what they call an old woods road once motor vehicle traffic is halted? A trail. Mother Nature will reclaim the old roads on her own.

    • Paul says:

      This is really making too big of deal of roads. There seems to be some focus on a public versus a private road here. I would use the example of rainbow falls above the Ausable river. When you are standing in there how can you not consider that Wilderness and you can almost throw a stone from there onto the dirt road running to the Ausable Club boat house. One the public is allowed to hike down. I still miss the old green hiker bus! I have been lucky enough to get to use some guideboats on those lakes. Road leads right to them they are about as quiet a place as you can find. The same sort of access in Boreas would give everybody the same opportunity that only people with the big bucks get at Ausable. I don’t have the big bucks – someone from the club invited me!

      • scottvanlaer says:

        Once again you are confusing your personal definition of wilderness with that of the legal definition. It’s your frequent and consistent folly.

  11. Paul says:

    This particular acquisition shows how dumb it is for the state to consider a classification proposal after closing on the deal. It makes so much more sense to propose what you plan to classify the land before you make a decision on the purchase. Let’s say that a classification of all Wilderness for the tract is what the state wanted to do or maybe even (as some claim) they are required by law (ASLMP) to do. The state decides that this is what they will do. Then you go to the towns, that are required to approve of a sale like this under state law, and say here is what we are going to do with land once we own it – will you approve the transaction? Instead here it is all done completely backwards.

    • Boreas says:

      Can’t agree more.

      • Paul says:

        What that would avoid is this perception that the towns are having a carrot (or at least what they might consider a carrot) dangled in front of them with the possibility that the land might be largely classified as Wild Forest, then having that snatched away from them later when the big classification debate begins. These towns think that a WF classification (the carrot) with better access will draw more people and with more people comes more local economic impact. This may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that folks are honest and everyone knows what is going to happen. Like it or not. Will that cause the towns to refuse to approve a transaction? In some cases it might. But so be it.

  12. Tony Goodwin says:

    It is true that with the parking area at last summer’s gate the dam at the ponds does not qualify as “remote”, but pretty much everything north of there would. This would, (if my quick calculations are correct) more than double the size of the remote area south of the Great Range. White Lily Pond would become nearly as remote as Ouluska Lean-to. I have stated my preference for the APA’s Option 4, which cuts off motorized access at that gate. Of course the “remote” area will expand seasonally when all access is on foot beyond the Blue Ridge Road gate.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Tony, you are right that even establishing a parking area at LaBier Flow will add to the amount of land in the Park that qualifies as “remote.” I should have mentioned that. I focused on Boreas Ponds because it is the main attraction.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      The map of page 13 of the AWA comments shows an analysis of the various proposals:

      Alt 1 would likely subtract from the remoteness of existing state land.

      Alt 4 does not cut off access at the current gate; it merely defers that decision to the UMP process. Even if the UMP did curtail public access at the 2nd gate, administrative access would extend all the way to the Boreas Dam, making it effectively indistinguishable from Alts 2 and 3. This was correctly reported above.

      The interim parking area places White Lily Pond at about 4.5 miles, whereas Ouluska Lean-to is about 5.3 miles.

      Only full wilderness would place White Lily on par with Ouluska.

  13. James Marco says:

    Thank you Phil! A great article. Yes, the park needs more Wilderness to protect the lands, flora and fauna. The eagles are back. That symbol of this country represents our shame at loosing the wilderness. The return of the eagle follows the increase in the square miles of wilderness. A highly simplistic example that carries more truth than most can imagine. I spend hundreds, nay thousands, of dollars to enjoy the beauty of the little wilderness we have. To me it is well worth it when my grandson is shocked silent as he watches an eagle dive at the surface of a pond to pick up an unwary fish. Or bubbling with excitement as he watches a pair of loons dance with each other in early spring. Or he has a deer snort loudly from five feet away as he stands stock still with popped eyes. He will remember to go home, into the wilderness as he gets my age. Perhaps with his grandchildren.

    • Bruce says:


      “The return of the eagle follows the increase in the square miles of wilderness.” Not necessarily so. The return of the Bald Eagle is due in large part to the banning of DDT. Yes there are probably more eagles in wilderness areas, but they are also returning to much more developed areas, such as central North Carolina where the cities of Raleigh, Durham, the Research Triangle, and extensive development are the main human features. Almost as soon as Jordan Lake was created in the 70’s, eagles started nesting in the area. Jordan Lake does have a 1/4 mile state game land easement all the way around it with campgrounds and boat launches.

      Bald Eagles will scavenge carcasses, and hunt land-based animals, but their preferred food source seems to be fish when readily available. If eagles want to use Boreas, it won’t be because of a classification of Wilderness.

      • Boreas says:


        I interpreted James’ statement as more of an allegory than scientific cause & effect. I am not sure how it was intended. Perhaps it is the glasses I wear…

    • Paul says:

      The eagles are smart – they hang around (and build their nests in) the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest where the fishing is better.

      Have there been any eagle nesting activity in Wilderness areas in the Adirondacks? The nests I know are on wild forest or private land.

      • Paul says:

        There may be a nest on Wilderness land near Pine pond? There they still have good access to the fishing on the Saranac chain.

        The loons are also doing fantastically well in the areas where I water ski in the summer!

      • Boreas says:

        The DEC may be able to provide info on that. They try to keep the precise location of nests quiet to avoid poaching.

        One thing to consider is that Bald Eagles don’t rely on one body of water, but usually hedge their bets with many, since they can cover a lot of territory easily, and ice conditions can vary. Additionally they prefer very tall trees for nests. In higher elevations and many wetlands, their preferred trees may not be present. I am hoping for a Golden Eagle nesting someday, but that may be long in coming.

        • Geogymn says:

          Boreas, I have a brother who is involved in a Golden Eagle study. He has many pics from a trail cam overlooking some secured roadkill. Albeit this is south of the blue line, Edmeston, NY

          • Boreas says:


            Sightings of Golden Eagles, aren’t all that uncommon in NYS. But nesting would be a rarity. Usually they are just passing through or hanging out for a while. They generally prefer more open areas – similar to a Red-tailed Hawk – but I have seen them around cliffs deep in the HPW and surrounding areas.

  14. William says:

    Great article.
    I would point out that this level of wilderness (small w) is very rare in the world, the continental USA, and especially the Northeast:
    The Adirondack Park is one of the few swaths of green on the map (corresponding to larger distance from the nearest road) in the Northeast outside of Maine. Uninterrupted wilderness is a rare resource, one that we rarely have the opportunity to acquire, one that makes the Adirondacks unique, and, I would posit, the major reason that people come to the Adirondacks to live or play.
    This classification and UMP afford us one of these rare chances to preserve a roadless wilderness — I hope we take it.

    • Bruce says:


      If you’re just talking about significant roadless tracts in general, then I agree.

      Boreas Ponds is hardly roadless. My understanding is that there are some 50 miles of heavy duty gravel road throughout the tract, put in for the logging operations engaged in by the private owner, and to allow access for other private use such as the former lodge site.

      • Boreas says:


        I believe most of the heavy roads are south of the ponds. But at the current time there is no public traffic on them other than to the locked gate. After 2018 (when the private camps are to be abandoned), DEC could stipulate limited/no public traffic. Just because there are logging roads doesn’t mean they have to remain. Even if the road to LaBier Flow allows traffic, the others will overgrow without maintenance.

        The presence of roads does not mean the parcel cannot be classified as Wilderness. As others have mentioned, there are old roads in existing Wilderness tracts. They just allow no motor vehicles or bikes.

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