What is Wilderness, Wild Forest, Primitive, and so on as we apply these terms to our Adirondack Park? They are labels we give to parcels of land within a line drawn on a map. These terms only regulate what we can and can’t do within the corresponding boundaries on the lands that all New Yorkers own. Unless we force all the people who have inholdings to give up their property, remove the road systems, remove the man-made structures, and eliminate some towns, the Adirondacks will never be like the wilderness areas out West.
The concept of what wilderness is as we have applied this term to our Adirondacks is misleading. Is the High Peaks area really wilderness with the extensive overuse it is experiencing? Is sitting at Blue Ledge Pool in the Hudson River Gorge a wilderness experience when 50 whitewater rafts pass through it on any given Saturday? When this question is put to wilderness advocates they simply do not respond; they do not have an answer, or do not want to admit that it is not a “Wilderness Experience.”
The Vanderwacker “Wild Forest” east of the Hudson River and North of the Cedar River is more like wilderness than “The High Peaks Wilderness Area.” You see a mature forest and a section of the Hudson River that is seldom visited. It is unlikely you will see another person except during hunting season. The Park has numerous tracts of land classified Wild Forest that have that same wilderness feel, and the human use of these areas are minimal. Overuse occurs in the High Peaks because people have a goal to climb a “High Peak” or to climb the 46. Another overuse reason is that many can be climbed on a day hike rather than an overnight. Mount Marcy can be climbed in a day because a Wild Forest region trailhead penetrates deep into the High Peaks Wilderness area. I saw very little response or recommendations from wilderness advocates on the online publication Adirondack Almanack when this issue was publicized. After reading Lawrence Gooley’s article on the Almanack which stated education was the Band-Aid which alleviated overuse and degradation in the 1970s and 80s, I offer this suggestion to help reduce the impact.
As an educator I was required to take several interactive online courses. Most had a series of short video clips to view. When that was completed you then had to take a short quiz. After passing the test you could print out a certificate of completion. If DEC utilized this model on its website for each type of use and required users to possess this certificate while participating in their outdoor activity of choice Forest Rangers could check to see if they fulfilled the requirement. The U.S. Forest Service uses a similar process for permitted rafting groups on the Grand Canyon. Although you do not need to take a quiz after viewing the video clips the ranger at the put-in checks your gear and administers an oral quiz to the group before your departure.
I grew up in Newcomb and lived in the Upper Works or “Adirondac” until I was 8 years old. I downhill and backcountry ski, enjoy mountain biking, climbed the 46, paddle moving and flat water, hunt and fish some, and am an active NYS-licensed guide for whitewater rafting, camping, hiking, and fishing. I never got into snowmobiling or ATV use but have no problem with that user group as long as they follow the rules.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve Long Lake Central School as a Physical Education Instructor and Driver Education Instructor for 27 years. During my tenure at LLCS I exposed my students to the same outdoor activities I enjoy and many remain actively engaged in outdoor recreation.
My wife Ruth is also a lifelong resident of the Park. Ruth and I invested all of our resources into starting an outfitters business in Newcomb about 20 years ago. It has gradually grown into a viable option for one or more of our children to return to and operate, but they may need supplemental income from a pension as I have. They left the Adirondacks because they had few good employment opportunities that fit with their skill set; they are millennials. I included this segment of my life in this public comment to emphasize understanding of my passion and vested interest in the Adirondack Park and The Town of Newcomb.
After attending the public hearing at Newcomb I have modified and expanded my input on the Boreas Ponds classification. A significant number of students from Plattsburgh State attended the Newcomb hearing in support of a wilderness classification for the entire Boreas Ponds acquisition. Many students made a point of informing us that they were millennials and they were the future of the Adirondack Park. I agree, young people are always the future, not only of the Adirondacks but the world. I sincerely hope that more of their demographic will commit themselves to living and hopefully working in the Park. The reality of their future is many will prioritize a need for income, health insurance, and the desire to raise a family. This need will place most of that demographic a significant distance from the Park or in economically viable towns and cities in or near the Park. Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Ticonderoga are examples of where millennials could live in the Park and possibly thrive, depending on their skill set. Well-paying jobs are few in small Adirondack towns. Teachers, DEC, DOT, and working for the towns themselves are the best-paying jobs, all public-service jobs. We have trouble retaining homegrown youth and attracting youth because of a quality-job deficiency.
One of the students singled out Newcomb saying that there was nothing there. I have seen this condemnation before on the Almanack. As a lifelong resident this is very painful to hear and inaccurate. Newcomb businesses include a DEC public campsite on Lake Harris, one B&B, an outfitter/guide service/store with four-season cabin rentals, self-service gas, a fabulous fabric shop, Tracy Camp, woodworking business, and bar and grill to mention just a few. Cultural, historical, and educational entities include a K-12 school nationally recognized for hosting international students, SUNY ESF, Great Camp Santanoni, and the abandoned village of Adirondac. Perhaps the greatest resource Newcomb has to improve its economic future is the abundant natural resources. The Essex Chain, southern approach to the High Peaks, two fire towers, the beginning of the Hudson River, and several lakes and waterways. Yes, we need a convenient store with a modern gas station, more lodging, and an eatery. How would anyone expect our town to obtain these amenities without increasing visitation? I love my town and will continue to fight for every possible asset that will improve the quality of life for our residents and visitors.
Most of the students had visited the ponds and explained how and why the remote character of the area needs to be preserved for future generations. I am sure with proper management the Boreas Ponds will still be there for future generations even if Alternative 1 [the one with the fewest restrictions] is chosen by the APA and the governor. I have faith that DEC will include controls in the UMP that will adequately protect this special place. One only needs to look at Elk Lake and the Ausable Club, private inholdings which mirror the character of Boreas Ponds, to see how internal controls protect the environment. My guess is that most if not all of the students accessed the Boreas Ponds by driving Golf Brook Road as far as allowed, which will not be possible if the entire purchase is classified Wilderness. A recent Adventure Tourism workshop included marketing to millennials in North Creek. The research indicated that millennials are looking for a 1-to- 3-hour outdoor experience per day of visitation. Assuming the research is accurate most will never visit the ponds and no contribution to local economies will be realized if the entire tract is classified Wilderness. I also wonder if these impressionable students were recruited to speak on behalf of wilderness within their educational construct. If this happened without the opportunity of a Wild Forest advocate to present their perspective on the issue then I question the integrity of the instructor and or course.
Another argument opposing reasonable access to the Boreas Ponds is it will be degraded as a result of overuse. One only needs to look at the use data below for the Essex Chain to dispute that claim. After the initial spike in visitation (which may have already occurred for day users in the Boreas Ponds) I am confident it will see a slightly higher pattern of use than the Essex Chain Complex.
Year 2013: Deer Pond access point opened October 1, 2013 – no overnight use allowed until 2014
Year 2014: 77 camping permits issued, 216 total overnight users, 910 day use visitors signed in at the Deer Pond parking area kiosk.
Year 2015: 46 camping permits issued, 111 total overnight users, approximately 1,000 day users signed in at the Deer Pond parking area kiosk.
The 2016 final register sheets have not been collected or complied yet. Camping permits (from Adirondack Interpretive Center) in the Essex Chain were discontinued on August 15, 2016, but DEC thinks overnight use was up a bit.
Great Camp Santanoni is another example of how man’s interaction with Wilderness/Wild Forest has not ruined it. Motor vehicle access is limited to administrative use. This allows heavy equipment use for maintaining the access road and bridges to Newcomb Lake which is in excellent condition. The Moose Pond road which branches off the Newcomb Lake road is in Wilderness which prohibits motor vehicle and bicycle use. DEC tries to maintain that road with human power only. For years now horse-drawn wagons can no longer get to Moose Pond. DEC cannot repair damage from runoff and fallen trees because the “manpower” required is not available. In addition to the inability to recruit enough manpower to do this kind of work it is not practical or economical. We have a similar problem with the trail infrastructure in the High Peaks, not enough manpower for sustainable trail improvements or reroutes.
The Historic Santanoni Preserve sees heavy day use and moderate overnight camping use. On an early morning mountain bike ride I have seen deer, hawks, and bear; wildlife abounds. I speculate the natural surroundings are still just as litter free and stunning as they were when the Pryun family owned it. In conversation with a prominent environmental advocate I was told that he had opposed saving and reclassifying the gatehouse, farm complex, and camp, but over time and after seeing the restoration results his perspective has changed. This never could have happened if the classification of the area encompassing the great camp had been Wilderness. The significant visitation of Camp Santanoni is an economic plus for the Town of Newcomb. This historic and cultural asset is the only great camp owned by the State of New York.
Heart Lake, the centerpiece of Adirondack Mountain Club’s in-holdings is a beautiful lake with wonderful vistas. Is the lake and surrounding areas full of invasive species even with the substantial human presence? I don’t think so. ADK’s official position of Wilderness north of LaBier Flow on the Boreas Tract would prevent maintenance of the dam at Boreas Ponds.
Without the ability to use equipment to maintain the dam it would eventually breach, and the view, paddling experience, and fishing could be significantly diminished. I want to make it clear that I am not condemning ADK for its in-holdings even though I feel their policy regarding this issue is somewhat hypocritical. The Mountain Club has done much for the Adirondacks and I support their efforts, just not their position on the classification of the Boreas Ponds.
Clearly a portion of wilderness advocates and the hiking community have little to no tolerance for other user groups in NYS including people with disabilities. At the public hearing in Newcomb several comments were made by people no longer able to hike long distances. Many would like an opportunity to see the ponds and views. Some of them had worked in the area and wanted to return to take it all in one more time. It boggles my mind that wilderness advocates can ignore or dismiss that in this day and age. These people will never get to see the beauty of Avalanche Pass, or views from the top of our High Peaks. Now we have the opportunity to classify this tract so they can at least see something comparable, let’s do the right thing for people with disabilities.
The current regulations that prevent mountain bikes from using perfectly conducive roads just because they exist in a Wilderness classification is totally unreasonable. The only somewhat creditable argument expressed opposing such use is bicycles are mechanized and detracts from the wilderness experience. A mountain biker may detract from the wilderness experience of a sensitive hiker but it will be much briefer than a hiker observing rafts passing through Blue Ledges or a hike up Algonquin on a busy weekend. If a bicycle is considered mechanized, then a canoe wheel cart is mechanized; why have there not been objections to this type of mechanized use to access interior bodies of water? The fact of the matter is “mechanized” is most commonly referring to non-human powered devices. If the Boreas Ponds and the road system is inside a Wild Forest classification at least the possibility of allowing bicycles on the road system exist.
The APA recently considered an amendment to allow bikes in wilderness areas park-wide, but it was only approved for the Essex Chain. I urge the APA to revisit the current regulation in the State Land Master Plan and allow bicycle use based on the infrastructure and character of the land rather than the classification. Bicycles do not degrade trails or spread invasive species any more than a hiker would. Horses, however, are allowed on designated trails in Wilderness and cause significant damage to trails not conducive to that use. Research has shown horse droppings to be a significant source for transporting invasive species. Why have the wilderness advocates not objected to this user group in a wilderness classification?
If the road to the Boreas Ponds and the roads around the ponds are classified as Wilderness no options for other users will be possible without changing the State Land Master Plan, or reclassification, which has never happened once a Wilderness classification has been designated.
I support Alternative 1 for the land classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract. This will provide maximum flexibility for DEC to consider all user groups in New York State when developing the unit management plan. Alternative 1 will permit the maintenance of the roads, and the dam. Bicycles can be considered for 17 of the 53 miles of road, all of which is conducive to that use. Alternative 1 would allow the greater access for people with disabilities and requiring special considerations for accessing and enjoying Boreas.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates claim that a Wilderness classification will have greater economic impact on the local economies. I disagree and think a Wild Forest classification will derive the greatest possible benefit. To think that a grand gateway facility off I-87 in North Hudson could survive economically on the minimal number of visitors coming to see the ponds and access the High Peaks in the late fall, winter, and spring is unrealistic. The implied scope of such a facility would require a large investment. A private entity would be hard-pressed to make the mortgage payments. Blue Ridge Hotel tried to stay open in the winter and did not have enough business to make it profitable. Boreas Ponds will be another small contributor to the overall economic picture, just like the Essex Chain, but every little contribution adds up. After reviewing AWA’s website and reading how people with disabilities or “differently abled” people will still be able to get to the ponds is also unrealistic. Sure, some people with disabilities could cope with a 14-mile round trip in an all-terrain wheelchair, but the majority of that demographic could not. I think only a minimal number of differently abled will actually take advantage of seeing the ponds regardless of the level of access. I agree that you cannot make accommodations for every wilderness setting and understand why the U.S. Forest Service exempts Wilderness from the mandate. That is exactly why I believe we need a Wild Forest classification as indicated in Alternative 1, so at least some of our most pristine spots are available for differently abled people to view and enjoy.
In closing I want to point out that many advocates (like I speculated for the Green Shirt Students) for Wilderness are influenced to perceive this classification is the best future for the property without having the opportunity to listen to the viewpoint of Wild Forest advocates. Some wilderness-advocate leadership groups use exaggeration and fabrications to influence the general public. This tactic is unethical. A large majority of residents in NYS and the Adirondacks do not even know what is happening and/or have little to no understanding of the process. Is it fair to solicit people to back your position on an issue without presenting the viewpoints of both sides? Many wilderness supporters have no intention of visiting the area, simply don’t care how it impacts the local economy, and are therefore not true stakeholders. Sure, a case can be made that they are stakeholder because they want to preserve it for the future generations. But as previously stated and supported by specific examples, a Wild Forest classification as presented in Alternative 1 will not ruin this property. This is especially true because DEC will next be charged with implementing a UMP and I am sure protecting the environmentally sensitive area will be prioritized.
The above commentary was submitted to the Adirondack Park Agency, which will soon be deciding how to classify Boreas Ponds and a number of other recently acquired state lands.