Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the classification of the Boreas Tract. I’m writing to urge the APA to reject the classification alternatives it has proposed in lieu of a designation for the Boreas Tract that ensures uncompromised Wilderness and a buffer of at least one mile for the Boreas Ponds.
I attended the Schroon Lake hearing in November and appreciated the polite and eloquent positions of various stakeholders expressed there. Many comments, both for and against specific alternatives, reflected the complexity of managing wilderness areas in a way that protects fragile natural characteristics while accommodating appropriate recreational uses and benefitting local communities.
As a former guide in the Greater Yellowstone region, I appreciate how well managed wilderness areas, served by local gateway communities, can be engines for jobs and business development. As New York Program Manager for the Land Trust Alliance the past 12 years, I understand the value of careful conservation planning and the importance of building constituencies for effective, long term stewardship of conservation lands. As an Adirondack Council board member, I honor a history of leadership and vision from leaders who advocated and worked so hard for the wilderness we all enjoy today. Finally, as owner of a second home and popular vacation rental property adjacent to the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, I am deeply invested in the future of the Adirondacks and understand how the North Country’s rural economy depends on it.
The 20,758-acre Boreas Tract represents an exceptionally rare opportunity to protect and restore a crown jewel of American wilderness. The Adirondack Park Agency has a responsibility to recognize what is a once in a lifetime opportunity to afford this special place the strongest possible wilderness protection for future generations. Taking steps to ensure rigorous wilderness protection will be a tremendous legacy for Governor Cuomo, as well as a demonstration of New York’s highest ideals.
Importantly, this classification can serve as a national model for forward-thinking conservation at a time when wildlife habitat, fragile water resources and wilderness lands the world over are being severely degraded.
One of the main arguments against designating most of the Boreas Tract as Wilderness, heard at the Schroon Lake hearing and elsewhere, is that it already contains an extensive gravel road network. The argument goes that the roads have irreparably altered the area, and because these areas can withstand a great amount of use, they should continue to be subjected to a great amount of use. However, anyone familiar with Adirondack history knows that logging roads are no obstacle to subsequent Wilderness designations. Indeed, old roads are quickly reclaimed by nature if given the chance. The State Land Master Plan takes into account the ability of nature to restore itself, defining Wilderness as an area “which is protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary, its natural conditions…”
To be sure, not every property acquired by the state can be restored to wilderness or deserves as robust wilderness designation. The Boreas Tract is one of a kind, and it stands apart from Essex Chain and many other recent acquisitions. To reap the full economic dividends from outdoor-based tourism, Boreas needs to provide a truly memorable wilderness experience. A useful analogue is the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve addition to Grand Teton National Park. In that instance, the National Park Service established a well-appointed, destination-style public parking area with an ADA-accessible trailhead one mile away from Phelps Lake, which, like Boreas, is a spectacular wilderness destination.
In 1932, native son of the Adirondacks Bob Marshall wrote an essay, “The Perilous Plight of the Adirondack Wilderness”. It would be a harbinger of current debates regarding the Boreas classification. “There is only a small fraction of the Adirondacks which remains unaltered by the activities of man,” Marshall observed. “The undeveloped state lands [like Boreas Tract] are not vital for any type of outdoor recreation except the enjoyment of the primeval and of the wilderness…[this] cannot be experienced in any other part of the entire state.”
In closing, let’s heed Bob Marshall’s earlier wisdom. In recognition of its unique location, unmatched potential for wilderness restoration, and globally significant conservation values, I hope the APA and DEC will be as forward thinking as possible. The best choice for the Park is a designation for the Boreas Tract that ensures a truly uncompromised Wilderness experience.
Looking beyond classification, a critical investment that the state should make is to attract and support small business development in the zone between Frontier Town and Newcomb. This area, regardless of the ultimate Boreas classification, is desperate for investment in local businesses that support hospitality, outdoor recreation (retail, guiding services, gear rental), eateries, and other amenities.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the classification of the Boreas Ponds tract. This acquisition is a nationally significant landmark in wilderness conservation that all New Yorkers can be proud of.
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.