Unlike Lake Lila, Boreas Ponds has no sandy beaches where you can loll in the sun or go for a swim. Nor is there a nearby peak to climb for a lookout (though you could bushwhack to the top of Boreas Mountain).
Nevertheless, Boreas Ponds is a big deal. It’s one of our last chances to add a sizable water body to the Forest Preserve and declare it motor-free.
The Adirondack Park Agency has not decided how to classify Boreas Ponds. If it classifies the ponds as Wilderness, motorboats will be prohibited. If the agency classifies the ponds as Wild Forest, motorboats could be allowed, but whether they would be allowed would depend on a management plan to be written by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Environmental groups support a Wilderness classification, whereas local towns favor a Wild Forest designation. Not even the towns, however, are pushing for unrestricted motorboat use. Their proposal calls for only electric motors, which are quiet and pollution-free.
The odds are, then, that Boreas Ponds will be motor-free or nearly so.
Some years ago, after the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine launched its Campaign for Quiet Waters, opponents pointed out that the Forest Preserve already has hundreds of lakes and ponds that are motor-free. Why, they asked, do we need more?
According to the APA website, there are 1,699 lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park that are entirely surrounded by Forest Preserve. Of these, more than half (887) are classified Wilderness, Canoe, or Primitive, designations that prohibit motorized uses. No doubt many of the 786 ponds classified Wild Forest also are, practically speaking, motor-free.
So the critics of the Campaign for Quiet Waters had half a point. What they ignored, though, is that most of the motor-free ponds are tiny and remote.
Boreas Ponds is not tiny. Protect the Adirondacks recently compiled a list of the 200 largest lakes in the Park. At 339 acres, Boreas Ponds ranks 95th. That may not sound impressive, but it seems more so as you dig deeper.
Let’s look at just the top 100 lakes in the Park. Only 15 of them, including Boreas Ponds, are entirely surrounded by Forest Preserve. Of these, eight are motor-free. The largest is Lake Lila, at 1,428 acres. Thus, Boreas Ponds could become one of the largest motor-less lakes in the Forest Preserve — in the top ten.
What’s more, there won’t be many more chances in the foreseeable future to add a large lake to the Preserve. Most of the big lakes in the Park, such as Lake George, Raquette Lake, and Schroon Lake, were subdivided and developed long ago. Others, such as Brandreth Lake, Nehasane Lake, and Honnedaga Lake, are owned by families or clubs that seem unlikely to sell to the state.
At the moment, the only likely candidate for acquisition in the top 100 is Follensby Pond. The Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy bought the 970-acre pond in 2008 and planned to sell it to the state. That transaction was put on hold while the state completed a larger deal with the conservancy, the acquisition of 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands. Boreas Ponds, which the state bought last year, was the last piece of the Finch deal. That means Follensby can now move forward.
A remoter possibility for state acquisition is 1,517-acre Forked Lake, most of which is owned by the Whitney family. The only other owner is the state. Environmental groups would love it if the state bought all of the Whitneys’ 36,000 acres in the central Adirondacks. The family, however, has given no public indication that it intends to sell.
In any event, Boreas Ponds presents a rare opportunity to add a large lake to the Forest Preserve. Third Lake in the Essex Chain, the last large lake added to the Preserve, was also part of the Finch deal. Third Lake encompasses 340 acres, meaning it’s virtually the same in size as Boreas Ponds.
Boreas Ponds, it should be noted, used to be three ponds connected by wetland streams. A dam built by Finch, Pruyn raised the water level and joined the ponds. If the dam were removed or allowed to fail, the ponds would shrink.
Following are the 15 largest lakes lying entirely in the Forest Preserve, according to Protect. Those with an asterisk are motor-free:
- Lake Lila,1,429 acres.*
- Meacham Lake, 1,170 acres.
- Taylor Pond, 859 acres.
- Round Lake, 745 acres.*
- Cedar River Flow, 584 acres.
- South Lake, 485 acres.
- Limekiln Lake, 471 acres.
- Newcomb Lake, 448 acres.*
- Cedar Lakes, 436 acres.*
- Pharaoh Lake, 418 acres.*
- Horseshoe Lake, 399 acres.
- St. Regis Pond, 388 acres.*
- Long Pond, 357 acres.*
- Third Lake, 340 acres.*
- Boreas Ponds, 339 acres.
The above list does not include Lows Lake (3,122 acres) and Little Tupper Lake (2,290 acres). Both are popular paddling destinations that lie almost entirely in the Forest Preserve. Although both are virtually motor-free, owners of in-holdings are allowed to use motorboats.
Protect considers three of the motor-free lakes on the list — Newcomb Lake, Cedar Lakes, and Pharaoh Lake — to be inaccessible to paddlers. All three lie several miles from the nearest road. That leaves just five lakes that are both motor-free and accessible to paddlers.
Much of the debate over Boreas Ponds is about access. A well-maintained logging road leads to the ponds, but some environmental activists want it closed to motor vehicles, which would require paddlers to carry or wheel their boats seven miles to reach the ponds. Protect and several other environmental groups support allowing the public to drive to within a mile of the ponds.
Assuming Boreas Ponds is designated motor-free, then, the next question is: should it be a paddling destination, like the Essex Chain, or a backpacking destination, like Pharaoh Lake?
Photo: Boreas Ponds, by Phil Brown.