What follows is a letter sent to the APA.
The Review Board thanks the Adirondack Park Agency for the public hearing process on the 2016 classification package and makes the following comments regarding the process, and the classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract, the Benson Road Tract and the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.
The members of the Review Board have carefully considered the physical characteristics of those tracts and their capacity to withstand use, as the fundamental determinants of state land classification specified by the State Land Master Plan, and support the following:
o The compromise of Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract.
o Wild Forest classification for the Benson Road Tract.
o Evaluation of additional alternatives for the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.
Statutory authority for the State Land Master Plan classification scheme:
It is important to consider the statutory authority for the Adirondack Park Agency Act (APA Act.) The New York State legislature, in 1971, authorized the Adirondack Park Agency to draft and recommend an Adirondack State Land Master Plan to the governor for his signature. The APA drafted the State Land Master Plan and Governor Rockefeller signed it in 1972.
Interpretation of the State Land Master Plan must be guided by the intent of the state legislature (our elected representatives) in authorizing its creation.
The Statement of Legislative Findings and Purposes of the APA Act states that the basic purpose of the Act is “to insure optimum overall conservation, protection, preservation, development and use of the unique scenic, aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, open space, historic, ecological and natural resources of the Adirondack Park.” Recreational use of the Park’s resources was included as a purpose of the Act.
State Land Master Plan (SLMP) requirements:
The SLMP states that: “The APA Act requires the APA to classify lands in the Park according to their characteristics and capacity to withstand use. “
It also provides that “A fundamental determinant of land classification is the physical characteristics of the land or water which have a direct bearing upon the capacity of the land to withstand human use.” and that “… the classification system takes into account the established facilities on the land …” It adds that “(T)he extent of existing facilities and uses that might make it impractical to attempt to recreate a wilderness or wild forest atmosphere is also a consideration.”
The Review Board believes that the reference in the definition of Wilderness to “… restore, where necessary, its natural conditions …” refers to restoring relatively minor features of the property to wilderness, rather than wholesale restoration to wilderness, where extensive features of the land are man-made.
Wilderness is defined in the SLMP as “An area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” It is further defined to “mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character without significant improvement … with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable…”
Wild Forest classification:
Wild Forest is defined as “an area where the resources permit a somewhat higher degree of human use than in wilderness, while retaining an essentially wild character.”
The Boreas Tract’s physical characteristics:
The 20,758 acre Boreas Ponds Tract has extensive man-made infrastructure. A large dam constructed by Finch Pruyn creates the ponds. A large bridge crosses the Boreas River over the dam. Another dam with a large bridge over the Boreas River creates LaBier Flow.
The tract also has three additional large bridges north of the Boreas Dam, including the bridges over Slide Brook, White Lily Brook and Snyder Brook.
There are 53 miles of roads on the Tract. The roads have an average width of 25 feet, and an average depth of gravel of 2 feet. The roads were constructed to support 50 ton loaded log trucks. The design and construction of the roads is much more than sufficient to support bicycles, two-ton two-wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles, and recreational activity.
The property has been leased to hunting clubs for many years and currently has ten private hunting cabins owned by club members.
The existing infrastructure makes the property well suited for public recreation.
There are more than 20 gravel borrow pits on the parcel. According to a former Finch manager, the gravel used to construct and maintain the roads is equivalent to approximately 25,000 truckloads at 20 cubic yards per load.
Careful analysis of the physical characteristics of the Boreas, and MacIntyre East and West tracts does not support a wilderness classification for most of those tracts. Their characteristics and demonstrated capacity over a long period of time to withstand human use support a Wild Forest classification.
Given the choice of alternatives proposed by the APA, the Review Board supports Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract. That alternative would allow the use of only 17 miles of the 53 miles of the existing roads. No new roads are proposed.
The Boreas Ponds Tract has the characteristics and capacity to withstand use to be classified as “Wild Forest.” A “Wild Forest” classification allows for reasonable access for people of all ages and abilities, and a range of recreational activities that expands the numbers of people who may be attracted to our region.
New York State’s acquisition, and responsible recreational management, of Adirondack properties can attract more visitors to the region and strengthen the economies of small Adirondack towns — if those properties are reasonably accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Both are goals stated by Governor Cuomo for the Boreas ponds Tract.
Community connector trail system:
Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract will provide the necessary classification to enable the creation of a community connector trail system to connect the 5 Adirondack towns most affected by the classification to each other, and to the wider region, with far less tree cutting than an alternative, that does not use Gulf Brook Road.
Boreas Pond use history:
No region of the Boreas Ponds Tract has been untouched by forest and recreation management for leaseholders over the last century. With all of this activity, the ecosystem is still healthy, demonstrating that Alternative 1 is the correct classification, because the physical characteristics of the property and its long use confirm its ability to withstand use.
MacIntyre East and West Tracts:
The only alternative proposed by the APA for the MacIntyre East and West Tracts is Wilderness. There is a very extensive network of roads comparable to the best Boreas roads on each of those tracts. The Review Board recommends a careful review of the physical characteristics of those roads, their capacity to withstand use, and the creation of maps showing the roads and built infrastructure with alternate classifications for review in an open public process.
Essex County Wilderness and Wild Forest lands:
Essex County currently has 356,761 acres of Wilderness and 167,665 acres of Wild Forest. Adoption of Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract would add 10,621 acres of new Wilderness and 9,913 acres of new Wild Forest. Alternative 1 would add a small measure of balance to the classification of state lands in the region.
Compatibility of access and environmental protection:
We do not believe that access and environmental protection are goals in opposition. The combination has worked well throughout much of the Adirondack Park. Public access builds appreciation for the Adirondack forest and Adirondack communities and attracts new visitors to the region. The Unit Management Plan process helps ensure that appropriate environmental safeguards are in place.
Benefits to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness:
By providing reasonable access to newly acquired properties, New York State will give recreationalists new places to visit, and relieve some of the public over-use of the High Peaks Wilderness. The major access points to the southern High Peaks are on private lands owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Ausable Club and Adirondack Mountain Reserve and the Elk Lake Lodge. The Boreas Ponds and MacIntyre Tracts will provide access to the southern High Peaks over public lands.
Unit Management Plan Process:
The classification process determines only the universe of public uses that may be allowed on the property. Final decisions on specific allowable uses, and appropriate environmental safeguards, are not determined until the Unit Management Plan process. We encourage the Park Agency to establish classifications that allow for reasonable access for people of all ages and abilities, especially the disabled and mobility impaired based on the history and characteristics of each individual property, and to use the UMP process to apply appropriate environmental safeguards.
Benson Road Tract:
The Review Board supports the proposed Wild Forest classification for the Benson Road Tract.
The Review Board supports Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract, Wild Forest for the Benson Road Tract, further analysis of the road and bridge infrastructure in the MacIntyre East and West Tracts, and additional alternatives for their classification based on that analysis.
The Review Board has also considered the process for acquisition, classification and creation of unit management plans and believes that the process is flawed. The legislature appropriates money for state land purchases without knowing what property will be acquired, without voting on its acquisition, and without a public process to determine what property should be acquired. DEC purchases the property without knowing how APA will classify it, so it is unable to advise the public what uses will be allowed. The majority of the general public is not given reasonable access to the property prior to the classification hearings so that they are in a position to comment intelligently. APA maps do not include all of the road and other infrastructure on the properties before the hearings on classification. APA does not know what uses will ultimately be allowed in the unit management planning process when it classifies the property.
The Review Board believes the process should be reformed to include more transparency and to provide complete information to the public on the characteristics of the land before the public hearing and comment period begins.
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.