What follows is a letter sent to the APA.
In response to the Adirondack Park Agency 2016 – 2017 Amendments to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan involving the Classification and Reclassification of 54,418 acres of State Lands in the Adirondack Park which include the Boreas Ponds Tract, 32 Additional Classification Proposals, 13 Reclassification Proposals, and 56 Classifications involving map corrections, The Nature Conservancy respectfully submits our comments related exclusively to Boreas Ponds. Our perspective is informed by nearly ten years of ownership and stewardship of this parcel, as well as focused stakeholder engagement. For over 50 years The Nature Conservancy has managed lands globally for both conservation and public use purposes, including our 160 preserves in New York State, and we are accordingly very mindful of the challenges and opportunities presented by this classification proceeding. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide input with respect to the classification of the Boreas Ponds parcel we conveyed to New York State in April 2016.
Adding Boreas Ponds to the Forest Preserve is one of the greatest conservation achievements in the history of the Adirondack Park. Forest Preserve lands provide many values to society—from ecological to social to economic. Just as rare minerals fetch a higher price than common minerals, natural places like Boreas Ponds have a higher value because of the rare experiences they offer. While we applaud the APA for proposing four alternatives that each contemplate dividing the Boreas Ponds parcel into Wilderness and Wild Forest classifications, we are concerned that all of the options fall short of preserving the tract’s most outstanding opportunity for solitude against a backdrop of stunning grandeur.
Alternatives 2 and 4 come the closest to preserving the rare experience of quiet recreation in a large unconfined space around Boreas Ponds and to the north, but neither ensures that visitors can have a genuine wilderness experience around the ponds. The Wild Forest corridor through Wilderness as proposed in Alternative 4 is inconsistent with the wilderness values at the heart of the opportunity before New York State. We believe the proper boundary should be the Gulf Brook/Boreas roads system where everything south is Wild Forest and everything north is Wilderness as depicted in Alternative 2, with the noted exception described in the following hybrid we propose: use the Wilderness/Wild Forest divide of Alternative 2, but replace the Wild Forest area north of the Four Corners leading to the Boreas dam with the Primitive area of Alternative 4. In this context, the Primitive area is an acceptable alternative so long as the existing road is classified as a “truck trail” and it is restricted to administrative use for maintenance of the dam. In addition, we do not believe that bicycle use of this section of road is consistent with the wilderness values surrounding the ponds and a bike rack should be installed at the parking area to make it easier for everyone to leave their cars or bikes in the Wild Forest area before entering into the Wilderness.
The Boreas Ponds tract is large enough to accommodate a wide array of recreational uses on different parts of the property that would allow people to benefit from and share in the multiple values this historic acquisition offers. What’s more, as we describe in this letter posted online, New York has a special opportunity to develop a high-quality accessible trail (roughly one-mile long) that would allow reasonable access for a wide spectrum of people, including those in wheelchairs, seeking a quiet backcountry experience.
“New York State to Develop First-Ever Accessible Trail into the High Peaks Wilderness.” That’s the headline we’d like to see, recognizing that detailed trail planning follows classification. Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not reinforce this point in response to the current classification proposals.
The Nature Conservancy is inspired by the amount of interest being shown in the classification process and can appreciate the challenges the state is facing as it weighs different options. There are many reasons why we urge the APA to consider the hybrid approach that we recommend. The Finch transaction in its entirety, which we worked on for a decade with New York State, reflects a careful and thoughtful balancing of many different interests. Those interests are well-reflected in the public discourse surrounding this classification process. As we have explored, mapped, investigated, researched, and assessed these lands, including Boreas Ponds, the questions inherent in classification have never been far from our minds.
We strongly believe that our proposal strikes the right balance, and reflects the purposes underlying comments already submitted by The Nature Conservancy. For this submission, however, rather than focusing on the specific impacts of the various options that have been publicly debated, we wish to emphasize a single, unique value that we hope will have a significant impact on the ultimate classification decision:
Because of the parcel’s vast size, remote location and outstanding views, the Boreas Ponds classification provides a once in a generation opportunity to find a sweet spot between wilderness and more intensive uses, where visitors can easily access an area and experience that sense of wonder and discovery of the wild that is a distinguishing characteristic of the Adirondacks. By adopting a hybrid approach, the APA can ensure that visitors get the best of all worlds, and have an experience that will not only keep them coming back to New York and the Adirondacks, but has the power to change perspective, create a sense of peace, and remind us of our connection to the land. In this case, there is an opportunity to enable visitors of all types to have that visceral appreciation of a wild place in the 21st century, and that is the approach we respectfully ask for the state to take.
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.