Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Gibson: Proposal for Boreas Ponds Falls Short

boreas ponds classification mapOne could almost hear the exhalation of relief by environmentalists when they learned this week that the Governor’s DEC and APA had decided on “Alternative 2 B” for the Boreas Ponds State Land classification.

Large, obvious violations of law were to be avoided, so they learned. Fears held over the past year were apparently allayed. There would be no unclassified area reserved for a future glamorous camping (“glamping”) in the interior, and no bicycle route on vanishing old roads cloaked by balsam fir leading north towards White Lily Pond and the High Peaks Wilderness. Under “2B” the Boreas Ponds themselves at 1200 feet elevation would be incorporated in that Wilderness, as would the boreal forest stretching north to 3,700 feet and the existing High Peaks Wilderness border. Motorized and mechanized access would end at the Boreas Ponds Dam, eight miles in from county highway, or Blue Ridge Road.

I confess I exhaled as well. After all, one year ago the Governor had declared in his State of the State that there would be infrastructure developed and a Hut to Hut program installed in the Boreas Ponds tract. Rumors of a long “Wild Forest corridor” to allow biking far to the north of the Ponds abounded. Wilderness advocates had dodged a bullet, it seemed. A Solomon-like compromise of Wilderness and Wild Forest access to the Ponds had been reached, or so it seemed.

Some reflection, extending back to the public hearings a year ago, would show, on the other hand, that this decision had badly fallen short of advice within the APA itself and from the guidelines of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP), which has the force and effect of law. “2B” creates a Wild Forest corridor extending not only the entire length of Gulf Brook Road, but then slicing through Wilderness from the “Four Corners,” where a gate would be established, for about a mile further on to the Ponds, both for administrative motorized use to maintain the Dam, for bicycling to the Dam and for motorized access for persons with disabilities to within 500 ft. of the Ponds.

Wilderness guidelines under the APSLMP state that where a Wilderness boundary abuts a public highway, “the DEC will be permitted, in conformity with a duly adopted unit management plan, to locate within 500 feet from a public highway right‑of‑way, on a site‑specific basis, trailheads, parking areas, fishing and waterway access sites, picnic areas, ranger stations or other facilities for peripheral control of public use, and, in limited instances, snowmobile trails.”

Wilderness guidelines do not permit a mechanized road to penetrate into Wilderness well beyond 500 feet.

Furthermore, where is the Wild Forest in a narrow “Wild Forest corridor” slicing through Wilderness? This is not Wild Forest with wild forest character;  it’s a road for recreational and administrative access into Wilderness. Its creation is a political solution for authorizing mechanized access up to the Ponds but has little or nothing to do with Wild Forest guidelines of the State Land Master Plan, or natural resource protection which is of paramount importance according to the APSLMP.

Of even greater importance is the failure of “2B” to consider the opportunity now to create a large, motor-free Wilderness extending from the highway to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain ranges. “2B” emphasizes what’s on the landscape now – a formerly private and very good road, Gulf Brook Road, and dams at Boreas River and Boreas Ponds and clearings where the former Boreas Lodge once stood (thank you, DEC, for removing the Lodge in 2016).

But, as APA Member Chad Dawson reminded his colleagues in 2016, APA ‘’should focus on the whole landscape and consider not just what’s on the land now, but on what the landscape could look like in the future.” The Gulf Brook road could revert to a foot trail, as it has been since the tract was purchased in 2016. People of all ages and abilities have readily walked from the existing parking lot 3.8 miles in from the highway the more than 4 additional miles to the Ponds. The existing dam, as environmentalists reminded APA in 2016, could legally be maintained in Wilderness without any permanent mechanized access to the structure itself, or not maintained at all, and the Ponds allowed to eventually, many years from now, to revert to lower levels, with more streams and wetlands that existed prior to the dam’s construction. This is Wilderness.

Former APA State Land Chairman Richard Booth wrote in his public memo of June, 2016 that the State Land Master Plan fourth classification determinant which requires consideration of “established facilities on the land, the uses now being made by the public and the policies followed by the various administering agencies lends no weight to any potential suggestion that the great majority of the Boreas Ponds tract should be classified as something other than Wilderness. Because the tract has been in private hands until very recently, there are no established facilities used by the public that could arguably prevent the great bulk of these lands from being classified as Wilderness. In determining how the tract should be treated under the SLMP, the Agency will be ‘writing on an essentially clean slate’ with respect to this fourth determinant,” Booth wrote.

I readily appreciate that the Town of North Hudson (and other local governments) had initially wanted much more mechanized access to the Ponds and beyond than “2B” would allow. I respect the Town’s Supervisor and his love of the outdoors, the land and his personal history with it, and his willingness to compromise. I acknowledge that “2B” would classify over 11,000 of the 21,000 acre Boreas Ponds tract as Wilderness. I support public access to the Ponds and have been impressed how readily the public has walked, wheeled boats and helped each other to reach the Ponds since 2016.

But “2B” is a political solution that fails the State Land Master Plan as much as it fails to close a road suddenly to be thrown open to the public with significant ecological impacts over an eight mile stretch, and fails to consider a great deal of public testimony and evidence since 2016 that supports an expansive Wilderness here and is more than ready to imagine what the motor free landscape here could look like the future.

Finally, APA failed to include an all-Wilderness alternative among its 2016 Classification alternatives and environmental impact statement, a glaring omission. The agency can still correct this, and debate it. Nor must the Agency come to a decision on “2B” or any other classification on Feb. 1-2. Given the highly controversial nature of this classification, why not take several meetings to thoroughly deliberate what the State Land Master Plan has to say about this key classification, consider public comments, and imagine not what is on the landscape today, but what that landscape could look like tomorrow?

Map: Boreas Classification decision map, Jan 25 2018, courtesy APA.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




25 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I have been sitting back and taking in all the different comments about the classification 2B being recommended for Boreas Ponds and I am shocked that so many people are accepting this missed opportunity. I thought that proposition 2B was the most palatable of the proposals,but keeping the road open all the way to the ponds for ANY reason does not make the addition of the ponds to HPW as important as it should be.

  2. Justin Farrell says:

    Let’s not forget that some of the early reporting on Gulf Brook Rd & Boreas Ponds neglected to even mention the existence of the second gate and its adjacent clearing back when the tract first opened to the public back in May ‘16. Then when when the APA released its proposed Alternative options and asked for public comments, the existence of the second gate was still being omitted from columns here on the Almanack, and by the APA at their public meetings. Only a small handful of public comments tried to bring the existence of the second gate to attention. I can’t help but feel like if only more people knew that a gate & suitable large parking area located about mid way along Gulf Brook Rd already existed, more people could’ve supported that as an acceptable option instead of an “all, most, or nothing” type of debate that it turned into. Thankfully the DEC realized that the second gate made sense as a interim summer parking area for the general public, and I for one don’t mind if DEC decides to keep it that way in the UMP.

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    Is there a way to obtain the data from the Gulf Brook Road trail registers since May ‘16?
    I haven’t seen any reports of this.
    Is this not public information?

    • Boreas says:

      Justin,

      I don’t know if the DEC routinely tabulates the data or whether it publishes it. They may just throw the full log books in a closet. You will likely get your information sooner if you do it yourself. I am guessing they are still on the first log book. But I would start by contacting DEC just in case it is already being tabulated. That would be public info, but they likely delete the names for public consumption.

      When I was there, most people stated what they were going to do and for how long. It would be a beautiful place to ski in and winter-camp for a few days. You can always go and look at it if the road is passable or if you want to ski in. They may lock the gate near the highway over the winter, but I don’t know if the camps plow it or not or how far. They may be all closed now. If they do block the road near the highway in winter, they may actually move the log there.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks Boreas,
        If I was a journalist, or a recognized writer, or one of several different activist group leaders who often contribute writings to the Almanack and other Adirondack related news outlets, especially pertaining to the controversial pending Boreas Ponds Tract decision, I would think the public usage data over the past 20 months might be relevant & worth looking into. As merely someone who is just a reader & shares an occasional comment or two, and has visited the area a couple of times now, I’m not sure how much clout my own research would carry here.

        • Boreas says:

          It would carry as much clout as from anyone else. Data is data. I did some quick figures when I was there about ~18 months ago and I was surprised by the number of users.

          This information would be a good thing to ask the APA this week at the meeting. I would think it would be their responsibility to know. Or someone at DEC may know. But I doubt people will be able to ask questions – otherwise they may be there a month.

          • Dan says:

            Consider this just an observation. I was in there on a beautiful hiking day last summer. A Sunday, no less, and there were less than a dozen users by 2pm that day as well as logged in the day prior. I wasn’t complaining, but I was surprised at the lack of usage, especially when the High Peaks were so crowded.

            I did look back through the log book and noted a lot less activity than I expected in July. I know not everyone signs the log book, but I don’t think many people are using the area with the current parking situation and lack of camping opportunities. So many I’ve talked to about Boreas want to be able to start their journeys near the flow.

            • Boreas says:

              Dan,

              I am not sure what you mean by lack of camping opportunities. Do you mean by the gate, or the Ponds themselves? Or do you mean camping as in DEC style camping – park & pay? Or do you mean simply hardened campsites? My understanding is you can camp wherever you want as long as you adhere to DEC regulations.

              Just curious – did you run into any other hikers or see anyone paddling on the Ponds? What were the other dozen people doing WRT activities?

              • Dan says:

                I mean the state has yet to set up campsites. Once they do near the ponds I’m sure that will result in more usage.

                Two of us hit the trail by 8am and only one other group was ahead of us. A guy was taking his canoe off his car but I think he turned back because we never saw him and his car was gone when we returned around 1:30 pm.

                We encountered no other paddlers when we there there and other than the group ahead of us (4) we saw only one other couple that we encountered on our way out. Four people came in on mountain bikes, two were young kids.

                I think I counted 8 cars around when we left. Not that I wanted company, but I thought the place would be busier than it was on such a perfect summer weekend day.

                • Boreas says:

                  Dan,

                  The camping issue will be another interesting debate. Where? How many? I thought they did have a few campsites back around where the razed lodge was.

                  Another question – if the gate would have been placed at LaBier Flow, do you think you would have enjoyed your outing more, or less?

                  • Justin Farrell says:

                    There are places to camp at Boreas Ponds, you just need to look for them. We found the remains of an old campsite (including an old barrel stove) when a friend & I were there in May ‘16.

                  • Dan says:

                    If the gate was at or near LeBier flow I’d be more inclined to launch a canoe or kayak there. A three mile cart or carry for a 1.5 mile pond; maybe once, but not regularly. Perhaps if it were bigger (Pharaoh), or there were multiple ponds (West Canada’s). ‘Just my own opinion.

  4. Kathy says:

    Justin and Boreas….nothing amiss in your journalistic writing. Both of you are informative, easy to read and judicious in your rhetoric without the vitriol and insulting references to those who disagree with you.
    Yes for the interim gate as the motorized border for the majority of visitors.

  5. Boreasfisher says:

    Glad to see that not all environmental advocates are in lockstep behind this so called compromise. Using the interim gate for the mechanized boundary is the only compromise that makes sense.

    • Paul says:

      “Using the interim gate for the mechanized boundary is the only compromise that makes sense.”

      That is obviously not the case for a large number of the parties involved. Including those that are tasked with actually making the decisions.

      • Boreas says:

        Paul,

        I would ask then why the gate was put there in the first place. To me it was put there as a temporary compromise that made sense – a compromise between no vehicle access and full vehicle access. Now it doesn’t make sense? Someone made that decision without being drawn and quartered – at least to my knowledge. It may need to be tweaked to allow access to certain individuals or groups, but several of us shake our heads at the politics of the “final” gate/parking decision. Perhaps the ‘large number of parties tasked with making the decisions’ should reconsider the current gate – especially when the UMP is drawn up for the road itself.

        • Paul says:

          I have no idea why they put the gate there. I was simply pointing out that may people seem to think that this new “compromise” makes sense. I don’t think someone can say that this other gate is the “only” compromise that makes sense. Clearly it isn’t to many people involved in the decision. That fact that there is this interim gate doesn’t seem to be something that should sway the decision. I am sure that if the interim gate had been at 0.1 mile from the pond so you could put in right at the flow there would not be too many people here arguing for that “compromise”.

        • Dan says:

          I’m not 100% positive, but I think at least part of the reason the gate was put there on an interim basis was because it was beyond all but one of the existing hunting camps and allowed them, and everyone else, access, saving DEC a temporary headache of distributing keys to various camp members.

  6. ParadoxM says:

    I tried to hike in from the highway gate last May when I thought I was recovering from lymphoma. I could only get about 1.5 miles up before having to turn around. I relapsed shortly after. In October my husband and I tried to drive our 4wd car to the second gate, but turned around after about 2.5 miles because the road was in such bad shape with huge ruts and rocks. If be surprised if opening a road like that for the whole way would generate a lot of traffic. I’m grateful for the opportunity to try again to see the ponds for myself and hike near them, as an 8 mile rt hike from the 2nd gate is not likely to be in my future ever.

    • Boreas says:

      ParadoxM,

      You are right – there are some really rocky sections that would wreak havoc on a low oil pan. I went quite slow in my 4WD truck. I also noticed a lot of narrow areas with relatively few pull-offs. (Log trucks have radios to let people know they are coming through so other trucks can pull off and wait.) However I found the base on that section to be quite solid – only a few small puddles (this was September 2016 I believe). Where the gate was placed it is also quite narrow, which is likely why they placed it there. I have never been down the closed section. The drive currently requires concentration and clearance, which may not bode well for the general public.

      The condition of the road was always another issue for me. Will the state widen and improve it, as people will certainly demand? How much “improvement” will be legal? Desired? Possible? The UMP should reveal a lot.

      .

      • Paul says:

        I am sure once they figure out what will need longer term maintenance they will fill and grade it. That’s an easy day job for a crew with the right equipment. They will also want to improve culverts and the like to keep the impact of the road to a minimum. I would say its smart to just wait till they figure it out. They could have been closing the whole thing.

  7. adkDreamer says:

    Among all the ideas, rhetoric, attempted compromise ‘solutions’, etc. there is only one argument that requires anyone’s attention:

    “…established facilities on the land, the uses now being made by the public and the policies followed by the various administering agencies lends no weight to any potential suggestion that the great majority of the Boreas Ponds tract should be classified as something other than Wilderness. Because the tract has been in private hands until very recently, there are no established facilities used by the public that could arguably prevent the great bulk of these lands from being classified as Wilderness. In determining how the tract should be treated under the SLMP, the Agency will be ‘writing on an essentially clean slate’ with respect to this fourth determinant.” – Richard Booth, As APA State Land Chairman, June 2016.

    This quote is the most compelling argument presented to date. Thanks to David Gibson for this quote.

  8. Byron says:

    “vanishing old roads”?

    That’s a knee slapper.

  9. James Marco says:

    “The existing dam, as environmentalists reminded APA in 2016, could legally be maintained in Wilderness without any permanent mechanized access to the structure itself, or not maintained at all, and the Ponds allowed to eventually, many years from now, to revert to lower levels, with more streams and wetlands that existed prior to the dam’s construction. This is Wilderness.”
    Well said, Mr Gibson!
    “But “2B” is a political solution that fails the State Land Master Plan as much as it fails to close a road suddenly to be thrown open to the public with significant ecological impacts over an eight mile stretch, and fails to consider a great deal of public testimony and evidence since 2016 that supports an expansive Wilderness here and is more than ready to imagine what the motor free landscape here could look like the future.”
    I agree 100%! I might consider the existing parking lot as the boundary for the Wilderness access everyone wants. I am old and tired and semi-disabled and hike more slowly these days. But, hell, dragging my boat for 3.5mi is not THAT bad. Especially when I can call the DEC for special access when i get to be 80 and drive right up to the damn pond. (if a bear don’t eat me first, hey ha!)
    We need less involvement by so called “civilized time constrained pursuits” to wilderness areas. The High Peaks and Lake Lila clearly show the effects of civilized overuse. Even the eagle are not shy at Lowes Lake! We (the people of NY) would do more to civilize it???
    C’mon, follow the laws and rules Mr APA/DEC/Politician….

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