News that the Adirondack Park Agency plans to subvert a minimal wilderness designation at Boreas Ponds with both motorized and mechanized access corridors is not just discouraging, it is frightening. This is not a word that I toss out for emotional effect. It is my genuine reaction to the idea that the agency is becoming an obstacle to the wilderness preservation narrative that defines part of the Adirondack Park’s proud history.
Throughout this current land classification process — initiated in October 2016 and still unresolved today — the state has been setting a poor leadership example by pitting so-called user groups against one another, setting the expectation that one side wins and the other loses in this zero-sum game we politely call Forest Preserve management.
The agency is seeking to accommodate the vague and incorrect idea that humans can be demographically divided by the outdoor toys they purchase. Thus the only logical solution is to embrace over-engineered compromises that few can understand and that no one asked for. And the public sees time and again the Adirondack Park Agency tripping over its own implications that wilderness— one of the iconic emblems of this great park — is an impediment to regional prosperity, and must therefore be minimized to every extent possible.
But not for the first time in its history. In 2014, when it designated the Essex Chain and Hudson River region, the assumption was that a wilderness classification would be too exclusive. Opening the area to a broader spectrum of transportation methods would naturally attract a greater number of people, who in turn would hopefully lighten their wallets while passing through the hamlet of Newcomb.
To test this hypothesis, the agency availed itself of nearly every classification option listed in the State Land Master Plan. It manufactured a multi-use recreation area at the Essex Chain by the liberal use of spot zoning, applying landscape-level guidelines on a microscopic basis to individual features, thus accomplishing the type of mixed-bag management that land zoning is intended to prevent.
But in the years since then, has the agency measured the success of this solution? Because by all accounts, the visitation rates for the Essex Chain have been dismal, especially if the expectation was that greater permissions would attract more people.
The fundamental problem with the Essex Chain classification was that the state was unable to provide a clear vision of what this region was supposed to be. I remember well the tone of that public discussion. The agency believed that the tract was something more than wild forest, but certainly less than wilderness — and as a result it has become not much of anything to anybody. On the land use map, this designation stands out as a coat of many colors; when you visit the place in person, the regulations that apply vary depending on which patch of ground you happen to be standing on.
This is not coherent state land planning.
Broad Support for Wilderness
I am one of the cofounders of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, and I am aware there is some perception that we are an extremist group, located at the far left end of some political spectrum where the air is thin and there is no room for compromise. It is true that my group is focused on a singular issue: the Forest Preserve, its significance to society, and especially the health of its wild interiors. We care a great deal about the legitimacy of the State Land Master Plan. We want to see the wilderness areas of the park flourishing — both well-loved and well-managed — and benefiting the communities that surround them.
The money we spend to broadcast our message is financed on our personal credit cards, not some overflowing war chest filled with downstate contributions. Even so, our supporters accounted for 36% of the volume of letters the Adirondack Park Agency received in the closing months of 2016. That’s upwards of 4000 pro-wilderness statements from ordinary people across the park, across the state, across the continent, and across the world — all of them concerned by the lack of a full wilderness option for the Boreas Ponds.
For a group of “elitists,” the followers of AWA strike me as pretty darn mainstream. Thanks to the modern miracle of Facebook, we have an idea who these people are, demographically speaking. If our social media following is an accurate indicator, the people who share our concerns about wilderness are evenly distributed across every age bracket from 25 to 64. When I look at those numbers I see neither elitists nor extremists. If support for wilderness was an elite endeavor, there could not possibly be so many of us. And if we were extremists, the adults would have grown tired of the whiny children by now.
So who are we, then? We are people who have bought completely into the idea that the Adirondack Park is the birthplace of wilderness preservation, and that the protection of our wildest places is one of New York’s greatest civic achievements. Maybe wilderness is more of a cultural construct than a natural phenomenon, but even if that is true, wilderness is a cultural institution that many of us desperately need for our physical and mental health.
This brings us to the Boreas Ponds, and why this one property has captured the attention of so many wilderness advocates. Well for one thing, many of us have already had the opportunity to see it. We’ve been there, we’ve seen the roads, we’ve seen the hunting cabins, we’ve seen the dams, we’ve seen the gravel pits. Despite all those man-made artifacts, we see a landscape that is poised to heal itself if we merely step back and let nature do its thing.
The Problem with Easy Road Access
The Boreas Ponds occupy part of the unifying valley between two of our greatest mountain areas, the Great Range and the Dix Range. All of the natural forest citizens who claim these two areas as their roaming territory will out of necessity pass through this valley. As big as we like to believe the High Peaks Wilderness is, from a biocentric perspective it may not be big enough. The wildlife biologist Rainer Brocke, professor emeritus at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, wrote in his essay “Wildlife for a Wilderness” that the insufficient size of the protected habitat — described as a remote and roadless space shielded from human penetration — was one reason why the 1989 lynx reintroduction failed.
Mr. Brocke also noted that even in our three wildest areas— the High Peaks, West Canada Lake, and Five Ponds wilderness areas — the average road and human population densities are too high to sustain a cougar population. “Road density is perhaps the single best index for a wide spectrum of potential human-induced mortalities,” he wrote, “as road density is directly proportional to the degree of human presence.” Florida, of all places, gets to have a cougar population, but our great Adirondack Park cannot. And yet the APA and DEC refuse to accept the idea of a Gulf Brook Road that is fully closed to motor vehicles!
The proximity of the Boreas Ponds to the High Peaks sets up another highly predictable management problem, because short, easy access to the ponds also means short, easy access to the mountains. One of the top Adirondack stories of recent years has been the crowded, overused trailheads from Chapel Pond to Heart Lake: parking lots adjacent to 55-mile-per-hour speed zones, under-prepared people dying from pneumonia because it’s far too easy to access the peaks without ever encountering a uniformed DEC employee.
Yet making access easier to the High Peaks seems to be the primary management goal. In fact, we are told that DEC is contemplating a newer, shorter, easier trail to Allen Mountain, the remotest of the High Peaks. So is that it, the end result of all this GIS analysis, public hearing after public hearing, and state land master planning? The state purchases a magnificent property, gently touched even after a century of timber management, and the best option is to treat the Boreas Ponds like another Marcy Dam — complete with the inevitability of habituated bears, crowded campsites, and the need for strictly enforced regulations?
Perhaps you can start to see the roots of our concern. It might seem like creative thinking to envision special-use corridors or changes to the State Land Master Plan as shortcuts out of this box canyon in which the agency finds itself; but when the state does this, what we see is a calculated effort to chisel away at one of New York’s greatest achievements.
Wilderness is a Key Part of a Balanced Classification
Really, what are the stumbling blocks to a wilderness classification at Boreas Ponds? Balance, we have heard; the need to provide access to people with disabilities; the desire for easy canoe access to a scenic waterway; increased tourism for local communities.
All of these are good points. Great points, actually. But why must this one tract be made to serve all purposes, like a spoil of war split evenly amongst all the conquering heroes? We have reviewed the entire 2016 classification package, and we see that there are dozens of parcels that require a decision. There are a few instances where a wilderness classification seems strongly warranted for one reason or another, such as MacIntyres West and East, Sugarloaf Mountain near the Cedar River, and Stonystep Pond in Indian Lake.
But who would contest a wild forest classification at Cat Mountain near Lake George, the Thousand Acre Swamp in Saratoga County, or the new parcels on the Independence River in Lewis County?
The point is, each parcel should be weighed on its individual merit. If the agency does this, balance will occur as a matter of course. Do you need to provide an accessible CP-3 road? Sure, but why does that route have to frustrate the larger need to provide wilderness connectivity? Why not a less intrusive location, such as the delightful streamside road east of Ragged Mountain? People want easy access to a new canoe route? Tell me about your plans to develop parking facilities and carry trails on the Hudson River below Sanford Lake.
The truth is, balance was already achieved ten years ago when The Nature Conservancy announced its disposition of the Finch Pruyn lands, with more than half being retained as working forests. If there is a public desire to open motorized access roads to managed forests with higher game populations, then these conservation easements are the places to accomplish that goal. A wilderness classification at Boreas Ponds only seems unbalanced when you look at that one parcel in isolation, completely detached from context.
Therefore if balance truly is the goal of this land classification effort, state officials must step back and look at the entire land use map. The Boreas Ponds Tract is just one piece in a much larger puzzle, a peculiar piece with the unmistakable attributes of remoteness and wildness. Thousands of people — young and old — see this land as wilderness, and have taken the time to tell the park agency as much.
Now, it’s time for the state to listen. The Adirondack Park Agency, like any other body of state government, is a creature of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is not “elitist” when a massive wave of public comment overwhelmingly favors a strong wilderness classification. Elitism occurs when a board of appointees and designees acts against that interest because of its own internal biases.
I think you make an excellent point at the end of this article about conservation easements. I thought a principal objective of conservation easements, in addition to preserving the open space character of the land, was to provide recreation areas where a higher level of use (generally more mechanized) was to be allowed. This would allow the forest preserve to be reserved for lower levels and non-mechanized uses.
Now we have the situation where the large amount of easement acres are not sufficient (and the recreation plans for these areas seem to increasingly emphasize motorized access) – one of the wildest, remote, and beautiful areas in the Adirondacks is being targeted for intensive recreation. This is an area that was the cover photo of the first Adirondack Study Commission’s report because of its haunting wildness and remoteness.
I think the Marcy Dam point needs to be taken a step further. The opening of Little Tupper Lake allowed a pristine wild brook trout fishery to be destroyed in a few years. I don’t know if this was intentional or deliberate. However, a very rare resource was compromised because of easy access.
This is an area that competes with many national parks for outstanding scenery and wildness.We should be according it the same level of respect and provide it with the highest level of protection, wilderness.
Perfectly stated Bill. I’m in full agreement to your call for full classification of wilderness at Boreas and seeking balance through proper classification at the Mac easements and other parcels across the park and state.
Bill, good review of the current muddied reasoning that tries to make each large new tract “all things to all people”. I totally agree that the Essex Chain classification was one of the worst classification attempts, and an APA commissioner I have spoken to agrees.
So, let’s first look at the Essex Chain. Some have suggested a “Canoe Area” designation, but there just isn’t enough canoeing there for that designation. To me, “Wilderness’ is definitely out when a group of older folks from Keene can meet at 8 AM in Keene, drive to the parking area, carry, paddle, carry to the Third Lake put-in, canoe all but First Lake at a “shoreline, flower identification pace”, and make it back to Keene in time for dinner. My suggested action: “Wild Forest” for all land west of Chain Lakes Road, boat access with just maybe a 100 yd. carry, and no prohibition on campfires. Handicapped access right to the water with electric motors allowed wouldn’t ruin the scene one bit. This might actually result in the use levels envisioned.
Now that Essex Chain has been made more accessible, Boreas should be totally Wilderness with a very few exceptions. One would be to continue a Primitive Corridor as far as the dam so as not to immediately preclude continued maintenance of that dam. The effect of removing that structure definitely needs more study, and it should be an affirmative decision to remove it rather than a desperation “it’s about to fail, what do we do?” decision. The other exception would be to continue seasonal parking at the inner gate so that getting a boat to the ponds is a committing but still doable exercise. As for a new trail to Allen, forget it. The McIntyre East Tract will now offer an easier approach about the same as an approach from the inner gate.
I have posted the above thoughts elsewhere, and incorporated them in my statement at the Schroon Lake hearing in 2016. As I left, Fred Monroe thanked me for my mention of the Essex Chain “liberalization”. I’ll let subsequent posters take it from there.
Ignore the name-calling. A constitutionally-protected forest preserve is non-elitist by definition. The preserve was created to prevent its destruction and its treatment as a source of revenue. Your group/position is no more “left” than legislator/attorney Louis Marshall, who fought to create and then protect the preserve in the first place. And if “left” means thoughtful, egalitarian, and respectful of an irreplaceable natural treasure, take it as a compliment. The solutions to local economic problems have to championed by Albany, not from treating the preserve like a local business, and creating discord between neighbors. Your piece is eloquent. Good luck to us all!
I favor full Wilderness for the Boreas Ponds tract, but I also don’t mind if the APA decides (or is contemplating) keeping the current interim access plan, which seems to be working out just fine.
Now that I have seen the Boreas ponds and made the journey with the interim plan access in place I totally agree. The experience was more unique and exceptional by the near solitude with minimal human presence. I could not imagine seeing tents,boats,people and cook fires and thinking ” wow am I happy to be here for all this”!
It was an effort but isn’t that all the better the reward at the end of the journey? Don’t we need to have ” those places” to dream and plan for as individual quests rather than easy and crowd pleasing events?
“…after a century of timber management, and the best option is to treat the Boreas Ponds like another Marcy Dam — complete with the inevitability of habituated bears, crowded campsites, and the need for strictly enforced regulations?”
Is Marcy Dam not in The High Peaks Wilderness Area? If it is such a problem there then perhaps Wilderness for Boreas is a poor choice. Seems all the wilderness seekers don’t know how to find the wilderness in the wilderness area- it’s there but you can’t seem to find it.
Wild Forest is perfectly adequate for Boreas with its huge logging roads and concrete dam. Can anyone tell me where there is a Wild Forest designation that allows for the devastation and ATV use that you imply a Wild Forest designation will bring? I have yet to find it.
So far, to me at least, the Wilderness designation in the High Peaks and Giant has created a culture of neglect. There the trails are poorly designed and neck deep with erosion, toilet paper bombs abound, there are no composting toilet facilities-just gross outhouses, and yes those bears just keep getting fed by people seeking solitude in the wilderness.
I suggest we allow sustainable, properly graded ADA and mountain bike/hiking trail networks in Boreas (and elsewhere)- not the usual no thought involved layout that the State currently deploys in the majority of its stewardship. I have seen the most well designed and sustainable trails in designated Wild Forest areas where the community is involved and benefits from the use of the Forest Preserve.
I agree with your assessment of the situation. Instead of pieces of the puzzle being added over decades to create a beautiful picture, pieces of the puzzle being added lately are further composites that do not add to the beauty of the finished subject.
APA seems to view each new parcel as a mini-park within a Park – a place where everybody should be able to do something they like. It is a philosophy bent on wringing every drop of revenue out of each parcel. This is the difference between a corporate mentality and a visionary mentality. Walt Disney knew you had to set aside separate areas in a park for separate themes and activities. This immersed you in each area and the best activities for that area. You don’t see Mickey Mouse jet-skiing on the Jungle Cruise. It would destroy the experience. This new Park philosophy ultimately dilutes the impact of the resource instead of strengthening and protecting it.
The current administration has its heart in the right place, but its head is schizophrenic.
Franklin, Marcy Dam is on the way to Mt. Marcy and other High Peaks, and that, rather than the Wilderness designation is what makes it so attractive. Most of the trails you mention were designed about 100 years ago – well before any Wilderness designation. For the past 40 years or so, trail crews have been trying to mitigate the problems caused by the poor design and maintenance, and they have made a lot of progress. Boreas Ponds is an attractive destination, but no matter what the designation it will never attract the crowds that we see at Marcy Dam or Lake Colden. Even if a direct trail is constructed to Marcy from Boreas Ponds, with the current access it would be about 14 miles to the summit or three miles longer than the current longest approach from Elk Lake.
And Boreas, you definitely echoed my statement that not every new parcel of land needs to offer something for everyone.
“Even if a direct trail is constructed to Marcy from Boreas Ponds, with the current access it would be about 14 miles to the summit or three miles longer than the current longest approach from Elk Lake.”
I agree that an even longer trail to the heart of the HPW wouldn’t be popular, but I see that as a good thing. A person looking to avoid the crowds of the popular approaches may not mind the additional steps if the quality of the experience is there. A well-designed and well-routed trail from BP would be very attractive to hikers and skiers looking for a more relaxed experience. Old joints appreciate a gentler climb, old eyes appreciate new vistas, and ears seeking solitude enjoy fewer voices.
Preaching to the choir here, Bill, I see. I love the part about multiuse lands being classified wilderness because they need to “heal.” You can use that on future land purchases that have seen heavy use. You should also say Boreas Ponds are the “crown jewel” of Adirondack lands. And say it’s a “no brainer” that Boreas should be wilderness. Those phrases, repeated over and over in letters and by speakers, worked on other acquisitions and projects.
This really nails the argument for wilderness. The crux of the logic is to have each property under review be resolved by a clear sense of how it will be used and designing the classification to reflect that. It is poor stewardship to look for each parcel to serve so many uses. Let each parcel singularly do what it does best and have a range of parcels where each covers its niche of public use needs. There is an expression that a committee often tries to please all parties and creates what is called a “three humped camel” that serves no use to anyone. That is where the Governor, DEC and APA are going here.
I agree. What seems to be missing with the current administration of the Park is a clear GOAL for the Park. What would be the final Park patchwork look like if all large private inholdings of the Park were somehow acquired by the state – either by purchase, gifts, or conservation easement? Would there be large areas of contiguous Wilderness surrounded by Primitive and less-protected areas allowing access? Or will smaller islands of scattered Wilderness be present amongst scattered intensive use and other FP designations? Will forest-product lands be encouraged, and if so, where? Will motorized access be encouraged in all areas of the Park, or will it be restricted to the periphery, allowing a central core of “wilderness”? Will wilderness areas be connected with wildlife corridors to other wildlife corridors outside of the Park, or will the wilderness be sequestered centrally and “protected” without allowing wildlife to properly migrate as environmental conditions change?
Over the decades I have seen several visions put forth by NYS for the future of the ADK Park – all of them with merit – but then being overturned by political forces within and outside of the Park. I feel for the Park to be relevant well into the future, the goals of the PEOPLE of NY for the Park need to be re-evaluated and a clear path to that goal be implemented and maintained over the long-term. The current see-saw of short-sighted political and environmental goals will not take us there.
Bill, an excellent statement. Thank you.
The park agency is an unconstitutional entity, it governs what we do what we build and where we go. They are instituting laws and restrictions of land that the agency does not own. Therefore it does not represent the people who reside in this ever expanding park.
I agree there should be set aside lands, but only the original lands designated by the state constution. The APA should be abolished and the lands owned by the State put under control of the DEC.
The State bought the land and used State money from State taxpayers. All of us paid for the land all of us should have access to it, not just a few with the physical ability to Trek into that area, and use it in a respectful manner. The handicapped,people with their canoes should be open to all not just the few.
God forbid we have a forest fire and no roads to access it to put it out.
I have spent countless hours hiking through the forest not on your Trails through the woods, I’m just amazed at the amount of debris on the forest floor just waiting to catch fire.You watch the California wildfires and you believe that we don’t have potential for that in this area.
Anyone with any intellect should see this potential hazard.
Scott, I’m sincerely & respectfully curious of what your reviews & experience are on the Essex Chain plan …?
“Anyone with any intellect should see this potential hazard.”
There are many intelligent people discussing this issue so I am not sure whom you are addressing?
Roads are not the answer my friend. Anyone who can’t see how unique of an area that has been bestowed upon us might fail to see how hazardous roads are to said area.
The problem is governor cuomo likes motorized recreation. When he travels to lake placid for the winter challenge ,in the past, he always snowmobiled. That is the PROBLEM!
You write, “The Boreas Ponds occupy part of the unifying valley between two of our greatest mountain areas, the Great Range and the Dix Range. All of the natural forest citizens who claim these two areas as their roaming territory will out of necessity pass through this valley.” IMO this is your strongest argument for a Wilderness classification. Personally I think the APA and DEC should think about diverting some attention from the overused High Peaks and encourage people to use the far southern parts of the park that as far as I can tell are barely on the radar: Ferris Lake, Shaker Mt. and Wilcox Lake wild forests and Silver Lake Wilderness.
The “news” referred to in the intro is just another article from this blog. Maybe we should see what they actually plan to do.
“Because by all accounts, the visitation rates for the Essex Chain have been dismal,”
I thought the usage was pretty high. What are the usage statistics please?
Perhaps we should step back and simply examine the definition of wilderness, conservation and why the definitions are there.
Conservation means protecting and not using the resources of the ADK’s. A fairly loose definition of conservation that includes minerals, plants and animals, or, basically the entire ecosphere. That means minimal access, no roads, etc. We actually have no interest in people accessing/not being able to access the land(s.) We do NOT want more than the traditional “hunting group” of people there since this has been the traditional use of the ADK’s (ie hunting, fishing, etc) since man moved onto this continent. Note that nowhere do I mention handicapped access, vehicular traffic, nor villages, paved roads, etc BECAUSE they are a form of pollution. We do NOT want anything there/brought in besides what can be carried on a person and nothing more. Few people, no garbage, no complex mechanics, or, basically nothing that cannot be reproduced by someone traveling through an area. Why? Simply to CONSERVE the resources: water, loam/soils, lumber, iron, granite, garnet, etc and the ecosphere supporting these resources.
Wilderness is simply a made up classification. Made up by politicians (people) who understand the need for conservation of resources. Like “forever wild” it is a social/political set of rules that CAN be changed at need. Now is NOT the time of need. Not when the wood products are usually shipped overseas. (Have you tried to buy good American hardwoods?) Not when the mineral value is less than that of other resources (we still have some -and better- iron left in the great lakes pit mines.) NOW is a typical corporate attitude for making money, again a social distinction and not the actual value of conserved resources. We need to protect the large tracts of land in the ADK’s from ourselves and the typical “yankee profiteering at any cost” attitude. I hope the Chinese (and other countries) can learn from our past mistakes.
Someday, if the population of the planet continues with it’s expansion, we WILL need all the resources we conserve today as wilderness. But that day has not yet arrived.
This is the true meaning of conservation. If it means protecting our lands from the EPA, then do it. If it means declaring Bores Ponds as “Wilderness”, do it. If it means keeping hands out of the ADK’s, do it. We need more enforcement of the “rules” for wilderness and more lands declared as such. A simple task, spend money (a social/political “dollar”) to hire more rangers. Lets let our children enjoy the land for as long as possible…perhaps “forever wild” will have meaning to our grandchildren, their grandchildren, etc as they realize the actual vale of the ADK’s. A value that is counted in satisfaction and the realization that we will have it if/when we need it. Not today, no, I won’t use it now. This is the battle that we need to instill into every American.
We as a people, will continue this debate forever. I ask what is soo damned important you cannot buy it at Wally World? My answer is Wilderness. A set of rules, a set of conservation tenets, a set of beliefs that cannot simply be purchased.
Scott Favro says: “You watch the California wildfires and you believe that we don’t have potential for that in this area.”
> I’ve read reports that state the Northeast should fare well with climate change so far as drought is concerned, at least into the immediate future. I have my doubts it will last long so long as we continue to have puppets in power such as we have now who, as everyone should know by now, are selling out the land and the waters to the oil and gas people. They’ll be nothing left in the not too distant future so long as these ignorant whores for the rich continue to remain in power. ‘O but they’re creating jobs, etc….’ is a defense they’re narrow-minded base will put up.
We need to start preserving what’s left not pillaging and destroying what’s left! What’s this have to do with Scott’s comment? Trees for one. They purify the air, they suck up carbon, they lower surface and air temperatures, they add moisture to the air, etc…….
If the temperatures keep rising trees will not fare too well which means less trees. Less trees mean….read the above! So yes Scott…we have the potential for wildfires in the Adirondacks but not in the immediate future. But that will most definitely change ….especially with the kooks we have in power presently (who wrote the book on raping and pillaging, divide & conquer….) who can give two hoots about anything other than the rich and the fool they see when they look in the mirror.
“Anyone with any intellect should see this potential hazard.”
> Some of us do see Scott !
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