Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bauer: Making The Boreas Ponds Compromise

News about the state’s decision on the classification of the 21,000-acre Boreas Ponds tract, part of a larger 54,000-acre classification package released by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), has been met with a spectrum of cheers and some jeers.

The decision is clearly a compromise, and as with any good compromise there was give and take, with things in it that people both support and oppose. As we evaluate this historic turn of events in the days before the APA takes up deliberations on February 1st and 2nd, it’s worth taking stock of the making of this compromise.

As a compromise, the proposed Boreas classification provides each side of the street, so to speak, with their most important objectives, while also forcing each side to make concessions. The most important objective from the environmental side was the classification of the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness. We wanted the highest protection that New York offers its public lands – Wilderness – and wanted to see the fragile and beautiful Boreas Ponds added to the High Peaks Wilderness area.

The most important objective of local government and motorized recreation groups was retention of the Gulf Brook Road. They wanted motorized access as close to the ponds as possible. They also wanted a snowmobile trail that connected North Hudson to Newcomb/Minerva, which, unless a trail was going to be built through the Hoffman Notch Wilderness area south of the Blue Ridge Highway, had to go somewhere north of the Blue Ridge Highway and involve some of the newly purchased Boreas Ponds lands.

The compromise struck classifies the absolute minimum of lands necessary to protect the Boreas Ponds. Some 11,400 acres of the Boreas tract will be Wilderness, while 9,100 acres will be Wild Forest. The compromise allows for motor vehicle access and bike riding near the ponds courtesy of an unfortunate Wild Forest corridor that juts needlessly into the Wilderness lands, modeled in part on a Lake Lila style of public access. The final details for where exactly the public will be able to drive a car or ride a bike in this corridor will be worked out in the Unit Management Plan (UMP) amendment for the area, but state leaders should share their ideas during the APA’s deliberations.

The decision is very close to what Protect the Adirondacks and The Nature Conservancy advocated. PROTECT released its position in December 2015. We did so after thoughtful deliberations because, plain and simple, we believed it was the best possible outcome with Andrew Cuomo in the governor’s office. It was a pragmatic position about what was attainable within the political constraints and realities of the Cuomo Administration, which has seriously undermined and weakened both the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and APA and consolidated decision making on major Adirondack issues in the State Capital.

Consider these political realities: Governor Cuomo is overseeing the greatest expansion of motorized uses in the history of the Forest Preserve, something PROTECT has tried to aggressively fight back against in court and at the UMP level. The Governor is personally enthusiastic about motorized recreation, something he feels emotionally; just look at his snowmobile riding, his corvette, and his powerboating. When politicians actually believe something emotionally, it’s almost impossible to get them to change their mind. The Governor seeks counsel on Adirondack matters first and foremost from local government leaders. All major decisions of the APA and DEC are made by the Governor, not by independent agencies.

This Governor is also not that interested in the Forest Preserve. The Governor has protected the least amount of land in the Adirondacks of New York’s last four major Governors – George Pataki, 1995-2006; Mario Cuomo, 1983-1994; Hugh Carey, 1975-1982; Nelson Rockefeller, 1959-1973. (Governor Cuomo has even protected less land than David Paterson did, who bought the 95,000 acre conservation easement on the former Finch lands.) Governor Cuomo has made economic development his highest priority in the Adirondack Park and believes that the existence of the Forest Preserve must be justified primarily on economic grounds.

But in this case, the road to compromise was built on the ruins of bad ideas that the Governor and state agency leaders embraced and reluctantly rejected as unworkable or illegal. For Boreas Ponds, these ideas included some kind of public “hut” or glamping facilities for rent, a mini-Intensive Use area campground, mountainbikes in Wilderness, some kind of motor vehicle access to White Lily Pond, making the entire Boreas tract Wild Forest, among other things. I wrote a number of articles published in the Adirondack Almanack (see them here, here, here and here) and at PROTECT’s website about the state’s investigations into these bad ideas, hoping that exposure would help to beat them back.

Through many conversations with state leaders over the past year, it’s easy to see just how bad the Boreas Ponds classification could have gone. Think Wild Forest everywhere. Think of an Intensive Use area on the pond shores. Think a spidering network of Primitive Corridors for bikes or motor vehicles. Protect the Adirondacks has been outspoken about the failure of the Essex Chain Lakes classification — a failure that has deterred public use of the area. We have asked again and again if the Cuomo Administration had learned anything from its failure with Essex Chain Lakes. We think the answer is that they have.

The result of the lessons learned by the Cuomo Administration, and hopefully lessons that will stay learned, is that the Boreas Ponds classification is largely a clean classification. While many are disappointed about where Wilderness-Wild Forest boundary line is drawn, it’s important to note that the proposed classification is not a jigsaw puzzle of classifications like the Essex Chain Lakes area. Wilderness lands are Wilderness and Wild Forest lands are Wild Forest. The state is only  playing games in one spot with the Wild Forest corridor created solely to provide motorized access far too close to the ponds and in the process violates the meaning of a Wild Forest corridor in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Beyond this issue, it does not appear that this proposal will require any amendments to weaken the State Land Master Plan, something that was necessary to facilitate the Essex Chain Lakes classification.

In addition to the 11,400 acres around Boreas Ponds proposed for Wilderness, the MacIntyre East and West tracts in Newcomb total 11,800 acres and are proposed for Wilderness and addition to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The Casey Brook tract, north of the Boreas Ponds, is also proposed for Wilderness. It’s clearly a major event, and a major accomplishment, when more than 25,000 acres are added to the High Peaks Wilderness. Protect the Adirondacks also advocated unsuccessfully for the creation of a 12,000-acre West Stony Creek Wilderness area outside of Northville, among newly purchased lands and existing Wild Forest lands, an area that met  Wilderness criteria.

This compromise also creates the opportunity to link together the Dix Mountain and High Peaks Wilderness areas into one grand 280,000-acre Wilderness area. This would give us the third largest Wilderness area east of Mississippi River, behind the Everglades in Florida and the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, and highlights the national importance of the Adirondack Park.

Any time land is added to the Forest Preserve the Adirondacks grows wilder. Protections under Article XIV of the State Constitution require that lands are forever kept as wild forest lands. There’s plenty of great country and wild places that never see a footprint in Wild Forest areas. In the history of the Adirondack Park, the acquisition of the Boreas Ponds and its classification as Wilderness and inclusion in the High Peaks Wilderness Area will be written as a landmark event, a feather in Governo Cuomo’ s cap, and an important link in the chain between generations that have worked to defend and protect the last great wilderness in the eastern U.S.

This decision is a net gain for the Forest Preserve, for Wilderness, and for the Adirondack Park. Over the next several decades, the trees along the Boreas Pond shorelines will grow taller and bigger. The hillsides and mountainsides will see the forest canopy expand and thicken like clasped fingers.

Yes, there will be public parking a short distance away. Yes, in the winter some snowmobiler may even leave the Gulf Brook Road and drive around gates or bomb up LeBiere Flow to do a victory loop on the frozen surface of Boreas Ponds, similar to lone snowmobile tracks I’ve seen on the frozen surfaces of Lake Lila and Little Tupper Lake over the years, but each year through the state’s wilderness management, wild nature will reclaim the forests throughout the 11,400 acres around Boreas Ponds, eat away the roads, overgrow the log landings, bury the culverts, and slowly transform the area and remake a wild landscape where natural processes dominate unimpeded and untrammeled by humans.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

34 Responses

  1. Lakechamplain says:

    Those of us who have followed the never-ending debates over classifications, UMP’s, and general usage of the myriad lands and areas of the Adirondacks must have wondered when they saw this ‘headline’ and Peter Bauer’s byline under it.
    I read each of the 49 comments on the Boreas Ponds classifications posted here and found as usual for Adirondack Almanac a nice mix of opinions. I also read the short report by Phil Brown for Adirondack Explorer(link under Adirondack News) that summarized the generally positive reaction to the report by environmental groups.
    So I wasn’t totally surprised by this posting by Peter Bauer but am impressed that he must have swallowed hard as he seems to have accepted that, under the current leader of our state gov’t., that this is the best deal we might get. And this after noting what seem like valid criticisms of the closeness of a road that allows some vehicles and mt. bikes closer to the wilderness area than he, and most likely a good many others, would have liked.
    I salute Mr. Bauer for emphasizing that compromises are a necessary part of any agreements between groups that have different philosophies about how the future usage of the ‘decks’ should be heading.
    So good on you Mr. Bauer for a balanced article and for your grudging, but solid support for these proposals.

  2. Boreas says:


    I don’t really see this decision as much of a compromise. People who wanted vehicle access to the ponds will likely get it. People who didn’t want vehicle access 7 miles into this wild area didn’t. Wasn’t that the crux of the argument here vehicle access? What else was being heatedly argued? It wasn’t relative acreage numbers for the various classifications. Sure, plenty of land was added to the Wild Forest – but all people benefit from that – regardless of classification(s). No one was advocating turning it into a mall or strip mine. The only compromise I see was purely political. An example of a true compromise would be leaving the gate and parking area where it is.

    But as I have said before, whatever the final UMP decision is with regard to the amount of vehicle intrusion into the parcel, we should use this as a learning experience. Before opening any gates I would like to see a comprehensive environmental survey of the area performed to assess the baseline “before” condition of the area. Then repeat the survey every 5 years or so to determine what, if anything, is changing. One of my biggest concerns is invasive species. Another is water, noise and light pollution. Will these studies show a general increase of wild characteristics over the next 50 years or a decrease? Will the lack of logging activity counteract the increased vehicle and human access? What types of human activity cause the most derangement of soils, waters, and wildlife? How can they be mitigated? Is it more beneficial to maintain dams and culverts, let them deteriorate, or remove them? People have a lot of theories, so let’s investigate their veracity. Once we have some data, maybe next time there won’t be as much arguing and polarity. Maybe next time the state will leave the lands in private hands and put taxpayer money into maintaining and improving what we have. Who knows?

  3. geogymn says:

    “Once we have some data, maybe next time there won’t be as much arguing and polarity.”

    “Maybe next time the white man won’t take all the land” Chief Smirking Gull & Bull

  4. Good article. Good compromise. It could have been much worse.

  5. Justin Farrell says:

    I’m sincerely curious what’s wrong with the second gate, and why is still not even being discussed as a suitable option?
    Where’s the data over the past 2 years with the interim access plan?

    • Kathy says:

      I’m with you…to me a compromise between 7 miles and < than 1 mile is the current 3.5 mile gate. Closer to the ponds access should be only for limited physical ability by permit. With less than a mile,no overnite camping or fires near the ponds should be allowed. People cannot disperse into the ponds UNNOTICED as in Lila.

      • Boreas says:

        Last I read the distance could be as short as 0.1 mile. A lot of loose numbers out there. Hopefully these details will become more clear after the APA meetings.

  6. Tony Goodwin says:

    I, for one, also thought that the inner gate parking for summer access and outer gate access in winter was a good compromise. It made getting a boat to the ponds challenging but feasible, made for a nice if challenging ski with access to the pond’s surface in the winter, and kept snowmobiles off of Gulf Brook Road.

    After reading Peter’s article, I too will “swallow hard” and accept this as the best compromise – especially given all the really bad ideas that did not make it into the current plan.

  7. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    And with allowing this road to remain open to within a quarter mile of the pond it will ruin hundreds or thousands of people’s camping trips in that area. This decision opens the gates to allowing riffraff idiots to have drinking parties up in a place where this sort of thing should not be allowed.

    And we will see more tree stumps and more garbage left behind by lowlife lazy asses that will walk a quarter mile with gear to camp, but leave the crap Walmart gear and the food cans and wrappers and garbage bags behind when they don’t want to carry it out.

    This decision ATTRACTS this type of camper.

    Cuomo you’re never getting my vote again. That may not matter, you may win elections, but you are NEVER getting MY vote again.

    • Boreas says:

      The riff-raff idiots were never that big of a concern to me. They are everywhere and ever-present. What concerns me is simply numbers and type of usage at the ponds and its bleeding into the Wilderness area.

  8. Blaikie Worth says:

    Excellent thoughtful post. Thanks for all the hard work, insight and oversight.

  9. Mick Finn says:

    Governor Cuomo uncategorically promised that the State taking of this land would improve the local economies.

    Didn’t he?

    • John Warren says:

      This was not a “state taking.” This was a willing seller – a paper company – and a willing buyer – TNC and the people of New York.

      • Mick Finn says:

        You might want to have a look at that “willing seller” thing. Apparently some of the TIMO’s bids were substantially higher than TNC’s bid. No, I don’t have evidence. It’s hearsay and people “in the know” are keeping it quiet.

        By the way, have you seen a copy of the acquisition application? If so, did you see any “errors” on it?

        • Paul says:

          Mick, like John says the sellers were “willing”. So they wanted to sell to TNC at a lower bid – big deal. This isn’t like an auction where it only can go to the highest bidder. I too wish that this land stayed in private hands.

    • Boreas says:

      There are a lot of ways to improve local economies. Town of Elba certainly wasn’t hurt by the classification of the HPW. Plenty of people use other wilderness-classified areas as well – look at the parking area problems.The only thing motor vehicle access ensures are motor vehicles and the good and bad things that they can bring to an area. It is up to the local communities to figure out how to grow their economies given old, current and future land use classifications. Tiny communities simply do not have a lot of resources – including entrepreneurial vision – and will likely always struggle. The Northway can be both blamed and lauded for the current economic condition of small communities – not simply land classifications.

      • Paul says:

        The town of North Elba benefited economically when the state turned just one peak – Whiteface – into a ski area. Despite the false claims that the HPW is the largest draw in the area that you often see here, the ski area draws more people to the area than the HPW. In 2016-17 it was 206 thousand skier visits – 10.6 million in revenue from the mountain alone. Do we have the revenue numbers for the HPW? Sure the HPW is a big draw but it takes this mix to make the tourist economy work. The amounts of lost tax revenue and base for parts of the Adirondacks from state land is staggering. I know that “the state pays taxes”. We also know that it is nothing compared to the tax revenue from land used in other ways. Look at a place like lower Saranac Lake. The few homeowners on that lake pay far more in taxes than the state that owns pretty much all of the lake.

        • Phil Brown says:

          The state pays more in “taxes” than forestry companies pay on comparable land. It’s obvious that the amount per acre on timberland will be less than a landowner pays in taxes on a vacation home on Lower Saranac Lake. You make a misleading comparison.

          • Paul says:

            No. Phil I am not trying to make the comparison you describe, I am talking about the future tax revenue potential of the land. Not what it is currently being used for. Once the land is added to the Forest Preserve it is basically “stuck” at the type of taxable parcel you describe. Not saying that is a bad thing, but it is what the towns have to deal with. Speaking hypothetically my guess is that a beautiful camp on the shores of the Boreas Ponds would net the town a pretty penny in taxes. With almost no need to provide any services in exchange. This is the story for many second home owners in the park. It’s an important part of the local economy.

        • Boreas says:

          I would put the number of users of the HPW year-round up against Whiteface any day. Whiteface does well, and perhaps generates more revenue for the area, but, as I stated, N. Elba wasn’t hurt by classifying the HPW as Wilderness. Whiteface pulls in a lot of revenue for the area, but it is also expensive to operate and not exactly environmentally and energy friendly.

          I think if you consider the number of people who live in the area year-round to have access to the HPW in addition to direct and indirect revenue actually going to the communities, the HPW has more of an impact to the area than most people give it credit for. Take away the HPW, would Whiteface keep N. Elba as attractive as it is currently?

          • Paul says:

            No, that is why I said that the mix is important. As far as numbers I am just going with the stats that have been collected. A relatively tiny parcel of land is attracting more users and more revenue than a big Wilderness area. Doesn’t mean the HPW isn’t important those are just the numbers. Also Whiteface is dual use. Actually many uses.

  10. Phil Brown says:

    It’s true that the APA contemplates a parking area a tenth of a mile from the ponds, but this evidently is intended for the disabled and perhaps people with special permits. The parking area for the general public will be decided on during the UMP process. I assume the interim parking lot created a few years ago will be one option given consideration. From there people could bike or hike 3.6 miles to the ponds. Another option would be to move the parking area close to LaBier Flow, an option that was supported by many of the environmental groups. This would shorten the hike/ride to a mile.

  11. Tim-Brunswick says:

    I have to say that Peter Bauer’s article was pretty much spot on, but the ability to compromise is just not possible with too many of folks who constantly comment on the ADK Almanac…….I and many of my contemporaries who think as I do are grateful for this compromise! The response of the “Wilderness Only” crowd was certainly predictable and aptly represented in the above commentaries.

    Sure we would’ve loved it if Alternative #1 was picked, but the 2-B plan will work and represents some very thoughtful discussion and research by the APA Staffers. Hopefully the final UMP will allow folks who are Seniors, disabled Vets and all people with disabilities to get closer than 3.6 miles, but that remains to be seen.

    Until then, I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Thank you

    • Boreas says:


      The so-called “”Wilderness-only” crowd” isn’t much of a crowd. Very few people have that point of view, including myself. But there are a lot of us who believe there are certain areas that call for that classification more than others. Repetition of the same epithet trying to discredit others – even when in quotes – is getting pretty lame. And people wonder why we can’t all just get along.

  12. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Before opening any gates I would like to see a comprehensive environmental survey of the area performed to assess the baseline “before” condition of the area. Then repeat the survey every 5 years or so to determine what, if anything, is changing.”

    They wont do this Boreas. There will definitely be change and not for the better and you can bet ‘invasive species’ is going to be an issue in just a few years if they allow cars to drive up to just a five minute walk away from these ponds. This is very strange to me that they would allow this…..but not surprising.

    • Boreas says:


      Cross your fingers – it is not a done deal. You can count on a lot more letters and commentary to APA/DEC before the DEC finally makes its final decision as far as parking proximity. Even though public opinion recently hasn’t really had much of an effect on the decision-making with BP, this could always change – especially around election time.

    • Paul says:

      Yes, that is why the St. Regis Canoe area is a horrible place full of trash and invasive species – not. In fact in there you can drive right up to several ponds. Charlie, why would you think that this particular area would be a special draw for invasives?

  13. Richard Jarvis says:

    Peter Bauer commentary very important and pragmatic. One potential error is reference to the 1 mile wild forest corridor from gulf brook road to Boreas dam. The staff recommendation is for the road to be primitive classification. Phil Brown points to restricted use of 1 mile road to special permit holders like disabled. We don’t need more impact studies, we need the APA board to direct agencies’ staff developing the UMP to protect the wilderness, by good location and control of public access and use of the entire new state land area.

    • Boreas says:


      My suggestion was for a post-opening impact study to see what happens – say 5 years out. They will never wait long enough for a comprehensive pre-opening impact study. The only study I was recommending before changing the gate placement is to get some idea of what is and isn’t a problem in the area now to use as a baseline. This wouldn’t take nearly as long as a “potential impact” study, which to my knowledge was never done, and should have.

      The APA and TNC did most of the baseline study already. All that needs to be done is to update it where needed, perhaps photographically with drones and satellite vegetation images, and perhaps fill in some gaps. Also, I am not sure how in-depth baseline water quality studies have been done recently since logging operations have mostly stopped. If somebody wants to do a study 10 years down the road for whatever reason, it would be good to have this baseline data. There is no reason for this type of study to hold up classification or opening the road, if that is the eventual outcome.

  14. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: ” Charlie, why would you think that this particular area would be a special draw for invasives?”

    I suppose it has something to do with being sensible Paul! Humans are an invasive species. The most toxic species on planet earth at that. Wherever humans go decomposition follows especially so the more there are. When you fulfill your desire to go on a remote lake with your outboard you’re being an invasive Paul. A loud one at that.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Last I read the distance could be as short as 0.1 mile. A lot of loose numbers out there. Hopefully these details will become more clear after the APA meetings.”

    I am reminded of a friend of mine who shared with me some years back a story about a piece of land near him that was in the debate stage about the process for development. A developer proposed so many acres for his commercial use, threw a big number out, and on and on it went with the neighbors going back and forth fighting with City Hall and the developer until at last the city and the developer caved for less acreage and a compromise was made. My friend knew that this was a game they play, they throw out a big number so that when the neighbors put up a fight they know they will settle for a lower number eventually…so that they (the neighbors) get the feeling they won when they really didn’t win much but lost a lot. Games the money-people play.

    What’s clear Boreas is they have us fighting more and more to protect what’s left and they have more money than us and time is on their side and their hopes are that we’ll just tire eventually and cave and if we did that we may as well join the rank and file.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree Charlie. Negotiation 101. That is why the AWA wanted a full wilderness classification while other groups were “pragmatic” and started out nearly at the 2B stage. You are never going to get MORE than you ask for in a tough negotiation.

      The most critical part of this debate during this entire process was Gulf Brook Road. You can classify the whole parcel Wild Forest, close the road at the highway, and create a lot of small w wilderness classified as WF. You can classify the whole parcel Wilderness, run a road into the center of it and create essentially Wild Forest in a Wilderness area. The salient point was never numbers of acres of each, but rather the wild character of finished product.

      I was looking at some older pix of BP when the people from Albany were out paddling on the ponds a couple years back – right around the time of purchase. The picture shows about a dozen people in 6 watercraft paddling single-file toward magnificent mountains. Despite the impressive backdrop and beauty of the area, it sure didn’t look like wilderness – but a lesser version of Marcy on a sunny weekend in July.

  16. Boreas says:


    This is the photo that struck me (Mike Lynch). It reminds me of one of those optical illusions (or as I like to say – “optional illusions”) where the image flips back and forth depending on what your brain chooses to “see”. In this photo, You either see a wilderness setting, or a crowded pond – depending on what your brain chooses to “see”.

    • Charlie S says:

      I see a crowd on a pond in a wilderness setting Boreas. Optical illusions are what we see when we sit our duffs in front of a tv and believe what the talking head images are telling us.

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