Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pete Nelson: ‘Balanced’ Boreas Plan Has The Wrong Balance

adirondack wilderness advocates logoThe decision by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is in: by a vote of 8 to 1 the APA Board voted to recommend a classification for the Boreas Ponds Tract that will split the tract between Wilderness and Wild Forest, leaving Gulf Brook open into the heart to the parcel.   In their comments many of the Commissioners lauded the “balance” and “compromise” they felt this recommendation represented.

At Adirondack Wilderness Advocates we dispute this notion of balance.  So did the vast majority of citizens who weighed in with public comments.  They agreed with our position that by allowing motorized access into the heart of the parcel the APA is failing to protect Boreas as the pure Wilderness the tract deserves and the people of New York called for. In an era when roadless areas are all but gone from the Eastern United States, a proportionate and fair concept of balance dictates that we must protect the largest roadless area remaining in the Park as the precious resource it is.  What the APA did instead was to rely upon an unexamined and largely unchallenged idea of balance that relies upon a narrow-minded sense of fairness and a startling lack of evidence for the supposed benefits.

The Governor is certain to approve this recommendation, so it is appropriate to ask what’s next for defenders of Wilderness.  The first thing we should do is celebrate the many good things that happened today.  Looking at the big picture, we owe an incredible debt to the Nature Conservancy, who orchestrated a massive deal that increased the Forest Preserve by tens of thousands of acres.  We should also celebrate the classifications that were well-done, including MacIntyre East and West tracts, significant additions in and of themselves.  We should be excited that the portion of Boreas to be classified Wilderness is going to be combined with the High Peaks Wilderness, the Casey Brook Tract and Dix Wilderness to make one grand tract exceeding 270,000 acres.

Next, we need to encourage a robust, ongoing conversation about Wilderness and balance in the 21st century. We need to have a substantive debate about access – what we mean by it and what it does.  We need to demand that Adirondack stakeholders engage in a critical examination of the aesthetic and economic benefits to Wilderness, instead of relying on empty sound bites about local economies.  There will be plenty of opportunities ahead to do this, from Unit Management planning to future acquisitions to Forest Preserve infrastructure.    We need to be in it for the long haul.

To think about how to push this conversation forward it is useful to look at what just happened with Boreas.  From whence came the Adirondack Park Agency’s rationale that their recommendation is balanced?

Was it public support? Hardly: there were more than 6,800 written comments supporting a larger Boreas Wilderness than any of the four alternatives the APA offered; meanwhile, the APA’s recommended alternative is a variation of Alternative #2, which received – wait for it – 40 comments in support.

Was it about the science? A thorough review of the APA staff’s own scientific analysis of the Boreas Tract answers that question definitively.  The portion of the tract slated for Wild Forest designation has a significant inventory of features that call for Wilderness protection.

Was it economic benefit? This is another popular sound bite that virtually every stakeholder uses, but it is completely without evidence.   There is no economic analysis that shows the benefits local communities will reap from classifying nearly half the tract as Wild Forest. It’s actually worse than that: factual reality is consistently ignored, even though flexible classification of the neighboring Essex Chain has had virtually no positive economic effect. Facts show that the number one recreational activity by far is hiking. It’s amazing to me that there is an assumed need for access other than by foot at Boreas when a few dozen miles away everyone is concerned that access by foot is overwhelming trail heads and parking areas. More important, there is large body of evidence showing proximity and traditional access to protected Wilderness areas is a trending economic driver so significant that in many counties in the Western United States it is reversing rural flight. The huge increase in visitors to the High Peaks Wilderness suggests that trend applies here too. How can we ignore these facts in favor of mere assumptions? We can because the Boreas recommendation is not really about economic benefit.

What’s left? In a word, fairness, the idea that everyone ought to get a piece. I’m all for fairness, in fact it is a primary motivation for AWA.  But fairness is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s behold some uncomfortable reality and see how fair this proposal is in the big picture.

In the Adirondack debates, “fairness” is all about recreational access. Since traditional Wilderness access is apparently not good enough, it’s really about motorized access. That was patently obvious in the Boreas arguments. Now I agree, as do all my AWA colleagues, that people should have the opportunity to engage in any reasonable form of recreation in the Adirondacks, including motorized access. But when wild, roadless areas are shrinking across the planet and are already virtually absent in the Eastern United States, the idea that we need yet another tract to bend to our utterly dominant and overbearing desire for ease and convenience is remarkably self-indulgent.

Here is a peer-reviewed study of roadless areas across the world, from the December 2016 issue of Science Magazine. Click on this sentence and focus on the map of the Continental United States in the upper left:

This map tells a story we all should know already. Note the yellowish blips to the east: the Everglades, parts of Maine, the Adirondacks. That’s it, yet apparently we need more road access.

Next, let us gaze upon a map of the Adirondack Park, courtesy of the Adirondack Atlas:

Major highways appear in orange-yellow. You’ve seen something like this map a thousand times.

Now let’s turn on the layer that shows all the other known roads in the Park:

Note how much of the Park has road access – and don’t forget its context in the national map. It’s easy to see the areas remaining where wild road-less solitude is truly possible. There are three larger ones: the West Canada Lakes area, the Five Ponds Wilderness area and the High Peaks/Boreas area.

Now let’s add snowmobile trails:

I can only hope a picture is worth a thousand words.  Because the APA and DEC are telling us that a “balanced” proposal for Boreas means the largest remaining roadless area in the Park needs motorized access as a matter of fairness, as if we can’t engage in these activities in a thousand other places in the Adirondacks.

It’s a fact that we can provide access to the Boreas Tract for a wide variety of people, including differently-abled visitors, without allowing motorized access. In my mind what we cannot so easily do is offer remote, roadless solitude to the millions of New Yorkers, Americans and International visitors, both current and future generations, who might hold dear the idea that at least a few such places exist and are protected. That’s a different rationale for fairness and balance than the State is offering. I stand with AWA in rejecting this unfortunate compromise and pledging to work hard for a better version of balance in future Park decisions.

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

75 Responses

  1. tom prevost says:

    I agree we need ‘wilderness’ areas. BUT, by definition ‘wilderness’ should include NO trail maintenance, no camping and no open fire. Let’s make it a true wilderness, not a playground for a limited few.

    • Ethan says:

      Agreed, Tom.
      Also, I’d occasionally like to see reference to and concern for the non-human species who need more, not less, wilderness. If hunters have difficulty pursuing game in these areas, so be it. Time for wildlife to be a serious *priority*.

      “Wilderness | Definition of Wilderness by Merriam …
      Merriam-Webster › dictionary › wilderness
      Definition of wilderness. 1 a (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings. (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. b : an empty or pathless area or region.”

  2. Amy Godine says:

    Thanks, Pete. This was very helpful.

  3. Mary Lou Leavitt says:

    Who will keep the garbage cleaned up?

  4. Rob Gdyk says:

    I was always in support of a Wild Forest classification for the Gulf Brook Road corridor of the tract. Otherwise, how could anyone weigh the “narrow-minded sense of fairness” to expect disabled veterans to hike 14 miles round trip with a canoe in tow?

    • Pete Nelson says:

      As an advocate for a more diverse Adirondack Park ( I fully support a complete range of services and amenities to accommodate people who are differently-abled. I support an effort to make our Adirondack communities and our recreational facilities more accessible using principles of Universal Design. I support better promotion of under-utilized facilities that exist to serve people with mobility limitations, such as John Dillon Park.

      I also support services and accommodations that will allow differently-abled visitors to experience Wilderness, including Boreas Ponds. The simple fact is that this can and should be done without motorized access, without compromising the experience of Wilderness to which every person is entitled.

      Both within and without my diversity work I have interacted with people who have a wide range of abilities and limitations. I have never heard any of them say that protection of Wilderness should be compromised in the name of more convenient access. I suspect the reasons for their beliefs are many, but I think it is unfortunate to assume that “differently-abled” means “disabled.” Indeed, you will never hear me make assumptions about what a given person can and cannot do, regardless of their physical makeup and condition.

      Finally, I think it would be prejudicial to assume that diffferently-abled people, regardless of the words they use to apply to themselves and their abilities, would necessarily think differently about Wilderness than anyone else does.

  5. adkDreamer says:

    Pete –
    Honestly, I have tried to understand the Wild Forest concept as well as the other lower tier classifications. At the end of the day I can only reasonably conclude that Wilderness is the only truly defensible classification that should ever be considered in light of Article 14. These lower tier classifications only serve to dilute the clear intent of the author(s) of Article 14 as adopted by the people of this state. Any classification other than Wilderness is nothing more than a deception and furthermore supports the mantra ‘build it they will come’ mentality, which is so dated and out of fashion that any consideration given to the mantra is nothing more than self delusion, a fantasy, a clear fiction. I will post Dick Booth’s words again:

    “…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.

    Thanks to David Gibson for this quote.

    • Boreas says:


      When the “tiered” classification first was started I assumed it would encompass a state land-use goal similar to a target within the ADKs. In general terms, a large central core of “Wilderness” (bull’s eye) with each surrounding tier enabling more access and a wider range of activities out to the Blue Line.. Also, near villages, a similar transition would occur. It would be silly to have a wilderness classification next to a town, and just as silly to have vehicle access into remote wilderness areas – IMO. In general I am not a fan of patchworks, wilderness islands, or spot classifications, as I feel it isn’t the best ecological use of state land, but it is what we have to work with.

      But what I have mentioned before is that currently there doesn’t seem to be a goal or overview such as mentioned above, but rather every new parcel is viewed independently on its individual merits, not how it fits into a planned “Park of the future”. This administration wants X, the next administration may want Y, and another Z. These priorities that blow in the wind are what seems to be causing much of the havoc with land classification. One generation wants more wilderness, another generation wants more vehicle access, and the politicians dance to whatever tune the band plays. I suppose a little give and take is good, but there has to a LONG TERM goal. I believe that is what Art. 14 is – a vision for the future that is never really complete.

      With a different goal, we may be able to dramatically increase access farther from the center of the Park while preserving a more contiguous core of wilderness at its center. Or perhaps this or a future generation will scrap Art.14 values altogether and create their own vision. At this point, I am at least glad to have been able to enjoy what was envisioned and enacted over a century ago. Now it is up to the future generations to make it work and pay it forward – or dilute or scrap the idea entirely. We need to get them involved, provide some guidance, and create their own political force. Perhaps we should allow them to provide the future goals for the Park – and we should just get out of the way.

      • adkDreamer says:

        Boreas – I will assume you meant ‘hamlet’, ‘village’,’city’ or something like that instead of ‘town’ for:

        “…silly to have a wilderness classification next to a town…”

        And IMHO I respectfully disagree. McKenzie Wilderness touches the village of Saranac Lake, High Peaks Wilderness touches the hamlet of Keene Valley, and the Hoffman Wilderness touches the village of Schroon Lake.

        • Boreas says:


          Where I grew up a “town” was where you went on Saturday night for groceries. In PA you basically have cities, towns, and villages. A “township” was what NYers refer to as towns. But, since we are in NY, I’ll offer my apology.

  6. Tim says:

    It’s really very simple: you can never have too much wilderness.

  7. Keith Gorgas says:

    I love wilderness, and have had the privilege of exploring and enjoying it around North America and Europe. I’ve lived a decade “off the grid” . I’ve seen two mountain lions in the Adirondacks, 39 years apart. I value wilderness.
    I’m now in my 60th year and severely crippled by arthritis. It’s hard to walk across the street. I am content with the amount of time I’ve gotten to spend in desolate and remote places, but it has made me a lot more sympathetic toward those who have never had the chance to experience hard to reach places. Whenever NY State spends taxpayer money to purchase more land, putting the taxpayers perpetually on the hook for payments in lieu of taxes, I believe that all New Yorkers should have reasonable access to those lands. I take this as a reasonable plan.

    • adkDreamer says:

      Keith Gorgas – I am also sympathetic to supporting the mobility challenged . The elephant in the room is simply that mobility challenged people are not the only challenged people – think about the blind. A blind hiker will most likely interpret an Adirondack experience via their ears and nose, and those senses are likely more acute than those in the ‘seeing’ world. I will hypothesize that a blind hiker will apt to be more sensitive to sounds and smell (motor noise and exhaust smells), hence those two criteria will be most likely to provide for their experience – or the lack thereof.

  8. Michael Burch says:

    Keep up the good fight..

  9. geogymn says:

    Pete, Nice job with the maps. I don’t know how a clearer picture could be painted.
    That last map might be underutilized as a message of our collective plight.

  10. Kathy says:

    Of course many more people want to access the Boreas ponds given all the publicity over “remote stunning views”…
    Isn’t a compromise still potentially possible?
    Leaving the interim gate with no motorized travel past there except for designated 1 or 2 days a week allowing the less able to view the area? Not consecutive days tho to discourage overnite mobile camping and reduce the possibility of turning the area into a large parking lot and campground. This leaves 5-6 days for those who value the journey as much as the destination difficult as it may be.

    • Boreas says:


      Not a bad idea, but it would mean people going in on those days wouldn’t be able to park there if they were camping anywhere in the parcel – or they would be locked in. I would assume the mobility impaired would like to camp as much as anyone – at least if platforms or whatever are built for that purpose.

      • Kathy says:

        Guess I would not favor overnite stays in the immediate area of the ponds or beyond the gate. Perhaps if any van or car camping was to be done it should be south of the interim gate as pull off spaces for designated camping as Cedar River flow. Stillwater and Moshier reservoirs have a few “handicapped ” sites if people wanted to plan to visit longer than the preferred days.

  11. James Marco says:

    “It’s a fact that we can provide access to the Boreas Tract for a wide variety of people, including differently-abled visitors, without allowing motorized access. In my mind what we cannot so easily do is offer remote, roadless solitude to the millions of New Yorkers, Americans and International visitors, both current and future generations, who might hold dear the idea that at least a few such places exist and are protected.”
    Yes. Few people with a task of access means serious people. Serious about the time spent in wilderness areas. Serious about LNT principles. Serious about climate control. Serious about the thousands(millions) of other problems with vague solutions. Time to think about the world and our place on it. I am a scientist. I understand why we need more wilderness. And I understand why we need to limit access. It does NOT mean I would not enjoy a nice afternoon out on the lake and still make it home every night. But, the wilderness needs LESS access, not more, but free, planned and assisted access, if needed. We all want the wilderness to come to us….frankly, it ain’t gonn’a happen.

    • Charlie S says:

      Thank you James Marco for being so out of the mainstream and clear-headed and rational in your thinking. There’s hope!

  12. Tony Goodwin says:

    I have long agreed with Boreas that we shouldn’t have designated wilderness next to a highway, but we now do in many places in the Park. Just one example is that one could stand next to the back of the Price Chopper in Lake Placid and (at least most people) could easily throw a baseball across Rt. 86 and have it land in the designated McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area.

    Given the current politics, it appears we will just have to live with the current plan, making the best of it by saying, “…it could have been worse.” I do agree that we need “balance” and have advocated from the start for the Boreas Tract to be Wilderness beyond the interior gate. Then “balance” that restriction by opening up the currently underutilized Essex Chain with a Wild Forest classification, closer road access to the lakes, and no ban on campfires.

    • Boreas says:

      I like that idea.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Tony and readers:

      Now here is a concept of balance that is more holistic, broader in scope and completely reasonable, though I’d close the road at the gate by Blue Ridge Road.

      More important than where the road is gated is the approach Tony takes. My colleague Bill Ingersoll has repeatedly and eloquently advocated for a larger perspective instead of the balkanization our classification and management access on the totally artificial basis of parcels. As Bill has written, why make the Boreas Ponds Tract satisfy all possible recreational uses just because it is the current parcel under debate? The Finch Pruyn purchase allows for a complete spectrum of uses.

      It is commonly acknowledged (including by some APA Commissioners) that the Essex Chain classification was bungled, and for the same reasons: torturing definitions to make it fit too many priorities. I agree with Tony that the Essex Chain is not a compelling case for Wilderness and that a well-managed Wild Forest classification is appropriate for the parcel.

      But Boreas should be wilderness.

      • Paul says:

        I think we run into this problem partially because of the “vote” that towns have in acquisitions like this. Don’t get me wrong I think they should have this voice. Classification off parcels (and even a UMP) prior to acquisition would solve this issue. And with a deal like this “brokered” in a sense by TNC it would have been possible (no big rush).

        • Boreas says:


          I agree. The procedure should be linear and make sense. Localities being asked PRIOR to the classification tends to close down proper classification review and public opinion. In many cases time is of the essence, but in this case it wasn’t. The acquisition process currently seems to loop back on itself, is time-consuming, and overly complicated.

          Perhaps what should take place is the state cataloging most private forestland in the Park that the state desires and that has a remote possibility of coming up for sale or easement. Then BEFOREHAND come up with a PRE-acquisition plan for the land – say Wild Forest or Intensive Use – and ask the local communities if they agree or have another plan. Same with DEC and other groups. Then after the tentative plan is agreed upon, IF, the parcel ever comes up for sale, the state can act quickly without as much commotion. It is simply called pre-planning or forward-thinking. One shouldn’t wait until their car is no longer drivable to begin thinking about a replacement.

  13. Dan says:

    You are right about celebrating the fact that a potential 270,000-acre Wilderness area is in the works.

    Through this deal over 25,000 acres is being added to the HPW via Boreas Ponds, McIntyre and Casey Brook tracts with the current Dix Wilderness eventually being added. This is National Park size material and bigger than anything like it in the Northeast. Yet, you feel defeated because 9,000 acres is being classified so that other sectors can enjoy their activities that portion of it.

    Wilderness supporters should be raising a glass over what has been accomplished and move on. Follensby Pond is likely up next and there should be a chance to add that to the HPW.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      I don’t feel defeated. I feel overjoyed to live in this remarkable place and debate these issues. I know my colleagues in AWA feel the same way. Like everyone else, I celebrate these once-in-a-lifetime additions to the Forest Preserve.

      But these debates didn’t end with this classification, as you point out. There’s the UMP process (several of them). There is Follensby. There is the question of mountain biking in Wilderness, which is in the wind. My point is that as we continue these debates we need to insist upon a broader, more informed and more vetted version of balance. I’ll keep at that point of view, 9, 900 or 9,000 acres at a time.


    • Jim S. says:

      While I am happy that some of the Boreas Pond property is being given Wilderness protection, the plan that was approved doesn’t give me personally any desire to go there for any reason other than it might be a new trailhead. I would never consider anyplace so close to a road as a place to visit more than once.

  14. Cerise says:

    Hiking is not without impact – possibly similar to bicycles?

    • drdirt says:

      thank you for the info. .,., very interesting data, Cerise.

      I agree w/ many fellow ADK adventurers that wild forest can be managed and monitored to control adverse effects to the environment. DEC can gate roads and trails and also designate uses, such as biking and snowmobiling.

      As Boreas often notes,’ how’ DEC manages an area can be as important as the classification. We all have our favorite wild forest areas that always seem like ‘wilderness’ ,.,., then there are all the ‘wilderness areas’ that we avoid because of the traffic on the trails and the probability of congested designated camping spots.

      That said, let me suggest that riding domesticated Moose on trails will cause far less erosion than both horse and llama.

    • Charlie S says:

      “We’ve found that hikers have the same effect as bikers do, regardless of the number of trips along the path.”

      > Total hogwash! We believe what we wish to believe “due to our opinion based on prejudice instead of reaction to hard science.” as the author has stated.

  15. Paul says:

    I think it somewhat misleading to talk about this area as “road-less”. That is not the case. It is an area that has an extensive network of roads. Here the debate is on which ones to close. A proposal that closes most of them and leaves open a few miles of roads is unbalanced as Pete describes. But not really in the way describes it specifically. It is clearly weighted in the direction of road closure. Is that a good thing? Maybe? But calling this roadless is just factually inaccurate.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      Sorry, but this is a mighty tired line coming from advocates of more road access. Paul, you know enough about the Adirondacks to know that your comment was disingenuous… at best.

      That there have historically been logging roads is utterly irrelevant. The 11,000 acres of Boreas just classified as Wilderness will be roadless from day one. No mechanized vehicle will use them, and without maintenance these roads will disappear into the forest. If the entire parcel were classified as Wilderness it would be roadless in the same way.

      Not only is that true of Boreas, but it’s true of every Wilderness area in the Park, and you know it. The entire Park was run-through with logging roads. Many of the current wilderness areas were in far more damaged condition than Boreas when they were added to the Park. For that we owe a debt to Finch Pruyn and their excellent stewardship.

      Am I right? Or should we give road access back to Flowed Lands and Lake Colden so we can car camp there? Or throw a kegger on the northeast slope of Hurricane?

      That’s the other piece that needs clarity. Some love to talk about all these roads, but to use your words, that’s somewhat misleading. First, to clarify for some who might be confused by rhetoric, they’re logging roads, not automobile roads. Second, they’re disappearing. I don’t know about you, or those who say Boreas is not worthy of being Wilderness, but I’ve been all over the Boreas Tract on foot. I can tell you the majority of the road mileage in the tract is already well on its way to being consumed by the forest and would be impassible today by any motorized vehicle short of an ATV.

      To walk the Boreas Ponds Tract is to experience that it is already magnificently wild, and the fading road network hardly takes away from its remote grandeur.

      Gulf Brook Road is different, but that’s why everyone is arguing about it. Classify the parcel as Wilderness and it’s roadless. End of story.

      • Paul says:

        I am not an advocate for road access here. But again I am not sure we are getting all the facts here. I base that comment on what I saw here, folks can take a look at the maps and photos of many of the roads and decide for themselves if this is really “fading”. They look pretty passible for more than an ATV?

      • Paul says:

        I many of the photos on the “remote” roads that are impassible you can see the antenna of the car or truck that was driving around taking the photos?

      • M.P. Heller says:


        For an accurate understanding of what it takes to “reforest” a logging road in the wilderness, I’d recommend you walking from Coreys to Duck Hole on the Ward Brook “trail”. This hardened road has been closed to vehicular traffic for decades now, and due to the extensive soil compaction from years of use, it is still perfectly usable for motor vehicle traffic. Nothing grows in the hardened roadbed and as far as appearance, it’s a road plain and simple, one that travels deep into the High Peaks Wilderness. The idea that these roads “revert” over a period of time is an anecdotal concept at best, and one that the current evidence simply does not support. Places like the Ward Brook corridor and the one at South Meadow should be classified as primitive until such time this alleged “reversion” occurs. There is nothing wilderness about stumbling out of the woods onto a 30 foot wide road regardless if it’s open to vehicular traffic or not.

        Mac East, Mac West, and Boreas are all new parcels that have these same conditions. Calling them wilderness while waiting for these roads to “revert” is politics, not science. The road corridors should all be primitive within the wilderness until such time that they develop the characteristics needed to be reclassified, should that ever occur.

        • Jim S. says:

          Isn’t the wilderness classification more about the level of protection for an area than the condition of the land?
          In the natural world decades are a mere blink of an eye. Wilderness is for the land and the animals and plants, not for people.

        • Boreas says:

          M.P. Heller,

          I agree with your suggestion of Primitive classification areas or corridors until “structures” such as roads, buildings, and dams are gone, as long as vehicular use is essentially stopped in the meantime. For some reason, APA didn’t see this shade of gray and wanted to offer something for everyone as in other recent controversial classifications.

          I also agree that “Calling them wilderness while waiting for these roads to “revert” is politics, not science.” – but only to a degree. While a human may recognize Ward Brook (road) Trail as an old road for the next 100-200 years, Nature has a different view. As long as natural processes are encouraged on and beside a hardened road such as this, it will almost immediately become part of the ecological landscape despite still being recognized by humans as an old road. The actual naturalization process will always be slower on land that humans have ‘improved’ – and the length of time to re-naturalize is proportional to the amount of hardening by humans. Culverts will eventually clog and the road will wash out. It takes a long time for trees to encroach, but encroach they will. Scarification is a process that speeds up naturalization dramatically, but for some reason was not used on these old roads. I believe part of the reason was to preserve some limited emergency access to the backcountry for fire or rescue purposes – also political.

          But getting back to Nature, she doesn’t see an unused road as a major obstacle or a human contrivance – she just sees it as a long, open area – like a new slide on a mountain. It makes life easier for some flora and fauna, harder for others, but Nature will always use the corridor. She will always use every fraction of a cubic millimeter available to her.

          Time is a human concept to try and make some sense of the world. But Nature doesn’t recognize time in human terms or perspective. We are still finding ‘lost’ cities in S. America that have been buried in debris and jungle over many centuries. If humans are able to keep their mitts off politically-defined areas that contain hardened structures such as roads and dams, entropy will always have the final say – whether it takes 100, 1000, or 10,000 human years for these scars to be erased. After all, nature can create and destroy mountains. A dirt road is child’s play.

        • Pete Nelson says:


          Long time! Regarding previous conversations, you should know that I did go looking for you at your business a couple years back, but you had moved on a few months before I got there. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll meet eventually.

          You know me from my writing and past exchanges well enough to know I’ve been on the Ward Brook trail, and virtually every trail in the High Peaks region, whether following old road beds or not.

          I’m sure there’s no dispute that all roads revert if unused, it is simply a matter of how fast that happens. The ones that remain as foot trails revert only to that extent, as they continue to get that use. The ones that remain as equestrian trails revert only to that extent. But they do revert.

          How fast that happens depends upon where the road was built, how the road was built, how it was used, and how it has been used since motor vehicles stopped traveling on it. For every Ward Brook trail you bring up, I can give you a dozen examples of former roads that are far past any possibility of motorized usage, and a dozen more whose route through the woods can only be determined by an experienced eye, if at all. And that’s everywhere in the Park. Would you negate all Wilderness classifications on the basis that some road beds are followable? Because that is indeed all
          Wilderness areas.

          You mentioned Mac East. Let’s go a bit northwest to a related area, part of which is in the High Peaks Wilderness, namely the road network around Lake Jimmy, as an example. The main road through the area dates back to Upper Works and the building of the dam near the blast furnace, over which it went. This particular road was used by club folks and their automobiles well into the 20th century. This road can be easily followed today by shape, but it is covered in trees. It was crisscrossed by a number of secondary roads, mostly logging roads, also used extensively in the 20th century. Some of those roads can be followed, some are dubious, some so vague as to be a guess at best, and all are more wilderness than road. The age and size of the trees and the presence of stumps is more giveaway that this area saw heavy use than what’s left of the roads. And this area saw much heavier development and use than Boreas.

          I’m not inventing the road situation at Boreas, I’ve been there. Sure, Gulf Brook Road aside, there are plenty of road miles that are still drive-able. But of the reported “hundreds of miles of roads,” the majority are past motorized vehicles already, many looking not much different than what is seen around Lake Jimmy.

          I have no doubt that left as a foot and equestrian trail, Gulf Brook Road would remain recognizable for decades as a road that once carried vehicles (but why that negates Boreas as Wilderness is mighty thin reasoning). If that’s too long to wait it could be scarified and the process would be sped up tremendously. In any event, long before Gulf Brook Road looked no more than a foot trail, the great majority of roads at Boreas would have assimilated into the Wilderness.

          • M.P. Heller says:

            Pete, we can go to the bar at the Algonquin in Bolton anytime. I’m at the ancestral home, I can be there anytime you like. Reach out and we will do it.

        • James Marco says:

          M.P. Heller, well yes, I agree that a wilderness classification for these is a bit of a stretch. But many, if not most, logging occurs/occurred in winter months in the north. They used the weather to harden the roads with ice. Some used stone. MANY roads have started the reversion to full forest after 50 years…a blink of an eye to nature. Ward brook was used pretty much year round being logged off later (mostly for pulp, some lumber.) Paper and paper products were the big driver. I have hiked that area several times. The road is being encroached by weeds and small trees (aspen/poplar are common,) indeed, the DEC cannot keep the horse trail open beyond the Moose River/Cold River in that area (having volunteered to work on trail clearing up there last year.) Trees often live on *rocks*. Leaf litter, weeds, small trees, blowdowns, all create ADK loam over about 100-200 years. Then the natural forest can and will take over.

          Over a couple hundred years, the forest WILL take care of any non-paved roads in the ADKs. These logging roads are simply not considered, except as convenient trails. After 50 years more, we can revisit the managed harvesting of limited quantities of wood, maybe the existing roads will find some use, again. The base will still be there, it takes longer than that to totally recover a road, unless it is torn up.

          But, we cannot afford to rape the land as was done in the past. As an example, water is in short supply worldwide. The forest of the ADK’s keeps the watershed of NY clean and pure, not muddy and undrinkable (as was the case in the 1900-1930’s on the Raquette river/Saranac River.) We cannot afford to go back to that. We have too many people relying on it. This has caused *major* economic hardship all over the ADKs/Catskills because harvesting of lumber was halted. But the population of NY state benefits far greater than the population of the ADKs. Clean water is never thought of. And, a hard sell for politicians. This is just *one* major benefit, largely unseen, the ADKs wilderness provides all of NY. Now, we cannot allow garbage to be added.

          Take a hike up the hill to Stephens Pond from Cedar River flow. It follows an old road for several miles. You can trace the progression of natural encroachment as you hike easily. Nature is relentless and never stops, but it doesn’t work fast. Five-eight generations are needed. Walk the Uncas trail, an old rail line. and you will quickly see the effects of snowmobiles/bikes on the trail. Walk the NPT, mostly a patchwork of old logging roads, at the beginning…a *huge* difference from 100 years ago. But, I agree, we have a lot more to do and hash out. Mechanized traffic is still not allowed in Primitive or Wilderness….with good reason.

          • Paul says:

            Of course any road can be overgrown and it can even be helped along by removing culverts planting etc. The point here is that these are not “roadless” areas. And no, there are not “hundreds” of miles of roads, not sure who was quoted as saying that. There are lots of roads and lots of development (look at the pictures in the link I provided above to the APA GIS site). The proposal that was voted up was one that maintains one small stretch of one road, yes one that pokes its way up into a Wilderness area. Let’s just approach these discussions in a way that is honest. People who claim that invasive are going to come pouring in and drunks are going to be puking all over the place is just a bunch of nonsense.

            • Boreas says:

              While DEC may not be particularly concerned about the occasional “drunks”, they are concerned about invasives – especially into remote water bodies. Perhaps not so much the ponds themselves, which are primarily temporary man-made ponds, but rather the entire basin and its wetlands. They are charged with preventing them as well as eradicating them once found. DEC isn’t going to make more work for itself. I am interested to see their plans to mitigate invasives in BP.

              Public Comment on updates to the “guidelines” ends Feb. 16. A PDF DRAFT can be downloaded below:


        • M.P. Heller says:


          You know me. No BS, just a clean read.

          Get the politics out. Read and use the available designations appropriately.

          I appreciate the feedback from your, James, Boreas, et. al. I think we are all basically on the same page here. Its not the best of times, its not the worst of times.

          I just like a cleaner and more adherent process. That includes roads as primitive until the revert.

          Too many voices, too many people pulling in too many directions is what has led us here.

  16. Justin Farrell says:

    Great column,
    Congratulations to those who were & are hoping for yet another area in the Adirondacks with easier motorized access, and many thanks to the Wilderness advocates who fought hard for a stronger “Wilderness” classification…keep up the good! I still think the real balance is that second gate about mid way up Gulf Brook Rd, which seemed to be working out pretty good judging from the multiple reports that I’ve read & seen online & in social media. Usage seemed like it was pretty steady, with many people returning more than just once. Not just to visit & paddle the ponds, but to also hike & bushwhack the surrounding peaks & old roads that are now filling in.

    It’d be interesting to be able to view the trail register data over the past 20 months…(I think I even mentioned this to AWA a while back as a way to gauge how many people were using the area, but I don’t think the idea gained much traction). Hopefully the DEC decides to keep the current interior gate as far as the general public is allowed to drive during the summer months, and keeps it a fun bicycle ride to the dams & back, and is able to keep it a fun & safe x-country ski trail during the winter. As the maps in the article show, there are plenty of other places in the Adirondacks to drive to & ride snowmobiles.

  17. Charlie S says:

    In the New York Times 2 February 2018 was this blurb: “A 2000-year-old United Nations World Heritage Site in Peru was damaged this week when a trucker intentionally drove his tractor-trailer off a roadway that runs through the protected historic area.”

    The story goes on to say, “The Pan-American Highway, which runs through the protected site, has left it increasingly vulnerable to human actions, according to the United Nations.”

    This story is in reference to the Nazca Lines. Soon as I read this I was reminded of the APA’s approval recently to allow automobiles to drive within spitting distance of Boreas Ponds. Truly I believe this decision is at the very least short-sighted.When America invaded Iraq I let it be known at that time, as I am letting it be known now with this Boreas decision….. a can of worms is being opened that we will come to regret.

    • Rob Gdyk says:

      Is that what your crystal ball tells you Charlie? Your mixing apples and oranges with your “let it be known” Boreas decision theory. I’m an Iraqi war veteran who’s seen first hand and can assure you that the Iraqi people aren’t regretting having the tyrant Saddam Hussein permanently out of their lives. Having been injured in that conflict, I’m grateful for the opportunity to drive my automobile within spitting distance of Boreas Ponds.

      • JohnL says:

        Thank you for your service Rob!

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks for your service, Rob!
        I’m sincerely curious if you are grateful for the countless other scenic bodies of water that you are already able to drive to? Are you able to be grateful that many people in New York & America still value the benefits of a motor-less environment?

        • Rob Gdyk says:

          Justin- I’m sincerely grateful to live and play near Lake George. As for our main topic, I believe Keith Gorgas’ comment said it best.

      • Boreas says:


        I also offer my thanks for your, and all, veteran’s service and sacrifice.

        I also believe you should be offered as much access to wilderness areas as practically possible. But if a truly unique wilderness experience is what you are after, New York’s MAPPWD policy would be the closest you could realistically get. While at this time it is certainly less convenient than unrestricted access, the technology does exist to allow permitted people beyond any gate without summoning DEC personnel each trip. Otherwise, open access would be no different than any other drive-up destination in the Park.

        • Rob Gdyk says:

          Boreas- thanks for the info. I currently have a CP-3 permit.

          • Boreas says:


            Just curious – my impression is that with the CP-3 permit you have to arrange for someone to open/close the gate every time you want access. Is this true, or does it vary with location? Do they lock the gate behind you, leave it open, or shut and unlocked, while you are there? Many of us here are unsure how the process works. It is my understanding that the details vary by location.

      • Charlie S says:

        You were an Iraq War veteran you say. Thank you for all of the damage done in that part of the world Rob! I suppose you’re proud of being a part of all the havoc we created in that area hey? How about all of those innocent Iraqi lives that were lost and/or physically impaired, loss of limbs, sight, hearing…. due to American bombs and policies? Estimates are up to a million lives, most of them women and children. For what tell me please! I’m not impressed Rob nor am I thankful. We ought to be ashamed of what we did over there more than all things else!

        Where were we? Yes…apples and oranges. Whatever you say! There’s foresight and there’s ‘lack of’ Rob. The latter is why so many problems. So far I have been right about Iraq and I hope i’m wrong (but probably not!) on Boreas. It is unfortunate this mentality, this desire to be so convenience’d at every step of our ways…at the expense of the environment the very thing which sustains us. Sad and unfortunate are the effects of our actions on the environment which continues unabated as our natural resources are slipping away right under our noses.

        You say, “I believe Keith Gorgas’ comment said it best.” I believe James Marco has a better head on his shoulders in accordance to his take on this, and Pete Nelson and others. You’re in the minority on this one Rob thankfully.

        • JohnL says:

          Totally out of line (as usual) Charlie. I served in Vietnam. I can’t imagine what epithets you have for my service there. I’m wondering if you understand that I (and I assume Rob) had no part in formulating the policy in either place. We agreed to serve our country and simply did what we were asked to do. Agree or not, you should respect that. I personally don’t give a crap whether you do or not, as I was used to people like you when I came home from my ‘service’. You’re beyond quirky with comments like this. You continue to amaze me Charlie, and not in a good way.

  18. Charlie S says:

    In another thread Boreas says: “Wilderness is a very rare commodity – becoming rarer around the planet as our population continues to explode.”

    Yes Boreas and to think how soft this population is what with the life of ease it so craves and one can only imagine what it will be like in just one generation. Surely they’re going to want a refreshment stand near the shores of Boreas Ponds by then.

    • Paul says:

      Wilderness areas as we see here in the Adirondacks continue to grow in size, we have two new ones as a stand alone even if not linked to the HPW. 25,000 in total. Very rare commodity? Really? Explain?

      • Boreas says:


        Read the entire sentence. The Adirondacks were not mentioned. The Adirondacks are the exception, not the rule.

  19. Charlie S says:

    Out of line why JohnL? Because I think different than you? War is a horrible thing I don’t support it period and it is nothing to be proud about. You’re reading me wrong which I have come to expect. I would never agree to fight a rich man’s war I would become a conscientious objector. I don’t like killing people plain and simple! I would never join an armed service thank you.

    I’ve been to the VA in Albany. I’ve talked to some of the vets there, Vietnam and Iraq. I’ve heard stories from them that I’ve never heard anywhere else, not in the news, not from our leaders who send us to wars. It’s horrible the things that we did in Vietnam and Iraq JohnL and if people but knew a fraction of the horrors and atrocities we committed maybe they would stop supporting them. I’m all for the draft! That will wake supporters up!

    You see things different than me and that makes me a bad person according to your words above. You should accept and “respect” that I have my right to express myself freely JohnL. I mean after all isn’t that what it’s all about,these horrible wars that our puppet leaders get us into….to protect our freedoms right? Freedom to express? Your mindset continues to amaze me too JohnL. Surely you’re a good person (I know I am), but that doesn’t make you right and me wrong. You’re values are different than mine that’s all. You’ll never get it! Cheerio!

    • Paul says:

      Yes, Chuck. Sometimes we just need to let folks like Hitler run a muck and do nothing. Get yourself together are you on mars?

  20. Charlie S says:

    “Having been injured in that conflict, I’m grateful for the opportunity to drive my automobile within spitting distance of Boreas Ponds.” Rob Gdyk

    Maybe I missed something here which would not be the first time I have done so. If you are physically incapable of walking a few miles to Boreas Ponds due to injuries sustained while in a war Rob than I’m very open (not that I have sway) to you having vehicle access to within closer proximity to the ponds. I mean how many physically impaired people would want such access? If I misunderstood and if this is what you were implying my apologies.

    My understanding is that there is a school out there who wants everybody and their brother and sister to have that accommodation…to drive right up to the shores of these jewels.

    • Rob Gdyk says:

      Charlie- It’s unfortunate you feel this way about veterans who are disabled, and veterans in general. It’s unfortunate that disabled veterans like myself who are only seeking easier access into the tract, ruin your sense of wilderness. It’s unfortunate that you consider it a sense of entitlement for me to go wherever I want, regardless that I’m a holder of a CP3 permit. Perhaps one day during your gentle stroll, I’ll wave hello to you in passing from my vehicle on Gulf Brook Road — and it will be unfortunate that due to the way you feel about disabled Iraqi veterans, you won’t wave back.

  21. Charlie S says:

    Pete Nelson says: “I can give you a dozen examples of former roads that are far past any possibility of motorized usage..”

    I can add one to the list. The road way back in Moose River Recreation Area, past Squaw Lake, the road that used to take you to Beaver River I believe it was. Forty years ago cars could drive right to the river. Nowadays it is a very narrow trail with the forest trying to take over it.

    • James Marco says:

      Yeah, the bridge was out at the Moose(?) River. It was closed for 4 or 5 years before they got a new “glorified” culvert in there. This was 25-30 years back. But the upper road was nearly impassible then. Squaw lake was fair fishing back when they were working out the brook trout (before the acid rain regulations.)

      I think the road to Rock Dam has been closed for a while now, too. Again, mostly old logging roads…nature has a way with fairly quickly recovering them in that area.

      I don’t have problems with any mobility disability accessing anywhere they can drive. I can afford to clean up after them. But, I would not expect this to last long. lack of maintenance means a general road grading to do anything at the dam. Likely, once per year with a company 4wd, high clearance vehicle just to inspect it. The dam isn’t that high.

      • Charlie S says:

        Also the road to Lost Ponds I think it was James, that road right over that heavy bridge before you make that right turn to Squaw Lake. That left there right past the bridge. That was almost impassable just eight years ago or about the time that photographer / camper went missing whom they never found. I dared not drive down it then as limbs from trees on both sides were overwhelming.

  22. Charlie says:

    You’re reading me wrong Rob. I have nothing against veterans, never mind disabled veterans. And I had no idea you were disabled until just now. Where did I imply that I have a ‘thing’ against veterans? I just don’t agree with the patriotic fervor that has been going around and all of this justification for war and thanking veterans for the atrocities committed while serving their rich leaders. Thanks for what? We’re losing more and more of our freedoms Rob. And if you fought in Iraq you fought on a lie and 5000 of your brother’s and sisters got killed over that lie never mind all of the other horrors to add to that. I don’t agree and I have every right to feel that way.

    My uncle went to Vietnam. He was a helicopter mechanic. This is what he has to say about that war:
    “Remember that most of us were drafted and had no choice but to serve. To this day, I don’t hold anything against anyone who ran to avoid war or went to Canada. As it turns out they were right…We now know that Vietnam was a big F–k up and made up with lies. And the Vietnam is still a communist nation.”

    I have nothing against you I just don’t agree with your attitude is all. Peace to you brother!

  23. Jack B says:

    I also served in Vietnam. Yea, Charlie you do have a right to your opinion just like we all do. I agree with John L, your way out of line, as usual!

  24. Charlie S says:

    I’m way out of line only because you disagree with my views Jack B. Funny how that works. Surely I can word my thoughts a little better so that I am not misinterpreted, and maybe I should make sure I edit and revise instead of just throwing things out but generally I got my message across and if I am read in a way that sets you or anyone off then this is good. Agitation is good. So long as a war don’t come out of it which is not my aim. Truly I do want to get along. Now if you can explain to me in which way I was “way out of line” I will gladly come back on board and either agree with you and apologize for being so insensitive (if that’s what it is) or I will try to explain myself in a way that you might just understand. And I will be considerate about it.

  25. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: “You are full of it, you shot the guy down and then say you have nothing against him? Then you go onto to shoot them down some more?”

    > Sure Paul. Explain to me how I shot the guy down. I’m all ears. Or eyes in this case.

    Paul also says: “Sorry you totally lost me her with this comment?”

    > You’d have to be where I am at, in other words… stepped away from your narrow view of things, to not be lost on what I throw out Paul. Of course you’ll be insulted by that comment which has nothing to do with what I said as much as it has to do with …….. well, never mind!

  26. Charlie S says:

    Three days ago Charlie S replied to Rob Gdyk: “You were an Iraq War veteran you say. Thank you for all of the damage done in that part of the world Rob!”

    It took me three days to come to this Rob, but yes I can see where my line above could be seen as disrespectful. And though I didn’t mean to come off the way it sounded (I didn’t!) I apologize. I mean that! I am a highly misunderstood individual and I know I don’t always say the right things and I’ll be the first to admit – I don’t have the human relationship thing down pat just yet. I’m not alone in this as is evident by all of the troubles we have. There’s a lot of things I don’t like and I sure as heck disagree with a lot that goes around or comes from others and I am far from pro at getting my message across but I’ll be darned if I won’t keep trying.

    I can be an antagonist but it is not my aim to make enemies, even through mediums such as this where I am sort of anonymous because I am not physically present and you have no idea who I am except but for words through these threads. In person I assure you I am civil, respectful of others, rational, and though we may not agree I would never allow a situation to get out of hand I’d walk away first. Or I’d buy you a beer.

    Take this as you will but I mean what I say and what else can I say but I’m trying. More than anything I truly wish to get along with everybody (where feasible). After all of this I still am sincere about one thing I said……allowing automobiles so close to Boreas Ponds will open a can of worms that we will come to regret. I wish I felt different on this and I hope I’m wrong. Thanks for hearing me out….if you’re still out there.

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