Monday, February 12, 2018

Tim Rowland: Conflicted By Boreas Ponds Plans

Boreas Ponds photo by Carl Heilman IIIf I had to pick a side, I suppose I would cast my lot with the older and wiser set who are cheering the APA’s decision to classify the sublime Boreas Ponds tract as a road-accessible wilderness, balanced by an adjoining swath of Wild Forest offering sucor to wielders of mountain bikes, snowmobiles, Falcon Heavy rocketships and any other toy that might strike their fancy.

I say “APA’s decision” in the same sense that Maryland “decided” to remain with the Union during the Civil War after Lincoln called for the arrest of the state’s assemblymen. I did appreciate the drama, though. The board met one day, with a lot of serious discussion, then adjourned to go home and sleep on it overnight, at which point they came back and voted the way that everyone knew they were going to vote to begin with. You felt like a kid who’d just been told “Let me talk it over with your father,” knowing full well the answer was still going to be no.

I forget which half of the brain is the practical side, but it’s telling me that the governor, er, the APA, threaded the needle on an exceedingly difficult issue. Public land belongs to all people, it is not the domain of a select few who wish it to be this or that. Nor is it desirable to obtain a great work of art and then lock it away in a vault, accessible only to those who know the combination.

Indeed, we might be grateful that we have a governor who sees the value of these forests and works to ensure that they will be saved and loved and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

So to all lawmakers and bureaucrats who had a hand in this decision, well done. The Adirondacks is a better place today because of you, and you have done a service to the people — all people — of this state and country.

But now that my head has had its say, my heart would like a word.

I don’t ever listen to kids, because what do they know? But I must have let my guard down for a bit, because somehow their argument on Boreas infected my soul. I am speaking, of course, about the group of young activists who not only wanted Boreas to be classified as wilderness, but also vehemently opposed any semblance of an access road.

Their argument is that there are scant places left in the East that are inaccessible, places that are truly worthy of the name wilderness. We have chewed up the wilderness and spit it out, sucking up its resources for profit, and penetrating its riches with scenic byways and campgrounds and overlooks and stinkin’ nature trails with their stinkin’ notations, viz., “No. 4 Black Alder: This deciduous shrub primarily thrives in…”.

We have all this now, and it’s great that we do, it really is. What we lack are spiritual sanctuaries in nature that can be accessed only with grit and determination, work that at the end of the day leaves us exhausted, but resplendent with awe at the bounty of wilderness that we know few others will have the fortitude to explore.

It is human nature, perhaps, to believe that everything with a view ought to have a road leading up to it. That scenery isn’t going to appreciate itself. It is also human nature to assume, somewhat bizarrely, that nature owes us something. In this age of analytics, we measure the forest either by how many tourists are hauled in or how many logs are hauled out. If it does neither, it is somehow “wasted.”

But does a landscape that is never gazed upon have value? Well, to begin with, we are not the only creatures that inhabit this planet. Given a voice, a bobcat or a bear might take great umbrage with the notion that a wilderness that does not benefit people is unproductive. And those who like to tramp alone, off-trail, into the trackless woods, might offer that there is no such thing as charming vistas that have not been gazed upon. There are only charming vistas that have not been gazed upon yet. There is value, great value, in maintaining, through these wilderness scavenger hunts, the opportunity for personal discovery — stumbling upon something magical, like an emerald pool or window to a peak that few if anyone has ever experienced.

Wilderness gives us that, specifically because it is exclusive and inaccessible. Inaccessibility in that sense is a priceless asset, not a problem to be solved. Not everything needs to be Whiteface, where — if driving up it were not enough — there is a freaking elevator for those who cannot haul that extra bowl of Frosted Flakes they had for breakfast up those last few hundred feet. But then, these are the people who buy the gas, the dinners, the hotel rooms and the souvenirs that at times seem to be even more precious to us than the forest itself.

So in a similar vein is it worth selling Boreas for a bowl of economic-development potage? I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer, since it is a question that affects many lives.

But I do know this. It felt great to see a band of (primarily) young men and women passionately defending the wilderness and seeing things, understanding things, that maybe not enough of us take the time to stop and think about. Through them, and some of their older cohorts, the forest would appear to have the watchdogs it deserves.

I realize — had they carried the day, and had the road to Boreas been closed for its length — it would have cut by maybe four-fifths the number of times I could ever have hoped to see the ponds myself. And I believe I would have been OK with that, knowing that someone who has not yet been born might one day discover, deep in the untrammeled forest, an everlasting dream.

Photo by Phil Brown 2016. View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

18 Responses

  1. Boreas says:


    Good article – keep ’em coming!!

    If you think THIS was a difficult decision, consider the DEC/others who have to come up with a UMP for the area. The UMP has to address how to conserve and protect the resource while allowing “reasonable” access. I suspect it will be a UMP that changes over time based on the amount and type of usage and consequent damage, or lack thereof. It will be a good opportunity to study these things, if anyone is interested.

  2. Jim S. says:

    The missed opportunity in this classification has me heartbroken. When the state announced all these former lumber company lands were being added to the forest preserve I was ecstatic. I expected the Essex chain to have easier access than it does. I also didn’t expect the road to remain at Boreas Ponds.
    What bothers me the most is that for me these classifications of Essex and Boreas areas have no appeal to me. Canoe camping in the Essex chain without campfires or driving my station wagon to what should be a remote wilderness gem has me vacationing outside of the Adirondacks for the first time since the early 1980’s.
    I am not good enough with the written word to express how sad this makes me.

  3. Adirondackjoe says:

    I took the elevator to the top of Whiteface a few years back and there was a group of disabled folks up there enjoying the view. None of them were eating frosted flakes.

  4. Craig Catalano says:


  5. Tony Oehler says:

    You have stated what I believe is a sentiment held by many. Not all wilderness needs to be accessible…we have plenty of beautiful areas that are accessible The remoteness and difficulty involved to get to locations such as this is special and I too hoped for a different outcome. Now I pray that the UMP will at a minimum keep the parking at the current location.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      It’d be nice to see a few more wilderness advocates supporting the mid-way gate & parking area as far as the general public is allowed to drive. Maybe we can even have some T-shirts made that say “DEC, please keep the gates where the are” lol. ?

  6. Bill Keller says:

    Plenty of inaccessible tracts of wilderness in the central Adirondacks. There is not a lot of “Whitefaces” accessible places inside of the blue line. Moose River and Crane pond are two that come to mind. Just look at the” forever wild high peaks” area, the spoiling by overuse is ok because it’s only accessible by foot? “there is a freaking elevator for those who cannot haul that extra bowl of Frosted Flakes they had for breakfast up those last few hundred feet”, ever think that it might give someone the chance to see nature’s beauty who otherwise couldn’t make the climb? How arrogant..

  7. Tim says:

    When you think about it, how many times will anyone actually go to Bordeas ponds, road or no road? I’ve been twice in two years. But, as I sit here writing this, sometimes it’s just the idea of wilderness that counts.

  8. geogymn says:

    Excellent article!

  9. Aidan says:

    There are places that have value just due to the fact that they are simply wild and isolated. The Adirondacks have always been such a place for me. Over the years, it’s become less so due to its popularity. I believe this is because we humans need this contact with nature. Allowing a road to a inaccessible location brings with it the very thing we are trying to leave – civilization. I believe having these places are vital for our collective well being, even if some of us never get to see them. Just knowing that they exist is enough to the soul.

  10. Justin Farrell says:

    When DEC removed all of the small trees growing on & near the dams at LeBier Flow & Boreas Ponds in the summer ‘16 it seemed rather suspicious to me that a predetermined plan was already in place. This was brought to attention to some of the writers here on the Almanack & Adirondack Explorer, and it was quickly brushed aside (no pun intended) as “normal DEC maintenance”, even though the tract hadn’t even been officially classified yet. Is it normal to perform “Wild Forest” & “Primitive Corridor” type maintenance in an area that has yet to be classified as such?

  11. Richard says:

    Really good article. I agree–on balance, probably a good decision; yet, the heart tugs…. Its really good to have an honest sentiment from the middle. Well done.

  12. Ed says:

    Hi Tim

    The Adks aren’t Hagerstown or Frederick. The NY State Constitution has a “Forever Wild” clause. That should weigh heavily in any consideration of land classification.

    I enjoy the fact that you’re writing the Adks after your long career down here in the Tri-state area.

    Best regards, Ed Zahniser

  13. Paul says:

    The fact remains that the state would have none of these tracts for you to argue about access over if the towns had not agreed to the deals. So, yes much of this was pre-determined years ago. Nobody was hiding that fact? Do the classification and UMP ahead of time. If the towns don’t like the plan then they can vote no and you can go and look for a large inaccessible wilderness tract somewhere else and another logging company can buy the ones that the towns didn’t want to approve the sale of. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    • Mick Finn says:

      And the towns agreed to the deal based on a promise that there would be ECONOMIC IMPROVEMENT.

      200 family club cabins are scheduled to be destroyed this year. Those people brought a lot of money into the area. Also, Finch Pruyn paid for the school in Newcomb, and built a lot of permanent bridges in the area.

      Let’s make that state keep their promise!

  14. Wayne Ouderkirk says:

    Loved this essay!!!

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