Friday, February 16, 2018

Lonesome No: Chad Dawson And His Boreas Ponds Vote

On February 2nd, as the Adirondack Park Agency’s board was listening to its staff’s proposal for a final agency recommendation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the classification of Boreas Ponds and the 20,500-acre parcel surrounding the ponds, board member Chad Dawson asked some tough questions of his fellow board members.

Dawson is a professor at the State University of NY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and an internationally recognized expert on recreation, natural resources and wilderness management.

Coming into the discussion that day, Dawson knew he was likely to be outvoted on the fate of the Boreas Ponds classification. The APA’s staff had opted to recommend a compromise that protected about half of the parcel as motor-free wilderness. The other half will be allowed to host some measure of motorized access and recreation.

Importantly, Dawson seized the opportunity to establish – for the public record – that there were still important state protections needed to keep Boreas Ponds from being degraded by the invasive species, noise and water pollution that automobiles can bring.

The agency’s staff had proposed a classification for the Boreas Ponds tract that it labeled “Option 2B.” That option keeps most parking and automobile access a mile or more from the ponds, but includes a road that extends to within 530 feet of them. Dawson wanted to know why his fellow board members seemed to support the idea of maintaining a road and parking lot within 1/10th of a mile of the ponds.

If the ponds should be protected as wilderness, as the other members agreed, why then should the state bring automobile traffic so close to them, he asked?

He reminded them that nearly every lake and pond in the park was accessible to cars and most were also accessible to motorboats. Why, then, with thousands of other options, should protecting one set of ponds cause such controversy?

“There’s certainly plenty of waterbodies in the state of New York that are public and accessible that everybody of all abilities can access,” Dawson said. “There are very few of them that are isolated, that are there for the future.”

Everyone wants opportunities, he said. “But everyone can’t have an opportunity to everything.”

Dawson also reacted to his fellow board members – and the Local Government Review Board’s – continued insistence on including “CP3 Access” and “Universal Access” within the final 1/10th of a mile. He reminded them that they were using terms with specific meanings.

While other board members seemed to use the terms to imply they wanted access for person with disabilities, they were actually opening the door to something quite different.

The term “CP3” refers to a NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation policy allowing enhanced motorized access to the disabled, including all-terrain vehicles. In their annual reports to headquarters, DEC’s rangers call ATVs their biggest recreational enforcement problem on public lands.

“Universal access” means parking and trails designed so anyone can use them, whether they have a disability or not. This type of parking would be available to anyone who asks to reserve it. Dawson was trying to show that real wilderness protection for Boreas Ponds required the state to be careful about automobile traffic.

“Does every lake have to be CP3 accessible?” Dawson asked. “Does it have to have universal access? I think it’s a public policy question. We don’t have a lot of direction in the (State Land Master Plan). That’s something we need to discuss and talk about because it shapes how I think about these alternatives.

“We’ve sort of got this battle line drawn around this road, and it disturbs me that it’s come down to that as sort of this philosophical argument,” Dawson said. “There are a lot of places someone can go in the Adirondacks and get motorized access. Let’s just leave one of them alone for present and future generations.”

“I don’t believe that handicap accessibility in one way or another is required for every resource that we’ve purchased,” APA Chairman Sherman Craig said. “However this particular one is incredible, so I would have a hard time arguing this was a resource that’s not appropriate for CP3 or universal (access).”

In explaining his support for Alternative 2B, DEC Regional Director Robert Stegeman, who is also an APA board member, said: “This classification here offers possibilities — not certainties — and the [DEC’s upcoming Unit Management Plan] is where that would be entertained, including all the controls that would go for controlling access, whether a permit system, or what have you.”

Many wilderness advocates are calling for a gate one mile from the ponds, with a ranger posted to control access to the final stretch of road and a small parking lot for access by people with disabilities only. That must be worked out in the next step.

When the board finally voted on the APA’s classification proposal, Dawson cast the sole dissenting vote. He explained why:

“I am going to engage in a long American tradition of free speech, of freedom of choice and I’m going to do it respectfully. I admit there’s a lot of people who worked very hard on this decision for very long and I know we as a board have had to keep quiet for a year and a half, and for some of us that was difficult to do. Again, I thank, as everyone has, everyone that’s been involved within DEC, the Agency staff, I thank the public for their involvement. It is the voice of the public that I am responding to.

“The majority of the people said they wanted more wild areas, wilder areas. They said they wanted more areas that were healing. I don’t know how that gives people hope or why it works, but it does. It works.

“Why have people for so long supported the Forest Preserve? Supported the concept of wilderness, all across the country? And many of them will never go to wilderness. For them, it’s not whether or not there’s a road. It’s ‘does it exist?’

“There are over 54,000 square miles of land in the State of New York. They were asking for a few thousand more acres. And I know to local people that is psychological theory, you don’t feel like they know what they’re doing, they don’t know what they’re thinking about. Somehow, they do. And they’re asking for something. And I must be their voice.

“I am not representing any particular type of organization. I’m representing the spirit of people who have hope. And in this world, do we not need hope? Opioid epidemics, wars here and there, strife and discord, people killing each other. But if there is something that gives people hope, I’m for it. I’m for it. I stand behind it firmly.

“I don’t know who they all are, I don’t know why they all come, but they keep coming and they keep asking. And I feel obligated to be their voice, I feel obligated to be their voice.

“I don’t know who they are but I wish them well. I like that they look to the healing of a natural place as an important symbol to them, whatever it represents, whether they come here or not, I vote in favor of that.

“And that does not mean to negate anything anyone has done, I just want to be that spark. I feel it, they feel it, and I’m their voice. So with all respect, everybody who has been involved with this and the continued working together, I respectfully vote no.”

As Robert Marshall said, “There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition…to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness.” Thank you to Chad Dawson and Bob Marshall for your inspiring words and actions.

Photo: Takeout at northern tip of Boreas Ponds (Photo by Phil Brown).

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.

23 Responses

  1. Bill Ingersoll says:

    Be careful about invoking the name of Bob Marshall, especially since you represent a group that advocated for a wilderness designation at Boreas Ponds that included a road spot-zoned within its boundaries, ending a mile short of the shoreline.

    Bob Marshall was a person who spent much time worrying about the intrusions of roads in the forest, and he famously wrote of a nightmare he once had in which someone had carved a road into the Cold River country. He later returned to the Adirondacks and found that his dream had, unfortunately, been a reality: the Conservation Department had, in fact, built two fire truck roads to the Cold River. It would be decades before those roads were closed to motor vehicles and the area added to the High Peaks Wilderness.

    I never met Marshall, obviously, and can’t claim to speak for him. But having read his work, I’m reasonably sure he’d find the Adirondack Council just as insincere in its so-called “wilderness advocacy” as I do.

    • John Sheehan says:

      There has been a member of the Marshall family on our board since the organization was founded.

      • geogymn says:

        And is this family member a wilderness advocate (like their ancestor) or are they more of a compromising political advocate.
        One would think that said person would jump on the chance to extend the Bob Marshall legacy. But I’m just supposing.

  2. Boreas says:

    “Many wilderness advocates are calling for a gate one mile from the ponds…”

    They don’t sound like “wilderness advocates” to me, allowing a road ~6 miles into the heart of the parcel – much closer than the current gate. Where did these people learn to negotiate?

    • Boreas says:

      Kudos, Chad! Keep up the good fight and don’t be discouraged by being the lone dissenting voice – I doubt it will be the last time. That is why you are there – to make YOUR best recommendations based on all of the facts, not just political expediency. Thanks again!

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    Once again…It seems clear to me this was a predetermined local & political ploy from day 1. Kudos & many thanks to wilderness advocates & Mr. Dawson for taking a stand against adversity & the inevitable.

  4. geogymn says:

    Chad Dawson, a wilderness advocate, a member on the APA board? A voice, a glimmer of hope? Maybe our generation’s legacy might reveal some forethought after all.

    Roads extinguish wilderness, hope springs eternal in the human breast.

  5. Tony Goodwin says:

    I thought the DEC’s access plan for the past two years was a very good compromise. I have also commented that the Essex Chain should have been classified as Wild Forest – at least west of Chain Lakes Road. Then that would be where the “universal access” could be created with all users provided with easier access than now exists.

    The only reason I have suggested a Primitive Corridor as far as the dam was to allow the possibility of maintaining the dam. It seems only with perhaps a long-term study would it be possible to say whether returning to ponds to their natural state would be better ecologically than the current impoundment. We might end up wanting to keep this high altitude, and therefore colder, brook trout fishery intact. That fishery would likely be lost without the dam.

  6. Lorraine Duvall says:

    “The majority of the people said they wanted more wild areas, wilder areas. They said they wanted more areas that were healing. I don’t know how that gives people hope or why it works, but it does. It works.”
    Thanks to Chad Dawson for acknowledging that wilderness heals. And for representing the wilderness advocates on the APA Board.

  7. Blaikie Worth says:

    Thank you, Chad Dawson. There are places I can’t get to because I’m “disabled”
    by my age, but I want others including future generations
    to experience wilderness beyond the sound of motors.

  8. Tim-Brunswick says:

    If Mr. Dawson is as credentialed as the above article states then he ought to actually check his facts and figures before he does his grandstanding with statements such as “nearly every lake and pond in the park was accessible to cars and most were also accessible to motorboats”.

    Perhaps Mr. Dawson should try bringing his car into the lakes/ponds in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness, Five Ponds Wilderness and many others with secluded bodies of water reached only by foot travel!!

    The 2B Plan was a great choice, but never let it be said that those advocating for total wilderness classification would go home without months and months of whining, pontificating and crying. Supposedly under 2-B their so called wilderness will be desecrated by folks who otherwise would never get to see any part of the acquisitions that every taxpayer in New York State paid for!

    As far as being polluted by automobiles, what the heck do you think has been going on for the past hundred years? Skidders, heavy duty logging trucks/rigs and gas/oil chain saws, ATV’s (OMG not ATVs!!) and snowmobiles were part of the daily scene throughout the parcel.

    Not to mention all the expected trash/human waste from years and years of entertaining guests in FP’s palatial lodge that overlooked the precious Boreas Ponds. It was all business as usual throughout the Boreas property.

    Not surprisingly, the forests, streams and birds/animals have survived and frankly probably thrived as Finch Pruyn typically did not clear cut and generally has always been a good steward of their properties.

    Nobody got “everything” they wanted, But this incessant wailing that keeps appearing in the ADK. Almanac is just too much to bear without speaking out.

    The APA made a decision…. the Governor will undoubtedly agree to it so my suggestion to those who can’t be appeased unless they get everything they want………..grab a box of Kleenex and get over it!

    Thank You

    • geogymn says:

      Tim, I know you don’t care but methinks you need wilderness more than you yet realize. I hope some day peace finds you, sincerely.

    • adkDreamer says:

      Tim-Brunswick – First, thank you for your historical perspective that may warrant a reason to believe that: Just because a road exists it may not be implied that the future road usage will equal or exceed its historical use. One may also argue that: Historical use of lands now acquired to be included into the forest preserve may be initially colored as an irresponsible stewardship, however in either usage, historical or future, both clearly represent the same species of human modification of the lands, albeit for different potential benefits.

      In other words: Old roads and land uses in the past are terra-forming and not natural, and in the future either allowing those old roads to used in their most common sense -or- allowing them to waste away are also equal terra-forming manipulations. In either case, the forest preserve in its past, present and future usages is nothing short of a manufactured environment.

      Secondly, however, your examples appear to be purposefully anecdotal. I am quite sure you realize that in the context of Article 14, lands acquired by the State of New York inescapably and necessarily change their form. This is by design and naturally serves the public interest, inter alia.

    • Justin Farrell says:

      Your constant inflammatory & offensive anti-wilderness comments suck. Please stop, take a shit, and fall back in it.

      Thank you!

    • Balian the Cat says:

      I have always been mildly fascinated by the prevailing notion that one side of a debate is “hard” and the other side is “soft.” Right wingers rage and left wingers cry. 83 IQ rednecks are tough and PhD environmentalists are whinny. I suppose it’s simply an attempt to make republicans/conservatives masculine and democrats/liberals feminine – a psychological ploy to paint with a broad brush, but it’s neither factual or productive. I know women who work on back country trail crews who could beat hell out of five guys who drive monster trucks just as I know died in the wool conservative foresters who are smarter than college presidents. Further evidence I suppose that there is no dialog anymore, just rhetoric. Chad Dawson is a good person, that point alone makes him relatively unique.

  9. Tyler Socash says:

    Bob Marshall fought fervently to keep truck trails, dams, and highways from compromising the wilderness integrity of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Council Staff continues to champion roads into the Boreas Ponds Tract as a victory. This is exactly the opposite of what Bob Marshall wrote about. How much Adirondack integrity (its remaining wildness) can be sacrificed for political gain? We are witnessing it.

    • Paul says:

      This is not “remaining” wilderness – it’s new wilderness. Enough for even a whole new stand-alone wilderness area even with this decision. Expanding the HPW by, what is it, 11,000 acres? Sure a road on a boundary, same as other Wilderness areas in the park that have a road that bounds them. Route 86 – a major highway (not a small dirt road) is the boundary of the McKenzie Mt Wilderness in several long stretches. Route 86 even cuts the boundary between the McKenzie Mt Wilderness and the Sentinel Range Wilderness.

    • Paul says:

      Route 3 for the HPW

  10. James Marco says:

    A big thank you to Chad Dawson. Fight the good fight. Keep the d@mn roads out of the wilderness.

  11. Paul says:

    The thousands of acres of new wilderness lands in there that have been added by this majority vote can now begin the “healing” as described above. Remember here the board is making decisions based on information they are getting from many different parts of the different agencies involved and the public (the latter being just one piece of the puzzle). At least that is how they should be making the decisions. The frivolous lawsuits challenging some other decisions seem to bear that out when the courts have a look. Perhaps someday this road could be closed like the truck trails described near cold river. In that case it was closing roads that were “built” in this case it is just a relatively short stretch of road that is already there.

  12. Sean Duncan says:

    Dawson is right. One can easily access most lakes in New York by car. As with any protected area the pressure for development seems to always be there. Once developed there is no turning back. Compromise is good but it is always the continually diminishing wild places that cede the most.

    • Paul says:

      “Once developed there is no turning back”? Really, for this particular parcel it was very developed and is now part of the Forest Preserve, same for lots of other FP land. It’s all “turned back”. For this one it is at least 11,000 acres turning from developed timberlands with roads, camps, and even a large lakeside lodge to Wilderness.

      • Boreas says:


        Would you agree that the fact that BP was developed when in private hands (roads, dams, etc.) was the main reason for it ALL not being classified as Wilderness? If BP had been purchased as virgin forest with no roads, it would have been a no-brainer to classify it as Wilderness. This is an example of Sean’s statement.

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