Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tyler Socash On Boreas Ponds Area Snowmobile Trail Plans

Frozen tracks across Vanderwhacker PondOn April 3rd, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a public scoping session in Newcomb, seeking suggestions for managing some 96,000 acres of recently-classified Forest Preserve lands, including the Boreas Ponds Tract. Hours before attending the meeting, I went on a bushwhack.

Armed with a map and a compass, I set out from Blue Ridge Road with an adventurous spirit into a dense coniferous forest. Meandering along the icy outlet of Vanderwhacker Pond, the sounds from the road began to fade as I followed a bearing of 31 degrees. The babbling stream flowed clearly between unstable ice bridges, beckoning me further along its sinuous path. A clearing in the trees signaled the presence of the frozen pond itself. I stepped onto the ice, surprised by the water body’s size, and was suddenly enraptured by wildness.

The unmistakable gait of an animal was seemingly frozen in time on the pond’s surface. Winter brings out nature’s mysteries for us to ponder. These tracks revealed that one of our Adirondack natives, completely unconcerned with classification outcomes and lines on maps, called this wild corner of the Park home. Where he or she was heading is less important than the appreciation of the fact that this creature was there.

Setting the compass to 14 degrees, I continued onward. The long-fingered tracks of a raccoon greeted me in the woods ahead, a flash of a pileated woodpecker darted between the trees, and at the next beaver clearing the screech of a red-tailed hawk surprised me from above. No logging roads were crossed, and I embraced this intact habitat as a temporary, grateful visitor. Wildness enveloped me now as I deviated from my bearing and headed northeast, crossing into the Boreas Ponds Tract.

Brant BrookIncluded in this corner of the tract is a wetland named Brant Brook. As I approached, the presence of snowshoe hare and marten tracks beneath the tamaracks exposed the natural harmony of this place.

Arriving at its edge, I felt immersed in the intangibles of wildness: silence, solitude, and remoteness. These qualities of the Boreas Ponds Tract and the northern triangle of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest are rare. Due to the lack of vast, motor-free landscapes in the heavily populated northeast, these intangibles simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. The preciously unique characteristics that currently define New York State’s largest high-elevation wetland complex emboldened me to write now, and underscore the importance of implementing a Unit Management Plan for these tracts that preserves the inimitable quality of the resource.

Figure 5 of the Adirondack Park Agency’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact StatementMuch has been glamorized about the eponymous Boreas Ponds themselves, but what about the northern triangle of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest? What about the remote southwest corner of the Boreas Ponds Tract? What about other currently quiet, pristine value 1 wetlands in the region like Wolf Pond, the Boreas River, Andrew Brook, and Andrew Brook tributary? Aren’t these ecologically significant waterways worth defending? Even La Bier Flow has two additional emergent and deepwater marsh species than its oft-mentioned counterpart to the north. Yet all of these environmental assets and wildlife habitats were somehow considered less important. As I connected with the landscape throughout my walk, I realized one thing: these southern regions are important.

A Community Connector Trail that Strikes a Balance

So isn’t there a solution where we can protect one of the last vestiges of wildness in the northeast – and the wildlife that calls these places home – while simultaneously helping our Adirondack communities? You bet, and it’s actually located inside of the DEC’s Community Connector Trail Plan!

Within the comprehensive plan, which is in conformance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, is the recommendation of shifting motorized recreational traffic to the periphery of Forest Preserve units and along transportation corridors.

Updated in 2015, Appendix 1 of the DEC’s Community Connector Plan specifically states, “The plan will redirect the level of snowmobile use from interior Wild Forest areas to the peripheral areas, where motor vehicle traffic is already concentrated. This will enhance the non‐motorized user experience in the interior Wild Forest areas while providing better connections with wider trails to the communities. User conflicts should be reduced for all user groups. These factors should result in increased tourism and economic benefits to local communities.”

The DEC’s Community Connector Trail Overview for the Newcomb-Minerva- North Hudson regionAppendix 1 goes on to say, “The overall impact of snowmobiles on wildlife is anticipated to decrease as a result of implementing the Community Connector Trail Plan. Snowmobile, horseback and mountain bike traffic will be reduced in interior areas and will be shifted to areas where motor vehicle traffic already exists. Snowmobile trails that are re‐designated as non‐motorized trails will re‐vegetate, narrowing or even eliminating the fragmentation effect that they may currently have on forested areas.”

While I would argue that equestrian use should be permitted in the tract to give users of all ability levels the opportunity to experience motor-free wilderness, the Community Connector Trail Plan does offer a reasonable alternative. Zooming in to the Boreas Ponds and Vanderwhacker Wild Forest section, a potential solution has already been highlighted that preserves the spirit of wildness and remote characteristics of the extensive wetland complex, while also completing a snowmobile connection from Newcomb to North Hudson. It’s called “Alternative A.”

Arguments for Community Connector “Alternative A”

Community Connector Trail options between Newcomb and North HudsonIn the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest and the Boreas Ponds Tract stretch of the 2015 Community Connector Trail Plan, Alternatives A & D take a general route along the currently motorized corridor of Blue Ridge Road, with minimal intrusion into the wild interior of the Boreas Ponds Tract and the northern triangle of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest. While Alternative D would stay along the motorized corridor the longest and require the least amount of new trail construction, I acknowledge that this might not offer the best user experience. Even though it is slightly more intrusive, Alternative A skirts every single value 1 wetland to the south, maintaining wildlife habitats to the north in a rare motor-free landscape. With the exception of the minimally intrusive Alternative D, Alternative A will require the least amount of new trail construction to complete this Newcomb to North Hudson connection (3.5 miles), causing the least amount of environmental damage.

Alternative A will also bring snowmobilers to the southern shore of Wolf Pond, which provides a better scenic view of the High Peaks than any stretch along the route of Alternatives B & C. The APA’s existing infrastructure map from the State Land Committee Classification package reveals how an existing trail to the east of Wolf Pond can help accomplish this community connection with modest trail construction.

Arguments against Community Connectors “Alternative B” and “Alternative C”

The APA’s State Land Committee Classification package – Existing Boreas Ponds InfrastructureTaking the more invasive path, Alternatives B & C would require the most amount of new trail building. While both would use Gulf Brook Road, new trails would need to be constructed to connect the route to the Roosevelt Truck Trail across Blue Ridge Road to the south. Implementing Alternative B (requiring 3.9 miles of new trail) or Alternative C (requiring 5.4 miles of new trail) would patently change one’s experience near Brant Brook and Vanderwhacker Pond. As the APA’s existing infrastructure map reveals, confirming what I learned during my bushwhack, a larger extent of tree cutting would be required to complete these alternatives.

Alternatives B & C would push motorized access into the wild interior, decrease the rare opportunities for remoteness, and encircle everything to the south in motorized noise. These alternatives impact a much larger area and defy the intentions of the 2015 Community Connector Trail Plan. Prudence, wildlife connectivity and this area’s inherent wildness, should outweigh any type of recreational development. The environmental consequences of motorizing the interior should weigh heavily on the DEC and anyone concerned for the lack of remoteness in an ever-developing world.

Remaining areas of the Adirondack Park that are more than 3 miles from a road or snowmobile trailLess than 5% of the Adirondack Park is currently 3 or more miles away from a road or snowmobile trail. Allowing motorized access along Gulf Brook Road would eliminate the intangibles of wildness that are currently found there. Isn’t that last 5% worth defending?

Protecting the Intangibles of Wildness

“In all our thinking about recreational development,” Russell M.L. Carson once said, “we ought constantly to remember that wilderness and natural beauty are the real charm of the Adirondacks, and that preservation is as much our objective as helping more people to share our joy in them.”

As I circled back to Blue Ridge Road through the currently quiet Boreas Ponds Tract, I cherished the silence, the solitude, and the remoteness. The bushwhack was ending, but this day stood in stark contrast to most days spent in civilized society. I won’t soon forget the immensity of the wildness I was afforded on that trip. In a world filled with roads, noise, and people, I was able to find some peace in the fourth-most populated state in the country. It would be a shame to cheapen that opportunity for future generations, especially when 6,970 miles of Adirondack roads already exist. These roads are replete with pull-offs, accessible campsites, and beautiful vistas. By choosing the alternative requiring the least amount of trail construction and the least amount of remote maintenance, we protect our Adirondack legacy while also succeeding in the Community Connector Trail Plan’s directives. Do we need to turn rare Adirondack backcountry into more Adirondack front country?

With Alternative A, we accomplish nearly everything.

Photos, from above: Frozen tracks across Vanderwhacker Pond; Brant Brook – a value 1 wetland within the Boreas Ponds Tract and Vanderwhacker Wild Forest; Figure 5 of the Adirondack Park Agency’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement; The DEC’s Community Connector Trail Overview for the Newcomb-Minerva- North Hudson region; Community Connector Trail options between Newcomb and North Hudson; The APA’s State Land Committee Classification package – Existing Boreas Ponds Infrastructure; and Remaining areas of the Adirondack Park that are more than 3 miles from a road or snowmobile trail.

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Tyler Socash is ADK’s Outdoor Skills Coordinator. He believes in fostering a personal connection with our public lands through exposure, education, and stewardship. The day after completing his master’s degree at the University of Rochester, Socash embarked on a 7,000-mile thru-hiking journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Te Araroa in New Zealand, and the Appalachian Trail. He joined the Adirondack Wilderness Advocates as an activist to promote the intangibles of wildness and their benefits to humanity. In an effort to meld humor with conservation efforts, Socash co-created and co-hosts Foot Stuff Podcast, which spotlights stories of adventure, antics, and activism around the country.




24 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Hi. Is it possible to make the images and maps higher resolution?

  2. Boreasfisher says:

    While I take your point about pushing these trails to the periphery, I find it hard to believe Alternative A only cuts such a small amount of forest. The area north of the Blue Ridge road in that plan goes an awfully long way through what is essentially uncut timberland, much of it planted in the 1920s.

    I confess that any cutting of new forest preserve timber for an activity that global warming is making increasingly untenable makes little sense to me. So this option only makes some sense if Gulf Brook Road is closed entirely to motorized traffic. I don’t understand arguments that permit cars 9 months of the year in the interior of this parcel but disallow snowmobiles on the same trails 3 months or less of the year. That’s a rather strange sacrifice in order to protect snowshoers and skiers from the noise of snowmobiling.

    • Tyler Socash says:

      “Alternative A” requires the construction of fewer miles of new trail than the trails through the interior (Alternatives B & C). So if you’re looking for the trail that will require the least amount of cutting of those three, the logical answer to minimize costs of construction & maintenance is A.

      If you want to support a Unit Management Plan that causes the least amount of cutting / environmental damage / loss of rare wildness, I highly encourage you to craft a letter in support of
      “Alternative D,” which accomplishes the DEC’s CCTP goals and completes the connection.

      If trees have to be cut, I agree with you that we should choose the least invasive option to preserve the spirit of wildness. Alternative A preserves the best experience for everyone, and protects all of the value 1 wetlands – resource protection is the primary goal.

      Thanks for your thoughts! Write your letter 🙂

  3. Paul says:

    It’s too late now but I would have focused my argument almost entirely on the practicality of going with A. Cheaper, easier, etc. – those are things that anyone will have a hard time arguing against. Especially an agency that has a lack of sufficient funds for what they want to do. The other “environmental and ascetic” arguments, are good ones, but are more of a hot potato around here.

    • Tyler Socash says:

      It’s not too late, Paul! You can submit public comment until Friday, and I think you have a very valid point that should be shared.

      According to Adirondack Research, LLC, a moderately used gravel road of 6.7 miles carries an estimated annual maintenance cost of $46,650 per year – funding that could instead be put towards DEC staffing needs. Just keeping Gulf Brook Road alone opened to motorized use will have a cost that someone will need to cover.

      Cheaper, easier, practical… Alternative D is what you’re looking for, as it completes the community connection and preserves the resource. Small concessions on both sides makes Alternative A a common sense, all user group friendly, fiscally prudent compromise.

      Please submit a comment!

  4. Boreas says:

    On one hand, I would think we should shelve the connector trail debate until a UMP has been drawn up for the area. If we don’t know the year-round status of Gulf Brook Road, how do we know where to route the trail? On the other hand, will the routing of the connector trail drive the UMP for the area and GBR?

    • Tyler Socash says:

      I think the established Green Groups are getting it totally wrong. By advocating for any kind of motorized access along Gulf Brook Road, you endanger the resource (“clean air, clear water,” they shout), you cause a severe loss of wildness and rare remoteness in the Adirondacks, a snowmobile trail requiring more tree cutting could happen in the western side of the tract, and you alienate everyone by prioritizing the needs of one group (paddlers) over another.

      Why not level the playing field?

      First and foremost, get the Alternative A (or D) snowmobile trail on everyone’s mind, because it actually protects the water by staying south of the entire Boreas value 1 wetland complex, it involves less tree cutting than expensive interior options, and it preserves wildlife habitat to the north. A community connector will happen, and should. It just shouldn’t be through preciously rare, harder to maintain backcountry.

      Then, to be fair AND to preserve the resource, which is the ultimate DEC goal, you close what would be a frivolously expensive, difficult to maintain Gulf Brook Road to all motorized use. No special circumstances for the general public, but allow equestrian / non-motorized access so that all people of all ability levels (this includes lift-assisted equestrian services, a local opportunity for the Essex Chain as well) can have the same wild experience when they arrive at the motor-free shores of Boreas Ponds and La Bier Flow, regardless of their ability level. If you want to go to a motorized, easy access pond, take your pick from the hundreds along the extensive 6,970-mile ADK public road system. You can even drive down Elk Lake Road or to Tahawus nearby!

      With the community connector in the southern part of the Tract, nearly everyone wins. Can someone help strengthen this proposal?

      • Paul says:

        This is why classify first then allow the town to approve or not approve the sale of the tract. If they were expecting this motorized access, and it gets closed, then it was not an honest deal. Just let everyone know ahead of time. No surprises later. Everyone can advocate for what they want and make comments prior to the transaction. The TNC wasn’t going to sell this to any other entity there was plenty of time. Can green groups only get these roads closed with a bait and switch? That just taints the whole process and jeopardizes future transaction.

        • Boreas says:

          I agree – it certainly is a flawed process. But who knows IF there will ever be a next time? There has been as much push back from people claiming too much land is being “locked up” as there has been green groups wanting to close the road. Albany may be very reluctant to do this again.

          • Paul says:

            Maybe, this debate has been going on as long as I have been around. Follensby is a big one. I would prefer to see the NC hold onto it but they will probably eventually sell to the state when they can. That will be a tricky one with the possibility of classification of part of the Raquette as Wilderness, that would be the end of the Adirondack Canoe Classic (90 miler).

            My guess is the process is flawed almost on purpose since Wilderness classifications would be more difficult with a “classify first” process. There are some large timber holding still out there and with the loss of some of these clubs and the income that comes with them. I expect we will see these companies cut it all and sell that land as well. That is probably the plan?. Sell the easements ($ for shareholders). Cut all the timber (we see it on lots of easements now). Then dump it on the state. They are always willing to buy additional land they can’t afford or can’t maintain.

            • Boreas says:

              Why “dump it on the state”? Should be able to get a good buck by selling it to developers or overseas interests.

    • Boreasfisher says:

      Exactly…

  5. Boreasfisher says:

    I meant “exactly” in response to the comment from Boreas…decide the general public access into the ponds before trying to tackle the snowmobile trail. Otherwise the tail is wagging the dog…the most invasive activity (IMHO) enjoyed by the smallest number of people is trumping the larger access issues for everyone else.

    Personally I think it makes good sense to adopt the compromise being offered by Adirondacks Wild: Use the road to the current parking lot 3.5 miles in but restrict motorized access (with a Gate) at the flow. Create a disabled wheelchair access plan from the gate to the ponds.

    It doesn’t seem to me that the maintenance cost of the road to the current lot is seen as a major burden by DEC.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree with you – staying with the current gate and allowing only limited access beyond it is probably the best compromise with GBR. As far as Tyler’s connector trail comments, I could live with either Option A OR D.

      • Boreasfisher says:

        Of A/D, I prefer D, admittedly for selfish reasons…proximity to property, but frankly I am wondering whether the estimated calculations of trees cut are not discounting trees removed in A,D along Blue Ridge road all to avoid snowmobiling in the interior. As I say, it makes little sense to me to use GBR for cars for 9 months and cut new trails for snowmobiles for 3 months usage, all else being equal.

        I have walked the internal trails from Boreas westward toward Tahawus and they would follow well established jeep trails. The alternative routes along Blue Ridge Road will cut trees and site the trails close to a number of private homes. I would hate to see this peaceful setting disturbed.

        • Dan says:

          Although I have not been on the west side myself I have talked with friends who have hunted there for years who say there are all kinds of trails and logging roads suitable for snowmobile trails in that part of the tract. And, while I’ve also heard that the Tahawus Club is not currently open to a snowmobile trail, the possibility that it could be in the future should get some consideration, as that would require no tree cutting.

          Lastly, there are many who want to be able to drive at least to LeBier Flow. Yes, there are other lakes to drive to for paddling or fishing, but few with the beauty of Boreas Ponds. I’m also willing to bet that the Town of North Hudson is more than willing to help maintain a seasonal road, just as other municipalities do in other parts of the Park; some longer that than this.

          I applaud your efforts, but I disagree that closing Gulf Brook Road is fair. A snowmobile trail is not the only reason some of us advocated for part of this tract to be Wild Forest.

          • Boreas says:

            Dan,

            What I would like to see implemented if DEC opens up GBR is to do it as ecologically protective as possible. What I would suggest is the road be gated at the highway from Nov. through April (mud season). Then, May and June would be gated midway (where it is now), but allow DEC, maintenance staff, and people with CP-3 permits (handicap access) ONLY. This would minimize human disruption on animals recovering from the winter and bird breeding and nesting, as well as protecting the wetlands during mud season. Then, open the road to LaBier Flow from July through October to all vehicles. The sensitive wetlands will be drier and less susceptible to erosion and wildlife disruption. So, 6 months closed, 4 months open, and 2 months restricted. Just a thought.

    • Paul says:

      Towns may even pay for the road maintenance if they feel it is in their economic interest. They have all the equipment right there it’s a lower cost expense for them.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        So please tell me why the town of North Hudson does not plow the Hammond Pond/Bass Lake/Moose Mountain Pond trailhead during winter?

  6. Blaikie Worth says:

    I greatly appreciate Tyler Socash’s comment and recommendations. Yes, the
    5% he advocates for is very, very important and the A Alternative among
    the Community Connector Trails. Please continue your work!

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