Thursday, November 1, 2018

Opinion: Keep Brown Tract Pond Rustic

Campers at Brown Tract Pond New York State public campgrounds are managed under what is called “Intensive Use” rules. These lands are the most developed (least restrictive of development) public lands in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. “Wilderness” is the most restrictive. Interestingly, when it came to establishing management plans for Moose River Plains Camping Area, special guidelines were agreed upon to preserve its unique version of primitive/public campground. The Department of Environmental Conservation may not “upgrade” the area with features found in regular campgrounds. “Keep it simple” is what the people wanted.

The question raised now is: Should Brown Tract Pond Campground (also in Moose River Plains Wild Forest) be protected under its own special guidelines? It is feared that otherwise its rustic uniqueness will be lost to DEC development plans. Preservation might just require amending the state land master plan. That’s a big step that we contend should be explored. Will we see creeping “modernization” or preserved rustic camping at Brown Tract Pond, and how will that be assured?

DEC published a five-year Draft Unit Management Plan UMP (found on Brown Tract Pond online site) that failed to follow the department’s own seven-step UMP Process. DEC bypassed the requirement to build in meaningful public participation from the beginning and refused to hold a public hearing at the end. Campers’ only recourse was to submit written remarks by September 30.

Then DEC said it just had to build showers because it was the design standard. The implication that the State Sanitary Code requires showers in campgrounds is just not there. Moose River Plains Camping does not fit that code, either. So why should Brown Tract Pond? Stop designing!

The roll-out of the “Draft Brown Tract Pond Campground UMP” was held as an informal, barely publicized “information session” August 30 at the camp. Well, at least we will give them that. However, of the nineteen campers who happened to be present that afternoon, not one wanted the $800,000 plan to build showers into two reconstructed comfort buildings. That came as a big surprise to DEC officials. According to their own Brown Tract Pond website, DEC has hinted that not only showers, but lots more changes are to come … showers are just the beginning of “improving” Brown Tract Pond.

The Draft BTPC UMP is a compilation of local history, wildlife, land use, infrastructure and such. What is lacking is critical to its special management needs: a foundational emphasis as to what the public has held dear for many generations of camping. Not only is the camp remote, quiet, and rustic, but it is small (ninety sites) and unique. It has extraordinary dark skies, with excellent low-light astronomy conditions the report failed to mention. Many of us come just for that and the miles of gravel and dirt forested Uncas Road that separate us from “civilization”.

So who needs showers? That will just make it busier, noisier, less rustic, failing to take the forest on its own terms. Incidentally, showers are available on Route 28 camps, at Eighth Lake and Golden Beach (no fee).

Mary Helen Crump is a member of Friends of Brown Tract Pond Campground, dedicated to preserving a remote, rustic campground.

Photo of Campers at Brown Tract Pond by Mike Lynch.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

11 Responses

  1. Karen Smith says:

    You need showers to keep people from soaping up the water with their lake showers. That directly impacts habitat and water quality. They’re not looking to create a luxurious campground, just trying to save people from themselves.

    • Boreas says:

      A couple cold-water, outdoor showers, well away from the lake would take care of that. They abound at saltwater campgrounds and lodgings. Simple & rustic.

  2. Bob D. says:

    $800k for showers?

  3. James Marco says:

    Welll, I have been going to Browns Tract Ponds since I was young. I went there as a kid. Now I am pushing 70. I always liked the Indian Head on the trip up there. Now my kids do, too. And the grand kids… I never thought the lack of showers as a big detriment. No, you don’t need soap. The minimal tannic acid in the water works pretty well as a natural soap. Just hop in and splash around a bit, voilla, you are fairly clean…cleaner than if you lived in a city. While there may not seem to be the best of cleanliness, forest duff, sand, and brown “swampy water” go a long ways to keeping you clean. A shower building just ain’t needed. Now, if I had $800K to spend, I would just level out all the camp sites and fix the drainage. THAT was always more of a problem than washing up for supper…

  4. ETK says:

    Who takes showers while camping?

  5. Steve B. says:

    My wife and I tend to camp later in the season when it’s too cold to swim, thus prefer a campground that has showers. That said, there are plenty of other DEC sites open during the same summer schedule that Browns Tract runs, so I’m not seeing the point of spending this money to bring BT into some sort of made up DEC rule that campgrounds must have showers. Forked Lake and many of the island sites on assorted lakes don’t either, so no point to this.

  6. Butch Kyle says:

    I started going to Brown Tract as a kid with my family in the ‘70’s. I have always
    enjoyed it it for just what it is. I don’t feel the need to build showers. Go to Eighth
    Lake or Golden Beach to shower. I prefer to paddle over to the rock, jump off
    and swim.

  7. Leo says:

    As tent campers my wife and I would really appreciate the addition of showers at Forked Lake and do not feel it would change the rustic nature of the campground.

  8. John B Frey says:

    Lets not confuse a campground with primitive campsites. The language was added to allow the non-conforming sites along the Moose River Plains road network to remain in place. Myself and other local leaders as well as long time users had passionately campaigned for that very specific addition to the UMP. It was not intended and should never be used to limit proper maintenance and upgrade to campgrounds that are needed.

  9. Steve B. says:

    Is there electric service at Forked Lake ?. I know there’s phone but recall the campground attendant telling me no electricity. Could be wrong though.

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