Bill Ingersoll is the chairman of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, formed in 2016 to speak on behalf of the wilderness character of the Forest Preserve. He has hiked and backpacked in wildernesses across America, but feels most at home in the grand forests of the Adirondacks. He is the publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebook series, and his articles and photos have appeared in Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Sports & Fitness, and Adirondack Life magazines. You will find him exploring the North Country with his dog Bella in all four seasons, by trail, snowshoe, and canoe.
The Adirondack Forest Preserve is celebrated as one of the world’s best-protected wilderness reserves, but of course this is New York State, not the distant, untrodden surface of Venus; with precious few exceptions all of the lands that are now “forever wild” were once privately owned, and many parcels were developed to one degree or another before the state acquired them for the Forest Preserve. If you’ve enjoyed any of the Adirondack Park’s “blockbuster” purchases over the last quarter-century, such as Little Tupper Lake, Round Lake, the Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, or Madawaska Flow, you have explored land that was once populated by dozens of modest hunting camps.
I was an early visitor at all of these properties, exploring their secrets while the ink was still wet on the deeds. In 1998, just weeks after the “William C. Whitney Area” opened to the public, I found a small cabin on the north shore of Little Tupper Lake that even DEC staff didn’t seem to know about. At Madawaska Flow in 2004 and Round Lake in 2006, I ventured into recently abandoned cabins that stood on expired leases, quietly awaiting their demolition. These structures reminded me that what I had come to explore as “wilderness” had been perceived and used as something slightly different a few years earlier.
Because of these experiences, as well as my interest in Adirondack history, I have never been deluded into thinking our wilderness is a people-less place; it may be the natural landscape that attracts me and fills my daydreams, but I am also familiar with (and fascinated by) the human story that haunts the Forest Preserve.
Do we need more wilderness? Don’t be silly — yes, of course we do. Wilderness has been a defining element of the Adirondacks for more than two centuries, as much an iconic part of the landscape as loons, black bears and red efts. Even if we can’t always be in the wilderness, we find inspiration knowing that it’s out there, somewhere past those foothills on the horizon. » Continue Reading.
While casting her vote for the Boreas Ponds land classification known as Alternative 2 on February 2, 2018, one Adirondack Park Agency board member told the audience gathered at the agency’s headquarters in Ray Brook that we should “take a leap of faith,” even if the public wasn’t getting the wilderness classification it wanted. She said that we should trust the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the Boreas Ponds in its forthcoming unit management plan (UMP) for the area, where environmental safeguards would be written into the proposals for recreational access.
Unfortunately, that faith has proven to be unwarranted. DEC has released a pair of management plans that will impact the future of not just the beautiful Boreas Ponds, but the entire High Peaks Wilderness. The scope of these two documents far exceeds the available time to read and assess everything they contain, but even with a cursory review it is abundantly clear that our state agencies are failing to meet the public’s expectations. » Continue Reading.
The buzz this week, of course, is the announcement of the state’s planned classification of the Boreas Ponds. This news came roughly ten years after we learned that the state intended to purchase this tract for the Forest Preserve, and fifteen months after the Adirondack Park Agency kicked off its formal procedure to classify the land according to the guidelines of the State Land Master Plan.
My neck is still sore from the whiplash I experienced late last week when I first heard the news. It wasn’t the classification decision itself that did it, because my first reaction to the map was one of déjà vu, as I’ll explain in a moment. What caught me off guard was the sight of the various “watchdog” groups tripping over themselves to congratulate the state for its decision, and the press that praised Albany’s direct intervention in what should have been the APA’s independent deliberations. » Continue Reading.
News of a helicopter sightseeing tour operating out of Lake Placid spawned much discussion this past summer. Unlike a traditional scenic airplane flight high above the landscape, this business promised ridge-running flights at low altitudes above protected Wilderness Areas, as well as aerial safaris in which backcountry wildlife would be buzzed in their natural habitats — all for the thrill of a few paying customers.
This was scary enough for those of us who routinely visit the Forest Preserve for our weekly dose of wildness. But then in the September/October 2017 issue of the Adirondack Explorer, John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council suggested that in the Wild Forest areas, “it may be appropriate to fly in some places at lower heights” — with the stipulation that “some sensitive areas” should be avoided “as much as they can.” » Continue Reading.
News that the Adirondack Park Agency plans to subvert a minimal wilderness designation at Boreas Ponds with both motorized and mechanized access corridors is not just discouraging, it is frightening. This is not a word that I toss out for emotional effect. It is my genuine reaction to the idea that the agency is becoming an obstacle to the wilderness preservation narrative that defines part of the Adirondack Park’s proud history.
Throughout this current land classification process — initiated in October 2016 and still unresolved today — the state has been setting a poor leadership example by pitting so-called user groups against one another, setting the expectation that one side wins and the other loses in this zero-sum game we politely call Forest Preserve management. » Continue Reading.
At the Boreas Ponds classification hearing held in Albany on December 7, 2016, Ross Whaley reminded the audience that public opinion alone doesn’t determine a land classification. As a former chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency, Mr. Whaley would know.
But at that same hearing — the last in a series of eight hosted by the APA — about eighty people stepped up to the podium to make their voices heard, in a marathon session that stretched a good four hours. A lot of people had something to say about Boreas Ponds that afternoon.
And by the time the written comment period ended on December 30th, the agency had received some 11,200 emails, letters, and postcards from concerned people not just across the state, but from across North America and beyond.
This level of public interest in a classification proceeding was probably unprecedented; I had certainly not seen anything like it. People participated in this process in good faith, offering their input with the assumption that state officials were paying attention.
More important than the quantity of those comments was the content. Many, many people were disappointed with the shortage of options presented by the park agency, and were not shy in saying so. Of the written comments, 84% supported a wilderness classification at Boreas Ponds stronger than anything being considered by the state; 36.5% favored a full wilderness classification, meaning no mechanized access of any kind. » Continue Reading.
When I began to explore the Adirondack Forest Preserve as a young adult in the 1990s, the Wilderness and Wild Forest areas had already been established two decades before my arrival. Furthermore, the discussion of which activities and which facilities should be permitted in each state land category had occurred several years before I was born. I never had any say in how the State Land Master Plan was developed; for the first twenty-one years of my life I had no clue it even existed.
But when I finally did discover the remotest recesses of the Adirondack Park, it felt like an epiphany: a light switch had been flipped on, and a part of myself I had not previously known (but always suspected) was now illuminated. Wilderness travel was immediately agreeable to me. It was an immersive experience that engaged my mind and challenged my body; the slow pace and rough edges existed in direct contrast to everyday life, a tonic to suburban normalcy. “Wilderness” was not an abstract concept after all, but a tangible reality into which I could disappear for two days every week.
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