Almanack Contributor Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


Friday, August 17, 2012

New State Lands: Sugarloaf Promises Sweet Climbing

The cliffs on Sugarloaf Mountain in the Adirondack Park.Paddlers and hikers are excited about the impending acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve, and understandably so. Over the next five years, a number of natural treasures will become public, such as OK Slip Falls, the Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, and stretches of the Hudson and Opalescent rivers.

But rock climbers also have something to be excited about: Sugarloaf Mountain.

Rising above Cedar River Road west of Indian Lake, Sugarloaf sports a massive cliff that, I’m told, offers some of the best slab climbing in the Adirondacks. Judging from the aerial photo at the end of this article, which I took a few years ago, I’m guessing the cliff is at least a half-mile long. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 6, 2012

New State Lands: Wilderness or Wild Forest?

The state’s newly signed contract to buy sixty-nine thousand acres of former Finch Paper lands won’t end the controversy over the future of these forests, lakes, and rivers. The next battle will be over their classification: Wilderness or Wild Forest?

Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed Sunday that the state will acquire the land over the next five years, adding it to the Forest Preserve and paying the Adirondack Nature Conservancy a total of $49.8 million.

The governor’s announcement in Lake Placid put to rest any doubts about the state’s intentions. Some political leaders in the Adirondack Park had been lobbying the state to protect the land with conservation easements rather than add it to the Forest Preserve. This option would have allowed logging to continue and hunting clubs to remain as leaseholders. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Phil Brown: A ‘Discover the Adirondacks’ Dispute

Discover the Adirondacks by Peter KickThe Appalachian Mountain Club recently published a multi-sport guidebook for the Adirondack Park, and one outdoor enthusiast is not happy about it.

Written by Peter Kick, Discover the Adirondacks covers twenty-six hikes, thirteen canoe trips, and eleven bike rides throughout the Adirondack Park, with accompanying maps and black-and-white photos. It also includes a number of short essays on natural and human history. It sells for $18.95.

With any book like this, of course, you can and often do quibble with the author’s choices. Did he really need to include Mount Jo and Cascade, which already see tons of traffic? Why didn’t he include any paddling options in the High Peaks Region—such as Henderson Lake and the Chubb River?

But Bill Ingersoll’s beef is with the book’s title. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Phil Brown: APA Replies to Tupper Lake Suit

Much of the lawsuit over the Adirondack Club and Resort boils down to a dispute over what kind of development is appropriate on land designated Resource Management, the Adirondack Park Agency’s (APA) strictest zoning classification for private land.

The developers want to build eighty homes on 4,740 acres of Resource Management (RM) lands in Tupper Lake, including thirty-five “Great Camps.” Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club contend that the resort would be incompatible with the purposes of RM lands as spelled out in the Adirondack Park Private Land Use and Development Plan.

Like most RM lands, the resort’s property is forested and has been logged for years. The land-use plan says the “primary uses” of RM include forestry, agriculture, game preserves, and “open-space recreation.” The plan lists single-family dwellings as a “secondary” use. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

NYS Senate Sparks Transferable Development Rights Debate

Back in 1990, the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century recommended a plan to protect the backcountry by shifting development to more settled areas around the Park’s hamlets.

Under the scheme, owners of backcountry lands would receive transferrable development rights, or TDRs, that could be sold to owners of lands in settled areas. The buyers of TDRs would be allowed to develop their property beyond what otherwise would be allowed under the regulations of the Adirondack Park Agency.

The plan was backed by environmental activists, but the Park’s local politicians largely opposed it. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Phil Brown: More on Charging for Rescues

Stephen Mastaitis after rescue on Mount Marcy.A series of searches in the High Peaks last winter sparked a debate over whether careless hikers should be charged for the cost of rescuing them.

The Adirondack Almanack published several posts on the subject, including one by me in which I argued against charging hikers. Thinking the public would like to hear other opinions, I later assigned a reporter, Kelly de la Rocha, to look into the issue for Adirondack Explorer.

Tony Goodwin, editor of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook, thinks fining hikers in cases of gross carelessness might be a deterrent. “As long as we accept the fact that we want to encourage people to use the backcountry, there are going to be accidents that have to be dealt with and there are going to be people who are unprepared, but perhaps the most grossly unprepared, unknowledgeable ones can suffer some consequences that perhaps [would] give pause for others,” he said. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mike Lynch Film to Debut in Lake Placid

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s film festival in Lake Placid on Friday night will feature footage from all over the world, from Russia to Hawaii, from the Grand Canyon to the North Atlantic. But for many Adirondackers, the highlight will be a movie made by Saranac Lake resident Mike Lynch.

Lynch, an outdoors writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, canoed the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail last summer—from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine—and has created a 37-minute film about his adventure titled Through Paddle. Click here to read my earlier interview with Lynch on Adirondack Almanack. » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Phil Brown: Bobcat Plan Stirs Public Ire

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received about 1,200 letters, e-mails, and online comments from people who object to a plan to permit more hunting and trapping of bobcats. Only about 300 people wrote to support the plan.

That works out to 80 percent in opposition, 20 percent in favor.

If this were an election, it would be a landslide. But when it comes to public policy, the majority does not always win. DEC will review the comments and may make some changes, but I doubt it will abandon the plan altogether, despite the pleas of animal-rights advocates. The department is expected to finalize the plan later this spring or in the summer. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Phil Brown: Don’t Bill Hikers For Rescues

Last week I interviewed Steve Mastaitis at the Adirondack Medical Center, where he was recovering from frostbite and hypothermia after spending a night curled up in a snow hole near the summit of Mount Marcy.

The story, posted on the Adirondack Explorer website, generated a lot of discussion on my blog and in hikers’ forums. A number of people criticized Mastaitis, saying he was unprepared to hike Marcy in winter, and some suggested that he and others like him should be forced to pay for their rescues. Click here to read my original post. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Phil Brown: Assessing The Tupper Lake Resort Vote

In the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Brian Mann asks whether the approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake reflects disarray or weakness in the environmental movement.

The answer: it’s hard to tell.

We do know that in the end the Adirondack Council broke ranks with Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild and endorsed the mega-development. But up until then, the council also had opposed the project and in fact offered an alternative development plan that would have been more environment-friendly.

The council’s change of heart (after revisions to the development) may have given cover to some of the greener commissioners on the Adirondack Park Agency to vote for the project, but it’s hard to believe the last-minute endorsement altered the outcome. After all, the board voted 10-1 in favor of the resort.

Perhaps the environmental organizations could have mounted a stronger case against the resort or galvanized more public opposition, but they weren’t feckless. In one major concession, the developers agreed not to allow further subdivision of the so-called Great Camp lots on lands classified Resource Management, the APA’s strictest zoning category for private lands.

Longtime activist Peter Bauer, the head of the Fund for Lake George, told Mann that he thinks it would have been impossible for the environmental organizations to stop the project outright. He also said this defeat—assuming it is a defeat—is outweighed by the conservation of hundreds of thousands of acres in the past fifteen years.

What does the approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort say about the state of the environmental movement in the Park? Click here to read Mann’s story and let us know what you think.

Photo by Carl Heilman of project site near Big Tupper Ski Area.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Phil Brown: Bad Winter Skiing Options

Yes, it’s been a bad winter for skiers, but it’s not all bad. People are skiing, though their options are limited by the shortage of snow.

The best skiing seems to be at the two extremes: on high slopes or on mellow terrain. For a sample of what the elite skiers are doing, check out the videos on Drew Haas’s website Adirondack Backcountry Skiing.

If you’re not into skiing slides or other gnarly terrain, your best bets will be former truck trails, old woods roads, frozen ponds, and other smooth, flat terrain. You can find an account of one such trip in the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer: a round-trip to Raquette Falls. Click here to read the story.

That said, I had two good outings on intermediate terrain within the past week. On Sunday, I skied from Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid to the top of McKenzie Pass on the Jackrabbit Trail. The cover was excellent, but I understand conditions on the Saranac Lake side of the pass are not so good.

On Tuesday, I skied to Avalanche Lake from South Meadow Road. Again, the cover was good except on parts of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail. Click here to read a more detailed report and view a video of my descent of Avalanche Pass.

For other backcountry options, check out Tony Goodwin’s ski report, which is updated a few times a week, and also Adirondack Almanack‘s Thursday afternoon Outdoor Conditions Report, which often includes suggestions for areas outside the Lake Placid area.

Of course, you can always visit one of the Adirondack Park’s cross-country-ski centers if the backcountry isn’t an option. Despite the low snow, Rick Karlin reports in the Explorer that the Nordic centers are open for business, thanks in part to good grooming. Click here to read Karlin’s story.

Finally, if all else fails, you might try to imitate the guy in this video (one of the best ski videos I’ve seen).

Photo by Phil Brown: A skier on the trail to Raquette Falls.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Phil Brown: Time Running Out for Spruce Grouse

Imagine if the population of Adirondack loons had declined more than 50 percent over the past two decades. Imagine too that loons stood a 35 percent chance of vanishing entirely from the Park by 2020.

Wouldn’t there be a public outcry from bird lovers and conservationists? Wouldn’t the Adirondack Council, which features a loon call on its website, be demanding that the state do something to stop the decline?

Don’t worry. The loon population appears to be stable. It’s only the spruce grouse that is in danger of vanishing from the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Phil Brown: DEC Proposes Killing More Bobcats

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed a five-year plan for managing bobcats that aims to “provide sustainable use and enjoyment of bobcat by the public.”

How would the department achieve this goal? By allowing the public to kill more bobcats.

I suspect that many people do not agree that the best way to enjoy bobcats is to shoot or trap them.

Maybe DEC suspects this, too. In a press release this week, the department buries the news. After boilerplate quotes from DEC officials and a list of the plan’s goals, the press release states: “The plan includes proposals to greatly simplify hunting and trapping season dates by making them consistent throughout much of the state as well as establishing new hunting and trapping opportunities in central and western New York.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Phil Brown: The Future of Resource Management Lands

Environmentalists raised many objections to the Adirondack Club and Resort, but perhaps the biggest is that the project will fragment Resource Management lands on and near Mount Morris in Tupper Lake.

In hearings last year, Michale Glennon and other scientists raised concerns about the loss of wild habitat. The argument is that the construction of roads, driveways, homes, and lawns will change the suite of wildlife that now occupies the woods. We might, for example, see more blue jays and fewer hermit thrushes.

Yet Brian Mann reported last fall for the Adirondack Explorer and North Country Public Radio that it’s unclear whether the fragmentation will have much impact in the greater scheme of things, given that the lands in question are adjacent to tens of thousands of acres of protected forestland. In short, hermit thrushes are not about to disappear from the Adirondack Park.

Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild and others contend that Brian gave too much credence to outside experts. One of these experts, Hal Salwasser, dean of Oregon State College of Forestry, called the proposed resort “a blip on the landscape in a regional scale.”

Reading that the biggest development ever reviewed by the Adirondack Park Agency is a “blip” is sure to rankle opponents of the project. But the man said what he said. Quoting Salwasser does not make Brian biased. Indeed, if he had not quoted him, that would have been evidence of bias. (Click here to read the story in question. You also can click here to read another story by Brian in the latest Explorer.)

As far as we know, there is nothing special about the woods where the developers want to build. They have been logged for decades. That said, it is shocking that the developers failed to undertake a comprehensive wildlife survey—and that the APA failed to require one. Even if there were little chance of finding anything significant, it should have been done.

Most people seem to think the APA will approve the project this week. If so, we hope it demands a wildlife survey as a condition of the permit.

Looking ahead, the bigger question—even bigger than this project—is what will become of the rest of the Resource Management lands in the Park. How many “blips” like the Adirondack Club and Resort can the Park withstand?

The Adirondack Park Agency Act defines Resource Management lands as “those lands where the need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources is of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations.” Examples of “primary uses” of such lands include forestry, agriculture, hunting, and fishing.

Nevertheless, the construction of single-family homes is allowed as a “secondary use.” Under the law, landowners may build fifteen principal structures for each square mile, which works out to one every 42.7 acres.

The Adirondack Club and Resort falls well within the density guidelines: the developers intend to build 83 principal structures on 4,740 acres of Resoure Management lands—or one for every 57 acres. Still, critics say the resort’s design fails to meet the law’s requirement that homes on Resource Management lands be built “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” Unfortunately, the APA has never come to grips with what this language means.

The Adirondack Park has 1.5 million acres of Resource Management land. Some of these lands are protected by conservation easements, and others might be undevelopable. For the sake of argument, let’s say that leaves a million acres of RM lands where a house could be built. According to the APA’s building-density guidelines, landowners could construct up to 23,255 houses.

In a 5.8-million-acre Park, each house would be a truly small blip, but if they all get built, these 23,255 homes, with their driveways, lawns, and lighting, would have a much bigger impact on habitat and wildlife than the Adirondack Club and Resort will.

Some would argue that it’s improbable that all the Resource Management lands will be developed, but it is undeniable that more of them will be developed in the years ahead. It’s time to take a hard look at the APA Act and ask whether it adequately protects the privately owned backcountry.

Photo by Carl Heilman: site of proposed Tupper Lake development.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Phil Brown: Do Dams Belong in Wilderness Areas?

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has decided against rebuilding the dam at Duck Hole, but the future of Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness remains up in the air.

The decision won’t be made until after engineers inspect the dam, and it will be based in part on the condition of the dam and how much it would cost to fix it.

Aside from these practical considerations, there is a philosophical question: do dams belong in Wilderness Areas at all? » Continue Reading.



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