Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Discovery

It was Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, 2010. I had driven through the night to make it to the Adirondacks from my home in Madison. I had to see for myself the amazing opportunity I had stumbled upon while browsing around on the web. I was already tired, unknown territory lay ahead, and there I was, face to face with one of the most imposing natural wonders in all the Adirondacks: Vinny McClelland.

No doubt many Almanack readers are familiar with Vinny, but if you don’t know him he is the owner of The Mountaineer in Keene Valley among other vocations and he is intimately involved in the community in a plethora of ways. Amy and I have come to have great affection for Vinny. He is a “salt of the Earth” kind of guy: capable, authentic, generous of spirit.

We also find Vinny to be – and I can’t think of a better way to say this – hard core. Vinny has this way of looking at you, a certain sort of sizing-up. It is not egotistical and it isn’t judgmental of your worth as a human being, but it is as if to decide whether you know what you are doing. Either you do or you don’t, either you make the cut or not. Vinny knows what he is doing. I don’t really know how many things he is expert at: mountaineering, skiing, building, guiding, landscape engineering, exploring… it’s a long list. Vinny knows the Adirondacks; for example he knows that if you are going on a day hike four miles into the wilderness on no sleep, off trail, in new territory, in winter conditions, with two hours of daylight, two thousand feet of climbing and a lot of ice… well, either you know what you are doing or you don’t. Probably you don’t.

At the moment Vinny was looking at me with what I would describe as a level of skepticism. From what he had to go on at that point I didn’t blame him.

Amy and I had been daydreaming, searching on real estate sites for small houses we might buy on the cheap and fix up over several years before eventually fulfilling our long-held plan of moving to the Adirondacks. One such MLS search produced a list that included a sixty acre parcel with a picture that showed a beautiful, densely forested mountain view. These are the sorts of listings I have learned to ignore seeing as I am not a multi-millionaire. But the asking price of this acreage was unbelievably low, far less than any other listing I’d seen except for those that turned out to be poor or recently cut-over land. The picture sure didn’t make it look like it was poor land. How was this possible?

Incredulous, I called the realtor whose site I had been using and asked her to contact the listing agent with a few basic questions. When she called back to tell me that the parcel held mature timber and views and was embedded in State Wilderness I was stunned. Apparently the price was low because the tract was inaccessible, with no road or trail to it and no possibility for development. In other words it was perfect! It was the embodiment of my life-long dream to own wild land in the heart of the Adirondacks, a dream I had never once considered could become reality.

I was seized with the kind of fear one gets when a miraculous opportunity seems too good to be true. In the unlikely event that the land was anything like it was being represented, then to a value system such as mine it was priceless. Surely there were like-minded people who would covet such a piece of wilderness and be all over this offering. I was sure it was already gone. The realtor called me back: no, it wasn’t sold but an offer was imminent.

Time was of the essence. I decided to be rash. It was Thanksgiving week and my college classes were not in session. I consulted with Amy, she agreed and I headed for the driveway with a pair of boots and a sleeping bag.

On my way through Illinois the realtor called to discourage me from coming out as the offer was expected at any moment. Besides, she said, the listing agent told her that the land was “difficult to get to” and that the last potential buyer he had sent back to look at it “got lost” and never made it. This sounded better and better by the moment. “Too late,” I said, “I’m already in the car and on my way.”

We arranged to meet at 1 PM at a café in the nearest town after which I would hike to the land. In the meantime the listing agent continued to express his concerns. He provided her with a map containing GPS points on the route in. “I hope he has a GPS,” he said. “There is snow up there,” he warned, “It’s off trail.” I assured her that I was experienced.

No doubt harboring a healthy measure of reserve, the listing agent decided to attend the meeting too. I have since speculated on what his thought process must have been… “Here is some guy who lives in the Midwest. He’s driving through the night to look at a piece of land without having the slightest idea what he’s getting into. He’s probably a lunatic or an idiot; I’d better see for myself…”

By now you have guessed the name of the listing agent. Vinny McClelland is also a real estate professional. He typically represents marquee properties but as fate would have it he was selling this little forgotten swath because he had a personal connection to it going back years. He is one of the few people in the world who has actually been there.

It was nearly 1:30 PM before we got started with our meeting. Vinny had assembled an impressive packet on the parcel with a name on the cover: Lost Brook Tract. I asked some questions. Vinny seemed anxious for me to go. He reminded me that late-November days are short, that there was snow up high and a lot of ice. “Do you have gear?” he asked. I said that I did (I had boots, after all). I asked another question or two. “You need to get going,” Vinny urged. “Do you have GPS?” I replied that I never used GPS (I can’t stand the idea of it). At this point I could tell that the “idiot” assessment was prevailing. I decided to play an assurance card. “Vinny,” I told him, “My most recent bushwhack this summer was Allen to Redfield,” knowing full well that not a lot of people try that one. I wanted to think it helped a little but Vinny showed no outward sign that he was impressed. Now that I know him better I think that saying I’d just done the North face of Eiger might have helped more.

In any case, off I went. The way up was indeed icy and progress was slow. I did not get all the way there – at least I never saw his flagging – but I did bushwhack to a small outcropping on the way with a view of the parcel from a short distance. It looked beautifully forested, dark and dramatic, utterly wild. I was enchanted.

I returned to Madison. We made an offer, prevailed somehow and closed on the property two days after Christmas.

On the afternoon of December 29th Vinny took us up to Lost Brook Tract, following an old bushwhack route he first took as a child. For two miles it was easy, relatively open woods and a gradual climb. At the halfway point near a pair of huge boulders Vinny paused for a moment to inform us that the route got “gnarly” from there. The snow deepened, the forest thickened and the grade became formidable. Our snowshoes were subpar, our packs were heavy and we fell well behind. After an exhausting climb we came upon Vinny sitting at an old lean-to, contentedly enjoying a late lunch. He told us he admired our family for doing this, wished us a happy new year and bid us farewell.

We had arrived in a winter paradise. The first thing we all noticed was the snow-draped spruces towering overhead. Some looked to be more than eighty or ninety feet in height, something I’d never seen at this elevation in the Adirondacks. We were filled with wonder at the sight of them. “I think this is old-growth forest,” I whispered. We dug through four feet of snow, pitched our tents and make a fire pit. The temperature dropped to twenty below.

We spend two magnificent days. We explored the immediate area and the interior of the partially collapsed lean-to. We made our way down to Lost Brook, frozen and under a sea of snow. We uncovered part of an original fire ring and for a time got two fires going. Just before leaving I blazed a tree by the brook so as to be able to find the land again. We hiked out on our own, following the snow trail we had made going in. I thought of all the writers of old from my tattered copy of the Adirondack Reader. I recalled their reverent descriptions of the primeval and the wonder of discovery with a new understanding. This is what it is like.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: A Wilderness Primeval Aesthetic

Lost Brook Tract is a miracle both modern and ancient. Steeply situated on a high ridge in the central Adirondacks, miles from the nearest road and with no trail to it, it is a sixty-acre swath of Adirondack territory virtually unknown to all but a handful of people. That it exists today, an utterly unspoiled piece of high mountain boreal forest tracing unbroken lineage all the way to the ice age, can only be explained as a remarkable accident of fate.

As it turns out, that is indeed how it is explained. In future posts I’ll tell that story, how this little jewel came to be spared and saved from the debilitations that were suffered by most of the Adirondacks. For now it is simply there, a virgin forest never logged, never burned, largely spared even from the depredations of acid rain. Surrounded on all sides either by strict conservation easements or by New York State lands designated as Wilderness, it is in the fullest sense primeval. » Continue Reading.


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.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Join the Land Use and Ethics Conversation

You are invited to contribute to the discourse, re-interpret the topic and skew the pitch. Join in the process and take part in influencing the way we think about land use and ethics. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute invites submissions for its Symposium of Interdisciplinary Scholarship in Land Use and Ethics, to be held at the Adirondack Interpretive Center on Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb. See full symposium details here.

On its best day, philosophy succeeds in sending “the conversation off in new directions.” With a free exchange of ideas and a commitment to inquiry, philosophy as both catalyst and conveyor ought to “engender new normal discourses, new sciences, new philosophical research and thus new objective truths.”

I envision this project as an opportunity to open up the dialog around issues of land use and ethics on local, national and global scales. This is the place for ideas in-process, unfinished research and to introduce work in its various stages of development. We’re welcoming research from across professions and disciplines on topics related to balancing individual and community priorities with respect to land use and the associated expectations for human and ecosystem stewardship and social and environmental ethics.

I hope to see independent scholars alongside industry and agency professionals and students from across the humanities and the sciences. Presentations are meant to generate conversation around a variety of approaches to land use, the moral implications of these approaches, as well as the ways that they influence the ongoing debate over how to achieve social and environmental justice.

Philosopher John Dewey referred to active discourse as “breaking the crust of convention” and I’d like us to use this symposium to get together and get on with it.

For information on how to join the conversation email mpatinellidubay@esf.edu

References from Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty

Photo of Arbutus Lodge, compliments of Huntington Wildlife Forest, Newcomb, NY.

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Philosophy: Getting Busy, and Meaning It

In his poem The Adirondacks Ralph Waldo Emerson begins to describe an expedition into the Adirondack wilderness by noting that the travelers unburdened themselves from their day-to-day lives:

Happier as they
Slipped off their pack of duties, leagues behind,
At the first mounting of the giant stairs.
No placard on these rocks warned to the polls,
No door-bell heralded a visitor,
No courier waits, no letter came or went,
Nothing was ploughed, or reaped, or bought, or sold

I can appreciate this imagery and the attraction of leaving it all behind for a holiday. But many of us reading the Almanack live in the Adirondacks and so our lifework, as I like to think of it, can’t be taken on and off like Emerson’s pack of duties. With that in mind and in light of what seems to be our national predilection with busyness, I’ve been giving some thought to what exactly is in Emerson’s pack?

First, I looked into what it means to be busy and I discovered that an interesting thing happened on the way to the 21st century. It seems that the word “busy” didn’t always signify the frenetic style of hyperactivity that many of us wear like a badge, the depleted yet slightly self-satisfied way we often announce “I am so busy!” These days we declare ourselves in this way as if we’ve accomplished something meaningful simply by darting between moments like hummingbirds, hovering without ceasing at one task before zipping on to the next. In contrast, “busy” used to refer to our earnest engagement in something enjoyable, yet somewhere along the way we began to veer wildly away from this sensibility towards a constant occupation with – what exactly?

At this point I’d hoped to open up Emerson’s pack to discover what all this busyness was all about, but it seems it’s a little bit like that drawer full of random things that don’t have any real relationship to each other or to me. The stuff doesn’t fit into any category yet inexplicably, I need what’s in there. And a “junk drawer” is born. Are we living lives analogous to junk drawers? This seems particularly offensive in a landscape whose pure earthly delight has been an inspiration for poets, philosophers, scientists, artists and novelists for generations.

I don’t know exactly when the common meaning of “busy” changed, or when our gaze shifted from the good life or the beautiful life to the busy life as a thing of virtue. I suspect it was right about the time we created the handy conjunction “busy-work” aptly defined as something that takes up time but isn’t actually productive, never mind earnest or meaningful (the whole notion of which brings Socrates to mind and his caution against the barrenness of a busy life).

My dear friend Craig, with whom I have been writing letters (yes, actual letters) for 19 years, wrote a while back that his delayed response was due to being caught up in “all those things Thoreau railed against.” He was busy, in the contemporary sense of the word. And it’s true that this affliction is at least as old as Thoreau who admonished that “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

Ultimately, the question of what on earth we’re doing is a personal one and I won’t presume to root through your pack (and let’s agree to keep our hands out of each other’s junk drawers). The question and the intimate cadence of your response will flourish, as everything meaningful will, along a horizon of uninterrupted and unhurried contemplation. Fortunately for those of us committed to a beautiful and a thoughtful life here in the high-country, we aren’t subject to the inevitability of a too-short holiday that as Emerson describes, is fruitful, but must end;

One August evening had a cooler breath;
Into each mind intruding duties crept;
Under the cinders burned the fires of home;
Nay, letters found us in our paradise:
So in the gladness of the new event
We struck our camp and left the happy hills.

(Oh and Craig, you owe me a lengthy letter. Get busy.)

Photo of Auguste Rodin‘s Thinker courtesy of ArtCyclopedia

Marianne is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Join the Land Use and Ethics Conversation

On its best day, philosophy succeeds in sending “the conversation off in new directions.” With a free exchange of ideas and a commitment to inquiry, philosophy as both catalyst and conveyor ought to “engender new normal discourses, new sciences, new philosophical research and thus new objective truths.”

In this spirit the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute invites submissions for its Symposium of Interdisciplinary Scholarship in Land Use and Ethics, to be held at the Adirondack Interpretive Center on Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb.

I envision this project as an opportunity to open up the dialog around issues of land use and ethics on local, national and global scales. This is the place for ideas in-process, unfinished research and to introduce work in its various stages of development. We’re welcoming research from across professions and disciplines on topics related to balancing individual and community priorities with respect to land use and the associated expectations for human and ecosystem stewardship and social and environmental ethics.

I hope to see independent scholars alongside industry and agency professionals and students from across the humanities and the sciences. Presentations are meant to generate conversation around a variety of approaches to land use, the moral implications of these approaches, as well as the ways that they influence the ongoing debate over how to achieve social and environmental justice.

Philosopher John Dewey referred to active discourse as “breaking the crust of convention” and I’d like us to use this symposium to get together and get on with it.

For information on how to join the conversation email mpatinellidubay@esf.edu

References from Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty

Photo of Arbutus Lodge, compliments of Huntington Wildlife Forest, Newcomb, NY.

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adirondack Wild Hosting First Annual Meeting

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve will host an annual meeting of its members, donors and friends at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center this Saturday, September 17.

The meeting begins at 10 AM with an overview of Adirondack Wild’s achievements in its first year, a report on its programs, and a brief business meeting to elect officers and directors. The annual meeting is followed by keynote presenter Michael Klemens at 11 AM, and a guided walk of the VIC trails with Ecology Professor Celia Evans of Paul Smith’s College at 1 PM.

Participants are asked to bring their own box or bag lunch. Morning refreshments will be provided. The meetings are free of charge, but reservations are appreciated. To reserve, please contact Ken Rimany by email, krimany@adirondackwild.org, or by phone at 518-928-4501. The Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (formerly the Adirondack Park Agency VIC) is located off State Rt. 30 one mile north of Paul Smith’s College.

The public is invited to attend a keynote presentation by Michael Klemens, Ph.D. at 11 AM, who will address the question Does Science Matter? Dr. Klemens will offer his thoughts and promote a dialogue about the role of science in advocacy and conservation, and explain why conservation biology is a critical discipline needed to assess the health of wild lands. Dr. Klemens is a conservation biologist with three decades of experience in assessing biodiversity and the impacts of various land use practices and patterns of development on sensitive wildlife species and their habitats. Dr. Klemens founded a not-for-profit that works with planning boards and other local government agencies to increase ecological literacy among local land-use decision makers and to deliver tools to make land use choices that better protect and sustain ecosystem functions.

In the spring, Dr. Klemens was Adirondack Wild’s expert consultant at the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) public hearing in Ray Brook and Tupper Lake. He conducted a rapid assessment of amphibian populations in the western portion of the ACR site, and found many salamanders, frogs and habitats that could be negatively impacted by the proposal before the Adirondack Park Agency. For more about his testimony at the ACR hearing, go to www.adirondackwild.org.

Paul Smith’s College’s Celia Evans will help lead a walk along the VIC trails at approximately 1 PM. She teaches General Ecology and Winter Ecology among many other courses at the college.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, member supported organization devoted to wilderness and wild nature. Adirondack Wild advances New York’s Forever Wild legacy and promotes policies and land stewardship consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research. For more information visit them online.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Dave Gibson: Stubborn Facts About Lows Lake

Facts are stubborn things. So are traditions, and patterns of use. These all lay at the heart of the recent Lows Lake court decision in Albany County Supreme Court which upheld a Wilderness classification for Lows Lake and the Bog River Flow.

Verplanck Colvin, the great Adirondack explorer and surveyor, came to what is now Lows Lake in the late 1890s, just before inventor A.A. Low dammed the Bog River in two places as part of extensive industrial enterprises that lasted less than 15 years. Colvin’s survey of 1898-1899 was his last (published by the Adirondack Research Center of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1989).
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Adirondack Forest Preserve Land Classification

What follows is a guest essay from the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership (AFPEP).

The state owned lands of the Adirondacks are identified in the New York State Constitution as forest preserve lands and protected by the State constitution to “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Currently, there are 2.7 million acres of forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks. The Department of Environmental Conservation, under State law, has “care, custody and control” of the forest preserve lands.

Further, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, overseen by the Adirondack Park Agency, identifies the various management units of the forest preserve, assigns each of the units a land classification category and provides the guidelines for management and recreation for each classification. While there are nine lands classes, the majority of the state lands in the Adirondacks are included in one of the four classification categories below.

Wilderness – 18 forest preserve units, containing approximately 1.1 million acres of land, are classified as “Wilderness”. Recreational activities on wilderness lands and waters is limited to non-motorized recreation such as hiking, hunting, fishing, primitive camping, rock climbing, swimming, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing and kayaking. Motorized vehicles, motorized boats and mountain biking are prohibited on wilderness lands. Except in very rare cases, the only structures or facilities permitted on these lands are leantos, primitive tent sites, trails, foot bridges and pit privies.

Wild Forest – 20 forest preserve units, containing approximately 1.3 million acres of land, are classified as “Wild Forest”. A wider variety of recreational activities are allowed on the lands and waters in wild forest areas. In addition to the recreational activities allowed on wilderness lands and waters, some forms of motorized recreation are allowed with restrictions. Cars and trucks may only drive on designated roads; snowmobiles may only use designated trails and roads; mountain bikes can use any trails or roads unless prohibited by signs and some specific waters have restrictions on the horsepower of a boat’s motor, allow the use of electric motors only or may be prohibit any motors. Drive up camp sites are provided along some roadways in wild forests areas.

Primitive Areas – 11 forest preserve units larger than 1000 acres, and more than 20 corridors or other small pieces, totaling approximately 66,000 acres, are classified as “Primitive”. Primitive areas are managed the same as wilderness areas and recreational activities are restricted to those allowed on lands and waters classified as wilderness. (The tracts classified “Primitive rather than “Wilderness” because of substantial privately owned “in-holdings” or structures that don’t conform with wilderness guidelines.) The primitive corridors are typically public or private roads within a wilderness area, if it is public road, cars and trucks are allowed on them.

Canoe Area – Only one forest preserve unit, the 18,000 acre St. Regis Canoe Area, is classified as a “Canoe Area”. Canoe areas are managed as wilderness areas, with a focus on non-motorized, water-based activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Primitive camping is allowed at sites accessible only by water. Mountain biking is allowed on the administrative roads.

Intensive Use Areas – These areas are limited in size but provide facilities such as bathrooms, developed beaches, boat launches, paved roadways, and other amenities for the recreating public. There are 42 campgrounds, 25 boat launches, 6 day use areas and 2 ski centers owned by the state in the Adirondack Park. These areas provide for recreational activities like group camping (though without utility hookups), swimming, boating, picnicking, and skiing.

Conservation Easement – Currently there are more than 580,000 acres of privately owned lands in the Adirondack Park which the State owns development rights, and often public recreation rights, called “Conservation Easement Lands”. Typically, these lands are owned and/or managed by timber companies, but the ability to subdivide and build structures on these lands are prohibited or severely limited. The public recreation rights on these lands range from no public access, to access limited to specific corridors or locations, to full public recreation rights. The recreation activities on these lands can be restricted by type, location and season. Check with the Department of Environmental Conservation to learn what recreational activities are allowed on specific parcels. DEC State land regulations apply on any conservation easement land that has public recreational rights.

Special Notes

Other than on intensive use areas, the forest preserve lands are designed and managed to emphasize the self-sufficiency of the recreational users. When recreating on the forest preserve you must assume a high degree of responsibility for environmentally-sound use of such areas and for your own health, safety and welfare.

Be sure to know the laws and regulations governing a recreational activity before participating in that activity.

Horseback riding is allowed on roads open for public use, trails that are marked for horse use, and trails marked for skiing or snowmobiling when there is no snow or ice on the ground.

All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are prohibited on all forest preserve lands.

Recreational activities on the approximately 2.4 million acres of private lands within the Adirondack Park, not under a conservation easement, are not restricted any more than activities on private lands throughout the rest of the state. The public is prohibited from entering private lands without permission of the landowner.

Contact the Department of Environmental Conservation Lands & Forests office for more information: Region 5 – 518-897-1291 or Region 6 – 315-785-2261

This guest essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy. Their goal is to provide public education about the Forest Preserve and Conservation Easements with an emphasis on how to safely enjoy, share, and protect these unique lands. To learn more about AFPEP visit www.adirondackoutdoors.org.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Phil Brown: East Branch of St. Regis Should be Wild

On Sunday, I took a delightful canoe trip on the East Branch of the St. Regis in the northwestern Adirondacks. It was so enjoyable that I didn’t stop until I reached the end of public land, making for a round trip of twenty miles from Everton Falls.

Four years ago, I had paddled the East Branch in early spring before the greening of the alders and the grasses. On that day the riverside scenery was a bit drab.

How different things are in July. Hues of green were everywhere—in the grasses dancing in the breeze, in the trees beyond the floodplain, and in the river grass bowed by the current. Wildflowers provided dashes of color: the purple whorls of joe-pye weed, the yellow globes of the pond lilies, the drooping scarlet petals of the cardinal flower, the violet spikes of pickerelweed, and the glistening white arrowhead. Add in a blue sky with puffy clouds, and you have the perfect day.

Soon after putting in along Red Tavern Road, I heard one or two passing cars, but as I journeyed farther upstream, I penetrated deeper into the wild where the only sounds were natural: a beaver plopping into the river, the one-note whistle of a red-winged blackbird, a merganser skittering over the water to flee a human intruder.

In ten miles I encountered no development. It’s no wonder that researchers for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) recommended back in the 1970s that most of this stretch (some eight miles) be designated a Wild River in the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational River System (WSR).

All rivers in the WSR system receive a degree of protection, but Wild is the most protective designation. State regulations prohibit the construction of dams, vehicular bridges, or other structures within a Wild River corridor—not even lean-tos are permitted. The only exceptions are footbridges. Just as important, no motorboats are allowed on Wild Rivers.

If you check the APA land-use map, though, you’ll see that roughly the first fifteen miles of the East Branch, including the stretch I paddled, are designated Scenic and that the rest of the river is designated Recreational. Both are less-restrictive classifications, allowing some development, such as vehicular bridges, and motorboat usage.

Usually, the APA followed the recommendations of its field researchers in classifying rivers. Why not in this case?

In his classic guidebook Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, Paul Jamieson writes that the classification was downgraded “probably at the insistence of a paper company and its lessees” (that is, hunting clubs).

Jamieson’s book came out many years ago. Since then, New York State has purchased this part of the river from Champion International and added it to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. In other words, the original objection to designating part of the East Branch a Wild River no longer obtains. APA spokesman Keith McKeever conceded as much in an article I wrote after my earlier trip up the East Branch. “The big impediment to that classification was that it was private land, and that’s no longer the case,” McKeever said.

Well, then, let’s change the classification to Wild. This would ensure that the river corridor stays pristine and that motorboats will not upset the natural serenity with their noise and pollution.

It also would bestow upon the East Branch a cachet that might attract a few more paddling tourists to a neglected corner of the Adirondack Park.

Of the 1,200 miles of Adirondack rivers in the WSR system, only 155 are designated Wild (about 13 percent). Indeed, there are only thirteen river segments in the entire Park that are classified Wild. They tend to be remote and/or rocky. Only one of them—a long stretch of the Main Branch of the Oswegatchie—is easily accessible and navigable by the average paddler. The East Branch would be in rarefied company.

In truth, I don’t know of any plans to build lean-tos, bridges, or other facilities on the river. And I doubt that motorboats often ply the East Branch. Thus, the reclassification might be seen as more symbolic than practical. But symbolism has its place. Designating the East Branch a Wild River would acknowledge its unspoiled beauty. It’s the least we can do.

Photo by Phil Brown: the East Branch of the St. Regis River.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Subscribers can read his original story on the East Branch in the publication’s online Adventure Planner.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Wilderness, Our Community of Life

What follows is a talk given at the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’s Arthur M. Crocker Lecture Series in 2006.

It somehow takes the pressure off public speaking to know that one stands up here, rather than sits out there only by accident of birth. That is to say: my father Howard Zahniser, who died four months before the 1964 Wilderness Act became law, was the chief architect of, and lobbyist for, this landmark Act that created the now 106-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System. I am up here because of his accomplishments. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Philosophy: Caring About Environmental Conservation

I recently gave a talk at a gathering of philosophical practitioners on making the transition from theory to praxis as it relates to environmental conservation. In other words, how do I make the shift from caring about a situation to doing something about that situation? At what point does sentiment or care become the behavior of care?

Incidentally, this question is subtly though importantly different from the one that those of us who advocate for a particular agenda generally ask namely: how can we get others to care about and participate in this initiative?
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Phil Brown: Debating Wilderness Trail Running

Last weekend, the Mountaineer sponsored an annual footrace that passes through the Giant Mountain Wilderness Area in Keene. It’s a popular event that benefits local charities.

This year, as in the past, I received an e-mail at the Adirondack Explorer from Jim Close contending that the race is illegal.

Close argues that competitive races violate the letter and spirit of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which defines Wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” and which offers “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”

“It is no more appropriate to hold competitive running events in the wilderness than it is to play baseball in the Sistine Chapel,” Close wrote the Explorer.

Since the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues permits each year for the Great Adirondack Trail Run, it obviously disagrees with Close (who, incidentally, works at DEC). The department also has issued a permit for the Wakely Dam Ultra in July, a 32.6-mile race through the West Canada Lake Wilderness.

Close may be something of a gadfly, but he is not alone in his criticism. Earlier this year, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve called on DEC to prohibit such events in Wilderness Areas as well as in Primitive and Canoe Areas. And several years ago, the historian Philip Terrie published a piece in the Adirondack Explorer contending that races violate management guidelines for Wilderness Areas.

“The spirit, the ethos, of the State Land Master Plan makes it clear from the outset that the state seeks to protect a certain kind of experience, one that involves serenity, getting away from the life of city and suburb, and a personal engagement with nature,” Terrie wrote. “All of these are fundamentally disrupted when an erratic procession of runners comes barreling down the trail.”

Apart from the interpretation of the State Land Master Plan, there are two basic concerns: (1) Do these competitions damage the environment? (2) Do they detract from the wilderness experience of hikers and other recreationists?

In a letter to DEC, Adirondack Wild asserts that “organized events which concentrate human use on the Forest Preserve demonstrably do a lot of damage to natural resources.”

However, DEC says there is no evidence that the Great Adirondack Trail Run or the Wakely Dam Ultra inflicts lasting damage on the Forest Preserve.

As to the second question, it’s true that some hikers might be annoyed by passing runners. The fact is, though, that DEC has received no complaints from hikers in the years it has permitted the trail runs. It’s possible that hikers were annoyed but didn’t lodge a complaint. Still, the lack of an outcry suggests that the annoyance to hikers is more hypothetical than actual. And it must must be weighed against the real benefits that races bring to the community and to the competitors.

Judging by the evidence, then, it appears that trail races do no harm and bother no one (in the field, at least). If the evidence turns out to be wrong, DEC should reconsider its position. Otherwise, the argument against these races relies on the interpretation of the State Land Master Plan, which is not explicit on the matter.

Some people might object to trail races—or even solo trail running—on aesthetic grounds. How can a person appreciate nature while dashing through the forest? This question was asked in 2002 when Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer, in a highly publicized effort, set a speed record (later broken) for climbing all the High Peaks. Last week, Sheryl Wheeler set a record by completing the 122-mile Northville-Placid Trail in 35 hours 15 minutes. After we posted a link about her feat on the Explorer’s Facebook page, one person commented, “Wow way to enjoy nature.”

As someone who occasionally runs on trails (though not for 122 miles), I can address this point. First, running through the forest is a way to enjoy nature. It’s just different from hiking, say, or birding. Second, if I am at all typical, most trail runners are also hikers, paddlers, cross-country skiers, etc. Running is just one way they enjoy nature, not the only way. The suggestion that trail runners don’t appreciate nature is a canard. Third, if someone wants to run on a trail, as opposed to walk, skip, or ride a bike, so what?

Those of you who do enjoy trail running may be interested in a new online venture called Xoona (ZOO-na), begun by Peter Fish and Allan Rego, two outdoors enthusiasts from Lake Placid. The Xoona website contains a number of routes for trail running (as well as other outdoor pursuits). Participants run the routes at their convenience— alone or with friends — and post their times. It’s a way of competing without the hassle or expense of organized races. And without the legal questions.

You can learn more about Xoona in an article by Susan Bibeau in the July/August issue of the Adirondack Explorer. Click here to read it online.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: a trail runner on a Xoona course.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adirondack Legislative Watch List

With the New York State Legislature wrapping up another session, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the bills making their way through the process. This list is not complete, but contains those items that are important in one way or another to the Adirondack Park.

There are two online systems that provide information about latest legislative actions and the status of bills. The NYS Senate’s Open Legislation system is still in Beta, but is apparently up to date, includes the latest Assembly info as well, and has the easiest user interface. The older system, the Legislative Research Service system, claims to offer “up to the minute” information.

Prohibiting NYS From Purchasing Land for Forest Preserve
Betty Little’s bill to prohibit the state from purchasing forest land in fee title and to only allow purchases by conservation easement. Killed just after 4 p.m. today in the Senate Rules Committee, a final stop on the way to a floor vote. (S. 1501 Little)

National Grid Land Exchange
This legislation will complete the Constitutional Amendment authorizing land swap that was approved by voters in 2009, allowing the New York Power Authority and National Grid to complete the Route 56 Tri-Lakes power line project. In exchange for receiving six acres of State Forest Preserve, National Grid is buying and giving to the public 20 acres that will be included in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The bill is in the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly and on the floor in the Senate. (A. 8214 Sweeney / S. 4861-A Griffo)

EPF Revenue Enhancer
This bill would, over the next four years, add the unclaimed nickel deposits from “bottle bill” revenues as an additional source of money for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The EPF provides grants for land acquisition, invasive species control, smart growth projects and water quality improvements. This legislation is currently in the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly and Finance Committee in the Senate. (A. 7137 Latimer / S. 5403 Grisanti)

Defines Adirondack ‘Community Housing’
Defines “community housing” for purposes of the Adirondack Park to mean four dwelling units not exceeding 1500 square feet of floor space each, located on one contiguous parcel within a moderate intensity use or low intensity use land use area, and meeting certain other defined land use criteria. Advanced to Third Reading in both the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday; Senate vote expected today. (S. 4165-A LITTLE / A. 8303 Sweeney)

Restricting APA Powers Over Campgrounds
Prohibits the Adirondack Park Agency from promulgating or implementing any rule, regulation or land use and development plan, related to campgrounds, which is inconsistent with the provisions of any rule or regulation of the department of health relating thereto. Third reading in the Senate; Environmental Conservation Committee in the the Assembly. (S. 343 LITTLE / A. 149 Sayward)

Re-defining ‘Campground’ in the Adirondack Park
Redefines “campground” for the purposes of the Adirondack Park and regulation by the Adirondack Park Agency; defines such term as a parcel of land with 5 or more campsites, including buildings and accessory structures; provides that recreational vehicles may be kept at a campground or campsite, with the consent of the owner of the campground, during periods of time when they are not in use, so long as they are not used in a manner which violates the campground permit. Passed Senate, referred to Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee on Monday. (S.345 LITTLE / A. 151 Sayward)

Requiring APA Appointments from Approved List
Requires the governor to appoint the five members of the Adirondack park agency who reside in the park, from a list established by the legislative bodies of the counties in the Adirondack park and the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages. Referred to Finance in Senate; Environmental Conservation in Assembly. (S.822 LITTLE / A. 511 Sayward)

Removing Land Use Planning Power of APA
Makes state lands within the Adirondack Park subject to the local land use plan of the municipality in which the land is located. Betty Little Senate bill sent to Senate Finance Committee in May; there is no Assembly bill. (S. 5188 LITTLE)

10 Year APA Enforcement Statute of Limitations
Establishes a ten year statute of limitations to enforce violations of rules and regulations of Adirondack Park Agency committed within the Adirondack park. senate bill moved to Finance committee in May; Assembly bill in Codes committee since January. (S. 823 LITTLE / A. 512 Sayward)

“Adirondack Sportsmen’s Club Preservation Act”
Requires that state acquisition of open space shall remain subject to the leases of sportsmen’s clubs thereon. “Sportsmen’s clubs shall be deemed to retain exclusive access to and usage rights for hunting and fishing, while allowing public access to the land for other recreational activities.” In Senate Finance Committee. Betty Little bill in the Senate (S. 2487); no corresponding Assembly bill.

Opening Backcountry Waters to Disabled Veterans on Floatplanes
Directs the development of a permit system to provide disabled veterans access to certain restricted bodies of water in the Adirondack park through the use of float planes. Passed the Senate; in Assembly Environmental Conservation committee (S.824 LITTLE / A. 518 Sayward).

Public Right of Passage on Navigable Waters
Codifies the public right of passage upon navigable waterways of the state for purposes of commerce or recreation. Referred to the Assembly Codes Committee in May; no bill in the Senate since February, 2002 in deference to Senator Betty Little. (A370-2011 HOYT)

Boat Launch Preservation Act
Requires that one percent of the 4 cents per gallon gasoline surcharge on gasoline which is used on waterways but not more than 5 million dollars per fiscal year is to be deposited in the dedicated boat launch site fund; moneys of such fund shall be disbursed for design, construction, maintenance and improvement of boat launches and boat access sites. Referred to Assembly Ways and Means Committee in February; no sponsor in the Senate. (A5546 ENGLEBRIGHT)

Requiring Large Water Withdrawal Permits
Would grant DEC permitting abilities for withdrawals of large amounts of water (over 100,000 gallons per day) from lakes, rivers, streams or underground sources. Exemptions exist for agricultural water sources. The bill has passed the Assembly and is currently awaiting action on the Senate floor. (A. 5318-A Sweeney / S. 3798 Grisanti)

Creating ‘Non-Trail Snowmobile’ Registration
Establishes a non-trail snowmobile registration for snowmobiles which shall be used solely for the purpose of gaining access to hunting and fishing areas. Referred to Transportation Committee in both the Senate and Assembly in January. (S1206 GRIFFO / A 1141 Magee)

Requiring A DEC Wildlife Economic Impact Report
Requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to prepare a report on the economic impact of hunting, fishing, and wildlife-associated activities in New York. In Senate Finance Committee since January; no Assembly sponsor. (S653 VALESKY)

Extending DEC Northern Zone Special Muzzle-Loading Powers
This bill would extend DEC’s authority to establish, by regulation, management measures for muzzle-loading firearm big game special season in the Northern Zone until October 1, 2015. In the Adirondacks, concern about lower deer numbers might result in a short, early muzzle-loading season. Passed Assembly but modified in Senate; returned to Assembly June 6. (S4967 GRISANTI / A 6953 Gunther)

Allowing Fishing With Three Lines
Environmental Conservation Law would authorize an individual to angle for fish with up to 3 lines in freshwater until December 31, 2013. Currently one person may operate not more than two lines on any waters. Passed by Senate, amended and now at Third Reading. Codes committee in the Assembly. (S.2462-B LIBOUS / A.3480-B Russell)

Gift Cards for Hunting and Fishing Licenses
Directs the commissioner of environmental conservation to create gift cards for hunting and fishing licenses. Ordered to Third Reading in the Senate yesterday and on today’s Senate Floor calendar; Referred to Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee in May. (S. 5161 RITCHIE / A. 7576 Gunther)

Extending Coyote Season from March 28 to May 31
Establishes the open season for hunting coyotes as October 1 through May 31 (currently march 28). Sent to Environmental Conservation committee in January; currently no Assembly sponsor. (S2486 LITTLE)

Bear Gall Bladders
Senate version at third reading: “Prohibits the possession, sale, barter, offer, purchase, transportation, delivery, or receipt of bear gallbladder, bile, or any product, item, or substance containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, bear gallbladders or bile; exempts federal and state government and individuals with a valid hunting license from transporting one bear gallbladder.” In several committees in the Assembly.

Sacandaga Inland Waterway
This bill would add the Sacandaga River to a list of inland waterways which are eligible to receive funding through the Department of State’s Waterfront Revitalization Program (part of the Environmental Protection Fund). It was already passed in the Assembly and waiting for consideration on the Senate floor. (A. 7241 Sayward / S. 4763 Farley)

Commemorate Adirondack Medical Center 100th
What is known today as the Adirondack Medical Center began as two separate hospitals, the General Hospital of Saranac Lake, and the Placid Memorial Hospital of Lake Placid. Built at the top of Winona Avenue, the General Hospital of Saranac Lake was founded in 1911; The Placid Memorial Hospital Fund, was organized in 1947, and plans for construction of a new hospital to be located on a Church Street parcel were developed. Doors were opened at the Placid Memorial Hospital of Lake Placid on February 4, 1951. Referred to Finance yesterday. (J. 2567 LITTLE)

Creates A Constitutional Right to Hunt, Fish, and Trap
Prohibits counties and other local municipalities from regulating hunting, fishing, and trapping. Both referred to Attorney general for Opinion in May. (S2382-A SEWARD / A 6864-A Gunther)

Soil & Water Conserv Dist Invasive Species Program
Authorizes a public information and education program for soil and water conservation districts and relates to the spread of invasive species. Passed Senate in May; Sent to Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee the same day. (S2839-A YOUNG / A 3555 Magee)

Establishes Invasive Species Stewards, Paddling Fee
Establishes the aquatic invasive species volunteer steward program within the office of parks, recreation and historic preservation; such program shall use volunteers to collect information on alien plants and animals in state water, and educate boaters thereon; imposes an annual $6 permit fee upon non-motorized vessels and requires the revenue to be deposited into the I love NY waterways vessel access account. Referre to Senate Finance Committee in February; no assembly sponsor. (S3519 JOHNSON)

Repeals Defunct Water Quality Compacts
Repeals the Champlain Basin Compact, the Mid-Atlantic States Air Pollution Control Compact and the Delaware River Basin Water Commission Compact. To clean up and clarify the Environmental Conservation Law by repealing certain outdated sections which relate to proposed interstate compacts that were never established. These include: a 1966 law which proposed a Champlain Basin Compact; a 1967 law which proposed a Mid-Atlantic States Air pollution Control Compact; and a 1952 law which proposed a Delaware River Basin Water Commission Compact (not to he confused with the existing Delaware River Basin Compact). Refereed to Senate Environmental Conservation Committee in May; no Assembly sponsor. (S5139 FARLEY)


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DEC Proposes Banning Some Motors on Thirteenth Lake

A proposed regulation that would limit motorized boating on Thirteenth Lake to electric motors only has been released for public comment by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Interested parties have until July 2 to provide comments on the proposed regulation.

Thirteenth Lake lies in the northeastern portion of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area in the Town of Johnsburg, Warren County. The lakeshore is predominately state-owned lands classified as wilderness. Some privately owned parcels adjoin the lake.

During the development of the Unit Management Plan for the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, DEC received numerous comments from private homeowners on the lake and from other users requesting that motorboats be prohibited on Thirteenth Lake due to noise, air pollution and water pollution issues. In response to these concerns, the Siamese Ponds Unit Management Plan calls for limiting motorized boating on the lake to electric motors only. This regulation implements that directive.

The use of electric motors will allow anglers to troll for trout and people with mobility disabilities to access the lake and adjoining wilderness lands.

The full proposed regulation and additional information regarding the purpose of the regulation can be viewed on the DEC website.

Comments will be accepted until July 2, 2011. Comments or questions may be directed to Peter Frank, Bureau of Forest Preserve, Division of Lands & Forests, by mail at 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4254; e-mail at pjfrank@gw.dec.state.ny.us or by telephone at 518-473-9518.



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