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Is an Adirondack brawl brewing over management of Boreas Ponds?

NCPR
May 31, 2016

by Brian Mann

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A new debate is gearing up in the Adirondacks about the possibility of adding tens of thousands of acres of wilderness to the Park. The lands around the Boreas Ponds south of the High Peaks are already slated to be added to the forest preserve; that’s a done deal. So the question now is how they will be managed.

Will snowmobiles be allowed? Or bicycles? Or will the state adopt a wilderness designation that limits those kinds of recreation and access?

The stakes are high. Four years ago, in the Fall of 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo paddled the Boreas Ponds and described the area as precious. "You can't paint this picture, Mother Nature has a better brush. It's just exquisite," he said.

Earlier this month, Cuomo came back to the Adirondacks to finalize the purchase of the Boreas Ponds tract, nearly 21,000 acres of lakes, forests, and wetlands with a price tag of $14.5 million.

Green groups demand expansion of wilderness

Before the ink was dry on the check, green groups like the Adirondack Mountain Club were saying point-blank that this tract has to be wilderness.

"We are going to put everything into this, because this is so critical a priority for us. It's really putting off-limits to motorized snowmobiles and trucks the major portion of the Boreas tract and not have motorboats and not have float planes," said Neil Woodworth, head of the Adirondack Mountain Club. Describing the lobbying campaign that lies ahead, Woodworth said it would be a "Chicago ward-boss kind of go all-out."

We are going to put everything into this, because this is so critical a priority for us.

Green groups feel like they compromised a lot on the Essex Chain lakes management plan that was recently finalized. That area will include new snowmobile connector trails and bicycle routes. But John Sheehan with the Adirondack Council, said the Boreas Ponds tract is different. This parcel, he argued, can help integrate the largest tract of wilderness in the Northeastern U.S. "That would create a single area of wilderness that would stretch essentially from the old Frontier Town at Exit 28 [on the Adirondack Northway] all the way to Follensby Pond, almost next to Tupper Lake."

Town leaders push back

Town leaders in the area near the Boreas Ponds have proposed a very different plan. It would still include more than 10,000 acres of new wilderness, but there would also be more snowmobile and car access and local officials would like to see bicycles and electric motors allowed in some areas.

Bill Farber heads the Hamilton County board of supervisors and he’s one of the leaders of the Common Ground Alliance, a group that has worked to create dialogue between factions in the Park. He said, "I've been a little bit surprised actually at the fervor that some of the groups have been out in front on this screaming that it has to be all wilderness or predominately wilderness." Farber said local government leaders have "mellowed" in accepting the purchase of vast new tracts of forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks, and he hopes that will lead to some kind of compromise.

Is there a balance?

The Adirondack Park Agency and the state conservation department will now move forward with a process to develop a broad classification for the Boreas Ponds tract. It could range from the most protected "wilderness" status to a classification called "wild forest," a designation that could allow motorized use.

During his visit to the Adirondacks earlier this month, Governor Cuomo gave no clear signal about his preferences. "I understand the tension and I understand the passion on both sides. The answer obviously is balance," the governor said.

For now though, this is one parcel of land in the Park where different factions seem to being drawing lines in the sand, prepping to fight over their very different visions.

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