In the News  Archive

Heated Adirondacks debate: What activities should be allowed at Boreas Ponds?
December 2, 2016

By David Figura

The purchase of the Boreas Ponds Tract in the Adirondack this spring for a reported $14.5 million from the Nature Conservancy generated a lot of excitement.

At the time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo boasted the acquisition, along with other purchases from the Nature Conservancy, completed the largest addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in more than a century.

Now what?

The fate of the 20,758-acre, Boreas Ponds tract and several nearby lands in Essex County have been the focal point of six, well-attended and at times, emotional public meetings across the state last month - with two more scheduled in Rockland County and Albany next week.

There was a packed audience at the Nov. 29 meeting on the RIT campus in Rochester campus. Testimony lasted more than 3 hours and 55 people spoke.David Figura l

The Adirondack Park Agency, as part of its process of re-evaluating its master plan, is taking input at these meetings about how the newly acquired land should be "classified," which means declaring how it should be used by the public, and what kind of access folks should have to it.

It's still early in the process, but the Boreas Ponds classification will ultimately result in such things as whether motor vehicles should have access and whether such mechanized recreation as snowmobiling and mountain biking should be allowed - or camping and camp fires. Proponents of such activities are proposing a "wild forest" designation for the area around the ponds.

A sizeable and vocal contingent, though, see the area as "priceless, fragile and irreplaceable." They say it should be declared "wilderness" and favor banning motorized and mechanized recreation in the area. They see it as a "once in a life-time opportunity to expand the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness.

It's the kind of stuff that stirs the passions of outdoors enthusiasts on all sides - and will determine the fate of the area for possibly generations to come.

To complicated matters, this all comes at a time when the APA is beginning a process to classify and reclassify dozens of other areas around the park -- a process affecting a total of more than 50,000 acres. See an interactive map concerning these properties on the APA website.

The star of the meetings, though, is the picturesque Boreas Ponds tract, which along with several nearby lands (the MacIntyre West Tract, the MacIntyre East Tract and the Casey Brook Tract) is being classified as a group. The 30,000 acres is located in the towns North Hudson and Newcomb and borders the southeastern High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas.

Following the meetings and collection of written comment from people, the APA board will most likely vote on the classification by this spring, forwarding their decision to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who will either accept, refine or reject the APA's decision. Once Cuomo signs off on the plan, it will then be given to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which based on the classifications, will come up with regulations and allowed uses for the land.

For perspective, a wilderness classification, according to the APA, is an area where the "Imprint of man's work is substantially unnoticed. Outstanding opportunities for solitude. Protected and managed to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary natural conditions."

The total Adirondack Park, which along with state owned forest preserve includes numerous municipalities and private properties. It covers 6 million acres. Currently, 1.2 million acres in the park is classified as wilderness; 1.3 million acres as wild forest.

Concerning the Boreas Ponds area, the APA has offered four alternatives of varying degrees of wilderness and wild forest classifications for discussion. See the APA website for color coded maps of Alternative 1, Alternative 2, Alternative 3 and Alternative 4.

However, a sizeable contingent, led by groups such as the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club and BeWildNY Coalition, have rejected all four of the APA's alternatives and offered a fifth alternative that calls for even more wilderness designation than any of the APA alternatives proposed.

See a color-coded map of this proposal on the website.

Proponents of this position have shown up en mass at all the meetings, often sporting green, "I Want Wilderness" T-shirts and referring to themselves as Green Warriors. The Adirondack Council, on behalf of the BeWildNY Coalition recently released a video narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver calling for Gov. Cuomo to protect more than 30,000 acres of new public land as "motor-free Wilderness."

They point to the publicized over-use and trashing in recent years of other well-used hiking trails, mountains and lakes in the Adirondacks by ever-growing crowds of people. They say Boreas Ponds and the other new areas should receive extra protection to prevent the introduction of invasive species and destruction of sensitive habitat.

This proposal would "protect as wilderness, the Boreas Ponds, the watershed around and above the ponds and a minimum one-mile buffer to the south. It would allow motorized access to limited parking (a parking area, where users would possibly have to obtain permits ahead of time) at LaBier Flow at least one mile from the ponds. It would provide an accessible trail to the ponds for people with disabilities and would provide Wilderness protection for the Boreas River to the Blue Ridge Highway."

As for the wild forest classification, it's an area "where the resources permit a somewhat higher degree of human use, while retaining a wild character."

Proponents of this position include the NYS Conservation Council, the NYS Snowmobile Association, the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board and others - all members of Access Adirondacks Alliance. They point to the fact that the Boreas Ponds area is not as pristine and untouched wilderness and some have been saying.

They point to the fact that the ponds were created by a man-made dam that still exists and that the property is crisscrossed by some 53 miles of roads and additional trails that were once used when the property was logged by Finch Pruyrn. They also note there's three bridges on the property, some buildings still standing - and finally, that there's already enough land designated as wilderness in the Adirondack Park.

They say declaring it mostly wilderness would be catering to an elitist, but highly vocal minority. They say the APA and the state should get "realistic" about the land and its potential uses - opening it up to as many of the state's residents as possible for their recreational activities.

They favor the APA's Alternative 1, which would allow motorized and mechanical recreation on 10,364 acres of Boreas Ponds and the lands around the ponds, all of the Gulf Brook and Boreas Ponds roads and all the lands to the south of the roads, plus LaBier Flow. This alternative, they say, would also expand the High Peaks Wilderness by 10,178 acres.

Wilderness proponents counter that very little of the land in the Adirondack Park classified as wilderness is actually untouched. More accurately, they say, its reclaimed wilderness that once was used by man and allowed to go back to nature. In addition, they point to a 2014 tourism study of Essex County by the Regional office of Sustainable Tourism that found that 85.5 percent of visitors to the area were hikers.

Those favoring Alternative 1, respond that in many exiting High Peaks wilderness areas there are problems of excessive numbers of visitors trampling trails and crowding mountain summits, and that a classification by the APA does not guarantee protection. It's properly managing people that does, they say.

Also, the Access Adirondacks Alliance group is not proposing motorized boating on the ponds. Pre-existing roads could be used by mountain bikers and snowmobilers, with no additional damage to the area's environment, group members have said.

The Adirondack Park Agency is accepting written comments on the Boreas Ponds issue and other land classifications the APA is considering up until Dec. 30.

Comments can be mailed to: Kathleen Regan, Deputy Director, Planning, APA, PO Box 99, 1133 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

They can also be emailed to

*To date, four meetings were held last month in the Adirondacks (Ray Brook, Northville, Newcomb and Schroon Lake, Rochester and Canton. Remaining meetings are Tuesday (Dec. 6), at 7 p.m. Bear Mountain Inn, 3020 Seven Lakes Dr., Tompkins in Rockland County; 2 p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 7), NYDEC building, 625 Broadway, Albany.

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