Boreas Ponds: Wild Forest or Wilderness?

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  • In late May 2016, the State of New York announced acquisition of the 20,758 Boreas Ponds Tract in Essex County.  The acquisition is located north of County 84 and is accessible by Gulf Brook Road.  The Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club have been lobbying for the property to become mostly wilderness. The question is “should it?”

    In late July I took a day to go up and meet with the Supervisor of the Town of North Hudson and several other Supervisors who make up the group pressing for the Five Town Recreation Hub.  A lot was discussed at this sit down including the ramifications of Protect the Adirondacks receiving a “Temporary Restraining Order” relative to the DEC’s construction of Newcomb to Minerva Class II snowmobile trail on the grounds that the construction cut too many trees.  That trail construction has been halted.

    The Five Towns would like to see the area south of the old access road kept wild forest to maximize the uses that would be allowed and create the potential for an economic benefit to the adjoining towns.   They envision an area for bicycling, including fat tire bikes, snowmobiling on the existing roads, seasonal motor vehicle access to the proximity of Boreas Pond, cross country ski trails, camping, yurt sites, hunting, and fishing.  In addition they would like to see longer distance hiking trails to connect the property to Allen Mt. and the Marcy Trail.

    Talk is great but I really felt the need to get on the property and experience it for myself.  Technically access is by foot or horse back.  Having neither 7 hours to complete the trip or a willing horse, I got out the old bike and off we went.  The first mile and a half is a steady incline as folks promised.  Not much for a thirty year old but I needed to get off often and walk the bike up the occasional steeper grade to conserve my energy.  The flies made it easier to keep on moving. IMG_20160726_130505269
    I noted that my bike (mechanized recreation to some) barely made an imprint on the gravel road.   The bike is 66 inches long.
    IMG_20160726_120802401 My first impression was that this is no trail but rather a well improved road which ranged from 12 to 15 ft wide with culverts in good repair and the surface rather hard packed.  It lacked the typical tire ruts you see on so many dirt roads.

    Many miles of road looked very much like the photo at left; tree lined with a foot to two feet on each side brushed out.
    IMG_20160726_114624661There were many gravel borrow pits, such as the one at right, which I assume had been used in road maintenance.  Most were small but a few larger (below right).

     It took a little over an hour to get to the first major stream crossing where a lower wetland area passes under the road.
    IMG_20160726_124018195 IMG_20160726_131306690
    It is then a short distance to where four roads come together. One to west, one to the Boreas Ponds, one to the north and the one back. In all directions the roads were significant.
    IMG_20160726_120802401 IMG_20160726_124421818_TOP IMG_20160726_114635131
    IMG_20160726_130737879 The only wet spot that I found on the road was an area which appeared to be flooded by a beaver dam somewhere but I was not able to locate it and it was easily passable since the road was still very hard under the water.
    One of a few structures near the ponds which was off limits.  There is also a lodge which I was not able to get a photo of.  The road was taped off with several no trespassing signs. IMG_20160726_124528545

    The place everyone would want to get to, First Lake at Boreas Pond.   IMG_20160726_125331651

    IMG_20160726_125448486
     I found this area interesting.  It looked like a staging area for logging operations which was recently cleaned up.  A “skidder” road appears in the back.
     IMG_20160726_134826538_TOP

    IMG_20160726_134810407_TOP

     The many gate locks that show continued private rights.  IMG_20160726_133725617

    So what do I think about the classification of this property?

    There is no doubt that the Boreas Ponds Tract is beautiful and much of it is unspoiled by human activities. But this was Finch Pryun land so it was logged.  The “Ponds” is clearly the place where everyone would want to get to but it is so clear to me that only the fittest of individuals will be able to travel the nearly 8 miles to the lake if the road is closed.  Those with physical impairments need not apply.  The road is so good it will be a millennium before the  forest retakes the road.  I did notice one thing when looking the property up on Google Earth, much of it appears to be reforested with planted trees.

    What is the definition of wilderness in the Adirondack State Land Management Plan? “Wilderness: [APSLMP and CPSLMP] A wilderness area, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man – where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. A wilderness area is further defined to mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character, without significant improvement or protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary, its natural conditions, and which generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable. “ I don’t think the area near the road or in the reforested areas meet that definition.

    From the SLMP: “A wild forest area is an area where the resources permit a somewhat higher degree of human use than in wilderness, primitive or canoe areas, while retaining an essentially wild character. A wild forest area is further defined as an area that frequently lacks the sense of remoteness of wilderness, primitive or canoe areas and that permits a wide variety of outdoor recreation.”  Clearly the area near the road meets this definition with its many culverts and bridges.

    In light of the recent success of Protect in stopping the Class II trail construction why would anyone throw away a perfectly good road which could be used as a trail then go and hack a new trail through the woods.  That just begs for another lawsuit.

    State Lands are acquired with money from all of us.  Access should be allowed to encompass the largest cross section of the pubic without compromising the quality of the acquisition.  Clearly the road should be classified as Wild Forest to provide the most access possible for people across various physical abilities.  That access can be provided without diminishing the environmental quality of the property since the road is already constructed and in good repair.  If the Department is going to honor the intent of the ADA and provide meaningful handicapped access they need to have a parking area open near Boreas Pond.

    What the Five Town Supervisors are proposing makes sense and makes sense for a wide variety of outdoor enthusiasts including snowmobilers.   I will be urging all of our members to write in support of Wild Forest for the majority of the property.  I hope you will take a minute and think about what you want out of this state acquisition and voice your opinion to the Governor, the APA and the DEC.

    If you never speak up you will never have access to any part of this property.  Over the next several weeks more information will be published about this property and how to communicate your opinion effectively.

     

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