Proposed wilderness/wild forests classification gets mixed reaction

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Elk Lake Lodge in North Hudson last May, when he announced the state’s purchase of the 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract from The Nature Conservancy. The state APA is expected to vote on a classification for the parcel next week, which is one of the most hotly debated land decisions in Adirondack history. (Enterprise/Justin A. Levine)

RAY BROOK — The state Adirondack Park Agency board will take up the long-anticipated classification of the 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract next week.

Reaction to the recommended plan was swift and largely united.

The APA board was presented with the largest classification package in its history last year, with 99 parcels of land needing to be classified, reclassified or adjusted due to map errors. But the crown jewel of this package, and the parcel that everyone is watching, is the Boreas Ponds Tract.

The pending Boreas decision generated the largest public response seen since the agency was formed in the 1970s. More than 10,000 public comments were received by the agency during the course of the public meeting and comment period.

Due to a large and successful public relations campaign, the vast majority of those comments supported a “full wilderness” designation, the most restrictive land use the APA can levy. However, local governments and accessibility advocates lobbied for a split of wilderness and wild forest that would allow some motor vehicle access from the Blue Ridge Road that marks the southern boundary of the parcel.

In documents released Thursday by the APA, agency staff recommended “Alternative 2B,” which calls for about an even split between the two classifications.

This plan essentially calls for the northern 11,412 acres to be classified as wilderness, with the lower 9,118 acres as wild forest. There would also be 11 acres of primitive land and two one-acre parcels that would be used as gravel pits for maintenance of the property.

Reaction to the announcement was swift, with some wilderness advocates panning the recommended plan while other green groups applauded what they saw as a compromise plan.

Tyler Socash, who advocated for a full wilderness designation and hiked from Boreas Ponds to the APA headquarters a couple of months ago, railed on Twitter about the decision.

“Anyone applauding the Boreas decision is admitting they do not value the protection of Value-1 wetlands,” Socash wrote, noting that several wetlands in the parcel are not included within the wilderness designation. “Land classification is based on the physical, biological, and intangible characteristics of the land. Value-1 wetlands (Brant Brook, Andrews Brook, etc.), 2,500-foot elevations, steep slopes are ubiquitous across the Tract. This is political, not logical.”

But groups like the Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Mountain Club were supportive of Alternative 2B.

“The proposed classification of much of the Boreas Ponds Tract as Wilderness as well as a Wilderness classification proposal for the MacIntyre East and West parcels also facilitates consolidation of the Dix Mountain Wilderness into the High Peaks Wilderness Area creating a contiguous motor-free area of more than 270,000 acres,” ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth wrote in a press release. “New hiking trails on [the] northern two-thirds of the Boreas Tract will provide new access points to the southern part of the HPWA, reducing overuse of northern and central parts. Paddlers on the various arms of the Boreas Ponds will enjoy spectacular views of the Great Range of the Central High Peaks.

“The classification of some lands on the southern third of the Boreas tract as wild forest will expand opportunities for snowmobiling and mountain biking while enhancing access for roadside family camping, hunting and fishing. We believe that these new outdoor recreation activities will help businesses in the towns surrounding the Boreas Tract.”

The APA will also discuss and likely make decisions on the other 98 classification issues next week.


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