January 1, 2017
Boreas Ponds Hearings
The Adirondack Park Agency recently completed a series of meetings around the state to receive comments about the proposed Boreas Ponds land classifications. The APA’s 4 proposals range from Alternative 1, which calls for just under 50% Wilderness and would allow motorized access to and around the ponds, to Alternative 4, which calls for about 72% Wilderness and would keep motor vehicles a mile south of the ponds.
I attended the November 29 meeting at Canton Central School, along with about 150 other people. The meeting was cordial, the speakers polite, and the audience respectful. Almost 50 people gave oral comments for the record; I was able to stay for the first 25. By my informal count, the comments were more or less evenly divided between requests for wilderness and requests for snowmobile access. Speakers ranged in age from college students to seasoned retirees. There were both wilderness advocates and snowmobilers at the older end of the spectrum, but the youn g people tended to be on the wilderness end of the scale.
Alternative 4 was the preferred choice for perhaps half of the wilderness advocates. The other half argued that, at 72% wilderness, Alternative 4 did not go far enough. They asked the APA to classify the entire Boreas Ponds Tract as Wilderness. Their reasons fell into two main areas. First, an increasing number of people want to experience wilderness while the number of wild places for them to visit is, if anything, shrinking. Second, many Adirondack wildlife species, both large and small, thrive better in areas less visited by humans and machines, and the APA’s first responsibility is to the land and wildlife.
Advocates for snowmobile use pointed out that when snowmobiles are operated on frozen surfaces, particularly hardened roads such as the existing gravel roads in the Boreas Ponds Tract, their environmental impact is minimal. They also mentioned that the existing roads could be incorporated into a community connector between Newcomb and North Hudson. Most favored Alternative 1.
Of the speakers I heard, only one talked about bicycle use in the Boreas Ponds. He noted that both road bikes and mountain bikes are increasing in popularity in the Adirondacks and that their environmental impact when ridden on existing gravel roads is minimal. Bicycles cannot be used in areas classified as Wilderness, so accommodating mountain bikes would require a Wild Forest classification for part of the area.
The issue of handicapped access to and around the ponds was raised, but nobody said anything specific about whether and how this should be accommodated.
Nobody mentioned the possible use of ATVs.
John Omohundro, Outgoing VP for Conservation, and I have submitted comments on the Boreas Ponds classification to the APA. We attempted to find a balance between both able-bodied and mobility-impaired people’s desire to experience wilderness and wildlife’s desire to be left alone. We asked for more wilderness than Alternative 4, but not 100% wilderness. This would allow visitors to drive to one mile from the Ponds while providing wilderness protection for most of the tract, including all of the Boreas River.
The APA is expected to reach a decision in 2017. That will not be the end of the story, however. Once one of the land classification alternatives is approved, the Department of Environmental Conservation will then begin to develop a Unit Management Plan for the area. The UMP will determine the location of trails and campsites in Wilderness areas and the location of roads, parking areas, and other facilities in the Wild Forest areas. It will also determine what types of vehicles - cars, snowmobiles, ATVs, bicycles - will be permitted on which roads in the Wild Forest. You will again have the opportunity to influence the fate of this beautiful part of the Adirondacks.
Jan 1, 2017: Boreas Ponds