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Adirondack Explorer

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Process left ideas off the table

The long-awaited Boreas Ponds land classification decision by the Adirondack Park Agency in early February is worth celebrating. The classification will split the 20,543-acre tract into 11,412 acres of Wilderness, 9,118 acres of Wild Forest, which allows some motorized access, and a small Primitive Area.

Another aspect that deserves notice: the vast public participation in the process, but especially the young faces in the crowds at public meetings. They made themselves visible in their green T-shirts calling for Wilderness. They were passionate and enthusiastic, and we were heartened to see them pack meetings in 2016 to share their views and then keep the issue in the forefront through online forums and social media.

Many of these twenty- and thirty-somethings, some of whom got their starts in the woods as employees of or volunteers for the Adirondack Mountain Club, favored a full Wilderness designation for the Boreas Ponds Tract. They organized on social media and carried out a letter-writing campaign, and one advocate hiked from Boreas Ponds to the APA to deliver a backpack-ful of letters to the Agency.

It’s unfortunate their ideas never got the agency’s full attention, that they were let down by the process.

A View of Boreas Ponds, classified as Wilderness at the February APA meeting. Photo by Nancie Battagla.

They were asking that all seven miles of the former logging roads leading to the ponds be closed to motorized vehicles. Yet not one of the four proposals considered a Wilderness classification for the entire tract. It still might not have been chosen, but it should have been on the table for discussion. The decision by the APA will leave most of the road open to motor vehicles.

Members of the APA board of directors say they were glad to see the public involvement as well. Some of them even noted the numbers of people who attended public meetings, spoke on the record, submitted written comments, and signed petitions. “They raised their voices,” they said, “and we listened.”

Evidently, there was a lot of listening going on before the public got involved, before these young people could make themselves heard. Promises were made to local leaders that a snowmobile trail would be built between North Hudson and Newcomb. The most feasible route is on the main logging road through the Boreas tract. This will minimize the number of trees that need to be cut. That makes sense. But why wasn’t the public let in on these secret deals?

We often look around to see who in the next generation will carry on the responsibility of caring for the Adirondack Park, and during the Boreas debate, there they were in front of us. The experience for them must have been disappointing.

Public hearings on the proposals ended back in 2016. Then a year of silence—with the exception of a flurry of concern over the state’s idea to put lodging and food service near Boreas Ponds. Why was that idea discussed behind closed doors, after the release of the four proposals?

APA board member Chad Dawson, the lone dissenting vote on the classification, asked some of the same questions. We’re glad he did.

“It is the voice of the public I’m responding to,” Dawson said before placing his vote at the meeting. “A majority of people said they wanted more wild areas, wilder areas. …There’s over fifty-four thousand square miles of land in the State of New York. They were asking for a few thousand more acres [to be Wilderness].”

We hope the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Unit Management Plan is another chance to address some of the issues and get the process right. It will specify where the parking areas will go (and how much of the road is open to motor vehicles). It is still possible, for instance, to put the public parking area three miles from the ponds. Or DEC still could consider an alternate route for a snowmobile trail.

The UMP also should address oversight, how the DEC will police the area to be sure cars stop where they should, that cars aren’t parked along the road, that snowmobiles don’t venture onto the old roads around the ponds—or on the ponds themselves, which are motor-free—and that invasive species don’t make it to the ponds.

And we hope this younger generation of Wilderness advocates isn’t deterred and helps create a future process for decisions about the Park that is open and where all ideas are considered.

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