The Adirondack Park Agency meets this week, and the most interesting thing about the agenda is what’s not on it: the classification of Boreas Ponds.
It’s been a year since the agency held public hearings on Boreas Ponds and nine months since the APA board discussed the classification. We’re still waiting for a decision.
Observers believe one reason for the long delay is that after the APA hearings, the governor’s office floated the idea of putting up semi-permanent lodging facilities—perhaps tents or yurts—along a former logging road within a mile of Boreas Ponds. The facilities would be part of an Adirondack hut-to-hut network that is in the works.
Environmentalists cried foul.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, contends that putting huts on the Forest Preserve would violate the State Land Master Plan and Article 14, the clause in the state constitution mandating that the Preserve be “forever kept as wild forest lands.”
Woodworth said he now understands that the Boreas Ponds huts proposal is off the table, for both legal and practical reasons. The hut-to-hut route, intended to connect North Hudson and Newcomb, would have to cross private land, and Woodworth said the owners were reluctant to grant permission.
“I’m happy it’s not going to be part of the Boreas tract,” he said. “We would have had to fight it in court if it had been.”
John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said DEC’s statements at a recent Forest Preserve Advisory Committee meeting suggested that the department had dropped the idea.
However, Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks and David Gibson of Adirondack Wild said they believe the idea is not dead. Like Woodworth, they contend that putting such facilities on the Forest Preserve would violate the master plan and the state constitution.
We asked the Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages the Forest Preserve, whether the huts proposal is dead or alive. Sean Mahar, the department’s chief spokesman, sent us the following statement:
“At this time, the conceptual plan for a ‘hamlet-to-hut’ system in the Adirondack Park is just that, conceptual. The ‘hamlet to hut’ concept involves development on private lands and there have been no proposals for public lands, including Boreas Ponds. The Boreas Ponds tract lands are not yet classified, and once classified DEC will initiate a public process to develop a unit management plan. It is premature to speculate if a ‘hamlet to hut’ system will be included in that plan. We will work with APA and park stakeholders to develop Unit Management Plans that ensure appropriate public access to these lands, protection of resources, increased tourism, and economic development in neighboring communities.”
This suggests that the classification decision will not contemplate huts at Boreas Ponds, but the idea may be considered when DEC drafts a management plan for the tract.
The rub is that it may be hard to separate the classification decision from a decision on huts. For instance, there was talk of designating the road near Boreas Pond an Intensive Use Area. This is the same classification used for state campgrounds in the Adirondacks. The idea is that it could be applied to lodging facilities at Boreas. If the APA were to classify the road as Wilderness, say, it would be much harder to justify these facilities.
Last year, the APA came out with four options for classifying the 21,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, the largest of former Finch, Pruyn parcels acquired by the state.
The least-restrictive option, favored by local towns, would classify the area around the ponds as Wild Forest, a designation that would allow mountain biking, snowmobiling, and perhaps motorboats on the ponds themselves. Under the other three options the area around the ponds would be classified Wilderness, which would preclude mountain bikes and motorized uses.
The ponds are reached via a seven-mile dirt road. Much of the debate has focused on how much, if any, of the road should be open to motor vehicles and/or bicycles. DEC has established an interim parking area 3.2 miles up the road. However, the entire road is closed during winter and mud season.
After this week, the APA’s next meeting will be December 14. After that, the agency’s board will not meet again until February.
“They’re scrambling to try to put something together for December,” Bauer said.