Several environmental groups are applauding a recommendation by the Adirondack Park Agency staff to classify most of the 20,543-acre Boreas Ponds Tract as motor-free Wilderness.
The APA board is expected to begin discussing the recommendation at its meeting next Thursday and vote on it the next day.
The agency’s staff considered five classification schemes. The preferred alternative, called 2B, would classify 11,412 acres as Wilderness, 9,118 acres as Wild Forest, and eleven acres as Primitive. It’s expected that the Wilderness acres will be added to the High Peaks Wilderness.
Boreas Ponds themselves—an impoundment of three ponds—would be Wilderness under the proposal. However, a road leading to the ponds would be classified Wild Forest, ending at a parking area a tenth of the mile from the ponds’ dam. The dam and its immediate vicinity would be classified Primitive.
Generally, Primitive Areas are managed as Wilderness, but motorized use is allowed for administrative purposes. In this case, the classification would give the state Department of Environmental Conservation motorized access to maintain the dam.
In theory, the public could be allowed to drive to the parking area near the dam. It seems more likely that its use would be restricted to the disabled. DEC has already built a large parking area 3.6 miles from the ponds. The department could relocate the parking area when it develops a management plan for the Boreas Ponds Tract.
Under the 2B alternative, DEC also could allow mountain bikers to ride all the way to the dam. The APA staff rejected an alternative that would have allowed bikers to ride on old logging roads around the ponds.
In most respects, the preferred alternative is similar to classification schemes backed by the Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. The biggest differences are the Primitive Area and the Wild Forest corridor leading nearly to the ponds.
Critics contended that DEC could maintain the dam without motor vehicles. For example, they said the department could transport materials by helicopter or horse-drawn wagon. DEC officials regarded this suggestion as impractical.
Despite these differences, most environmental groups praised the APA staff’s recommendation.
“The classification of the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness and the expansion of High Peaks Wilderness Area marks a great day for the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park. Classification of the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness is a landmark achievement in the history of the Adirondack Park,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.
Two other groups, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates and Friends of the Forest Preserve, had pushed for classifying much more acreage as Wilderness and for closing the entire seven-mile road to the ponds.
Bill Ingersoll, one of the founders of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, criticized the decision, noting that many people had written the APA or spoken out in favor of a Wilderness classification for the lion’s share of the tract. “Although the Adirondack Council has been quick to celebrate this compromise, we suspect the actual public opinion may not be quite so enthusiastic,” Ingersoll said.
Evidently, the state has abandoned a proposal to set up temporary lodging along the road to Boreas Ponds.
The APA also is expected to vote on thirty-two other land classifications. Most are small and non-controversial. The biggest are the two tracts known as MacIntyre West (6,060 acres) and MacIntyre East (7,368 acres), both of which border the High Peaks Wilderness near Tahawus. The APA proposes to classify nearly all of MacIntyre West and most of MacIntyre East as Wilderness.
The Boreas Ponds Tract, the two MacIntyre tracts, and most of the other parcels in question were once owned by Finch, Pruyn and Company, which sold its lands to the Nature Conservancy in 2007. The conservancy then sold sixty-five thousand acres of the former Finch lands to the state. Boreas Ponds was the last parcel bought by the state–in the spring of 2016.