By MIKE LYNCH
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates came together in 2016 to join the Boreas Ponds classification struggle, but are sticking together to work on more wildland issues.
The group officially filed to incorporate in March, and its members are working toward becoming a nonprofit. “We felt there was a need to have a strong wilderness voice in the Adirondacks,” said board member Kayla White.
The advocacy group plans to build on its roots and focus on wilderness classification issues — not to stray into private land issues.
“Generally speaking, we’d like to focus on efforts that will ensure that our wilderness areas are larger and more soundly managed,” board chair Bill Ingersoll said in a email. “Personally, I hope that someday we will be able to grow into a role where AWA is regarded as a respected source of information on the Adirondack wilderness areas.”
When asked how AWA is different from other environmental groups, Ingersoll said he doesn’t view AWA as an environmental group. “I realize that term is the standard handle for describing the various watchdog organizations in the park, but it really doesn’t apply to us,” Ingersoll said. “Our name says what we are and what we want to do: we are a wilderness advocacy group. Even during the Boreas Ponds campaign, we made a conscious effort to speak for our cause, and not against anything or anybody.”
He continued by saying that in the last decade “we’ve seen conflicting messages about wilderness and lots of ineffective strategies, and we just have no desire to be a part of that.”
The group is working on several new issues, including the possible expansion of the Silver Lake Wilderness.
Its members are also figuring out the logistics that go along with starting a nonprofit, including rounding out its board, developing a mission statement, and coming up with a long-term vision for the organization.
The group doesn’t have an office, and there are no immediate plans for the group to hire any employees. Board member Pete Nelson said many of the details will be worked out in the coming months, but he envisions the group sticking to its grassroots formula.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates was founded by three people — Brendan Wiltse, Nelson and Ingersoll — who found they had common values and similar beliefs about the Boreas Ponds classification.
During the Boreas Pond hearings, some environmental groups pushed for establishing a parking area at LaBier Flow, an impoundment of the Boreas River reached just before the Four Corners. This would leave a hike of about a mile to the ponds. Local officials argued that the public should be allowed to drive all the way to the dam. Adirondack Wild and Adirondack Wilderness Advocates wanted the entire road system closed.
Ultimately, DEC put a small parking area just a tenth of a mile from the ponds and the plan was approved by the Adirondack Park Agency in February 2018.
“The Boreas campaign as a practical matter proved there was a need for our organization,” said Nelson said. “We advocated for Gulf Brook Road to be closed at the gate … believing that wilderness is a rare and precious asset, and we didn’t want to negotiate that part away.”
AWA was recognized for gathering multigenerational support at hearings, including getting many college students to participate. It also put together strong social media and letter-writing campaigns. More than 1,700 letters in support of their plan were delivered to the state Adirondack Park Agency by member Tyler Socash during the public comment period. He had hiked from Boreas Ponds to the APA offices in Ray Brook.
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