There were some conspiracy theories among blog and social-media commenters when crowds of young people assumed to be college students showed up at the public hearings to discuss the classification of Forest Preserve land at Boreas Ponds. The (false) narrative was that environmental groups were busing students to the meetings and giving them green shirts to wear.
It turns out Brendan Wiltse, science and stewardship director for the Ausable River Association, was the one re-possible for bringing most of these young activists (many not college students) into the Boreas Ponds discussion. As a summit guide on Poke-O-Moonshine in college and later a summit steward for the Adirondack Mountain Club and then manager of John’s Brook Lodge for two and a half years while in grad school to become a scientist, Wiltse developed a real love of wilderness.
“For several years, I spent half a year at the lodge gaining an appreciation for these wild areas and the experience wilderness offers people,” he said.
So when the Adirondack Park Agency released its four proposals for classifying the Boreas Ponds and none of them closed off the entire seven-mile Gulf Brook Road that leads to the ponds, he reached out to two others who had spoken publicly about the benefits of classifying the entire tract, including the road, as motor-free Wilderness.
The three men—Brendan, Pete Nelson, and Bill Ingersoll—decided to hike Ragged Mountain together on the edge of the property and talk about why the biggest environmental groups were not asking for a stronger Wilderness designation. And they wondered, if these groups weren’t willing to do it for this important tract, what would that mean for Forest Preserve lands acquired in the future? And then they wondered, what can three guys do?
“The Facebook page skyrocketed in growth. It went from zero to 2,500 with no funding,” Wiltse said.
Before the public hearings he started reaching out to people he’d worked with through ADK over ten years—mostly people his age. They came out to the public hearings and spoke on behalf of a Wilderness designation.
Within days, he said, ten of those people became more deeply involved. One of them, Tyler Socash, drove to college campuses around the state and talked to students about how they could help.
Many of them came to the public meetings. And, as college students do, they took the free T-shirts.
It’s not known whether they all will continue to be involved, but a look at the Adirondack Wilderness Advocates’ website shows a committed cadre of youth remain.
Editor’s note: This article is from the July/August 2017 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine. Click here to subscribe. Wiltse has since has joined Paul Smith’s College as Visiting Assistant Professor with its new Masters of Science program and Water Quality Director with the college’s Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI).