By Phil Brown
Even before New York State bought the Boreas Ponds Tract in 2016, people started arguing about how close to the ponds the public should be allowed to drive. That question was still on people’s minds at a public meeting in Newcomb this April.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation hosted the meeting in the local school to gather ideas on how to manage the Boreas Ponds Tract and the rest of the High Peaks Wilderness.
DEC hasn’t updated its management plan for the High Peaks since 1999. Since then, the Wilderness Area has grown by more than eighty-four thousand acres. It now encompasses 272,000 acres, making it the fourth-largest designated Wilderness Area east of the Mississippi River.
Earlier this year, the Adirondack Park Agency added 11,400 acres of the Boreas Ponds Tract to the High Peaks Wilderness, along with several other parcels that were acquired as part of the Finch, Pruyn land deal. In addition, the 44,700-acre Dix Mountain Wilderness was added to the High Peaks area.
The other recent acquisitions included the MacIntyre West Tract (7,364 acres), the MacIntyre East Tract (4,445 acres), and the Casey Brook Tract (1,450 acres). Most of the attention at the Newcomb meeting, however, was on the Boreas Ponds Tract.
In February, the APA board voted to split the 20,543-acre tract into motor-free Wilderness and less-restrictive Wild Forest (with a small Primitive Area near the Boreas Ponds dam). The decision created a Wild Forest corridor along old logging roads that, in theory, could allow the public to drive to within a tenth of a mile of the ponds. However, it’s up to DEC to decide how much of the corridor will be open to motor vehicles.
About seventy people attended the Newcomb session. Fourteen people spoke, and more than half offered an opinion on motorized access. The suggestions ran the gamut from closing the entire road to allowing people to drive all the way to the ponds.
“The best view in the High Peaks in my opinion is from the dam on Boreas Ponds. Everyone should be able to drive to that dam,” said Roger Dziengeleski, a former Finch, Pruyn executive.
Yet Dziengelski said he would not allow people to park at the dam. Rather, they would have to turn around and park some distance from the ponds.
This idea seems unlikely to be adopted as it would require the APA to change the land classification it approved just a few months ago. As mentioned, the area around the dam is designated Primitive. This classification does not allow motorized access to the general public, though it will allow state officials to drive to the dam for maintenance.
Other possible locations for a parking area include:
ν At the end of the Wild Forest corridor, a tenth of a mile short of the dam. This would be for a small number of cars.
ν LaBier Flow, an impounded section of the Boreas River (the ponds’ outlet), about a mile from the ponds.
ν A large interim parking area created by DEC in 2016, about 3.5 miles from the ponds.
North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore, whose town includes Boreas Ponds, said the lot at the end of Wild Forest corridor should be available to anyone who wants to visit the ponds. “We believe everybody should have the opportunity to enjoy them,” he said.
However, representatives of the Adirondack Mountain Club argued that the lot should be available only to the disabled with a permit.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the club, questioned how DEC would manage traffic on the narrow access roads if the lot were open to all. He said DEC should make its interim lot permanent. “This would best protect the wilderness values of this magnificent tract,” he said.
Woodworth said he would not object to creating a smaller lot at LaBier Flow for use by paddlers, shortening the portage distance.
Dave Olbert, co-owner of Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb, spoke in favor of establishing a shuttle service to bring people to the ponds from a parking area at the Four Corners, a junction just past LaBier Flow.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates formed in 2016 to push for classifying all of the Boreas Pond Tract as Wilderness and closing the roads to the ponds. Pete Nelson, one of the founders, said at the Newcomb meeting that “every citizen deserves to experience wilderness.” He said the disabled could visit Boreas Ponds via non-motorized transportation, such as a horse-drawn wagon. “We dispute the idea that access means motorized access,” he remarked.
DEC spokesman David Winchell said the public will have another chance to comment once the department releases a draft UMP, probably this summer. The APA must approve the final plan. ν