NEWCOMB — Conservation organizations are applauding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to classify the Boreas Ponds tract and other state lands in the Adirondacks.
“With a stroke of his pen, the governor created 25,000 acres of new Wilderness in the Adirondack Park,” Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a press release. “That does not happen every day and is something to celebrate.”
The move has the eventual aim of consolidating the High Peaks Wilderness Area with the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area, bringing the total acreage to nearly 275,000, which would rate it the third-largest wilderness tract east of the Mississippi River.
The new wilderness would be a bit larger than Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and double the size of Zion National Park in Utah.
“This classification package brings 25,000 acres of new wilderness to the Adirondacks at a time when overcrowding is harming the ecology of the park’s most fragile lands,” William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a press release.
“So the expansion is very welcome.”
Land classifications dictate what can and can’t be done in certain areas.
For example, motor vehicles aren’t allowed to operate on wilderness lands, but they can on wild forest lands.
The classification separates the Boreas Pond tract into 11,412 acres of wilderness, 9,118 acres of wild forest, 11 acres of primitive land and 2 acres of state administrative land.
This marks the largest land approval in the Adirondack Park’s history and the latest step in the state’s multi-year land deal with the Nature Conservancy.
Under Gov. Cuomo, 65,000 acres of forests have been acquired for inclusion into the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
“The Adirondack Park is a national treasure, and the acquisition of the Boreas Ponds tract is a landmark expansion to conserve the region’s natural beauty and create new economic opportunities for communities in the park,” the governor said in a press release after Tuesday’s signing.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I am proud to approve this classification package that strikes the right balance between preservation and access, and I encourage visitors from around the world to explore and enjoy the Adirondack Park.”
With the approval of the classification, the next step is for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a Unit Management Plan for the new lands.
Those documents will determine specifics, such as locations for campsites, parking areas and trails.
“The state’s compromise package balances the desires expressed by wilderness advocates with those of local officials who wanted greater motorized access to new Forest Preserve lands,” Janeway said.
At Boreas Ponds, for example, the BeWildNY coalition and other wilderness advocates wanted a larger wilderness buffer between the ponds and the last parking lot, the release said.
“We ... expect the state to follow through on its commitment to protect Boreas Ponds from invasive species and crowding by restricting access for lands south of the ponds by cars, trucks and snowmobiles,” Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said in the release.
“Motorized vehicles should not reach the ponds or be close enough to disturb wildlife or harm water quality.”
BeWildNY’s proposal for wilderness at Boreas Ponds, including the one-mile buffer, drew tremendous support, as thousands weighed in with comments on the classification proposals, Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz said in the release.
He expressed appreciation to them and the editors of 12 upstate daily newspapers who endorsed the proposal.
“Editorial writers recognized how valuable and rare this opportunity is. It will be our gift to future generations,” he said.
The BeWildNY Coalition, which formed in November 2015 in an effort to help guide the state’s determination on the classification of Boreas Ponds and more than 50 other parcels of state forest preserve, said in its release that the DEC “has offered assurances that it will adopt ‘graduated access’ to Boreas Ponds, in which parking for the general public would remain in its current location 3.5 miles away from the ponds.”
The merging of the High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas would bring a solution to a serious issue, said Richard Schrader, New York political and legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Combined with a new visitors’ center at Exit 29 of the Adirondack Northway, this expansion of the High Peaks Wilderness will take pressure off of the overcrowded trails that start in Keene, Keene Valley and North Elba,” he said in the release. “The expanded High Peaks Wilderness Area would start across the highway from Exit 29. The entrance to Boreas Ponds is just 20 minutes away, down the Blue Ridge Road.”
The state began purchase of 69,000 acres of the former Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands — Boreas Ponds — from the Nature Conservancy in 2012.
Public uses will be determined through Unit Management Plans, with the wilderness lands around the Boreas Ponds added to the High Peaks Wilderness and the wild forest lands tacked on to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area.
Both management plans are expected to be revised this summer.