A proposal to add thousands of acres to the Adirondacks High Peaks Wilderness unveiled last week already faces resistance from both ends of the conservation spectrum.
A coalition of environmental groups — including the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Audubon New York and League of Conservation voters — urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to complete the state’s purchase of a 20,000-plus-acre tract south of the High Peaks and designate more than 30,000 acres as new wilderness.
“We think this will make it an international attraction to have a space that big and that wild,” Adirondack Council Communications Director John Sheehan said Friday.
But town supervisors in Newcomb and North Hudson, near the proposed wilderness lands, said the special land designation was too restrictive and would limit recreational opportunities for visitors, stifling economic growth potential.
“The wilderness classification closes the door on a whole lot of things,” Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said Friday.
A fellow environmentalist, however, said the coalition’s proposal didn’t go far enough and that its inclusion of a road could set a bad precedent for future wilderness initiatives. He also raised concerns about a series of dams on the land and the prospect of cutting new snowmobile trails.
“We don’t see the wisdom of creating a wilderness area with a road in it … ” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “I’m not sure they thought all of these [concerns] through.”
The wilderness proposal contemplates the ultimate purchase of the Boreas Ponds tract, more than 20,000 acres of wildlands just south of Mount Marcy and owned by the Nature Conservancy. Cuomo has committed to buying the tract by the end of March.
By converting most all of Boreas Ponds, and other parcels of state-owned land, to wilderness, the proposal envisions melding the High Peaks with the nearby Dix Wilderness to the east and creating a 280,000-acre contiguous wilderness space.
The environmental groups argue that the massive wilderness zone, about the size of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, would be more effective managed as a single unit, simplifying initiatives against invasive species and supporting wildlife movement.
Establishing a “southern gateway” to the High Peaks would also benefit the towns nearest to the new wilderness area, bringing in hikers, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts, the environmental groups wrote in their letter to the governor.
“Ultimately, we feel wilderness is the golden goose for these communities,” Sheehan said.
But town officials there don’t agree, favoring less restrictive land-use designations that would allow for snowmobiling and easier access to trails and fishing spots.
They also hope local governments have a “seat at the table” as state officials determine any new classification or use.
“As far as I’m concerned, wilderness is not an option,” North Hudson town Supervisor Ron Moore said Friday.
On the conservation front, Bauer said Protect the Adirondacks thinks there needs to be a thorough review of the ecological impacts of the dams in the area — which help sustain a trout fishery at Boreas Ponds.
He also said the road that is included in the proposal could serve as the wilderness boundary as well as a snowmobile trail in the winter.
Sheehan said the road would provide an access point for visitors to the area, allowing people to get a canoe to Boreas Ponds without carrying it seven miles. It would also allow the state to provide wilderness protections to a larger area.
Ultimately, the environmental coalition’s proposal represents an opening salvo in a contentious fight yet to unfold over what to do with the land once it comes under state control as expected.
“The acquisition of the spectacular 20,757-acre property will complete the largest land purchase in the Adirondack Park in more than a century,” Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Sean Mahar said Friday.