The public is about to have its say on how much access there should be to the Boreas Ponds Tract and other Adirondack Park lands recently acquired by the state.
The Adirondack Park Agency last week scheduled eight hearings around the state for November and December, including two to he held in the Capital Region.
Much of the attention is likely to focus on the Boreas Ponds Tract, due to deep disagreement between environmental groups and local officials about the level of wilderness protection it should have.
One of the local hearings will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Northville Central School. The other, the last in the series, will begin at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Albany.
[State should hear alternatives on Boreas plan]
The 20,543-acre Boreas Ponds tract is the largest of the parcels under review for classification - and its designation has generated strong feelings on all sides over how close motor vehicles should be allowed to drive to the ponds, which offer spectacular views of the High Peaks from the southeast.
A 7-mile road that was built when Finch Pruyn paper owned the land and had a lodge there leads to the ponds, but the last 5 miles of it is now closed to vehicles.
Environmental groups generally say vehicle access should stop well short of the ponds, requiring people to hike or portage canoes or kayaks to reach the ponds.
Local government officials, however, argue for easier access, hoping to see their communities benefit economically.
All four options put forward by the APA include designations in which some lands will be classified as a combination of “wilderness,” meaning permanent human structures and motorized vehicles are prohibited, and “wild forest,” under which some recreation-related development and motor vehicles may be allowed.
The road would be classified "wild forest," leaving open the possibility of public use.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve believes most, if not all, of the land should be classified as wilderness.
"None of the APA draft alternatives truly protect wilderness for all its values and benefits - including ecological integrity, habitat connectivity and recreational opportunities," said Dan Plumley, a partner in Adirondack Wild. "The awesome stillness that surrounds Boreas Ponds is a rare, limited resource in and of itself."
“Motorized access on the shorelines of Boreas Ponds should be rejected. There should only be motorized access for state officials during emergencies; otherwise, the Boreas Ponds should be managed as Wilderness," said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.
But the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages said its members favor "reasonable access," including motorized access for the disabled to the ponds.
"Our recommendations would allow for responsible recreation that brings new people and tourism dollars to the park, while protecting the environmental health of the property," said North Hudson Town Supervisor Ron Moore, in whose town the Boreas Ponds are located.
By granting public access for people who aren't willing to make the 7-mile hike, he said, "we have the opportunity to introduce new people to the beauty of our region and build an even broader, enduring appreciation for the outdoors experience."
Boreas Ponds, however, is not the only property being discussed at the hearings.
Also on the docket will be the 7,368-acre MacIntyre West and 6,060-acre MacInytre East tracts, most of which would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness; the 1,451-acre Casey Brook Tract, which would be added to the Dix Mountain Wilderness and the 3,896-acre Benson Road Tract in Fulton and Hamilton counties, which would be classified wild forest.
Other hearing dates will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 at APA headquarters in Ray Brook; at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Newcomb Central School; 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Schroon Lake Central School; on Nov. 28 in Rochester, Nov. 29 in Canton and Dec. 6 in Tomkins Cove, in Rockland County.
Written comments will be taken by the APA through Dec. 30.
The classifications could be amended in response to public comments. Ultimately, the classification decisions will be made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.