ADIRONDACKS — The majority of New Yorkers in all regions of the state favor a "wilderness" classification for the Boreas Pond tract in the Adirondack Park, according to a new poll by the Siena Research Institute that was released Monday.
The poll, commissioned by the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, found 67 percent of voters contacted across the state favor a wilderness classification, which would limit motor vehicle access and other human uses in the 20,500-acre tract. Only 15 percent wanted full public access to the ponds.
"These are extremely positive results for wilderness advocates like us," said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.
The results showed 64 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats and independents support wilderness. People who described themselves as conservatives favored it by 60 percent, as did 69 percent of moderates and 76 percent of liberals. The poll also found a majority supports the wilderness concept in all parts of the state.
"The poll shows very clear voter support for wilderness at Boreas Ponds that goes far beyond the membership of environmental organizations," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
The new poll results were released as the state is deciding how to classify the property -- acquired by the state a year ago -- as the last property in a multi-year acquisition of former Finch Pruyn paper company lands. Boreas Ponds adjoins thousands of acres of other state-owned wilderness properties.
There is a 7-mile road to the ponds that was build by Finch Pruyn when it had a lodge there, but under an interim plan put in place nearly a year ago, visitors must hike or bike the last 3.6 miles.
National, state and regional environmental groups, which have banded together as the BeWildNY Coalition, aren't happy with any of the four plans the state is considering. All would allow motor vehicle and bicycle access to within a mile of the ponds, if not all the way to the water. They want vehicles to be stopped at least a mile away.
"Our experience in the Adirondacks is that if there's a (canoe) carry of a half-mile to a mile, it does a lot to preclude crowding," Woodworth said in an interview.
The ponds, with their views of the High Peaks, are widely considered the "crown jewel" among 65,000 acres the state has acquired from The Nature Conservancy, which bought them from Finch Pruyn in 2007.The property is located in the towns of North Hudson and Newcomb in Essex County, just south of the High Peaks.
Officials in those communities want to allow motor vehicle access, believing it will increase the number of visitors coming to Boreas Pond and, thereby, boost the economic impact on communities that have tiny year-round populations and are almost totally reliant on tourism.
After holding a series of public hearings in the fall, the Adirondack Park Agency has postponed any decision on the classifications until at least May. The final decision on the land classification will be made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said repeatedly he wants the new state lands to provide economic benefits to local communities.
The poll of 791 registered voters around the state was conducted March 19-23 by the institute based at Siena College in Loudonville. Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said the questions were asked as part of the Siena Institute's monthly political poll, when voters are asked about various state and national political topics. The environmental groups went to Siena because of its reputation for objective polling, to lend credibility to the findings.
"We told the Siena folks the questions we wanted to ask, and they worked with us to ensure that they were phrased as objectively as possible," Sheehan said.
Woodworth acknowledged the environmental groups didn't know what the poll results would show, though they were hopeful people would support the wilderness concept.
"Obviously, we had an indication, from the public communications to the park agency, at the hearings and in the emails and letters," he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.