The state's largest wilderness area, the High Peaks Wilderness, got even bigger Friday morning, as the Adirondack Park Agency board approved classification of the Boreas Ponds and surrounding tracts.
The board adopted a compromise classification that divides the 21,000-acre Boreas Ponds tract just south of the High Peaks into "wilderness" — just over 11,000 acres — and "wild forest" — just over 9,000 acres.
The wilderness portion of the tract, which encompasses the entire ponds and most of the tract north of Gulf Brook Road, will be added to the High Peaks Wilderness. Along with a pair of separate, smaller tracts, the new state lands will connect the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wildernesses, forming a single, contiguous wilderness area of around 275,000 acres.
The southern portion of the Boreas tract was classified as wild forest, which permits car and snowmobile access. The lands have been eyed for a snowmobile trail that would connect five towns along a route from North Hudson to Indian Lake.
The APA board adopted the classification — which was recommended by APA staff — in an 8-1 vote. Chad Dawson, the lone dissenter, said he wanted a classification that included more wilderness acreage and cited thousands of public comments that support greater wilderness areas.
The rest of the board, though, supported the classification compromise, arguing it successfully balances environmental concerns with the desire to provide recreational opportunities on the new state lands.
"This is the right decision," APA Chairman Sherman Craig said during the APA meeting in Ray Brook Friday morning. "This is the right decision for the people of New York, the right decision for the Park."
The land classification deal was a cause for debate between some of the Park's environmental and wilderness advocates. While groups like the Adirondack Council and Protect the Adirondacks supported the proposal and said it averted plans that would have devastated the area, others had pushed for a near-complete wilderness classification.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded the board's decision and indicated he planned to sign off on the classification, the last step to enshrine the decision.
The classification at Boreas, however, leaves open some contentious issues that will have to be hashed out in a unit management plan, which will more clearly specify what the land can be used for. The classification technically allows for motorized access to within 0.1 mile of the base of the ponds, but the environmental groups have said they plan to lobby against that, with the goal of limiting car access to a parking lot about 3 miles from the ponds, with special allowances for people with disabilities.