ADIRONDACKS -- Controversial plans for managing the state lands in the High Peaks and new Boreas Ponds property comply with the state's Adirondack Park State Land Use Master Plan, an Adirondack Park Agency committee found on Thursday.
Meeting in Ray Brook, the APA's State Land Committee found that both the High Peaks Wilderness and closely related Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest management plans are acceptable.
The findings, which will go before the full APA board Friday morning, are necessary before state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos can give the plans final approval. The majority of board members serve on each committee, so the full board is almost certain to follow the committee's lead.
The APA and DEC have been holding a joint public comment period on the management plans since April, including three public hearings. The public made about 2,250 comments -- many of them saying preserving wilderness wasn't a high enough priority.
Groups like the Adirondack Council had called for the plans' rejection, saying it didn't go far enough to address issues the High Peaks are facing with public overuse.
"These are among the most sensitive and highly visited Forest Preserve units in the park. We must address overuse, provide for access, and take great care in protecting them, now and for future generations," William C. Janeway, the Adirondack Council's executive director, said on Wednesday. “It’s more important to do this right than it is to do this fast."
While environmental groups like the Council said the plans should be rejected, APA commissioners didn't offer substantive criticisms, though some noted that it isn't clear where DEC will get the resources to follow through on construction of new trails and other proposed measures.
"It's not going to get less controversial. It's not going to get less complex; it's going to get more complex," said commissioner Chad Dawson.
"I was blown away by this plan," said APA board Chairman Sherman Craig, who earlier in the day announced plans to retire after serving on the board since 2011. Karen Feldman, chairwoman of the State Land Committee, will become acting chair.
The proposed High Peaks management plan would incorporate the Boreas Ponds and other newly acquired state properties into a single expanded High Peaks Wilderness. It is the first update to the High Peaks management plan since 1999.
The most notable change would be rerouting of the Cascade Mountain trail on Route 73, shifting the trailhead to the Mt. VanHoevenberg sports complex. That would add about four miles to a round-trip hike, but reducing the parking congestion on Route 73.
"The trail is continuing to erode, and there's also the issue as we're all aware of safety on Route 73," said Tate Connor, a DEC forester who worked on the plan.
The state will also build a new trail -- one Connor said would be constructed on better environmental principles than the existing trail -- up Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which is a relatively small mountain with a spectacular view of the High Peaks.
The plans developed by DEC call for the construction of 38 miles of new foot trails, mostly on the 20,000-acre Boreas tract, as well as construction of new snowmobile trails, mountain bike trails and backcountry ski trails. It's what local government officials, hoping to improve tourism options for their communities, wanted to see.
"I think on behalf of the Review Board, we are pretty pleased with the plan," said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board.
The proposed management plan allows people who have limited mobility to drive the entire 7 miles from the nearest public highway -- the Blue Ridge Road -- to Boreas Ponds, using Gulf Brook Road, a dirt access road created by the property's former owner, a paper company.
"We are quite pleased with the recognition of the needs of the handicapped," Monroe said.