Agency releases High Peaks, Boreas plans

Adjustments to management plans would result in big changes to Adirondacks’ most popular places

The High Peaks Wilderness Area will see sweeping changes under proposed plans by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

RAY BROOK – At the state Adirondack Park Agency’s monthly meeting this week, the agency board will vote on sending three state land management plans to public comment that would result in sweeping changes to hundreds of thousands of acres in the most visited places inside the Blue Line.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation put together amendments for both the High Peaks Wilderness Area and the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest unit management plans [UMPs] that incorporate the newly-classified Boreas Ponds Tract and several other large parcels. The new High Peaks will combine the existing wilderness area and the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area, along with much of the Boreas Ponds and MacIntyre East and West tracts to form a new wilderness area that will contain more than 260,000 acres.

The third plan to be voted on Thursday at the APA is an amendment by the Olympic Regional Development Authority for the Mount Van Hoevenberg Intensive Use Area. Van Ho, as it’s popularly known, is home to the 1980 Olympic biathlon and cross-country skiing courses, as well as the bobsled track.

The three plans will work in conjunction, and if approved, the APA and DEC will hold a joint public comment period. The bulk of the changes are due to the APA’s recent classification of about 100 parcels of land, some of which were adjacent to the High Peaks and Vanderwhacker areas.

The three plans detail hundreds of management actions, from prohibiting glass containers in the High Peaks to the rerouting of trails and the construction of new trails. Parking areas, signage, boat launches, horseback riding and accessibility are all addressed in the plans, which run to a total of 606 pages.

The Enterprise will be taking an in-depth look at each of the plans this week, but some of the highlights for each are below.

High Peaks

Overuse of the High Peaks has become a topic of almost constant conversation in the Adirondacks over the last few years, and while there is no mention of limiting visitors to the area, the DEC plans to put in place some measures it hopes will help address the situation.

The department would require mandatory registration at entrance places, but does not enumerate in the UMP how that would be enforced. The DEC also plans to upgrade kiosks at trailheads to include maps and Leave No Trace and Wilderness Ethics information.

The Ampersand Mountain trail between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake would be rerouted to a new, larger parking area, while roadside parking on state Route 73 outside of Lake Placid would be prohibited. Although, the DEC also plans to build two new 20-car parking areas along that stretch of road that would service rock and ice climbers in the Chapel Pond area.

About 60 miles of new trails would be built, and many existing trails will be improved or rerouted. The DEC also plans on developing routes up 21 currently trailless High Peaks.

A couple of dozen new campsites would also be added in various locations, including five along the shores of Boreas Pond if the UMP amendment goes through as written.

The current High Peaks area is divided into eastern and western segments, and the new High Peaks management unit would also be split into two sections called the Central High Peaks Zone and Outer High Peaks Zone.

Vanderwhacker Wild Forest

The Vanderwhacker Wild Forest will grow significantly with the proposed amendment, as almost 10,000 acres will be added just from the Boreas Ponds Tract. And although more than half of Boreas will be added to the High Peaks, the Vanderwhacker plan will dictate how the DEC manages parking and access at LaBier Flow and Boreas Pond itself.

The DEC is proposing many of the same public education ideas for Vanderwhacker as in the High Peaks, along with interior signs detailing proper backcountry practices and the history of the recently acquired lands.

Gulf Brook Road, which penetrates the heart of the Boreas tract all the way to the Four Corners, will be maintained by the DEC as a three-season road. The towns of Newcomb and North Hudson will have access past the Four Corners to two one-acre state administrative area gravel pits, and the DEC said the road may be open during big game hunting season “as road conditions permit”.

Perhaps one of the most closely watched details in the Boreas classification debate was the location of parking somewhere near the Boreas Pond dam. The DEC plans to put in a parking area just one-tenth of a mile from the dam, which is closer than some environmental groups wanted, while accessibility advocates wanted to see a parking area at the dam itself. Numerous other parking areas will also be maintained in and around the Boreas tract and on the Elk Lake conservation easement.

The DEC plans to construct car-top boat launches (for non-trailered boats like canoes and kayaks) at both LaBier Flow and the Boreas dam, and at other locations within the wild forest. Mountain biking also looms somewhat large in the plan, with the DEC saying that a Mountain Bike Day Use Area will be built along Blue Ridge Road in an effort to create a hub for the area’s off-road bicycle trails.

Fourteen trails will be built or improved in the plan, including new trails to the summit of Boreas Mountain, along with hiking, biking, skiing and horseback riding trails. A community connector snowmobile trail – as source of contention during the public comment period on classification – will be built largely utilizing existing roads.

Mount Van Hoevenberg

Perhaps the change to Mount Van Hoevenberg that most people will be interested in will be the permanent relocation of the Cascade Mountain trailhead from Route 73 to the parking area near at the cross country ski center. The DEC tested this last fall during Labor Day Weekend, closing the Route 73 parking areas and directing all traffic to Van Ho. The test run seemed to go well, but adds a substantial distance to the summit of what is likely the most visited of the 46 High Peaks.

The plan for Mount Van Hoevenberg was developed by ORDA, which manages all of the Olympic venues, including Whiteface and Gore mountain ski centers, and the ski jumps and Olympic Center in Lake Placid. There are many upgrades proposed to the existing facilities, including a complete revamp of the biathlon course and stadium. Snowmaking and a new start building will be added, as will several new buildings that will serve as upgrades to the existing infrastructure.

Van Ho would also see several new cross country ski trails built, as well as a new welcome center and lodge.

The APA will take all of this up on Thursday at APA headquarters in Ray Brook. The meeting begins at 9 a.m., with the State Land Committee taking up the morning. At lunch, the APA will conduct its annual tree planting in honor of former APA Chairman John Collins Jr. After lunch, the board will hear a presentation from the Lake Champlain Basin Program before it considers approving changes to the Snow Bowl at Gore Mountain in the town of Johnsburg.

To see the full APA agenda and download all three UMP amendments, go to www.apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2018/05/index.htm.

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