Green group calls for High Peaks permits

Another says new plan doesn’t comply with master plan

A crowd of hikers looks at the High Peaks from the summit of Giant Mountain last Labor Day weekend. (Photo provided by Adirondack Mountain Club summit steward Vin Maresco)

RAY BROOK — An Adirondack environmental group has called for the state to implement a permit system for the High Peaks but says permits should be limited in scope.

Meanwhile, another has also submitted comments to say a new management plan is not in compliance with state law.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve shared the letter it sent to the state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation, which are running concurrent public comment periods on a unit management plan amendment for the High Peaks Wilderness Area that was released earlier this year. This amendment is one of the most sweeping updates to the management of the state’s largest and busiest wilderness area, and will create a more than quarter-million acre wild area. DEC developed the plan, but the APA needs to determine whether it is in compliance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

The new UMP amendment is the first major update to the High Peaks management plan since 1999 and includes a huge expansion that will bring the nearby Dix Mountain Wilderness into the High Peaks fold, along with several other large parcels and part of the Boreas Ponds tract, which the state bought in 2016.

But Adirondack Wild announced that while recreational opportunities are plenty, resource protection is lacking in the plan.

“With few exceptions, the UMP amendment drafts unfortunately promote a politically driven agenda that — contrary to the requirements of the State Land Master Plan (SLMP) — promote virtually unrestrained public recreational access to ecologically sensitive areas,” Adirondack Wild wrote in its letter to the APA and DEC. “The evidence is clear that natural resource, social and psychological aspects of the [High Peaks Wilderness] have been degraded and continue to be degraded by overuse. The SLMP imposes a clear obligation on both DEC and APA to address the overuse problem.

“The time to implement direct user controls including a permit reservation system for day use and overnight camping during peak use periods is now. It is particularly timely and important to implement such a system at the new Boreas Ponds entrance to the High Peaks, but it is also urgently needed, as it has been for 20-plus years, in the heavily used trail corridors of the eastern High Peaks.”

Adirondack Wild went on to cite statistics that show the number of people in the High Peaks has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade or so.

Although Adirondack Wild is openly calling for a permit system, its partners Dan Plumley and David Gibson said over the phone this week they don’t envision a heavily regulated system that would impact locals or less visited areas.

“There are ways to design a permit system that are not onerous, [and] fairly easy to obtain,” Dan Plumley said during a call earlier this week. “We’re not recommending any [financial] charges at this point.

“We’re not talking about a permit to bushwhack in the western High Peaks or even at this point much of the Dix range, which doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of use” as the eastern High Peaks.

“I’m local; I know,” said Plumley, who lives in Keene. “I know most locals, like me, stay out of the High Peaks on the weekend. It’s just nuts. Why go up there when there’s 300 people on top of Cascade?”

The Adirondack Council, another green group based within the Blue Line, also claims that the new UMP amendment is not in compliance with the SLMP, due to many of the same reasons Adirondack Wild outlined.

“These plans appear to violate the most basic principle of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan,” Executive Director William Janeway said in a press release. “The master plan requires the state to prioritize the protection of natural resources and allows new recreational opportunities only when they consistent with preservation of those resources.

“For example, these plans add many miles of public roadway to the Forest Preserve without any assessment of how this affects the legal limits for Forest Preserve road mileage,” Janeway explained. “That’s a major flaw. Roads have a big impact on water quality, wildlife survival, the spread of invasive species, noise and litter. Leaving them out of the scientific assessment violates the letter and the spirit of the master plan.”

The Council also opposed the placement of a community connector snowmobile trail through the Boreas Ponds tract as well as a proposed day-use area around the Boreas Ponds dam.

The DEC and APA accepted public comments until last week, and the DEC held three public meetings where verbal comments were also accepted.

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