Panel agrees state land classification system needs improvement

Nine Adirondack land classification experts gather Thursday night at the Schroon Lake Central School to discuss the state’s classification of the Boreas Ponds tract. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SCHROON LAKE — Nine people who often have vastly different opinions on what’s best for the Adirondack Park gathered on a stage in Schroon Lake Thursday night and largely agreed on just one point: that the state’s land classification system is in dire need of an update.

The group was made up of nine representatives of green groups, local governments and land-use experts all familiar with the classification process, especially as it centers around the Boreas Ponds tract in North Hudson and Newcomb.

The panel was hosted by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Sun Community News and the Adirondack Explorer. Editors from each of the three news organizations presented questions to the panelists, and each participant was given two minutes to respond.

Questions were raised about the benefits of each group’s desired classification for the lands, which range from complete wilderness to a mix of wilderness and wild forest with snowmobile trails.

One other topic most of the panelists agreed on was the need for the state to conduct regional planning, which several panelists said was needed now more than ever with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to turn the former Frontier Town property into a “gateway” to the Adirondacks.

The state Adirondack Park Agency, which is in charge of classifying land, issued just three proposals for the more than 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds tract. The plans were all somewhat similar, and there was a universal outcry about the lack of potential plans. The APA presented a fourth plan at its initial public hearing on the land classification.

“This process needs to be reformed,” Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council said. “We need a new, improved and more holistic process. I hope there are lessons learned from this to really look at how the process could be improved.

“It’s an embarrassment how poorly the state of New York has taken care of these resources. My hope is that there’s a universal push to get better management.”

Dave Olbert, who co-owns Cloud-Splitter Outfitters in Newcomb, said that his business would grow if access directly to the ponds was granted, as called for in Alternative 1 from the APA, but added that businesses like his would benefit no matter the plan.

“If we had access right to the pond, we would get more business because the general public is not looking to walk at all,” he said. We’re sensitive to the environment; we’re not going to allow people to abuse the area. I think if we can get within a mile (of the ponds), that’s a good starting point.”

Compromise was also discussed, and Ron Moore, the supervisor of the town of North Hudson indirectly decried the lack of plans from the APA.

“When we came up with Alternative 1, it was a compromise,” he said. “It’s just not recognized as such because it’s on one end of the spectrum.”

He went to note that Alternative 1 calls for more than half the property to be classified as wilderness.

At the end of the panel, each member was tasked with asking another member a question, and again, there was mostly agreement that the state’s process is deeply flawed, although all were hopeful that whatever the state’s classification decision, it will benefit the towns and people of the Adirondacks.