Poll shows support for Boreas wilderness, lack of interest in land decisions

A public opinion poll commissioned by the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club shows an overwhelming amount of support for a wilderness classification for the Boreas Ponds, but also reveals that few people have been following the state’s classification process.

The poll, conducted by Siena College, shows that of 791 New York residents polled, about two-thirds want to see at least a one-mile buffer to the ponds that would prohibit motorized vehicles and bicycles.

However, the poll also showed that very few people pay attention to classification decisions that affect the Adirondack Park.

On the question of whether the Boreas road should be open all seven miles to the shore of the ponds, those polled were evenly divided.

The Adirondack Council said in a press release last week that wilderness advocates outnumber those who want access to the ponds by a 4.5:1 margin. When asked if they support or oppose a wilderness designation that includes the ponds, a full two-thirds of respondents said they support the buffer. Fifteen percent said they oppose the buffer, while another 17 percent had no opinion.

But in response to a different question, about a quarter of all respondents said they wanted access to the ponds, while 47 percent said they wanted a one-mile buffer or for the road to be closed completely. Another 30 percent said they had no opinion on the matter.

The poll seems to bolster wilderness advocates message that most people don’t want cars or bikes to be able to drive to the pond. The state Adirondack Park Agency is in the process of deciding what the classification for the more than 20,000 acre property in North Hudson and Newcomb should be, and a decision is expected this year.

Late last year, the APA put out four classification proposals for the property that was purchased by the state from The Nature Conservancy last May. All four proposals include thousands of acres of wilderness designation, but the sticking point has become where on the road the state will stop vehicular traffic.

Proponents of access to the ponds were quite pleased with the APA’s first proposal, which would allow limited motor vehicle access to the shore of the pond. Many green groups want to see a more restrictive wilderness designation for the lands.

Based on turnout and public comments the APA collected in writing and at public meetings, far more people support the wilderness designation for the ponds. But none of the APA’s proposals include such a measure.

One of the biggest takeaways from the poll though is that very few people really seem to care what happens with land-use decisions that affect the Adirondacks.

Across all ages, locations and political spectrums, only seven percent of respondents said they “paid a great deal of attention” to these decisions. A quarter of those polled said they pay some attention, while another 28 percent said they pay a little attention. Thirty-nine percent pay no attention at all. These numbers hold steady across income, religion, age, race and ethnicity.

“We are very proud of our fight for Adirondack Wilderness, and how we’ve respected and made efforts to address the concerns of all while holding firm to our principles and the protection of the legacy of the Adirondacks,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said in the press release on the poll results. “The Governor has been a national leader on environmental issues. If on this decision the Governor’s Adirondack Park Agency follows the science and law and the vast majority of public opinion as confirmed by the Sienna Poll, the state will do what is right and protect the Boreas Ponds inside an expanded High Peaks Wilderness. The alternative is unthinkable, and would forever compromise the integrity and wild character of this nationally significant landscape.”

Local governments, who support motorized access to the ponds, said in a statement that the poll failed to notify respondents that the dirt road has been open and in use for decades and is therefore misleading.

“In fact, the poll question did not tell respondents that the road has been used by motor vehicles in the past,” the release from the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages said.

“Not only were poll respondents not given this critical information, 67 percent acknowledged that they pay little or no attention to state laws or regulations that affect land use in the Adirondack Park, meaning that they were likely unaware of the scientific and legal standards the Park Agency must meet in rendering its classification decision.”

The Council and ADK are leading a coalition of green groups lobbying for a wilderness classification under the “BeWildNY” banner “who have been urging Governor Cuomo’s Adirondack Park Agency to expand the High Peaks Wilderness by 30,000 acres. The BeWildNY Coalition’s plan would protect the Boreas Ponds and other adjacent lands and waters as Wilderness.”

To see the poll results, go to www.siena.edu/news-events/article/the-adirondack-council-public-opinion-survey-results and click on the “crosstabs” link.