New High Peaks would be more than a quarter-million acres

APA meeting on classification today and Friday

Boreas Ponds is seen from an airplane in September 2008. (Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

If plans in the works go through, the High Peaks Wilderness Area of the northern Adirondacks is likely to clock in at more than 262,579 acres.

The High Peaks Wilderness, which is managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, currently contains 192,685 acres, while the nearby Dix Mountain Wilderness has 45,208 acres. The state is set to add about another 24,000 acres to the High Peaks Wilderness under a land classification package the Adirondack Park Agency board will consider this week. That additional land would bridge the current High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas and unite them into one.

The High Peaks Wilderness is not the same as the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, the mountains that were originally surveyed as being higher than 4,000 feet. (Four of them are, in fact, shorter than that.) While this wilderness area is home to most of the 46, some are located in other management areas, including Dix.

The APA is considering the classification of five parcels that would be added to the High Peaks Wilderness at its monthly meeting today and Friday. Boreas Ponds is the largest and most talked about parcel, and the APA is likely to designate 11,412 acres of it as wilderness to be added to the High Peaks.

The MacIntyre East and West tracts already abut the High Peaks Wilderness, and 4,446.55 acres and 7,365 acres will be added to the High Peaks from those parcels, respectively. The smallest of the additions comes in the form of 12.2 acres at Niagara Brook, which is on the southwest border of the Dix Wilderness.

But the most integral part of this expanded wilderness area is the Casey Brook tract, which will contribute 1,451 acres to the new High Peaks. This piece of land is given little due in the APA’s description of the classification, but it is the key to the whole plan.

The parcel is situated at the northeast side of the Boreas Ponds tract and would make the connection between Boreas and Dix.

“The Casey Brook tract abuts the Dix Mountain Wilderness. It is proposed to be classified as Wilderness and added to the High Peaks. The Dix Mountain Wilderness will be combined into the High Peaks Wilderness with this action,” is all the APA has to say about Casey Brook in its proposal.

In total, these additions would establish a 410.28-square-mile wilderness area, which is roughly 4.3 percent of the entire Adirondack Park. For comparison, Acadia National Park in Maine — which, like the Adirondacks, is a mix of public and private land — is 47,748 acres, or about 70 square miles. The new High Peaks would be about half the size of the 522,427-acre Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are currently 17 wilderness areas in DEC Region 5, which would drop to 16 if the Dix and High Peaks are combined. Region 6, which makes up the western portion of the Adirondacks, is home to four wilderness areas. According to DEC, there are 980,317 acres of wilderness in Region 5.

Within the Adirondack Park’s Blue Line boundary, a total of 1,187,295 acres are designated as wilderness. The 24,686.75 acres under consideration this week would be added to that total. When the Catskill Park is included, the DEC manages a total of 1,331,014 acres of wilderness, or 28 percent of all state land.