DEC seeks comments on one of NY’s most remote areas

Public meeting on Pepperbox Wilderness plan set for next month

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is beginning a public comment period for one of the most remote wilderness areas in the Adirondacks next month, with an online survey and public meeting scheduled.

The Pepperbox Wilderness Area is nearly 24,000 acres in the western Adirondacks, located within the towns of Webb and Watson, in Lewis and Herkimer counties. The wilderness area is north of Old Forge and south of Star Lake. It is near the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, and the two are often grouped together.

The Pepperbox Wilderness’ unit management plan was first introduced in 1985, with an amendment in 2015 that added a number of primitive campsites and tent locations. However, the DEC said that in February, it will begin the public process of updating the UMP through a public comment period, online survey and public meeting.

There are two private inholdings within the wilderness, which is home to dozens of ponds and several hiking trails. The landowners may access their property using motorized vehicles, but the general public is prohibited from using mechanized vehicles. Camping, fishing, paddling, hunting, trapping, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are the predominant recreational activities allowed in the wilderness area, which, according to DEC, is rougher than other nearby Forest Preserve units.

“The remoteness of the area and heavy beaver activity provide more rugged trail conditions than on the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest to the north,” the DEC says of the area.

According to the 1985 UMP, this area was never heavily settled and, prior to state ownership, was largely used for logging and hunting.

“Almost all of this wilderness area is part of Townships 4 and 5, (also known as Unanimity and Frugality) both part of the John Brown’s Tract. This is an original Great Tract comprising 210,000 acres, which has a very interesting history of its own,” the UMP says. “Prior to 1900 this area, plus most of the John Brown’s Tract, was owned by Mary Fisher of Cincinnati, Ohio. The portion of Townships 4 and 5 comprising this wilderness area was then nearly virgin forest.

“This area has never been the realm of the settler, farmer or miller. It has always been undeveloped except to suit the temporary needs of the logger, hunter, fisherman, trapper and sojourner. Hunting, trapping and fishing were probably the earliest uses. In the latter half of the 19th century, the hemlock bark cutter and the spruce ‘gummer’ most likely arrived on the scene.”

The UMP says the last logging operation took place in the 1920s, and the land has been relatively untouched since.

The comment period will run from Feb. 27 through April 11 this year. Comments can be sent to Matthew Nowak, DEC Environmental Program Specialist, by mail at 7327 State Route 812, Lowville, NY 13367, by email to r6.ump@dec.ny.gov or by phone to 315-376-3521. To complete an online survey, go to www.surveymonkey.com/r/GW6XZW6. The public meeting will be held at the DEC offices in Lowville on Wednesday, Feb. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.