Good deal on Boreas Ponds

While the northern portion of the Boreas Ponds tract would be wilderness and the southern part would be wild forest, where mechanized uses are allowed, a narrow wild forest corridor would be created along an existing road so people could drive most of the mile from LaBier Flow Dam to Boreas Ponds, according to a classification plan recommended by Adirondack Park Agency staff. Also, a primitive area would be established around the Boreas Ponds Dam.

Compromise was needed on how the state should classify the beautiful Boreas Ponds tract, and now, at long last, it looks like we have a compromise that will stick.

Consensus-building is good in its own right, for the sake of peace and pragmatism, but we also support the details of this particular deal, which state Adirondack Park Agency staff have proposed after months of behind-the-scenes talks orchestrated by the governor’s office.

Gone is a mountain bike trail around the tract’s namesake ponds and to White Lily Pond to the north — and that is fine with us. The trails would have followed logging roads through wetlands that are firm for winter tree-cutting but get boggy in summer. The area around those ponds deserves to be a solid block of wilderness, as the current proposal recommends. There is plenty of room for biking in the rest of the tract, closer to the main road and the hamlets of North Hudson and Newcomb.

We like the relative simplicity of Alternative 2B, the option APA staff are recommending to their board. For the most part, the southern part of the tract, 9,000-plus acres, would be classified as wild forest, where more recreation options can be allowed. The 11,000-plus-acre northern part would be wilderness, where human structures and mechanized uses such as snowmobiling and mountain biking are prohibited.

The line between these two portions would be just north of Gulf Brook and Boreas Ponds roads so people could keep using motor vehicles on those roads. That would satisfy two deals the state previously made: to let towns use two gravel pits on those roads, and to let those roads double as a snowmobile trail connecting North Hudson and Newcomb. If snowmobiles can’t use that road, a new trail probably would have to be cut elsewhere, which would be more disruptive to the forest and its inhabitants.

There are two major exceptions to this clean, north-south bifurcation:

¯ The state doesn’t plan to demolish a concrete dam that turned the once-separate Boreas Ponds into a single lake. Since dams aren’t allowed in wilderness areas, the APA would create a primitive area around the dam and other parts of the ponds’ south end.

¯ From the roads’ junction at LaBier Flow Dam, Boreas Ponds Road continues to the ponds. Cutting through the wilderness, a narrow wild forest corridor would be created around that road to let vehicles drive to within a tenth of a mile (less than 600 feet) of the ponds.

We advocated last year for something almost exactly like the latter proposal. Some environmentalists wanted to stop cars at LaBier Flow Dam, leaving canoers with a 1-mile carry to Boreas Ponds — or a half-mile if they paddled up the flow. We suggested letting boaters drive most of the way up the road but still establishing a physical buffer to make it impossible for someone to drive a boat right to the shore — for instance, motorboaters who could disturb, pollute and spread invasive species.

The most ardent environmentalists still say the whole 20,000-acre tract should be wilderness — no roads, no snowmobiles, no bikes — and we suspect there are also many living among us who see any new wilderness as a blow against liberty. They are uncompromising, but compromise is necessary in any community larger than a single interest group. It’s built into our government; it’s how we live with each other.

Across our nation, battles continue to rage over use of public lands, environmental vs. economic interests and just about everything else on which people can take sides. People get fired up about “winning” — getting everything they want without giving anything up — but they have a hard time seeing things from the other side’s perspective and admitting that those Americans’ needs and desires count for something, too.

It’s worth a great deal of celebration that here in the Adirondack Park, people have largely — although never entirely — moved beyond the land-use wars of the APA’s first 25 years and learned how to craft compromises that most people are fine with. It’s a valuable model for others to follow.

The experienced leaders of nearby towns and the Adirondacks’ largest environmental groups are on board with this Boreas deal, and so are we. APA board members will review it at their meeting Thursday and Friday, and we hope they vote to approve it.