Boreas Ponds Classification Part 2: Land Acquisitions
Beginning in November, the Adirondack Park Agency will be hosting public hearings on the classification of 54,418 acres of state-owned forestland. This is an important action because the results of this process will determine the broad management direction of dozens of new Forest Preserve parcels across the Adirondack Park. Can snowmobiles be allowed, or should some places be preserved as remote wilderness sanctuaries? Where should the trailhead parking areas be located? These are the types of decisions that state officials will be making in the months ahead.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, of course, would like to see the scale tip favorably toward the wild side, but there will be a tremendous amount of political pressure opposing us. The good news is that you, a citizen-advocate for wilderness preservation, will have an opportunity to participate in this historic process and help sway the outcome. We certainly hope that you will step forward and make your voice heard, because a worthwhile wilderness designation—one with no pointless roads or gravel pits, no snowmobile trails that none of us will ever use—will not happen without a strong public outcry.
New York State has been actively acquiring land in the Adirondacks for the Forest Preserve ever since 1885, originally with the goal of protecting watersheds and preserving forests for recreation. Over the course of the twentieth century the state expanded the preserve from a few thousand acres to nearly 2.5 million. As a result, more wilderness had been set aside in the Empire State than in any of its northeastern neighbors.
Much of the remainder of the Adirondack Park’s open space had been owned by a handful of timber companies, including Champion International, Whitney Industries, and International Paper among others. All of these corporations owned massive tracts of working forests throughout the Adirondacks, until industry changes and market conditions convinced them it was more prudent to sell their holdings.
This trend fueled a new cycle of major land acquisitions through the 1990s and 2000s, a period when the state added tens of thousands of acres to the Forest Preserve and greatly expanded its wilderness preservation efforts. The William C. Whitney Wilderness was created in 2000 on lands acquired from Whitney Industries, and the Round Lake Wilderness was set aside in 2006 from former International Paper lands. The Five Ponds and Pepperbox wildernesses each saw significant expansions as well.
Finch, Pruyn & Co., based in Glens Falls, was among the last of the timber companies to sell its forests—a staggering 161,000 acres spread across the eastern and central Adirondacks. The Nature Conservancy acquired all of these lands in 2007 and announced a ten-year plan for transferring much of the property to the state. Some 89,000 acres would be retained as working forests, but the balance would be sold to the Forest Preserve.
However, the nation’s economy took a downturn in 2008, and New York’s budget was especially hard hit. The state wanted to buy the lands, but the funds were no longer available. It would not be until 2013 that the state made the first purchase, opening the Essex Chain Lakes and OK Slip Falls to the public. Lands at the foot of Santanoni and Allen mountains became public property in 2014, followed in 2016 by the largest and final Finch Pruyn acquisition: the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract.
The next step is the classification process, in which a general management direction will be chosen for each of these new properties. The stakes are high because the current political climate is very unfavorable for wilderness preservation, unlike ten years ago, even though the Boreas Ponds Tract is one of the best wilderness candidates we’ve ever seen. Few state officials are thinking in terms of wilderness, however, so if the public wants it, the public will have to speak up and demand it!