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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 22, 2016
Young Adirondack Park Residents Are Standing Up and Speaking for Wilderness at APA Hearings
Members of the Millennial Generation have been attending the hearings conducted by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and speaking in favor of a large expansion of Wilderness in the southern foothills of the High Peaks. Many of these young adults are residents of the park, representing a demographic that is largely assumed to be disappearing from the region.
The APA is currently at the midpoint in its series of statewide public hearings, in which comments are being sought on the proposed classifications for 54,418 acres of Forest Preserve land in the Adirondacks. The fourth of these hearings was conducted Monday night in the hamlet of Schroon Lake, with prior events at Ray Brook, Northville, and Newcomb. There will be four additional hearings after the Thanksgiving break in Rochester, Canton, Tompkins Cove, and Albany.
One of the key issues being debated by local officials and members of the public is the fate of the 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract in the towns of Newcomb and North Hudson. Representatives of these towns, in conjunction with sportsmen’s groups, have been stating that motorized access to this property is the only solution that will allow universal access and stimulate the rural economies of these two remote hamlets.
However, their comments have been matched—and in several cases outnumbered—by their younger neighbors, who have been speaking almost unanimously on behalf of a Wilderness classification for the Boreas Ponds Tract. Such a designation would allow recreational use of the property, but only in a non-motorized setting.
In his statement at the Newcomb hearing on November 16, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates co-founder Brendan Wiltse categorized these Millennials (of which he includes himself) as young professionals who made a deliberate choice to locate in the Adirondacks. “Most if not all of the young people in this room are college educated, conscious of social and environmental issues, skilled in technology, and entrepreneurial in spirit,” he said. “I hope that local government will not attack and alienate the very demographic that is going to be driving their economy and who are moving into their communities.”
Wiltse specifically pointed out that he moved here “because of the opportunities for Wilderness recreation, clean air and water, welcoming communities, and to be a part of the great experiment that is the Adirondack Park.”
At the Schroon Lake hearing on November 21, Samantha Brooks offered her reasoning as to why she and other members of her generation have moved to the Adirondacks, and are now advocating for a Wilderness classification at Boreas Ponds.
“Maybe young people are so wanting wilderness or better yet, moving to the Adirondacks because they are quickly seeing forests disappear in their home towns,” she said. “All of the forests I played in as a child are gone, sacrificed for larger homes and apartment buildings. The children from my hometown neighborhood will only have a chance to experience wilderness if we preserve it in the Adirondack Park.”
One of the key concerns for the proponents of motorized access is the notion of “balance,” specifically that a large tract of land such as Boreas Ponds should be managed for the widest possible range of human recreational uses.
But the Millennials that have been attending the hearings have not been buying that argument. “I would argue that if we look at balance solely within one parcel, we will end up with the fragmented management similar to the Essex Chain,” said Erin Griffin at the Schroon Lake hearing, referring to another recent classification action. In 2014 the APA approved a controversial plan that split the Essex Chain, located in the central Adirondacks, into multiple management units to allow a variety of access types.
“This fragmented management failed to bring in the anticipated high recreational use of this area,” Griffin stated. “While it is tempting to view these hearings as the beginning of potential economic growth for interior Adirondack towns, which is absolutely a critical issue, the APA’s true task at hand here, which is mandated by the State Land Master Plan, is to evaluate the characteristics of the land as they are, removed from economic arguments.”
Andy Testo thinks it is unwise for town officials to take such a strong stance in favor of motorized access at these hearings. “I would like to encourage our local town supervisors to consider taking a back seat in these discussions,” he said, “to listen and learn what you can from your visitors.”
Testo also described himself as a resident of the Adirondack Park—because of its Wilderness character, as he told the crowd gathered at Newcomb. “We all make sacrifices and concessions to be here, and we choose to live or visit here because it is a special, wild place,” he said. “When I come to visit the towns of North Hudson and Newcomb, the Wilderness is the exact reason I come. The vast tracts of remote spaces. But if I were never able to visit the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness, for whatever reason, I would still advocate for a full Wilderness classification.”
In addition to the park residents, students from several regional colleges have also made an impressive showing at each of the four hearings conducted to date.
Much of this turnout can be accredited to Tyler Socash, a native of Old Forge, who decided to take up the cause of wilderness advocacy after hiking the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail this past summer. “The troubling truth,” Socash says, “is that you are crossing a road every 4 miles (on average) while thru-hiking the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. And I began to wonder about wildlife’s place in our increasingly developing world.”
So far, Socash has contacted 12 different colleges and universities across the region to inform them about this once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in the movement to protect the Boreas Ponds Tract, including students at Paul Smiths College, University of Rochester, University at Buffalo, Green Mountain College, SUNY Plattsburgh, and St. Lawrence University. He is also scheduled to meet with several other schools before the public hearings are over.
Most college students are unaware of the threats to wilderness in the Adirondack Park, he says, but he also feels that that they really seem to grasp the concept of a selfless wilderness ethic. Using the experiences of his own through-hiking journeys as examples, Socash has inspired students from Buffalo to drive 5 hours to speak at the APA hearing in Northville, as well as students from SUNY Plattsburgh to drive 2 hours to speak in Newcomb.
“The young adults I speak with have an appreciation for the forethought written into the State Land Master Plan,” he says, “and they do not want the conservation efforts that began with Verplanck Colvin, continuing with Bob Marshall, and extending more recently with Paul Schaefer, to be compromised.”
On this last point, Brendan Wiltse wholeheartedly agrees. “The restrictions on land use in the Adirondacks were not imposed on us,” he stated at the Newcomb hearing. “We willingly accept them and see them as a smart long-term investment in the future of this magnificent place. Many of the young Adirondack residents in this room have read the State Land Master Plan, DSEIS, including the map book, and understand the State Environmental Quality Review Act. We are the future of the Adirondack Park.”
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates is an informal advocacy organization founded in 2016 by a trio of outdoor enthusiasts, all of whom have been concerned by the current state of Wilderness management and advocacy. The goal of the group is to promote the knowledge, enjoyment, expansion, and protection of the Adirondack Park’s wildest places. More information can be found on their website, AdirondackWilderness.org.
Top Photo Credit: Seth Jones